Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon is easily the most important product of the Restoration. It is a narrative that starts in Jerusalem in 600 BCE, a little more than a decade before Jerusalem is sacked by the Babylonians. The protagonist Lehi is a prophet enjoined to take his family to a promised land, which ends up being on the American continent. Two of his sons factionalize into the Nephites and Lamanites who are locked in battle for much of the book, but the principle story is about how this group prophesied of Jesus Christ before his birth and were visited by him after his resurrection. It then tells the story of the destruction of the Nephites and the rise of the Lamanites in the last days who would come to know Jesus Christ through this record. Let’s follow how Dialogue has covered this important work.
Dialogue Topic Podcasts: Book of Mormon Topics Part 1 & 2
The Summer 2019 Issue studies the Book of Mormon in varied ways: Brian Hales kicks it off with an update on Automatic Writing and the Book of Mormon; then Ryan Thomas looks at the Gold Plates and Ancient Metal Epigraphy followed by Larry Morris considering the Empirical Witnesses of the Gold Plates. Finally, Rebecca Roesler studies the Plain and Precious Things Lost: The Small Plates of Nephi. If this isn’t enough, there are reviews, poetry, a Levi Peterson fiction piece and colorful summer art by Royden Card.
A People’s History of Book of Mormon Archeology: Excavating the Role of “Folk” Practitioners in the Emergence of a Field
Dialogue 56.3 (Fall 2023): 1–33
Practitioners and historians of Book of Mormon archaeology have tended to narrate the emergence and history of the field as a story of conventional scholarly investigations by Latter-day Saint professionals, professors, and ecclesiastical leaders. These narratives foreground the efforts of educated, white, upper-middle-class professionals and Church-funded institutions based in Salt Lake City and Provo, near the centers of Mormon power.
Practitioners and historians of Book of Mormon archaeology have tended to narrate the emergence and history of the field as a story of conventional scholarly investigations by Latter-day Saint professionals, professors, and ecclesiastical leaders. These narratives foreground the efforts of educated, white, upper-middle-class professionals and Church-funded institutions based in Salt Lake City and Provo, near the centers of Mormon power. The historiography ignores charismatic figures from the social periphery who spurned formal training and excavated artifacts with the help of revelation and religious texts. In contrast to the “official” history of the formal field, their efforts are relegated to the informal domain of “folklore.”
Historian Stan Larson titled his history of Book of Mormon archaeology Quest for the Gold Plates, but the academics he studied never searched for gold plates. In fact, Brigham Young University anthropologist Ray Matheny once said that if he dug up gold plates, he would put them back in the ground. In contrast, charismatic figures like José Dávila, Jesus Padilla, and John Brewer not only searched for but actually claimed to discover ancient metal and stone records of Book of Mormon peoples. Archival documents and interviews with their associates help unearth the stories of their extraordinary archeological and religious claims.
Such figures are important to the history of Book of Mormon archaeology in part because they served as the foil against which the field defined itself. When the search for physical evidence of Book of Mormon historicity first got underway in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, no clear boundaries separated what folklorists call the “official culture” (which is created, filtered, and broadcasted by influential publications and institutions) and the “folk culture” (which arises and spreads more organically, person-to-person, with fewer quality controls). Academics with formal training worked alongside charismatics who claimed special spiritual knowledge of Book of Mormon geography and who presented artifacts of uncertain provenance. Even as the official field worked to define itself by pushing away the folk practitioners, the boundaries between folk and official often blurred. Folk practitioners used scientific techniques and presented their findings to experts and high-ranking LDS Church leaders, some of whom endorsed their work. Official culture (which here includes both the Church and the academy, in that both are elite institutions with cultural cache) completed the folk practitioners’ marginalization only as their establishment allies deceased.
The spiritual archaeologists’ vivid and colorful stories are also important in their own right—not just as an adjunct to the history of an academic field. Their experiences present a case study of religious revitalization and the sect-church process by which new religious movements spin off from older traditions. As the official Latter-day Saint culture pushed charismatic archaeologists—and their charismatic artifacts—to its margins, an array of Mormon revitalizers and splinter groups laid claim to them. Though repulsive to the gatekeepers of official culture, folk practitioners’ stories appealed to some rank-and-file Latter-day Saints who longed for a more literal and charismatic faith.
A Short History of Book of Mormon Archaeology
Latter-day Saints have long hoped to prove the historicity of the Book of Mormon through the excavation and study of ancient American artifacts. Joseph Smith himself looked to unearthed bones, ruins, and metal records as evidence of the veracity of the narrative he had translated from the gold plates. Reflecting on the 1834 Zion’s Camp expedition, he wrote fondly of “wandering over the plains of the Nephites, . . . picking up their skulls & their bones, as proof of its [the Book of Mormon’s] divine authenticity.”
After Smith’s 1844 martyrdom, others also looked for physical relics of ancient Book of Mormon civilizations. Many followed spiritual cues, as when succession claimant James J. Strang in 1845 dug up a set of brass plates from a Wisconsin hill he had seen in vision, or when Bishop John Koyle opened a “Dream Mine” near Salem, Utah, to dig for gold records that the angel Moroni had shown him in vision in 1894. Others scoured the secular scientific literature for clues, as when John E. Page in 1848 identified the Book of Mormon city of Zarahemla with the Maya ruins at Palenque, or when educator George M. Ottinger in 1879 compared the Book of Mormon to the sacred K’iche’ Maya manuscript known as the Popol Vuh. In the last year of the nineteenth century, Brigham Young Academy president Benjamin Cluff Jr. led an expedition to Colombia, where he hoped “to discover the ancient Nephite capital of Zarahemla” on the Magdalena River and “to establish the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”
In the twentieth century, other Mormon academics followed in Cluff’s footsteps. In 1909, Deseret Museum director James E. Talmage investigated clay, copper, and slate tablets discovered two decades earlier in Michigan. Perhaps reflecting a cultural shift toward a more secular scientific sensibility, Talmage debunked the artifacts as frauds despite their faith-promoting potential. And in contrast to traditional interpretations of the Book of Mormon that saw its narrative encompassing the whole of North and South America, many early twentieth-century writers proposed “limited geography” interpretations that set the narrative mostly within a small region of Central America.
Building on these early efforts, Mormon researchers in the 1940s and 1950s developed Book of Mormon archaeology into a formal scientific subfield. In 1952, amateur anthropologist Thomas Stuart Ferguson founded the New World Archaeological Foundation, a nonprofit with a mandate to carry out archaeological excavations of Preclassic Maya sites in Central America with an eye to scientifically confirming the Book of Mormon. Milton R. Hunter, a president of the Seventy and amateur archaeologist, served as a vice president of the organization, and Max Wells Jakeman, Brigham Young University Department of Archaeology chair, served prominently on the foundation’s archaeological committee. In partnership with BYU anthropologists like Jakeman, Ross T. Christensen, and Bruce W. Warren, Ferguson led numerous Central American expeditions and excavations in the 1950s. These efforts caught the interest of Church authorities, who extended Church funding to the NWAF in 1955 and folded it into BYU in 1961.
The establishment of a formal academic subfield by no means marked the end of excavations by spiritual methods in the style of Strang and Koyle. The mid-century Book of Mormon archaeology boom inspired spiritual as well as scientific artifact-seeking, with considerable overlap between the two. In the 1950s, a Mexican Mormon tour guide named José Dávila guided NWAF archaeologists on some of their expeditions to southern Mexico and Guatemala. Dávila seamlessly blended scientific and spiritual methods, drawing on archaeological scholarship and personal revelation to find Book of Mormon sites. Presented with a set of inscribed gold plates, he translated them with the help of scholarly lexicons of Egyptian hieroglyphics, which he used in combination with a nineteenth-century Egyptian grammar book apparently dictated through revelation by Joseph Smith. Similarly, in the 1960s, an arrowhead hunter named Earl John Brewer excavated many inscribed stone tablets and metal plates from a cave near Manti, Utah, where he professed to have encountered the angel Ether. Both Dávila and Brewer understood themselves to be engaged in archaeology, and both received support from BYU anthropology professor Paul R. Cheesman and from Church authorities such as apostle Mark E. Petersen and Milton R. Hunter, a president of the Seventy.
Thus, while the NWAF’s founding was a triumph, historians should resist the temptation to narrate it as a story of progress from “folk” to “scientific” methods. Not only does this imply a one-sided moral judgment, but it’s also somewhat anachronistic because folk and scientific efforts were not clearly distinguishable from each other in the early days of Book of Mormon archaeology. Arguably, academic archaeologists at BYU defined the folk in the process of defining their scientific discipline. They professionalized Book of Mormon archaeology partly through the gradual marginalization and exclusion of spiritual practitioners like Dávila and Brewer. While a few BYU scholars, like Cheesman, received Dávila’s and Brewer’s claims with sympathy, others dismissed them. In particular, Ray Matheny became BYU’s go-to artifact authenticator (and debunker) and Dávila’s and Brewer’s principal antagonist. A former student of Matheny recalls that he used to “regale us with stories about the crazy things people would bring . . . for evaluation and potential authentication. He once told me he sometimes felt like a modern Charles Anthon.” (Charles Anthon was the nineteenth-century New York linguist who had thumbed his nose at Martin Harris’s transcript of characters from the Book of Mormon plates.)
While Matheny and others succeeded in marginalizing spiritual approaches to Book of Mormon archaeology and relegating them to the domain of the “folk,” they won no total victory. Certainly, the academic debunkers found good reasons to doubt the purity of Dávila’s and Brewer’s motives and the authenticity of artifacts they championed. In addition to saving souls, the purveyors of these artifacts stood to gain money, notoriety, and spiritual authority by offering proof of the Book of Mormon’s historicity. But the folk archaeologists got in their own licks against the establishment scholars, whom they saw behaving more like critics than believers, in pursuit of secular academic respectability and advancement in secular careers. They organized themselves into a kind of alternative establishment—a network of nonprofits and fundamentalist sects—that still thrives today, doing cultural work worthy of study. What follows is a first attempt to tell the origin story of that alternative establishment and to understand the work its practitioners are doing.
José Dávila and the Padilla Gold Plates
In the first few years after the NWAF’s 1952 founding—as Book of Mormon archaeology struggled to find its scientific footing—BYU scholars went on several exploratory expeditions to Central America to find potential excavation sites. To help them navigate the unfamiliar landscape, they employed Mexican guides at a salary of $225 per month.
One of those guides was José Octavio Dávila Morales, a Spanish-English bilingual mestizo (mixed-blood) Huastec-Maya Indian born in Tampico, Mexico in 1925. By his twenties, Dávila worked as a licensed Mexican federal tour guide for archaeological sites. He also served as a Latter-day Saint branch president in Puebla, Mexico, having married a widow from Bountiful, Utah, and converted to her Mormon faith in 1946. The semi-nomadic couple flitted back and forth between Mexico and Utah, where Dávila joined the University Archaeological Society (UAS) at BYU.
By 1951, Dávila owned a small business, the Puebla Travel Service. Coiffed hair, a winning smile, and earnest intensity accounted for only part of Dávila’s tour business success. He also read voraciously and possessed an uncanny power to retain what he read. Although he had no formal archaeological training, Maya history held him in the grip of a lifelong passion matched only by his newfound enthusiasm for the Book of Mormon, which he felt might unlock the ancient Maya’s secrets. (Maya script would not be fully deciphered until the late 1970s.)
At BYU, Dávila met Max Wells Jakeman and fully embraced his “limited geography” interpretation of the Book of Mormon. In 1953 and 1954, Dávila guided Jakeman and an NWAF team on exploratory expeditions to southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. In Guatemala, they found ruins they identified with the Book of Mormon city Zarahemla. Dávila helped excavate the ruins in 1956.
In 1954 and 1955, Dávila also guided NWAF vice president Elder Milton R. Hunter of the Seventy on three “archaeological trips” to Mexico and Guatemala, during which the two men documented skin-color differences among Central American Indigenous populations and similarities between Hebrew and Indigenous cultures. Hunter published an extensive chronicle of his adventures with Dávila in search of Book of Mormon evidences.
Except for a lecture that Dávila delivered before the UAS in January 1961, Dávila’s association with the NWAF largely ended after 1956. Perhaps the BYU archaeologists no longer wanted his services. Clark S. Knowlton, who was actively seeking a job in the BYU archaeology department, wrote to BYU professor Ross T. Christensen in 1955 that he was “ironically amused” by a newspaper account of Hunter’s expeditions with Dávila. Knowlton felt that Hunter was “the type that can and has done considerable harm to Book of Mormon archaeological studies,” and he even expressed a desire to “vote against him sometime in Church.” This candid assessment of a General Authority illustrates how quickly academic Mormon archaeologists had soured on amateur involvement in their field.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, the entrepreneurial Dávila struck out on his own. He crafted his own map correlating archaeological sites with Book of Mormon cities. He conducted his own not-entirely-legal excavations in search of Lehi’s ship, Nephi’s temple, and King Benjamin’s tower. And he presented his findings in lectures and tours directed to audiences of Utah Mormon laypeople. By 1960, he counted Church president David O. McKay and apostle Harold B. Lee among those who had taken his tours. In these endeavors he drew on a combination of archaeological science and divine guidance in the form of visions and dreams.
Meanwhile, in February 1961, a Mexican physician named Jesus Padilla Orozco took the missionary discussions in Cuautla, Mexico. The missionaries gave Padilla a Spanish-language tract containing a facsimile of the first four (out of seven) lines of Book of Mormon “Caractors” that Martin Harris had shown to Columbia College professor Charles Anthon in 1828.
Padilla carefully studied the tract and then told the missionaries that he owned a set of gold plates inscribed with similar characters. He had found them while working for the government on an aerial mineral survey in 1959. The surveyors’ plane had set down in Oaxaca, Mexico, and Padilla and several other men had hiked into the jungle. In the jungle they stumbled upon the ruins of an ancient city inhabited by naked, white-skinned Indians. Inside the ruins they found a coffin that contained some gold plates. Padilla claimed to be the only survivor of the expedition, the other four having died of drowning, falling, accidental gunshot, and snakebite, respectively.
The missionaries doubted the story, having previously heard Padilla tell colorful stories that didn’t add up. They asked to see the plates, but Padilla said he had left them with a linguist in Mexico City. He promised to bring them back and show them to the missionaries, but “week after week as we visited them [the Padillas] or stopped by, he claimed that he had forgott[e]n.” One day Padilla produced from a safe a handwritten copy of some characters from the plates. The missionaries remarked upon their similarity to the Book of Mormon characters on the pamphlet they had shown him, and Padilla agreed with their assessment. Finally, after about a two-month delay, Padilla presented three postage stamp–sized hinged gold plates, which he had strung onto a charm bracelet for his wife. He asked the missionaries “if anyone in the Church would be interested in buying” the three plates at an $80,000 price. The missionaries met with their mission president and apostle Marion G. Romney to discuss the proposal. Fearing that the plates might be a hoax, Romney advised the missionaries to mail photographs of the plates to BYU for authentication. They did so, and BYU archaeologist Ross T. Christensen replied that the plates were probably fraudulent and not worth pursuing.
José Dávila did not share the BYU scholar’s skepticism. He heard about the plates and visited Padilla, who showed him five plates, including the three with hinges that he had previously shown the missionaries. Dávila “immediately recognized the writing as . . . Nephite reformed Egyptian” and offered to buy the plates. Padilla asked for too much money, so Dávila left without making a deal. But later that year, Padilla’s wife contacted Dávila and, pleading financial difficulty, offered to sell or lease the plates for $2,000. (The parties later disagreed as to whether the transaction was a lease or sale.) Dávila raised the money from a backer in Utah and exchanged it for the plates.
Dávila tried to donate the plates to the LDS Church, but apostle Marion G. Romney declined the donation on the grounds that it would be illegal to take them out of Mexico. That didn’t stop Dávila, who arranged for his wife to take the plates to Utah. Church authorities there again declined to take custody of the plates and referred the matter to the department of archaeology at BYU. BYU archaeologists Max Wells Jakeman and Ross T. Christensen examined the plates and in 1962 published an article in the UAS newsletter expressing their opinion that the plates were fake and that the Dávilas had committed a crime by bringing them to the United States.
This offended Dávila, who continued to insist on the plates’ authenticity. The metallurgist hired by BYU had noted that the plates looked freshly polished and lacked the wear that comes with age. To Dávila, this evoked the Book of Mormon’s promise in Alma 37:5 that plates containing sacred records “must retain their brightness.” Thus, his scriptural literalism led him to different conclusions than the BYU academics drew from the same data point.
Dávila spent the next two years translating the Padilla plates. Donations from Utah Church members funded the work, and apostle Joseph Fielding Smith helped by providing Dávila a copy of an Egyptian grammar book supposed to have been composed by revelation by the Church’s founder, Joseph Smith. Using a pair of early twentieth-century hieroglyphic dictionaries in combination with the methods outlined in Smith’s grammar book, Dávila managed to place an interpretation upon the Padilla plates’ script. The full translation portrayed Jesus Christ as a “Sky God” whose “celestial boat was wrecked upon the cross,” neatly blending Mormon and Egyptian motifs.
In 1963, a farmer named Del Allgood heard rumors of Dávila’s translation work and invited him to come examine some petroglyphs in Chalk Creek Canyon near Fillmore, Utah. Allgood and a business partner named Harold Huntsman believed that the petroglyphs marked the location of an old Spanish or Indian mine. The pair had filed several mining claims on the site in 1950 and had scoured the area for evidence of mineral wealth, but they had come up empty so far. They turned to Dávila in the hope that this half-Maya translator might be able to interpret the glyphs and reveal the location of the mine.
Using the same method he had employed with the Padilla plates, Dávila teased a message from the mysterious glyphs. Amazingly, they gave instructions for how to locate a “natural stone chamber” containing “metal tablets” or “garlanded everlasting mineral records.” Still more stunning, one pair of esoteric glyphs—the Jewish hamsa and the Taoist yin yang—comprised the signature of the angel Moroni. Dávila hypothesized that after the Lamanites destroyed the Nephites in a final apocalyptic battle in Mexico, Moroni had fled north with the Nephite records and buried them in New York to be discovered by Joseph Smith. En route, Moroni had passed through Utah and buried a portion of the Nephite library in Chalk Creek Canyon. Dávila concluded that “it would not be far fetched to estimate we are considering here the resting place of the twenty[-]four plates of Ether” mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
In 1964 and 1965, Dávila gave a series of public lectures about this discovery. Through these lectures he recruited a hundred volunteers and a smattering of financial backers to excavate the site. Dávila explained to them that the excavation’s objective was to promote salvation and “to deliver these records to the LDS Church.” In the summer of 1965, the excavators spent over $4,000 drilling six hundred feet of exploratory holes. Frustrated by his lack of success, Dávila revisited his translation and discovered an error: “All the Summer and Fall of 1965 has been employed in work done over 100 f[ee]t off the true spot.”
Meanwhile, a breach opened between Dávila and Harold Huntsman, the majority owner of the mining claims on which Dávila was excavating. Dávila examined the paperwork for the Huntsman-Allgood claims and concluded that Huntsman and Allgood had failed to meet the legal requirements to maintain the claims. In February 1966, Dávila challenged the prior claims and filed his own mining claims on the site. Huntsman ordered Dávila off the claims and signed an agreement with filmmaker DeVon Stanfield to excavate the gold plates and make a documentary film about the excavation. Dávila, who felt the discovery was too sacred for television, came to blows with Stanfield when he found him on the property.
In October 1966, Huntsman sued Dávila. Dávila’s lawyer admitted in court that Dávila had made “open, notorious, hostile adverse use of the property” without Huntsman’s permission, but he argued that none of that mattered because Huntsman’s mining claims were invalid. The court ultimately disagreed and ruled against Dávila, barring him from the site and awarding Huntsman $10,000 in damages.
The lawsuit precipitated a tragedy. On November 5, 1966, Harold Huntsman showed up at the property and informed two of Dávila’s volunteers that the court had ordered them to halt excavation. The two men refused to leave, so Huntsman left and told them he would be back with the sheriff. Realizing their time was short, the volunteers made one last big push to find the plates. They stuffed the bottom of a twenty-foot shaft with ninety-one sticks of dynamite and detonated the lot. They waited two hours for the carbon monoxide gas to clear and then went down the shaft. They hadn’t waited long enough, and both men died of carbon monoxide poisoning. If only they hadn’t worked on the Sabbath, lamented their friends.
Adding tragedy upon tragedy, Huntsman had the thirty-six-year-old documentary filmmaker DeVon Stanfield continue the excavation where Dávila left off. Stanfield took more care than his predecessors, but on August 10, 1967, he too succumbed to carbon monoxide gas.
A bankrupted Dávila returned to Mexico by 1970. Meanwhile, in 1970, Jesus Padilla wrote to the anthropology department at BYU claiming to be in possession of seven more gold plates from the same tomb as the five that he had leased or sold to Dávila. In 1971, Dr. Paul Cheesman visited Padilla to examine the additional plates.
Several discrepancies quickly emerged in Padilla’s story. In speaking years earlier with the missionaries who first contacted him, he had claimed to have found the plates during a survey trip to Oaxaca in 1959. Now he said he had found them while camping with some friends in Guerrero in 1955. The new plates didn’t have hinges like three of the originals had, which seemed to embarrass Padilla. He claimed that José Dávila had added the hinges to the originals, but photographs taken prior to Dávila’s acquisition of the plates proved that the hinges had been present all along.
José Dávila heard a rumor that BYU might buy the seven plates from Padilla for $35,000. Fearing that this would make the seven new plates inaccessible to him, he contacted Mexican authorities and alerted them of a pending illegal artifact sale. Then he called Padilla, told him what he had done, and warned him to hide the plates. This enraged Padilla, but he took Dávila’s advice. By the time police raided Padilla’s home a few days later, he had hidden his collection of artifacts. Before the police let him go, Padilla suggested to them “that Mr. Davila might well bear investigation on similar charges.”
Dávila was arrested on July 6, 1971 and charged with crimes related to looting and illegal artifact smuggling. Most charges were eventually dropped for lack of evidence, but Dávila spent a few years in prison for driving unregistered vehicles. During the investigation, Utah collector J. Golden Barton visited Dávila in jail, coaxed him to tell where he had hidden his five Padilla plates, sneaked the plates out of Dávila’s home under the noses of watching police officers, and then smuggled the plates out of Mexico under his toupee.
Meanwhile, Padilla provided his seven new plates to BYU professor Paul R. Cheesman for study and authentication. He refused to tell exactly where in the Mexican state of Guerrero he had found them, “but if there were some way to obtain a subsidy,” he promised to arrange for scientific dating of the site. Cheesman showed the plates to various experts. Anthropologists Frederick Dockstader and Gordon Ekholm pronounced them fakes engraved with a modern steel tool. Diffusionist epigrapher Cyrus Gordon and BYU Egyptologist Hugh Nibley thought the plates might be genuine. Cheesman agreed with Gordon and Nibley.
Cheesman’s BYU colleague Ray Matheny made a comprehensive study of the plates and pronounced them fraudulent. He noted pictographs on the plates apparently copied from famous Maya and Aztec artifacts, and he argued that the plates’ perfectly square corners and “very straight edges” suggested they had been cut with modern tools. Matheny also found that the plates contained a majority of the symbols from the first four lines of the Book of Mormon “Caractors” document that Martin Harris had shown to Charles Anthon, whereas they contained almost no characters from the bottom three lines of that document. Recall that the missionaries who had first contacted Padilla had shown him a missionary tract that reproduced the first four lines of the “Caractors” document but not the bottom three. Matheny concluded that Padilla had borrowed from the missionary pamphlet to fabricate the plates.
J. Golden Barton—a private collector and friend of Paul Cheesman—read an early draft of Matheny’s report and penned a rebuttal. Matheny had drawn these conclusions from incomplete information, Barton protested. Matheny had had access to the seven new Padilla plates but not to the five originals. Barton’s “naked eye” examination of Dávila’s five plates revealed rounded corners cut at oblique angles. Moreover, apparent contradictions in Padilla’s narratives of discovering the plates could be harmonized. Oaxaca and Guerrero were adjacent states, and the camping trip that Padilla had described to Paul Cheesman might have occurred during the survey mission that he had described to the missionaries.
Barton provided Dávila’s five plates to Cheesman in the hope that this additional evidence might help prove the plates’ authenticity. Matheny only grew more confident in his conclusions after examining them, however. The hinges attached to the plates had “been made with modern tubing dies” and attached with modern solder, and the edges of the plates bore marks from a jeweler’s saw and metal file. He pronounced the case against the plates’ authenticity “closed once and for all.”
The Church-owned Deseret News newspaper piled on with an editorial about Dávila in 1975. The article recounted a story from two Mormon missionaries who had gone “on a one-day expedition with Dávila while on their Mexican mission. Dávila led them to a mountain where he claimed to have found a cave filled with gold, lowered himself over a ledge by rope, and disappeared into an opening in the cliff face. A few minutes later, the two heard a shot and pulled Dávila up. One foot was bleeding. He said an angel had shot him for trying to touch the sacred gold.” In an acid letter to the editor, Barton complained that the editorial sounded like “the Palmyra ‘Reflector’ [of] New York state, [in] the year 1831, in which Obadiah Dogberry was describing the character of Joseph Smith in his Book of Mormon find.”
After Dávila’s release from prison, he returned to work giving tours of Mexican archaeological sites. In 1978, he befriended Connecticut Mormon public health professor Jerry L. Ainsworth, who became a sort of Dávila disciple. Ainsworth once accompanied Dávila on an expedition to Cerro del Bernal—which Dávila identified as the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon—in search of a “Nephite library” of metal plates. Uncanny storms and snakes drove them off the hill, which Ainsworth concluded “remains taboo [i.e., supernaturally protected] at this time.” Ainsworth also befriended Jesus Padilla, who supplied him with a steady stream of new artifacts from the same tomb as the Padilla plates.
Eventually Ainsworth wrote a book and a series of online posts to popularize Dávila’s ideas. In one post, Ainsworth described a conversation he had once had with BYU skeptic Ray Matheny. Ainsworth had asked what Matheny would do if he discovered authentic gold plates inscribed with reformed Egyptian characters. Matheny had replied that he would put them back in the ground and never tell anyone because such a discovery would end his career. This anecdote illustrates the gap that had opened between the official and the folk, with neither able to countenance the other’s perspective on gold plates.
John Brewer and the Manti Plates
José Dávila never met Earl John Brewer, as far as I know, but the two men ran in similar circles and had similar experiences. Like Dávila, Brewer offered metal records to confirm the Book of Mormon. Like Dávila, he combined amateur archaeology with the supernatural. And like Dávila, he found himself pushed to the edges of official Mormon culture and into the arms of the Mormon folk.
Born in Moroni, Utah, on February 11, 1933, Brewer worked as a turkey farmer and sanitation worker at different times in his life. Although he had a testimony of Joseph Smith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he stayed home Sundays and smoked, cursed, and drank coffee. He was a loving father and husband and loved by his kids.
In 1963, Brewer and his friend Carl Paulsen brought some limestone tablets to a collector named Leona Wintch. She contacted her nephew, Utah State Archaeological Society president George Tripp, and he contacted Dr. Jesse Jennings of the University of Utah Department of Anthropology. Jennings examined the stones and pronounced them a hoax, noting that they appeared stained with fresh topsoil and freshly engraved. According to an affidavit made out by Carl Paulsen, he grew suspicious after hearing Jennings’s findings and ransacked Brewer’s room. Beneath the mattress he found several pieces of partially inscribed stone. He confronted Brewer and accused him of forging the stones. “He, John Earl Brewer, had no comment and shrugged off the accusation.”
It’s unclear what story Brewer told Wintch and Jennings about the discovery of these tablets, but his later narrations fitted the incident into a grand narrative of Jaredite treasure caves. A “diary” in Brewer’s voice misdates the Wintch incident to 1960 rather than 1963 and turns the stone tablets into metal plates. According to Brewer’s one-time friend John Heinerman, Brewer wrote the diary years after the fact to make sure he had his story straight. The diary represents an evolved version of a story that by then Brewer had told many times.
Tellings of Brewer’s story differ in their details but agree in their shape. The story begins with Brewer arrowhead hunting for an art display for the Sanpete County Fair about 1955. His friend George Keller, an African American ranch hand who claimed to know secret Indian places, agreed to tell Brewer where to find arrowheads in exchange for some wine. Brewer supplied the wine, and Keller took him to an overhang on the hill behind the Manti Temple and told him to dig beneath.
Brewer dug, and his shovel unearthed a stairwell that led down into a large chamber. The chamber contained two ten-foot-long stone coffins, each containing an eight-foot-tall mummy in full metal armor. One mummy had red hair, and the other had blonde. In addition to the coffins, the chamber also contained stone boxes wrapped in juniper bark and pitch. Brewer broke some of them open and found inscribed metal plates.
In some versions of the story, Brewer also encountered a glowing angel who identified himself as the Jaredite prophet Ether and warned him not to sell anything from the cave for gain. He also found stone tablets, which he assembled like a jigsaw puzzle to reveal a map to the locations of additional caves. Like Joseph Smith before him, he carefully guarded the secret of his cave’s location and struggled prayerfully through feelings of personal unworthiness and greed.
Indeed, in Brewer’s journal he explicitly wondered “if maybe this was anything like [Joseph Smith] went through.” He thought perhaps not, because Smith “was a better man than I am. But the thought wouldn’t leave me all day,” so he followed Smith’s example by asking God for help to understand the artifacts he’d found. No answers came right away. He felt that the Lord would guide him in the search for other caves but that God also wanted him to work to find answers on his own. “I know that he is [guiding me,] for I am not a very smart person and some of these things that come to me are not mine,” he wrote.
Word of Brewer’s discovery reached BYU by 1965, when University of Utah anthropologist Melvin Aikens showed the limestone tablets to BYU’s Ray Matheny. Matheny wrote to Aikens, “As you may know, many of these kinds of finds have been made in the past to exploit Mormons and we, at B. Y. U., would like to carefully record each of these, in order to expose the people involved for what they are.”
Paul R. Cheesman shared Matheny’s enthusiasm for investigating Brewer’s find, though not to expose it as a fraud. Cheesman put one of Brewer’s tablets on display in BYU’s Joseph Smith Building, and in 1971 he convinced Church president Spencer W. Kimball and apostle Mark E. Petersen to supply $1,000 to fund research into Brewer’s find. Several BYU anthropologists visited Brewer in Sanpete County on the Church’s dime. Cheesman came away a believer, while his colleagues Ray Matheny, William J. Adams Jr., and Hugh Nibley came away convinced that Brewer’s artifacts were fake.
Like Jennings, Matheny found the inscriptions and the pitch that coated them too fresh to be ancient, and he also found evidence that Brewer’s metal plates had been cut with scissors and inscribed with a modern chisel. Adams, a linguist, examined the inscriptions and found fewer clusterings of symbols than you’d expect from a meaningful script. Later, he ate at an area restaurant and found a napkin decorated with local cattle brands that closely resembled the symbols from the plates. In 1972, Matheny and Adams coauthored a report debunking the plates. As for Nibley, “Brewer’s wife told somebody he [Nibley] knew that Brewer had made the plates himself.”
Undeterred, Cheesman organized another trip to Sanpete County with apostle Mark E. Petersen on March 5, 1974. Cheesman’s wife Millie, his student aide Wayne Hamby, and his friend J. Golden Barton accompanied him on the trip. The group met with Brewer at his bishop’s home in Moroni, Utah. Brewer told the visitors the tale of his discovery and withdrew from a briefcase about sixty inscribed plates made from various metals, including some gold plates he had framed under glass. “He told us he generally kept these plates in a safe deposit box at the local bank,” Barton wrote. “He also told us he had used the plates a[s] security for a loan with a private party.” Brewer also presented a sealed set of copper plates that he had never shown anyone before and which he proposed to open in Elder Petersen’s presence. The apostle demurred, saying the seal should only be broken in the presence of archaeological experts.
The visitors pressed Brewer to reveal the location of his cave for scientific study. Brewer “seemed reluctant to commit himself to an immediate excursion,” but he promised that once the snow had cleared, he would enlarge the cave entrance and show the cave first to Cheesman, and then to a team of archaeologists from BYU.
During the drive home, each member of the party that had come to meet with Brewer shared their opinion on the meeting. Elder Petersen chimed in first with his view that Brewer “was telling the truth and most likely did not have the capacity to perpetuate such an elaborate hoax.” The rest of the group agreed.
After dropping Cheesman off in Provo, Barton accompanied Elder Petersen back to Salt Lake City. During the drive, Barton showed Petersen José Dávila’s Padilla plates and shared his opinion that Dávila was sincere and “worthy of Church confidence.” Barton then “talked about some of the difficulties Dr. Cheesman and also myself had experienced when seeking help from the New World Archaeological Foundation in regards to both the Mexican plates and Cheesman’s work with Brewer.” The apostle “appeared somewhat distressed with the attitude of the Foundation toward archaeology of the scriptures.” According to Barton,
He clearly stated that he did not believe we had any reason to hide our views from intellectual circles in regards to these matters. He strongly advocated that L.D.S. students do their homework and not be hindered or harassed in the presentation of Book of Mormon archaeology. He further stated that in his opinion the Church had no reason to be embarrassed by the discovery or recovery of Gold Plates. After all the very foundation of the Joseph Smith story was based on such knowledge. He said that angels and gold plates were a very real part of Mormon history and that the Church witnessed the same to all the world.
The two men also favorably discussed a cache of Ecuadorian gold plates described in a book by ufologist Erich von Däniken, who in 1968 had famously proposed that aliens had built the Great Pyramid of Giza.
In the months following this meeting, Petersen eagerly pressed Cheesman for news. “We are very interested in this, as you know,” he wrote. “President Kimball has inquired of Brother [Milton R.] Hunter [of the First Council of the Seventy] and myself on two different occasions as to what the status of the matter is.” He also mentioned that “Our brethren here are very interested and it will not surprise me at all if they should authorize purchase of the land involved so that we may get full control.” Barton, hearing a rumor of the Church’s intent to buy the land on which Brewer’s cave was located, visited the Sanpete County recorder’s office and learned “that the Corporation of the L.D.S. Church had in fact been deeded a parcel of ground directly east of the [Temple].”
Unfortunately, Brewer did not make good on his promises. “Spring came and went in the Manti valley and John Brewer [m]ade no effort to contact Dr. Cheesman and fulfill the agreement that he had made in early March,” Barton wrote. “We received information that Brewer was experiencing some marital difficulties and so we chose not to pressure this man as he sought to solve his personal problems.” In a letter to Petersen that summer, Cheesman reported that “John Brewer’s wife left him with all the children to care for, therefore a delay in our plans,” and “Brewer lost his job and is in the midst of changing to another job—further delay.”
Alongside its scathing 1975 exposé of José Dávila, the Church-owned Deseret News published an exposé of Brewer. Brewer frankly told the Deseret News reporter that “Whenever I don’t understand anything, I stall.” He told the reporter that concerns about privacy, credit for the discovery, and his children’s inheritance had caused him to keep the secret close. Meanwhile, Brewer’s bishop reported back to Cheesman that Brewer had discovered a second treasure cave containing additional boxes of plates.
Even as he stalled his friends in high places, Brewer made a smattering of folksier friends. In 1974, an anonymous “Canadian Indian” translated some of the plates, revealing that a group of Jaredites led by a man named Piron had settled in the American Southwest in 2500 BCE. The group had buried more than five million inscribed gold plates throughout the Americas, the translation said, and had known the secret of making electric batteries.
Around the same time, Brewer met Gail Porritt, a kindly eccentric who considered himself to be the “one mighty and strong” prophesied in Doctrine and Covenants section 85. Porritt heard rumors of Brewer’s discovery and visited him to learn more. “He showed me some round lead plates with inscriptions on them with a hole in the middle,” Porritt remembers. Porritt befriended Brewer, and Brewer gave him some artifacts and showed him a hill where “the largest and most important repository of records” was buried, according to the map he had found in his cave. “They’re up there; good luck to you if you can find them,” Brewer invited.
A man named Dave Tomlinson also befriended Brewer. Brewer took Tomlinson on mountain hikes to search for sites marked on his Jaredite map. According to Brewer, the map marked Jaredite burials spanning from Colorado to Idaho, “with little footprints going from one to the other.” The “main” site on the map, however, seemed to be west of Manti, Utah. Brewer and Tomlinson searched the mountains for a “trail marker” depicted on the map, but they couldn’t find it.
In the 1970s, Brewer fell in with a man named John Heinerman. Like Porritt, Heinerman heard rumors of Brewer’s discovery and sought him out. Heinerman claims that Brewer showed him his cave, a claim that Brewer denied. The wonders Heinerman witnessed in the cave included a Jaredite battery and a unicorn head. He and Brewer also tried their hand at translating the plates.
Brewer and Heinerman somehow became entangled with a group of polygamist fundamentalists led by Ervil LeBaron. At minimum, Ervil’s nephew Ross LeBaron Jr. stole some photographs of Brewer’s artifacts from a photographer’s office. To hear Heinerman tell the story, the LeBarons also demanded to know the location of Brewer’s cave and tortured and killed Brewer’s son. Police concluded that Johnnie Brewer Jr. died of an accidental drug overdose, but Heinerman believes it was staged. Another source implies that Heinerman and Brewer conspired with the LeBarons to sell fraudulent artifacts to wealthy Latter-day Saints.
By 1990, Brewer and Heinerman had a spectacular falling-out. Their dispute concerned a Canadian woman named Louise to whom Heinerman had been engaged. Louise complained to Brewer that Heinerman had deceived her and defrauded her out of $34,000. Brewer helped her move out of Heinerman’s home, and he also testified against Heinerman before a Church court. According to a thirdhand account of Brewer’s testimony, he confessed at the hearing that he and Heinerman had conspired to sell fake copper plates to members of the Church. Heinerman retaliated with a priesthood curse consigning Brewer and his progeny to hell.
In 2001, Heinerman published a book to popularize Brewer’s story. Brewer complained about the book in an interview with Gail Porritt. According to Brewer, many claims in the book were fabricated, and the book’s publication had complicated the resolution of a lawsuit over ownership of the land where the cave was located. “I’ve tried to let it cool off, more or less. Tried to say, well, no, you know, forget it, it’s not true, whatever. Tried to cool it down. And I thought it was until he brought that dang book out.”
When Porritt asked how soon Brewer expected to go public with the location of the cave, Brewer said it would be sometime within the next two years. In addition to needing to resolve the lawsuit over ownership of the land, he also expected the Lord to bring forth a couple of archaeologists to assist with the work. Porritt then asked if Brewer would mind recording his story on video for posterity. Brewer replied, “Well . . . I’m not too . . . not ready for that. I don’t want to be like John Heinerman. Okay?” Brewer did not reveal his secrets sometime within the next two years. Instead, he kept them until 2007, when he took them to his grave.
According to Brewer’s friend Terry Carter, near the end of his life Brewer “blew the entrance to the cave up” and vowed never to reveal its location while he was alive. Carter wrote in 2006 that Brewer “has become a recluse, is starting to go senile and denies that his cave ever existed and will not talk to anyone about it. His wife is much more abrasive and will threaten to shoot anyone who tries to talk to John, or steps foot on their property.” Carter, a believer in the cave, explained away Brewer’s denial. Brewer “was given an ultimatum by his wife to deny that his cave, mummies and artifacts ever existed in order to re-store harmony to the family.” Senile or no, Brewer had decided that being a father and husband made him happier than being a finder of plates.
Dávila’s and Brewer’s Legacies
Rejected by the Mormon establishment, Dávila’s and Brewer’s projects have been taken up by an array of fundamentalist prophets and nonprofit organizations. One of the first to make use of Brewer’s story was Gerald Peterson Sr., who in 1978 founded a polygamous sect called the Righteous Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Peterson claimed that Brewer had taken him inside his cave in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Peterson also borrowed some of the plates, which he translated. His followers are forbidden to read the translation until the appointed time. For four decades they have kept the translation under a sacred seal.
In 1990, Manti, Utah resident Jim Harmston led a group of locals to search the hills near the Manti Temple for Brewer’s cave. They found esoteric petroglyphs much like those in Fillmore that José Dávila had identified as the angel Moroni’s signature glyphs. In short order “there was an excavation going on the West side of the Manti valley,” and rumors circulated that someone had found Brewer’s treasure cave. Harmston’s bishop in Manti objected to the illegal dig and worried that his ward members might embarrass the Church. Four years later, Harmston founded his own polygamous sect.
Another Manti polygamist, Jerry Mower, married John Brewer’s sister and claims to have learned the secret of Brewer’s cave. In 2001, Mower showed historians H. Michael Marquardt and Gerald Kloss “many artifacts he claims he found in the valley of Manti,” including stone boxes and gold plates. Mower told the historians that he had “found many caves in the Valley of Manti and mummies, including he claims, the mummies of Adam and Eve—since he believes this was the Garden of Eden site and the site where Noah built the Ark. He feels the second coming will take place in The Valley of Manti. He also showed us [a] translation of the gold plates with symbols for God the Father, Jesus the son, and The Holy Spirit, who is Joseph Smith.”
Mower added colorful science-fiction flourishes to Brewer’s stories. Among his artifacts is a disc-shaped rock that he says is an ancient CD. He also claims to know of a hidden temple in the mountains with three altars—telestial, terrestrial, and celestial. The celestial altar is booby-trapped, and to reach it requires taking a literal “leap of faith” by walking off a cliff onto an invisible ledge. The ancient Nephite general Moroni, Mower says, teleported between Mexico, Utah, and New York with the help of a network of portals.
Fundamentalist prophet Ross LeBaron Jr. owes more to José Dávila than to Brewer. LeBaron has provided his own translation of Dávila’s Fillmore petroglyphs, declaring that the yin-yang symbol represents the location in southern Utah where the ark of the covenant was deposited by the priests of David and Solomon. The ark was buried there and then guarded by the direct descendants of David until the last of the guardians died out a hundred years ago. The last guardian carved the petroglyphs so that the hiding place would not be lost. From the Jewish hamsa symbol, LeBaron learned that Adam, Jacob, and other important biblical figures are buried in Zion National Park.
Like Dávila, LeBaron treated the petroglyph symbols as composites of multiple sub-symbols. Unlike Dávila, however, he did not use either Joseph Smith’s “Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar” or scholarly Egyptian lexicons. Instead, he combined direct revelation with bits of lore derived from ostensibly ancient texts such as the Forgotten Books of Eden. LeBaron claimed that virtually every important event in gospel history took place in Utah. After being kicked out of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived in a Utah “treasure cave.” After the Flood, Noah landed on a mountain in present-day Utah. Utah was the location not only of the Tower of Babel, but also the original lands of Israel and Egypt. “Anyone who believes in that copy-cat area over there [in the Middle East] is part of the Babylonian confusion. It’s all right here in Southern Utah.”
In contrast to the fundamentalists, the Ancient Historical Research Foundation (AHRF) investigates Brewer’s and Dávila’s stories from an orthodox Latter-day Saint perspective. Terry Carter cofounded the organization in the 1990s to study “mystery glyphs” such as those translated by José Dávila. Dávila’s friend J. Golden Barton and Brewer’s friend David Tomlinson served as trustees for the organization until their deaths. Other trustees include marginal or controversial Latter-day Saint scholars such as Rodney Meldrum, Wayne May, and Steven E. Jones.
In 2005, the AHRF carbon-dated a piece of bark from Brewer’s cave and found it to be approximately 2,161 years old. AHRF founder Terry Carter allows that aspects of the Brewer story are fishy, but he insists that the carbon-dated tree bark “couldn’t have been forged.” Members of the AHRF continue the search for Brewer’s cave, although they feel that guardian spirits and booby traps may prevent it from being found until God’s appointed time. They also continue the quest for the Fillmore, Utah metal records sought by José Dávila. In the 1980s, David Tomlinson went so far as to purchase “the placer [i.e., mining] claims” to Dávila’s Chalk Creek Canyon mine.
Members of the AHRF see Mormon academics as their rivals. They accuse professional academics like Ray Matheny of bullying amateur explorers and stealing or covering up their finds. To these faithful Mormon folk, the establishment’s rejection of Dávila’s and Brewer’s charismatic artifacts is a symptom at least of incompetence, if not of apostasy or malign intent.
Folk and Official Culture and the Routinization of Charisma
Academic folklorists define “folk culture” as culture that is “shared person to person” and that varies or changes each time it’s transmitted. This contrasts with “official culture,” which is broadcast in a single version by an authority or intellectual property owner. While this definition foregrounds the process of transmission, it also references the social position of the message’s purveyors. Most Mormon folklore scholarship has emphasized the transmission process, perhaps to the neglect of social position. To quote folklore studies professor Stephen Olbrys Gencarella’s summary of the critical theories of Antonio Gramsci, “the official exists in no small measure because it defines folklore,” and “folklore exists . . . in part because it officiates as the Other for the official.”
This dynamic is well illustrated in the history of Book of Mormon archaeology. Charismatic or spiritual practitioners have favored person-to-person storytelling, whether orally at firesides and “pow-wows” or on the internet in message boards and YouTube channels. Characteristically for folklore, their stories have transformed and taken on new proportions with repeated retelling. However, they tend to favor this mode of transmission not because they lack the ambition to broadcast their message through authoritative channels but because they are denied access to those channels. They are denied access because of their social position—their poverty and lack of Church or academic credentials—and because they have made useful foils for official Church and academic culture. BYU archaeologists like Ray Matheny established their scientific bona fides in part by distancing themselves from archaeological claims they viewed as fraudulent or fantastical. As a result, “folk” and “scientific” Book of Mormon archaeologies arose together symbiotically.
Folklorists emphasize that “folk culture is no more or less important than official culture. It doesn’t exist above or beneath the official culture but right next to it.” That, however, is not the attitude of most guardians and gatekeepers of official culture. Official culture actively enforces its single version, drawing and maintaining strict boundaries between itself and the folk, and it tends to look down on anything that doesn’t meet its standards for inclusion within its scope. So when a recent edited volume on Mormon folklore began its discussion of folklore by invoking Carl Sagan’s contrast between the folkloric “superstitious mind” and the scientific “critical mind,” it perhaps uncritically adopted the stance and language of official culture rather than the stance and language of folkloristics. Academics engaged in the study of folklore may personally agree with academic critiques of folk culture, but as scholars we must also recognize that we occupy a privileged social position and have a vested interest in the struggle to distinguish folk from official, so we are not disinterested observers. Also noteworthy is that while folklore studies have historically focused on non-elite “folk,” the discipline increasingly recognizes that “elites will have, inasmuch as they adhere in groups, a lore as well.” We find good examples in the stories that Ray Matheny told his students about the “crazy” artifacts that people brought to him for authentication and in the story that William J. Adams Jr. told about his discovery of symbols from Brewer’s plates on a restaurant napkin.
Moving to a different disciplinary frame borrowed from the sociology of religion may help elucidate what cultural work the folk and official archaeologists were doing in their contests over Dávila’s and Brewer’s discoveries. According to the German sociologists Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch, something like the tension between folk and official culture plays out in every religion and intensifies as the religion gets older. They called this the “sect-church cycle” or “routinization of charisma.” According to this theory, a religious sect begins with a “charismatic” event—a breaking-in to history of something thrilling but uncontainable, like miraculous divine power or invisible gold plates. But as the sect matures into a full-fledged church, it builds systems, institutions, and routines around its founding charisma to contain the charisma and make it safe. It returns its gold plates to their stone box to prevent them from endangering the stability or quality of faith.
Charisma is thrilling, but routine is not. Inevitably, some adherents seek to “revitalize” their faith by liberating charisma from its containment—by removing the plates from their box. Religion’s official gatekeepers may tolerate these folk revitalization movements if they find them nonthreatening enough. Or they may sanction and exclude them, at which point the revitalization movements fizzle out, go independent, or go underground. Many failed revitalization movements give rise to new religious movements, beginning the sect-church cycle all over again.
Thomas Ferguson’s NWAF began with an ambition to revitalize the LDS faith by finding concrete evidence of the Book of Mormon and its glittering gold plates. But from the beginning, conservative forces in Mormonism’s official culture resisted Ferguson’s quest. Apostles Joseph Fielding Smith and Marion G. Romney worried that Book of Mormon archaeologists promoted heterodox interpretations of the Book of Mormon that limited its geographical scope in direct contradiction to statements made by the Church’s founder Joseph Smith. Other General Authorities and Mormon academics felt “considerable embarrassment over the various unscholarly postures assumed” by Book of Mormon archaeologists and feared that their work would damage the academic reputation of BYU. This, in no small part, is why the Church folded NWAF into BYU in 1961 and placed its administration and finances under the control of the Church Archaeological Committee. By 1963, the committee decreed that the foundation should do its archaeological work in a secular way and that “any attempt at correlation or interpretation involving the Book of Mormon should be eschewed.”
In an illustrative exchange, apostle Marion G. Romney accosted BYU archaeologists in Mexico City. According to Max Wells Jakeman,
[Apostle Romney] immediately asked me, <in an important manner,> if I was expecting to find ‘Lehi’s Tomb’ on this expedition. I assured him that I was leaving this up to the missionaries. Yesterday he called Carl, Ray, Harvey, and Larry into a room by themselves, and there—according [to] the report they gave me—he gave them ‘serious instructions’; namely, that they must send back only sound scientific reports of their findings, and must leave all conclusion, with respect to the Book of M., to others—i.e. the ‘committee’?—back home. They said they were interested only in doing scientific work at Aguacatal, as the Department had done in the past, but he didn’t have <the> time to hear them out.
While the archaeologists resented this interference in their work, they also took the lesson to heart. Despite the title of Stan Larson’s history of the NWAF, Quest for the Gold Plates, theirs was a quest for conventional archaeological evidence, not for sensational artifacts like gold plates. They increasingly functioned as an arm of official culture, helping keep the lid on the stone box. By 1969, BYU archaeology grad Dee F. Green—who had personally participated in NWAF excavations—could write that “the first myth we need to eliminate is that Book of Mormon archaeology exists.”
The official culture did not speak with one voice on this subject. BYU academics like John Sorenson continued to work and publish on Book of Mormon archaeology, though more quietly and informally than before. And BYU archaeologist Paul R. Cheesman and General Authorities Mark E. Petersen and Milton R. Hunter each kept up a sympathetic correspondence and relationship with amateur archaeologists like José Dávila and John Brewer who continued the search for ancient Nephite and Jaredite artifacts and records. The charismatic quest for sensational artifacts like gold plates was pushed to the folk periphery of Mormon culture, but Cheesman, Petersen, and Hunter prevented it from being pushed out of Mormon culture altogether while they were alive.
After their deaths, gold plates became chiefly the domain of Mormon-inspired new religious movements and breakaway fundamentalist sects. And so the sect-church process began anew, with new charisma spilling forth from unearthed metal plates, luminous and uncontainable.
Note: The Dialogue Foundation provides the web format of this article as a courtesy. There may be unintentional differences from the printed version. For citational and bibliographical purposes, please use the printed version or the PDFs provided online and on JSTOR.
 Stan Larson, Quest for the Gold Plates: Thomas Stuart Ferguson’s Archaeological Search for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Freethinker Press, 1996).
 Jerry Ainsworth, “Response to Brant Gardner’s Article Regarding The Lives and Travels of Mormon and Moroni,” The Reading Room: Book of Mormon Geography, Aug. 2006.
 Kenneth W. Godfrey, “What Is the Signiﬁcance of Zelph in the Study of Book of Mormon Geography?,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8, no. 2 (1999): 70–79; Matthew Roper, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations,” FARMS Review 16, no. 2 (2004): 243; Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst-McGee, “‘President Joseph Has Translated a Portion’: Joseph Smith and the Mistranslation of the Kinderhook Plates,” chapter 17 in Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity, edited by Michael Hubbard MacKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020), 452–523.
 Joseph Smith, Letter to Emma Smith, June 4, 1834, in Letter Book 2, 56–59, Joseph Smith Collection, MS 155, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
 Roger Van Noord, The King of Beaver Island: The Life and Assassination of James Jesse Strang (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 33–35, 102; Ian Barber, “Dream Mines and Religious Identity in Twentieth-Century Utah: Insights from the Norman C. Pierce Papers,” Princeton University Library Chronicle 70, no. 3 (2009): 433–69; Kevin Cantera, “A Currency of Faith: Taking Stock in Utah County’s Dream Mine,” in Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore, edited by Paul W. Reeve and Michael Scott Van Wagenen (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2011), 125–58.
 John E. Page, “Collateral Testimony of the Book of Mormon,” Gospel Herald (Voree, Wisc.) 3, no. 26, Sept. 14, 1848, 123; G. M. Ottinger, “Votan, the Culture-Hero of the Mayas,” Juvenile Instructor 14, no. 5, Mar. 1, 1879, 57–58.
 Mark Ashurst-McGee, “Mormonism’s Encounter with the Michigan Relics,” BYU Studies 40, no. 3 (2001): 174–209.
 Roper, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon,” 260–65.
 Larson, Quest for the Gold Plates, 45–70.
 Chris Watkins, email to Christopher Smith, Nov. 2, 2020.
 See Richard E. Bennett, “‘Read This I Pray Thee’: Martin Harris and the Three Wise Men of the East,” Journal of Mormon History 36, no. 1 (Winter 2010): 190–94.
 John F. Forber & Company to Thomas S. Ferguson, Jan. 12, 1953, MSS 1549, Thomas S. Ferguson Papers, 1936–1975, box 9, folder 3, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 José O. Dávila to John A. Wilson, Oct. 15, 1965, in Veryle R. Todd Notebook, circa 1965–1975, MS 9263, LDS Church History Library.
 “Archaeologist to Lecture in Pl. Grove,” The [Provo, Utah] Daily Herald 91, no. 165 (Mar. 19, 1964): 13A.
 “Personal History of Claudious Bowman, Jr. and His Wife Nelle,” chap. 6; “Mexico Guide Dated by Society at Y.,” Deseret News and Salt Lake [City, Utah] Telegram 354, no. 158 (Dec. 31, 1960): A7; “Hazel Argyle Stocks,” Family Search (accessed March 5, 2020).
 Max Wells Jakeman, “Recent Explorations in the Proposed, Region of Zarahemla,” UAS Newsletter 22 (Aug. 23, 1954).
 “Archaeologist to Lecture in Pl. Grove”; “Join December Tour of Book of Mormon Lands in Mexico” (advertisement), The [Provo, Utah] Sunday Herald 33, no. 23 (Nov. 6, 1955): 2B.
 Jerry L. Ainsworth, The Lives and Travels of Mormon and Moroni (n.p.: Peace-Makers Publishing, 2000), 5, 15; Terry L. Carter, “Jose Davila & the Gold Plates,” June 2009; “Mexican Travel Guide Presents New Ideas on Book of Mormon Sites,” Ogden [Utah] Standard-Examiner 84, no. 241 (September 10, 1955): 3.
 “Book of Mormon Attracts Guide to LDS Religion,” Deseret News and Salt Lake [City, Utah] Telegram 354, no. 104 (Oct. 29, 1960): 6.
 “Mexican Travel Guide Presents New Ideas.” The NWAF’s official papers and expedition reports omitted any mention of Dávila, but Max Wells Jakeman noted his participation in an article published in the newsletter of the UAS. Jakeman, “Recent Explorations.”
 Milton R. Hunter, Archaeology and the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1956).
 “Mexico Guide Dated by Society at Y.”; “Guide Lectures at BYU Society,” Deseret News and [Salt Lake City, Utah] Telegram 355, no. 2 (Jan. 3, 1961): 2B/.
 Clark S. Knowlton to Ross T. Christensen, February 7, 1955, MSS 1716, Ross T. Christensen Collection, 1891–1992, box 5, folder 5, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 “Mexican Guide to Tell Book of Mormon Theory,” Ogden [Utah] Standard-Examiner 84, no. 225 (Aug. 25, 1955): 16B; “Mexican Travel Guide Presents New Ideas”; Merle Shupe, “Guide Plans Map on Book of Mormon,” The Ogden [Utah] Standard-Examiner 89, no. 257 (Oct. 3, 1959): 3; “Mexico Guide Dated by Society at Y.”; José O. Dávila, “An Account of Our Book of Mormon Lands Tour, Jan. 27th to Feb. 16th, 1961,” Americana Collection, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University; José O. Dávila, “Physical Evidences of the Book of Mormon,” December 1965, MSS 2049, box 63, folder 2c, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University; José O. Dávila, “The Geography of the Nephites,” December 1965, MSS 2049, box 63, folder 2c, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Dávila, “An Account of Our Book of Mormon Lands Tour,” 36–37, 43.
 Ray T. Matheny, “An Analysis of the Padilla Plates,” BYU Studies 19, no. 1 (Fall 1978): 33–40.
 When paraphrasing primary sources, especially where they draw upon racial myths and stereotypes, I generally preserve their racial terminology (e.g., “Indian”) rather than substitute an alternative label.
 Richard Averett, letter to Ross T. Christensen, May 7, 1961, quoted in Paul R. Cheesman, Ray Matheny, and Bruce Louthan, “A Report on the Gold Plates Found in Mexico,” January 1973, 4–5, 8–9, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 66, folder 2, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University; Gerald C. Kammerman, letter to Diane E. Wirth, Nov. 20, 1978, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 66, folder 2, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University; “Padilla Follow-Up,” n.d. [ca. 1978], in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 66, folder 2, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Kammerman to Wirth, Nov. 20, 1978; Wayne Hamby, “Padilla Plates,” Apr. 29, 1974, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 66, folder 2, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University; Kammerman to Wirth, Nov. 20, 1978; “Padilla Follow-Up”; Ainsworth, Lives and Travels, 18; J. Golden Barton, “A Rebuttle Written by J. Golden Barton to ‘A Report on the Gold Plates in Mexico’ by Paul R. Cheesman, Ray Matheny and Bruce Louthan January, 1973,” 2, 9, 15, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 66, folder 4, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Ainsworth, Lives and Travels, 18–19; Kammerman to Wirth, Nov. 20, 1978; Barton, “A Rebuttle,” 8; José O. Dávila, “Moroni’s Petroglyphs in Utah,” Dec. 23, 1964, MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 63, folder 2c, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 José O. Dávila, “Laboratory Analysis of the Amuzgus Front Plate,” in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 66, folder 2, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Ainsworth, Lives and Travels, 19; Barton, “A Rebuttle,” 10; “Join Our December Tour to the Book of Mormon Lands in Mexico, December 10 to 30” (advertisement), Ogden [Utah] Standard-Examiner 34, no. 291 (Oct. 30, 1955): 6B.
 Carter, “Jose Davila & the Gold Plates”; Ainsworth, Lives and Travels, 19; José Dávila, “The Full Translation,” n.d., in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 66, folder 2, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Memorandum of Jose Octavio Davila, in Harold Huntsman and Flora Huntsman v. Jose Octavio Davila, Mrs. Jose Octavio Davila, E. Del Allgood, and Mrs. E. Del Allgood, case no. 5634, District Court of the Fifth Judicial District in and for Millard County, Utah, Oct. 1966, Millard County Clerk’s Office.
 Recall that Jesus Padilla had “garlanded” his gold plates by stringing them together on a necklace for his wife. José O. Dávila, “The Translation of the Large Texts,” n.d., in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 63, folder 2c, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University; José O. Dávila, “Translation of Fillmore Symbols,” n.d.; José O. Dávila, “The Chalk Creek Canyon Texts from Fillmore, Utah, Translated by J. O. Dávila,” Nov. 1965, MS 2105, LDS Church History Library.
 José O. Dávila, “Moronai in Utah, or, Hidden Treasures in Your Backyard,” Dec. 24, 1965, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 63, folder 2c, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University. See also Jerry L. Ainsworth, “Is There Evidence That Mormon and Moroni Visited the American West?” Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, 2015; Ainsworth, Lives and Travels, 201–03.
 Dávila, “Moroni’s Petroglyphs in Utah”; Dávila, “Moronai in Utah”; Stephen B. Shaffer, Treasures of the Ancients (Springville, Utah: Plain Sight Publishing, 2013), 155; Dávila, “The Chalk Creek Canyon Texts”; Dávila to Wilson, Oct. 15, 1965.
 Complaint, Harold Huntsman and Flora Huntsman v. Jose Octavio Davila, Mrs. Jose Octavio Davila, E. Del Allgood, and Mrs. E. Del Allgood, case no. 5634, District Court of the Fifth Judicial District in and for Millard County, Utah, Oct. 1966; photocopies provided by Millard County Clerk’s Office; Memorandum of Davila, Oct. 1966; Carter, “Jose Davila & the Gold Plates”; Shaffer, Treasures of the Ancients, 155.
 Carter, “Jose Davila & the Gold Plates”; Shaffer, Treasures of the Ancients, 154–55; “2 S.L. Men Killed in Mine,” Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah) 366, no. 111 (Nov. 7, 1966): 1B; “Carbon Monoxide Cause of Shaft Deaths,” Deseret News, Nov. 8, 1966, B11; “Search to Continue for Metal Tablet Cache Despite Deaths,” Idaho State Journal (Pocatello, Idaho) 65, no. 203 (Nov. 8, 1966): 1; “Gas Is Fatal for Pair in Mine Shaft,” The [Twin Falls, Idaho] Times-News 63, no. 206 (Nov. 8, 1966): 9.
 Carter, “Jose Davila & the Gold Plates”; “Blast Gas Fatal to Miner in Hunt for Silver,” The Salt Lake [City, Utah] Tribune 195, no. 119 (Aug. 11, 1967): 1B.
 Carter, “Jose Davila & the Gold Plates.”
 Paul R. Cheesman, Report, n.d. [1971–1972], in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 66, folder 2, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University; Barton, “A Rebuttle,” 11; Ainsworth, Lives and Travels, 19; Matheny, “An Analysis of the Padilla Plates,” 21n4; Cheesman, Matheny, and Louthan, “A Report on the Gold Plates Found in Mexico,” 9; Kammerman to Wirth, November 20, 1978; “Padilla Follow-Up”; Ainsworth, Lives and Travels, 18; Barton, “A Rebuttle,” 2, 9, 15.
 Barton, “A Rebuttle,” 12–13.
 Carter, “Jose Davila & the Gold Plates”; Dale Van Atta, “The Angel, the Gold—and Jose Davila M.,” Deseret News 383, no. 283 (Nov. 26, 1975): B10; Ainsworth, Lives and Travels, 19; Cheesman, Matheny, and Louthan, “A Report on the Gold Plates Found in Mexico,” 9; Barton, “A Rebuttle,” 13–14; Shaffer, Treasures of the Ancients, 116.
 In telling this story, Stephen Shaffer refers to Barton only as “Jake.” I infer Barton’s identity from other sources that allude to this escapade. According to Barton’s obituary, “Jake” was his nickname. Shaffer, Treasures of the Ancients, 116–19; “J. Golden (Jake) Barton” (accessed April 5, 2020); Linda Karen Petty, comp., Linda Karen Petty’s Personal History, vol. 4 (New Harmony, Utah: Petty Family Records Center, 2016); Christopher C. Smith, interview with Gail Porritt, St. George, Utah, Jan. 19, 2013.
 Jesús Padilla Orozco, letter to Paul R. Cheesman, June 26, 1971, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 66, folder 3, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University; Cheesman, Matheny, and Louthan, “A Report on the Gold Plates Found in Mexico.”
 Cheesman, Report, n.d. [1971–1972].
 Cheesman, Matheny, and Louthan, “A Report on the Gold Plates Found in Mexico,” 8–18; Matheny, “An Analysis of the Padilla Plates,” 21–40.
 Barton, “A Rebuttle,” 4–7.
 Matheny, “An Analysis of the Padilla Plates,” 22–30, 40.
 Van Atta, “The Angel, the Gold—and Jose Davila M.”
 J. Golden Barton, “Archaeological Fraud?” n.d. [ca. 1975], in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 65, folder 4a, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Ainsworth, Lives and Travels.
 Ainsworth, “Response to Brant Gardner’s Article.”
 “Earl John Brewer,” Family Search (accessed Feb. 8, 2020); Christopher C. Smith, Interview with John Heinerman, April 15, 2017; [J. Golden Barton], “Manti Enigma,” 1974–1990, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, Box 7, fd. 3, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Jed Brewer to Christopher Smith, April 4, 2021.
 George Tripp, “Manti Mystery,” Utah Archaeology 9, no. 4, (Dec. 1963): 1; Jesse Jennings to Mrs. J. Wallace Wintch, Nov. 27, 1963, Anthropology Departmental Records, University of Utah Archives; Jesse Jennings to Lambrose D. Callinahos, Jan. 28, 1969, Anthropology Departmental Records, University of Utah Archives. Special thanks to archivist Kirk Baddley for finding and providing the Jesse Jennings correspondence.
 Carl and Louise A. Paulsen affidavit, Apr. 13, 1973, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 65, folder 4a, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 John Brewer journal typescript, June 17, 1960, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 65, folder 4a, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University; Smith, interview with Heinerman, Apr. 15, 2017.
 Jared G. Barton, “Secret Chambers in the Rockies,” The Ancient American 4, no. 28 (June/July 1998): 3–4, 6; “John Brewer Has a Cave, but He’s Not Giving Tours,” Deseret News, Nov. 26, 1975, B10; Smith, interview with Porritt, Jan. 19, 2013; Smith, interview with Heinerman, Apr. 15, 2017; [Barton], “Manti Enigma”; John Heinerman, Hidden Treasures of Ancient American Cultures (Springville, Utah: Bonneville Books, 2001), 147–48; Shaffer, Treasures of the Ancients, 31–32; John Brewer journal typescript.
 Ray T. Matheny to Melvin Aikens, Mar. 17, 1965, Anthropology Departmental Records, University of Utah Archives. Special thanks to archivist Kirk Baddley for finding and providing this document.
 Letter from Paul R. Cheesman to Gary B. Doxey, May 3, 1971, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 1, folder 5, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Barton, “Secret Chambers in the Rockies,” 6.
 “John Brewer Has a Cave, but He’s Not Giving Tours”; Ray T. Matheny and William James Adams, Jr., “An Archaeological and Linguistic Analysis of the Manti Tablets,” typescript of a paper presented at the Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures, Provo, Utah, Oct. 28, 1972, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 65, folder 4a, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University. The napkin is preserved in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 65, folder 4a, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 [Barton], “Manti Enigma.”
 [Barton], “Manti Enigma.”
 Mark E. Petersen to Paul R. Cheesman, June 27, 1974, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 1, folder 6, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Mark E. Petersen to Paul R. Cheesman, Apr. 10, 1974, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 65, folder 5j, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 [Barton], “Manti Enigma.”
 [Barton], “Manti Enigma.”
 Paul R. Cheesman to Mark E. Petersen, June 24, 1974, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 1, folder 6, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 “John Brewer Has a Cave, but He’s Not Giving Tours.”
 “John Brewer Has a Cave, but He’s Not Giving Tours.”
 [Barton], “Manti Enigma.”
 Gail Porritt, “Report and Interpretation by a Canadian Man on Very Ancient Inhabitants of Utah,” n.d., in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 24, folder 3, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University; miscellaneous translations, June–December 1974, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 24, folder 3, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Smith, interview with Porritt, Jan. 19, 2013. Diarist Linda Petty’s notes on Porritt’s stories from the 1990s add evocative details. To get to the cave whose general location Brewer had pointed out to Porritt, “there is a 200 foot drop. At the 30 foot level it [is] necessary to swing onto a ledge and take steps down from there.” Petty, Linda Karen Petty’s Personal History.
 Carter and Tomlinson, “Ancient Nephilim Giants Tomb”; David L. Tomlinson to Paul R. Cheesman and Millie Cheesman, Nov. 25, 1987, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 30, folder 1, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Smith, interview with Porritt, Jan. 19, 2013. Terry Carter identifies the photographer as Lucian Bound. Carter and Tomlinson, “Ancient Nephilim Giants Tomb.”
 Heinerman, Hidden Treasures, 203–08; Smith, interview with Heinerman, Apr. 15, 2017.
 [Barton], “Manti Enigma.”
 [Barton], “Manti Enigma”; Smith, interview with Porritt, Jan. 19, 2013; Carter and Tomlinson, “Ancient Nephilim Giants Tomb.” I did not ask John Heinerman about Brewer’s confession, but he volunteered an anecdote in which Brewer’s brother-in-law Jerry Mower enticed Brewer to manufacture and sell fake plates, and “they had to go and repay.” Smith, interview with Heinerman, Apr. 15, 2017.
 Smith, interview with Heinerman, Apr. 15, 2017.
 Heinerman, Hidden Treasures.
 Porritt, interview with Brewer, n.d. [ca. 2001].
 Porritt, interview with Brewer, n.d. [ca. 2001].
 “Earl John Brewer.”
 According to John Brewer’s son Jed Brewer, his father “paid my rent for 2 years so I could get my college degree.” Jed sent his father checks to repay the money, but when he visited, he found the uncashed checks in a stack. John “was always positive to what I was doing. He was never manipulative with any of my family,” says Jed. Brewer, instant message to author, Apr. 4, 2021.
 Christopher C. Smith, interview with Michael Peterson, Nov. 5, 2018. Brewer told Gail Porritt that no one had ever been inside the cave save himself and his son. Porritt, interview with Brewer, n.d. [ca. 2001].
 [Barton], “Manti Enigma.”
 Gerald John Kloss, “My Visit to Utah: A Personal Reflection,” in Latter Day Saint History 13 (2001): 18–19; additional details provided by H. Michael Marquardt on Aug. 8, 2011. See also May, “Utah’s City in the Clouds,” Ancient American 27 (April/May 1999): 3–4, 37–39. For more on the history of this idea, see Cristina Rosetti, “Praise to the Man: The Development of Joseph Smith Deification in Woolleyite Mormonism, 1929–1977,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 54, no. 3 (2021): 41–65.
 Smith, interview with Rodgers, Mar. 14, 2017.
 Gail Porritt, “Ross LeBaron’s Interpretation of Characters,” 1–4, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 24, folder 4, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Gail Porritt, report on an interview with Ross LeBaron, n.d., 3–4, 11, in MSS 2049, Paul R. Cheesman (1921–1991) Papers, box 24, folder 4, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Terry Carter and Shawn Davies, “Mysterious Petrogylphs in the Western US”; Terry Carter, “About my youtube channel, Treasure Hunting, Nephilim Giants, out of place archaeology, etc.,” YouTube, Dec. 8, 2017; “AHRF Bios."
 Steven E. Jones, “Radiocarbon Dating of Bark Sample from Brewer’s Cave, Manti Area,” Ancient American 15, no. 90 (Mar. 2011): 8.
 Terry Carter, “Nephilim Giants found in Utah, Brewers Cave the untold story,” YouTube, Jan. 18, 2017; Carter and Tomlinson, “Ancient Nephilim Giants Tomb.”
 Paul R. Cheesman and David L. Tomlinson, “Egyptian and Hmong Clues to a Western American Petroglyph Group,” Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications 18 (1989): 303–10; Shaffer, Treasures of the Ancients, 161–63.
 Post by DrJones, Feb. 26, 2011, in “We’re surely in it now: Hel/3 Nephi, Revelation D&C 29, 45,” LDS Freedom Forum; Robert Shrewsbury, “An Open Letter to the President of the United States,” Terra Firma Assayers, Oct. 23, 2004.
 Lynne S. McNeill, Folklore Rules: A Fun, Quick, and Useful Introduction to the Field of Academic Folklore Studies (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2013), 1–13.
 See, for instance, W. Paul Reeve and Michael Scott Van Wagenen, “Between Pulpit and Pew: When History and Lore Intersect,” in Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore, edited by W. Paul Reeve and Michael Scott Van Wagenen (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2011), 4; and Tom Mould and Eric A. Eliason, “Introduction: The Three Nephites and the History of Mormon Folklore Studies,” in Latter-day Lore: Mormon Folklore Studies, edited by Eric A. Eliason and Tom Mould (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2013).
 Stephen Olbrys Gencarella, “Folk Criticism and the Art of Critical Folklore Studies,” Journal of American Folklore 124, no. 494 (Fall 2011): 259.
 McNeill, Folklore Rules, 66.
 Reeve and Van Wagenen, “Between Pulpit and Pew,” 1–2.
 Roger D. Abrahams, “Towards a Sociological Theory of Folklore: Performing Services,” Western Folklore 37, no. 3 (July 1978): 161.
 The concept of “routinization of charisma” was pioneered by German sociologist Max Weber, whose fullest treatment of the subject has been translated into English as The Theory of Social and Economic Organizations, translated by A. M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons (New York: The Free Press, 1947), 358–92. German theologian Ernst Troeltsch elaborated Weber’s theory into the idea of the sect-church cycle in Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, vol. 2 (New York: Macmillan, 1931). The concept has been treated in a Mormon context by Armand L. Mauss and Philip L. Barlow, “Church, Sect, and Scripture: The Protestant Bible and Mormon Sectarian Retrenchment,” Sociological Analysis 52, no. 4 (Winter 1991): 397–414.
 Anthropologist Anthony F. C. Wallace popularized the phrase “revitalization movement” in “Revitalization Movements,” American Anthropologist 58, no. 2 (Apr. 1956): 264–81.
 See, for instance, Thomas S. Ferguson to David O. McKay, Jan. 25, 1954, MSS 1549, Thomas S. Ferguson Papers, 1936–1975, box 2, folder 4, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 See, for example, Milton R. Hunter to Thomas S. Ferguson, Aug. 12, 1954, MSS 1549, Thomas S. Ferguson Papers, 1936–1975, box 2, folder 4, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
 Dee F. Green, “Book of Mormon Archaeology: The Myths and the Alternatives,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4, no. 2 (Summer 1969): 76.
 Max Wells Jakeman to Ross T. Christensen, Feb. 28, 1961, MSS 1716, Ross T. Christensen Collection, 1891–1992, box 13, folder 6, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University. Angle brackets indicate a supralinear insertion.
 Green, “Book of Mormon Archaeology,” 76. For Green’s participation in BYU-NWAF expeditions, see Ross T. Christensen, Expedition Journal, 1962, MSS 1716, Ross T. Christensen Collection, 1891–1992, box 13, folder 7, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.[post_title] => A People’s History of Book of Mormon Archeology: Excavating the Role of “Folk” Practitioners in the Emergence of a Field [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 56.3 (Fall 2023): 1–33
Practitioners and historians of Book of Mormon archaeology have tended to narrate the emergence and history of the field as a story of conventional scholarly investigations by Latter-day Saint professionals, professors, and ecclesiastical leaders. These narratives foreground the efforts of educated, white, upper-middle-class professionals and Church-funded institutions based in Salt Lake City and Provo, near the centers of Mormon power. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => a-peoples-history-of-book-of-mormon-archeology-excavating-the-role-of-folk-practitioners-in-the-emergence-of-a-field [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 00:14:43 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 00:14:43 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=34914 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
The Production of the Book of Mormon in Light of a Tibetan Buddhist Parallel
Dialogue 55.4 (Winter 2022): 41–83
Drawing on observations and suggestions from scholars of Tibetan Buddhism and Mormonism, this article compares the production of the Book of Mormon with that of the class of Tibetan Buddhist scripture known as gter ma (“Treasure,” pronounced “terma”)
Listen to the Out Loud Interview about this article here.
The American history of Joseph Smith looks for causes: what led Joseph Smith to think as he did? Comparative, transnational histories explore the limits and capacities of the divine and human imagination: what is possible for humans to think and feel?
Drawing on observations and suggestions from scholars of Tibetan Buddhism and Mormonism, this article compares the production of the Book of Mormon with that of the class of Tibetan Buddhist scripture known as gter ma (“Treasure,” pronounced “terma”). In brief, both are said to have been authored by ancient religious figures, buried with the anticipation of future discovery, discovered by visionaries with the help of supernatural beings, and “translated” from an obscure language into the discoverers’ native tongue by supernatural, revelatory means.
More specifically, this article aims to use a new lens—a gter ma lens, if you will—to explore and extend existing theories of the relationship between the gold plates that Joseph Smith claimed to discover and his translation of those plates, the Book of Mormon. Before continuing, it will be important to briefly clarify and justify the use of comparison for the purpose of analyzing these two culturally, geographically, and temporally separate phenomena, and especially the idea that the analysis of one can be used to shed light on the other.
Whereas comparative methodologies were once common to the field of religious studies, they have become increasingly unpopular since the postmodern turn. One of the persistent postmodern critiques has been that the logic of comparative religion rests on the unwarranted assumption that there is such a thing called “religion” that can be compared cross-culturally. Indeed, the concept of religion has been shown to be a modern concept birthed from the rise of, and hence modeled on, Protestant Christianity. As such, when scholars compare “religious phenomena” they are often imposing anachronistic and provincial categories that distort that which they intend to illuminate.
In light of such critiques, I want to be clear that in using events and ideas located in Tibetan Buddhist history to shed light on Joseph Smith’s translation of the gold plates, I am not arguing that because Tibetan Buddhists acted and thought in a certain way, Joseph Smith must have acted and thought in a similar way, based on some sort of preposterous organic connection. Rather, I am arguing that as we attempt to trace associations between Smith’s gold plates and the Book of Mormon, considering how other people in radically different times and places have described structurally similar events can serve to highlight and challenge assumptions previously taken for granted, and introduce new possibilities that would be otherwise indiscernible.
Reading Smith’s interactions with the gold plates alongside structurally comparable events in the Tibetan gter ma tradition—as well as alongside how scholars of Tibetan Buddhism have approached those events—highlights and challenges two prevailing paradigms in Mormon studies and serves to introduce a novel possibility on how Smith experienced his translation of the Book of Mormon. In brief, this comparison first draws attention to problematic assumptions about the nature of human subjectivity in relation to the material world that have fueled longstanding debates that posit the Book of Mormon must be either a translation of an authentic historical document or a fraud. Moreover, although I agree with much of the work of scholars such as Karl Sandberg, Ann Taves, and Sonia Hazard, whose work transcends this either/or binary by showing the gold plates could have functioned as something other than an inert object subject to linguistic translation, I will take issue with their persistent return to Smith’s subjective imagination or creativity as one of the (if not the primary) driving source of his “translation.”
In light of the gter ma tradition, where the discovered material scroll acts as an agent that draws forth the memory of a particular teaching given by the Buddhist master Padmasambhava in a previous life, and where the work of “translation” consists primarily of ritually orienting oneself in relation to its power as to be an effective intermediary for Padmasambhava’s message, I will argue that the gold plates can similarly be thought of as having their own “generative potencies” that acted on Smith in “unpredictable ways.” As such, I will suggest that Smith’s “translation” be approached as a set of rituals in relation to an agentive material object that enabled him to act as a present intermediary for past voices crying out “from the dust.” I will also contend that this idea is plausible in light of recent work concerning Smith’s use of the term “translation,” some of Smith’s later theological innovations, and postcolonialist and new materialist theories of subjectivity and agency.
The primary goal of this article is to use this idiosyncratic pairing of Tibetan Buddhist and Mormon modes of scriptural production to help us trace the associations between Smith, the gold plates, and the Book of Mormon in a way that better aligns with the primary sources. To do so, I will begin in part 1 by outlining a set of important functional similarities between the gold plates and gter mas within their respective religious traditions. This portion of the article is meant to provide fuller context for introducing my own critiques and theories in part 2, as well as to make a broad case for the comparability of the two traditions that could be generative of future comparative work. Focusing the bulk of the article on their comparability and my own critiques and theories concerning Smith’s translation will admittedly leave a number of relevant questions about the implications of this study for Smith’s life and legacy unanswered. Nevertheless, I will conclude by briefly discussing two implications of this study, namely around questions of the Book of Mormon’s historicity and Smith’s later theological innovations on the theme of materiality, which will have to be fully developed elsewhere.
Part 1: Functional Similarities Between the Tibetan Treasure (gter ma) Tradition and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon
What is particularly interesting to note in this section of the article is how these apocryphal scriptures functioned within their respective traditions, which gives us an idea of the comparability of the activities of Joseph Smith and the Tibetan gter ma discoverers (gter ston) despite their highly distinctive temporal and geographical contexts. Specifically, Smith and the Tibetan gter stons discovered and translated ancient material objects as a means of bridging the religiously authoritative past with the present to address contested questions of religious authority and national identity amid religious and political paradigm shifts. In doing so, their scriptures posed similar challenges to the received authority of preexisting canonical texts and expanded traditional canonical boundaries beyond their previous geographical and temporal limitations, thereby sacralizing their native lands and contextualizing them within the larger arc of Christian/Buddhist history, as well as authenticating the otherworldly prowess of their discoverers and the contested authenticity of their own traditions.
The gter ma tradition can be seen as a mix of native Tibetan traditions of pragmatic treasure burial and Indian Buddhist revelatory traditions that coalesced into a unique response to contested questions of canonical, denominational, and personal religious authority, as well as religio-national identity, amid religious and political paradigm shifts. The gter ma tradition emerged within what is now called the Nyingma (rnying ma) tradition of Tibetan Buddhism around the twelfth century, during a period denoted by Tibetan historiographers as the later spread of the Dharma in Tibet, juxtaposed to the earlier spread of the Dharma. These two periods of Buddhist transmission are divided by a hundred year “period of political fragmentation” or “dark period,” brought about when the Tibetan central government, and thus imperially sponsored monastic Buddhism, dissolved following the assassination of the putatively anti-Buddhist king Lang Darma by a Buddhist monk in the mid-ninth century.
When political and economic conditions restabilized amid a cultural renaissance and religious revival in the latter half of the tenth century, the authenticity of extant Buddhist scriptures and practices became a topic of serious concern. Many of the new religious authorities suspected that many, if not all, of the tantras said to have been transmitted to Tibet during the imperial age—denoted as Old or Nyingma (rnying ma) tantras—were not authentic Buddhist teachings but Tibetan fabrications. In addition, individuals associated with the old dark-period religious traditions were charged with engaging in a variety of disreputable activities, implying that they had misinterpreted or deliberately abused these traditionally esoteric teachings and were thus operating within a lineage corrupted by heresy. The only possible solution, it seemed, was to “send young men to India . . . to bring back to Tibet the pure esoteric dispensation,” resulting in a baseline standard of scriptural authenticity defined as texts of Indic origin, transmitted to Tibet post-late-tenth century.
Amid this importation of new Indic scripture, new Tibetan Buddhist schools also emerged that articulated their ecclesial authority and authenticity by linking their teaching lineage to current Indic traditions “in the face of the supposed corruption and antiquity of previous Tibetan Lineages.” These previous lineages were subsequently dubbed Nyingma (“old”) in contrast to the new schools. In response, the Nyingma began articulating their own lineal heritage through the Buddhist masters of the imperial period—the ancient Tibetan kings and Indian Buddhist ambassadors who had come to be remembered as great bodhisattvas (awakened beings) and who compassionately introduced Buddhism to Tibet between the seventh and eighth centuries CE.
It is within these religious paradigm shifts around the turn of the eleventh century that individuals primarily associated with this fledging Nyingma tradition claimed to discover gter mas: heretofore unknown sacred historical, ritual, and doctrinal texts attributed to a Buddhist master (typically Padmasambhava, who will be discussed below) from Tibet’s imperial age. Thus, the Nyingma tradition began to distinguish itself from other Tibetan Buddhist schools over the doctrine of “continuing revelation” against an ostensibly closed canon by appealing to discoveries of ancient, buried treasure across a period of perceived religious corruption.
Although Nyingma apologists attempted to legitimate their innovations by appealing to similar revelatory precedents in Mahāyāna sūtras, this movement posed a unique challenge to traditional modes of scriptural transmission—known as spoken transmission. By establishing a direct link between the enlightened beings of Tibet’s imperial age and the present, the gter ma discoverers created a timeless repository of ancient knowledge that turned “the original critique of decline among the ‘old school’ . . . on its head.” Whereas the Indian tantras brought to Tibet following the close of the dark period in the late tenth century by new school representatives were transmitted from teacher to student for generations upon generations and thus—according to Nyingma apologists—subject to corruption, the gter mas shortened the lineage, placing the gter ma discoverer in direct communication with an enlightened source. Thus, the Nyingma were able to claim that the gter mas were a direct revelatory corrective to gaps, errors, or misinterpretations of the current canon. Moreover, as such had been hidden by an enlightened being with the express purpose of discovery at a precise future date, they were said to be better designed to “suit the mental desires, needs and capacities of people born in those times.” Thus, the gter mas existed in a dialectic relationship to the existing canon, which served as a source of legitimacy, yet in turn was made to appear somewhat obsolete as comparatively more distant and less personalized.
Here, it is worth noting that the Book of Mormon likewise positioned itself both as a corrective to erroneous biblical translations and interpretations across a period of spiritual darkness, and a source of fresh prophetic wisdom designed to uniquely address contemporary needs amid turbulent times. Moreover, it existed in a comparable dialectic relationship to its own canonical counterpart, the Bible.
Joseph Smith both propagated the idea that the early Christian church had apostatized soon after the death of Christ and his apostles, as well as joined a number of marginal voices challenging the cessationist notion that the Christian canon had been sealed with the writing of the New Testament. Yet Smith did not only couch his claim in his own words, or even the words of God revealed to him, but in the words of ancient Israelite prophets who—unbeknownst to the rest of the world—had anciently inhabited portions of the American continent. With prophetic foresight, these prophets maintained and ultimately buried an ancient record (the gold plates) that preserved the “plain and most precious parts of the gospel,” which would be taken away from the Bible, and which would uniquely speak to the needs of the latter-day followers of Christ. Thus, by discovering and translating the gold plates, Smith could likewise claim direct access to uncorrupted and personalized prophetic wisdom against the comparatively erroneous and provincial Bible.
Yet just as this new scripture challenged the Bible’s inerrancy, universality, and soteriological sufficiency, the Book of Mormon’s function within the early Mormon movement was most often to the signal the impending fulfillment of eschatological and restorationist biblical prophecies, and was itself defended through reference to biblical passages interpreted as prophesying its emergence. Many saw in its emergence the fulfillment of a variety of Old and New Testament prophecies that signaled the impending restoration of the primitive Christian church after a period of apostasy, the literal restoration of Israel, and the establishing of God’s kingdom in anticipation of Christ’s millennial reign. Thus, similar to the gter mas, the Book of Mormon’s meaning and legitimacy was both defined in relation to the rest of the Christian canon while simultaneously rivaling its previously unparalleled authority.
In addition to their role as canonical innovations, the gter mas and the Book of Mormon were also important means of legitimating the religious careers of their discoverers, the authority of their associated tradition, and a means of contextualizing those traditions within the larger arc of Buddhist and Christian history. As Gyatso has analyzed in depth, the gter ston’s claiming part in the prophesied discovery and propagation of a gter ma—itself a complicated semiotic process consisting of locating oneself in canonical prophecies and interpreting external signs to be discussed below—is “powerfully self-legitimating.” In doing so, the discoverer “accrue[s] to their own person the exalted qualities of that text and its holy origins,” and his or her tradition becomes authenticated against its detractors through recourse to a “competing power structure located in the culturally powerful memories of the dynastic period.” Moreover, as this competing power structure consisted of ancient Tibetan voices in the face of a canonical tradition in which “Indian provenance [had become] the sine qua non of religious authority,” the gter ma tradition not only expanded canonical boundaries past their traditional temporal and geographical constraints but made Tibet “an active partner in the Buddhist cosmos. Instead of being the disheveled stepchild of the great Indian civilization, by means of [gter ma] the snowy land of Tibet became the authentic ground of the Buddha’s enlightened activity.”
Likewise, the Book of Mormon’s origin story—both its miraculous translation and what its claimed ancient authors prophesied about this event—served to route the fulfillment of restorationist and eschatological biblical prophecies through the inspired actions of a particular individual—Joseph Smith. As the seer who brought to light this ancient scripture, whose very existence signaled the incipience of the long-awaited “restitution of all things” as prophesied in the New Testament book of Acts, Smith went from rural visionary to God’s newly called prophet, and his movement to the culmination of God’s dealings with humankind. Moreover, by placing both the internment and discovery of this pivotal text—with its accompanying mythology of ancient Christian worship and even a visit from the resurrected Christ in the Americas—Smith brought his followers into a new (or restored) Christian teleology in which God’s plan had always included, and would culminate with, the prophetic work of his chosen peoples on the American continent.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the role these texts have played within their respective religious traditions, nor is it an exhaustive list of the commonalities between the two. Much could be written, for example, about how this revelatory mechanism enabled these traditions to give modern doctrinal, ritual, and theological innovations a historical guise, and how these texts validated canonical texts whose authenticity was being called into question. Nor is it to say that their functionality has not changed over time, as it surely has; although I would argue that the concerns mentioned here have been rather constant. Yet, this brief comparison indicates that Joseph Smith and the Tibetan gter ma discoverers were—in some important ways—engaged in functionally comparable projects.
More specifically, this comparison highlights that the ancient artifacts discovered within these two traditions operate in functionally similar ways. In both traditions, a material artifact enables a discoverer to bring to light ancient voices across a temporal divide. This act has dramatic personal implications related to that individual’s religious authority and that of their tradition, but those implications are defined by the relationships that the material artifact forges between the discoverer and a variety of other agents. And it is precisely by analyzing how the material artifact is said to do this in the gter ma tradition and applying the theoretical possibilities that this analysis opens up concerning what a material artifact can do—rather than merely what it could be or what Smith could be doing with it—to Smith’s translation of the gold plates that we can begin to tug at the seams of the assumptions undergirding some of the current theories.
Part 2: The Gold Plates in Light of the Tibetan Treasure Tradition
A serious challenge to reading Joseph Smith’s translation of the gold plates in light of the gter ma tradition is its sheer diversity. Whereas discoveries of ancient, buried texts as an institutionally recognized means of scripture production in Mormonism begins and ends with Joseph Smith, the gter ma tradition has generated hundreds of discoveries and discoverers since the late tenth century. The origins of the tradition, and what holds it together as a tradition, are ongoing points of debate. My reading of the gter ma tradition draws heavily on Do Drubchen III’s (1865–1926) analysis of gter ma discovery and translation in his essay “Wonder Ocean, an Explanation of the Dharma Treasure Tradition,” translated and elaborated by Tulku Thondup in his book Hidden Teachings of Tibet. I supplement this reading with accounts of gter ma discovery drawn primarily (but not exclusively) from the lives of the Tibetan gter stons Jigme Lingpa (1730–1798) and Nyangrel Nyima Ozer (1124–1192), as well as broader theorizations about how treasure materials (gter rdzas) exert power in ritual contexts by the Tibetan ritual master Sokdokpa (1552–1624).
Thus, my reading is neither comprehensive nor governed by an emphasis on a particular time period or gter ma lineage within the Nyingma school. As such, the sources cited below are not to be taken as unilaterally congruent. In addition to spatial restraints, this focus has mostly to do with accessibility to what is still a rather understudied tradition. Yet, by focusing on the few individuals whose treasure discoveries and theories related thereto have been subjects of in-depth analyses by contemporary scholars of religion—Janet Gyatso, Daniel Hirshberg, and James Gentry, respectively—this study will also provide an opportunity to reflect on how contemporary scholars of religion operating in a different field have delt with this peculiar revelatory mechanism in relation to scholars in the field of Mormon studies.
I will begin with an explanation of the relatively standard mythology undergirding the tradition. Around the twelfth century, gter mas began to be traced primarily to the eighth-century tantric master Padmasambhava. Recent scholarship on Padmasambhava suggests he came to Tibet from present-day Pakistan at the request of King Trisong Detsen to subdue the local deities who were obstructing efforts to build Tibet’s first monastery, Samye monastery. Soon after arrival, the earliest sources claim he was expelled from Tibet because his exceptional powers made him a dangerous political rival; although, some scholars have suggested his removal had more to do with the controversial, transgressive tantric teachings he promoted. Nevertheless, by the twelfth century, a counternarrative arose that has since become characteristic of his representation in the Nyingma tradition and foundational to gter ma discovery: after pacifying the opposing indigenous forces and enlisting them in the protection and propagation of Buddhism, Padmasambhava traveled throughout Tibet, teaching his many students and burying his inscribed teachings and other relics in the Tibetan soil for later recovery. In conjunction with this narrative, Padmasambhava has taken on the status of “second Buddha” in the Nyingma tradition, remembered as the primary protagonist in Tibet’s conversion to Buddhism, who graciously hid his teachings on account of his prophetic perception of the future challenges Tibetan Buddhist practitioners would face.
The content of Padmasambhava’s teachings that were inscribed as gter mas are perceived as scripturally authoritative in part because he preached them, but he is more of a codifier than an author. Like the conventional, spoken transmissions of the Nyingma tradition, these teachings were said to have been first transmitted nonverbally by a buddha in a pure land (“transmission of the realized”), then semiotically by early Nyingma patriarchs (“transmission in symbols for the knowledge holders”), and lastly in conventional discourse (“transmission into the ears of people”), which is where Padmasambhava appears. Within this last step, the gter ma tradition posits its own three-step transmission process. First, through a tantric ceremony known as a “benedictory initiation,” Padmasambhava transmitted teachings and appointed specific students to reveal them in future lifetimes; second, he prophesied their future revelation; and third, he appointed dākinīs or Treasure protectors to protect the gter ma and help the gter ma discoverer find them. After, his consort, Yeshey Tsogyal, recorded the teachings on “yellow scrolls.” Finally, the texts were concealed, often in a container with other material objects (gter rdzas).
The historicity of this narrative, as well as the claims of discovery and translation by each individual gter ma discoverer, have been a popular topic of debate in Tibetan Buddhist inter- and intra-denominational polemics, as well as modern academic scholarship. Yet, although some scholars have dubbed the entire gter ma enterprise a blatant fraud, academic scholarship on the gter ma tradition as a whole has been considerably less polarized and more nuanced than studies of the Book of Mormon. There are myriad potential reasons for this difference; yet, what is important to note for our purposes is that among scholars of the gter ma tradition there is a tendency to refrain from making comprehensive claims about the plausibility, and thereby historical authenticity, of the gter ma discoverer’s claims. Rather, scholars (especially Janet Gyatso and Thondup) have critically analyzed the phenomenology of gter ma discovery and revelation in conjunction with the traditional mythology and claimed material discoveries, shedding light on a complex revelatory interplay between agentive material, human, and superhuman forces, as well as Buddhist theories of reincarnation, no-self, prophecy, interdependent origination, and Tibetan semiotics.
In the field of Mormon studies, there has been a persistent idea that the Book of Mormon’s claim to be rooted in “artifactual reality” rather than the “nebulous stuff of visions” automatically shifts the scholarly debate around Smith’s claims “from the realm of interiority and subjectivity toward that of empiricism and objectivity.” As argued by Mormon studies scholar Terryl Givens:
Dream visions may be in the mind of the beholder, but gold plates are not subject to such facile psychologizing. They were, in the angel’s words, buried in a nearby hillside, not in Joseph’s psyche or religious unconscious, and they chronicle a history of this hemisphere, not a heavenly city to come. As such, the claims and experiences of the prophet are thrust irretrievably into the public sphere, no longer subject to his private acts of interpretation alone. It is this fact, the intrusion of Joseph’s message into the realm of the concrete, historical, and empirical, that dramatically alters the terms by which the public will engage this new religious phenomenon.
In accordance with this logic, much of the scholarly debate on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon has centered around using historical and inter/intratextual criticism to verify the book’s internal, historical claims in what are often called the “Book of Mormon wars”—debates over perceived archaisms vs. anachronisms, evidence of many ancient authorial voices consistent with its internal claims, or evidence of nineteenth-century interpolations interwoven by a nineteenth-century editor. This information, in turn, is used to make sense of what Smith was doing—whether he was restoring a long-lost scripture as part of his larger Christian restorationist project or deceptively trying to accrue personal power by playing on the religious sensibilities of his time. In this way, rather than asking what the unique revelatory mechanism that facilitated the book’s production reveals about its origins and significance, scholars have focused primarily on what its textual content reveals about its origins and significance. That is, they have conflated the gold plates with the Book of Mormon, creating the logic that the existence of the former can be verified by the antiquity of the latter. And although some have bracketed the question of the gold plates origins, focusing rather on how the idea of the plates influenced Smith’s movement, most religious studies scholars and historical biographers make their opinion known on the basis of perceived metaphysical plausibility and/or historical evidence, and proceed to either depict Smith as a rural visionary turned prophet or conscious (or delusional) deceiver. This, in turn, has generated a scholarly field sharply divided along emic/etic lines.
Although we need not discard the possibility that Smith was actually linguistically translating an ancient text, or that he was making the whole thing up, comparison with the gter ma tradition demonstrates that this binary is not necessitated by the revelatory mechanism alone. Returning to the gter ma tradition, it is interesting to note that although gter mas are said to be translated, the material scroll which is “translated” in practice serves more as an instigator and facilitator of revelation. In fact, the content of the core text of a transcribed gter ma cycle—the portion of the gter ma discoverer’s oeuvre authorially attributed to Padmasambhava—is traced not to the inscriptions on the discovered scroll but to the memory of Padmasambhava’s oral transmission (described above in the first unique step of gter ma transmission). At that moment of oral transmission, it is said that the teaching goes from the mind stream of Padmasambhava to the “luminous natural awareness . . . of the minds of his disciples,” which makes the teachings impermeable to karmic forces across the protectors’ various lifetimes. According to Thondup, this act of embedding a particular teaching in the recesses of a future revealer’s mind, known as “Mind-mandate Transmission,” is the defining feature of a Nyingma gter ma.
In fact, the material scroll often contains no more than a couple of characters or a brief phrase which may or may not be thematically related to the teaching itself. Moreover, the scroll is encoded with a secret script and often written in a secret language, hindering attempts at conventional translation. The scroll’s function is not to preserve the teaching itself, but to awaken the memory of its being taught to the gter ma discoverer in a previous lifetime. The contents of this memory are subsequently transcribed by the gter ma discoverer (or a scribe), yet authorially attributed to Padmasambhava. Some who receive Mind-mandate Transmission even reveal gter mas by accessing the memory without a material support, known as mind gter ma. I will focus here on the revelatory mechanics of earth gter ma, as this revelatory mode best aligns with the Book of Mormon, but that such a genre exists serves to accentuate the unique mnemonic and revelatory character of gter ma production, and carries interesting parallels with some of Joseph Smith’s other revelatory activities.
Although there is much to elaborate here, allow me to briefly return to Joseph Smith and the gold plates to consider what is known about the gold plate’s role in the production of the Book of Mormon. Smith was rather quiet on the specifics of the translation process. Most of what scholars now believe about the mechanics of translation come from his scribes and other eyewitnesses. From Smith’s recorded statements about the translation between 1830 and 1843, it can be gathered that he felt “it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the book of Mormon,” but that “by the gift and power of God” he “translated the Book of Mormon from hieroglyphics” with the “spectacles” that the “Lord had prepared.”
Smith worked on his translation of the gold plates periodically between October 1827 and late June 1829 with the help of eight different scribes. Here, I will quote at length from the most detailed account, that of David Whitmer:
Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated by Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear.
Whitmer’s comments about a “spiritual light,” that “something resembling parchment would appear,” and that the translation proceeded one character at a time may be his own suppositions as they are not mentioned by anyone else. However, all eyewitness accounts are remarkably consistent in stating that Joseph Smith would put either the spectacles he found buried with the plates or a “seer stone”—a circular, chocolate-colored stone that Smith had found in 1822, through which he could reportedly see hidden objects—into a hat, and then dictate the words of the Book of Mormon to his scribe a couple of sentences at a time, pausing to spell out peculiar proper names and large words, and to check that it was transcribed correctly by having the scribe read the text back to him. Emma Smith, Joseph’s wife, and others also make clear that during the process he did not consult the plates, as they “lay on the table . . . wrapped in a small linen tablecloth” while his face was buried in his hat. Nor did he consult any other external source. In fact, Emma reports that he never even consulted the English translation as he went along: “and when returning from meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having a portion of it read to him.”
Scholarship on how Smith experienced his translation of the gold plates has generally operated under the assumption that Smith was in fact translating an ancient document. The debate has centered around what this translation looked like as it passed through Smith’s seer stone—did Smith see actual words in the seer stone as David Whitmer reported? Or did he receive images or ideas that he then explained in his own language? Those who advocate the former position point out certain archaisms and scribal errors that they take as evidence of a literal word-to-word translation. Most, however, have opted for a form of translation in which imagery or ideas were presented by the stone that Smith then elaborated. This theory is backed by an exuberant number of awkward “corrective conjunctive phrases”—phrases such as “or rather” that aim to clarify the meaning of a particular passage—that some claim signal Smith’s grappling with the meaning of an idea or image in a way that the original authors presumably would not have, especially considering that they were inscribing hieroglyphs into gold plates. This theory also accounts for anachronistic elements reflective of Smith’s nineteenth-century environment, especially the obvious contextual and grammatical influence of the King James Bible on Smith’s translation, and the fact that, in addition to grammatical changes, Smith did make a few substantive contextual changes to the text of the Book of Mormon between the publications of the 1830, 1837, and 1840 editions.
Yet the inescapable problem here is that Smith did not look at the gold plates while “translating” them. Although most note but then ignore this fact, two have suggested that perhaps their purpose was simply to reassure Smith and others that the words he dictated came from the plates. However, this supposition relies on an excessively narrow plausibility structure, and seems to be a last-ditch effort to ground Smith’s work in an empirically verifiable activity contra the eyewitness evidence. What is clear from the primary sources is that Smith discovered a set of gold plates and that he orally dictated a narrative about ancient Israelites in the Americas with his head in a hat looking at seer stones while the plates were nearby. That the role of the gold plates was to provide the content of Smith’s dictation is only surmised by the term “translation” and reinforced by the dominant empiricist/historicist stance discussed above. How do we understand Smith’s production of the Book of Mormon as a “translation” of gold plates if the plates seem irrelevant to the production process? Here is where notions of agentive material objects as gleaned from the gter ma tradition are quite useful to think with.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the transmission of tantric teachings from master to disciple coincides with an initiation ceremony known as an empowerment. The empowerment mediates the flow of power from master to disciple, which enables the disciple to both intellectually grasp the teaching and put it into practice. This empowerment is also associated with a particular set of vows that bind the initiate to a strict set of ethical imperatives, as well as to the master in what is often compared to a father-son bond. To qualify for initiation, the prospective student is required to demonstrate competency in maintaining preliminary vows, as well as undergo rigorous intellectual training accompanied by spiritual realizations, which demonstrate that he or she can comprehend the intricate tantric ceremonies and rituals, and possesses the emotional commitment necessary to maintain the vows.
It is in this context that gter ma “translation” and the role of agentive material objects therein can be understood. As elaborated by Gentry in his study of the writings of the Tibetan Buddhist ritual master Sokdokpa (1552–1624), treasure objects (gter rdzas) are regarded as the material embodiment of Padmasambhava’s ancient tantric vows with his now reincarnated students. As such, they are treated as “receptacles of blessings and power, [whose] transformational potency poises them to variously act upon persons, places, and things.” According to Gentry, they have “the particular feature of binding those who encounter them via the senses to . . . all the masters, buddhas, bodhisattvas, and deities who were once in contact with [the objects],” as well as the capacity to act “as mediators, which variously embody, channel, and direct the transition of power and authority between persons, things, [and] communities.” The role of the gter ma revealer, then, is to “[give] presence to Padmasambhava’s distributed being in ever-new contexts,” by serving as an effective medium in cooperation with a force that acts on the revealer both sensually and mnemonically, rather than just as a linguistic medium.
Here, it is important to note that a few scholars in the field of Mormon studies have also treated the gold plates as more than an inert linguistic medium. Ann Taves, for example, has analyzed Smith’s translation of the gold plates through a comparative, phenomenological lens that depicts Smith as neither literal translator nor fraud, but creative agent who expressed his subjective vision of an angel and gold plates through a material object he created. For example, Taves suggests that Smith’s presentation of the gold plates may be comparable to a Catholic priest’s consecration of the eucharist: just as the priest takes a mundane wafer and calls upon the Holy Spirit to transform it into the body of Christ, perhaps “Smith viewed something that he made—metal plates—as a vehicle through which something sacred—the ancient gold plates—could be made (really) present.” She also suggests that it could be similar to a placebo: just as placebos mimic therapeutic treatment in a way that has demonstrable positive effects, perhaps Smith had “eyes to see what could be (a non-pharmacologically induced-healing process) and the audacity to initiate it.”
Karl Sandberg, drawing on both Jungian theories of how extreme focus on material objects can provide access to the unconscious as well as theories of performativity in which savants tap into a seemingly independent guiding force through a combination of action and material instruments, has suggested that Smith’s seer stones acted as a “catalyst—because of his belief in the stone and his attunement to the world of the numinous, or the unconscious, where unseen powers moved, collided, contended, danced, and held their revels, the stone became the means of concentrating his psychic energies and giving them form.” Sandberg has also pointed out that a similar process seems to be operative in Book of Mormon accounts of translation, where “seers” do not “go from document to document” miraculously interpreting characters, but use stones which “magnify to the eyes of men the things which [they] shall write.” And although I am not convinced that we should take statements about translation within the document that Smith translated to be speaking directly to the means by which he translated it, Sandberg’s argument (most recently also made by Hickman) does demonstrate that the Book of Mormon’s internal narrators’ focus on maintaining a linguistically accurate record for future generations does not imply that Smith was necessarily engaged in an act of literal linguistic translation.
Most recently, Sonia Hazard has argued that Smith’s so-called gold plates were actually printing plates that he either found or encountered in a printing shop and then constructed himself. Hazard draws on an impressive body of research to argue that nineteenth-century printing plates align with the descriptions in the witness accounts in a variety of ways and offers three reasonable scenarios within which Smith could have encountered them. More important for the purposes of this paper, Hazard suggests that as a “starting point for understanding creativity and change” we should not assume that the gold plates were solely products of Smith’s mind or cultural milieu, but “an assemblage of ideas and concrete material things.” As such, Hazard emphasizes that Smith’s production of the Book of Mormon began as an encounter with what to him could have easily appeared to be an otherworldly object. Hazard explains:
to encounter something or someone—whether an object, a space, a person, a mood, and so on—is to enter into the other’s “field of force” (to borrow a phrase used by Charles Taylor) and, thus, to assemble with the other, be made vulnerable to change in oneself, and become different. Such encounters expand the field of what was before possible. They rescript future events. This is what I have in mind when I say that the materiality of the printing plates mattered, in the sense that Smith’s encounter with them changed his course and continued to direct that course in particular ways.
Thus, although Hazard makes clear that Smith’s imagination, social relationships, and “surrounding cultural and religious imaginary” certainly played an important role in the Book of Mormon’s production, these are merely one part of a broader assemblage that not only includes but was instigated by, “the powers of material things.”
Of the three scholars surveyed above, Hazard’s notion of “encounter” draws the closest to Sokdokpa’s ideas on materialist agency. Illustrating where Sokdokpa diverges will be helpful to further shed light on the questions and challenges the gter ma tradition poses to our analysis of Smith and the gold plates. This becomes most clear in Gentry’s discussion of Sokdokpa’s responses to critics who interpret sacred material objects as symbols, instruments, or mnemonic cues. According to Gentry, Sokdokpa makes clear that, through these objects, “the transformative powers of subjective qualities” of past Buddhist masters are materialized to the extent that, “by way of physical and existential connection,” they “have the capacity to bring forth the presence of past masters and timeless buddhas and bodhisattvas.” This is not to render the agency of the humans who encounter such objects mute; Sokdokpa concedes that the ability of the object to affect people is “based on the individual’s respective level of spiritual development” as well as the successful ritual treatment thereof. Nevertheless, one’s spiritual development does not just make one more vulnerable to personal transformation within the objects sphere of influence; it enables him or her to function as a medium for the presence of a past master.
This interplay between preparation and ritual action in relation to bringing forth past voices is especially operative in the gter ma discovery and translation process. The process of discovering a gter ma typically begins with the discovery or reception of a prophetic guide, often through a supernatural agent such as a manifestation of Padmasambhava or a gter ma protector. Although its contents vary, their most significant feature is a prophecy, couched in the words of Padmasambhava, which addresses the prospective gter ma discoverer by name, or clearly alludes to the circumstances of his or her own life. As such, the prophetic guide serves as proof of one’s identity as a reincarnation of one of Padmasambhava’s students, contextualizing them within a providential narrative that qualifies him or her for the task of gter ma revelation due to their having received a particular teaching and commission to reveal it in a past life. This pivotal event, in turn, sets off a series of arduous tasks, ranging from mastering particular ritual practices prescribed in the prophetic guide, appeasing the gter ma protectors through propitiatory rites, and discerning external signs which reveal when, where, and with whom to uncover the gter ma.
Once removed from its burial place, the process of cracking the gter ma’s “code” begins. As mentioned above, the scroll serves as the signifier of the signified encoded teaching implanted in the mind stream of the future revealer, functioning both as a tool of secrecy by making the teaching legible only to the appointed revealer, and a type of revelatory mnemonic device. However, awakening the memory is no easy task. Often, the discoverer is required to enter that same deep level of consciousness within which the original teaching was implanted through meditative practice. Moreover, the text is often subject to spontaneous change, and stabilizing it requires aligning oneself again with the right people, at the right place, at the right time, and often requires engaging in sexual yoga with a karmically aligned tantric consort. After the text stabilizes, the gter ma discoverer may be able to perceive its decoded form spontaneously through exposure to an external stimulus, by repeatedly analyzing the scroll, by merely glancing at the scroll, or even through an alphabetical key that accompanied the discovered gter ma. Once decoded, the all-important memory comes forth. However, that memory may need to be translated out of a secret language (not to be confused with the secret script) and the gter ma discoverer must come to comprehend its contents and/or learn to effectuate its rituals before transmitting it to others. In all, this process, which must be kept secret from those not directly involved, can span years.
Yet, despite such active engagement in decoding the scroll, claims of agency are consistently mitigated and ultimately authorial identity is shifted to Padmasambhava. As Hirshberg has observed in the case of the gter ma discoverer Nyangrel Nyima Ozer (1124–1192), “the consistent use of intransitive sentence constructions [is used to mitigate] his agency. He is literally omitted from the action and is merely the one present to directly receive the treasures when the time has come for them to emerge on their own.”
Of course, none of this need imply that Smith experienced his translation of the gold plates in a way directly comparable to the Tibetan gter stons. But it should give us pause to rethink—taking after Bruno Latour—where in Smith’s account we may have “invented believers” instead of tracing the agents (human and nonhuman) that make these so-called believers act. I agree with Hazard’s turn to take Smith’s material encounter with the gold plates seriously rather than (pace Taves) “as a materialization of an idea into a material thing.” This option both transcends the problematic dichotomized prophet/fraud options surveyed above, as well as aligns with the primary sources’ clear emphasis on Smith’s encounter with a material object he discovered. Nevertheless, I am concerned by the bracketing of Smith’s claim by all three of the aforementioned scholars to not have only been personally influenced by the plates, but to have translated myriad ancient voices.
The issue here is reminiscent of the postcolonial theorist Mary Keller’s intellectual history of religious studies analyses of spirit possession. Keller observed that, despite individuals’ claims to being overcome by the agency of ancestors and other invisible forces, their experiences were consistently reduced to symbolic actions reflective of cultural beliefs that served to address “real” social issues. The effect of such an analysis is to trace the claims undergirding diverse religious expression insofar as they do not exceed modern metaphysical sensibilities, at which point the turn is to impose the pervasive modern Western assumption that “religiousness is a matter of belief” to account for the remainder against something apparently more “real.” Not only does this misrepresent the diverse worlds inhabited by religious practitioners, but it ignores that in such cases, “it is receptivity” to an other agency, comparable to “a hammer, flute, or horse that is wielded, played, or mounted,” that “makes the possessed body powerful.” To explore the implications of this shift in the role of the human subject in religious experience, Keller states:
We need to create a discursive space in which the agency of religious forces can be recognized as such. This is not because religious forces are ‘real’ and thus should not be scrutinized critically. This is a methodological argument regarding our ability to recognize alternative modes of subjectivity and to subject ourselves to the agency of the others who attract our attention. Methodologically it allows the scholar to represent religious bodies at war as bodies that are negotiating with power that is not the same power that Western scholars have identified as hegemony and ideology.
Likewise, I would suggest that we need to consider the possibility that Smith really experienced being spoken through by other voices. Without doing so, I believe we are missing a crucial point from which to explore the world that Smith inhabited and the nature of religious experience therein. My suggestion then is that in light of the gter ma tradition, we can both move past claims of literal linguistic translation or fraudulent deception—which, as I have argued, stretch the primary source accounts of Smith’s translation in unreasonable ways—while still taking seriously Smith’s claim to be giving voice to other agents. In this view, Smith can be seen as one who encountered a material object that not only had personal effects on him but forged relational bonds between him, an angel, and a past civilization in seemingly unpredictable ways—most importantly, by enabling him to channel a type of revelatory mode through which he served as a medium for ancient voices, yet only while in the object’s presence. In this way, Smith’s four years of preparation to retrieve the plates from the angel Moroni, chastisement at the hands of that angel resulting in the plates being removed and his ability to translate muted, as well as attempts to create and maintain amicable relationships with aids throughout the process, can be seen as Smith ritually orienting himself in relation to the power of a sacred object over a prolonged period of time in order to become an effective medium for its message.
I also think this reading aligns well with compelling recent arguments regarding what Smith could have meant in using the term “translation” to describe his project, particularly that made by Jared Hickman. Hickman has recently argued against “the paradigm of linguistic translation” in favor of what he calls “metaphysical translation.” Hickman notes that “the word ‘translate’ and its variants appear only five times in the King James Bible, and none of these refers to linguistic translation.” In fact, three are found in the fifth verse of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews—which happens to be one of the most cited chapters of scripture in the early Mormon movement—which speaks of God translating Enoch “that he should not see death.” Moreover, Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary offers five definitions of the term translate before arriving at today’s conventional usage of “[rendering] into another language,” all of which convey the sense of transporting something from one place to another.With this notion of translation in mind, Hickman argues that Smith’s “[bringing] forth” ancient voices “as if [they] had cried from the dust” can plausibly be seen not as a conversion of the language of the gold plates into English, but as Smith’s transferring ancient voices across time and space.
I diverge with Hickman slightly where he emphasizes Smith’s role as an activist, claiming that the qualifier in the last line, “as if,” arguably opens “a gap between the Book of Mormon text and indigenous voices, emphasizing Smith’s role . . . as an activist; that is, someone acting on behalf of Native peoples as a ‘spokesman’ . . . rather than as an actual medium of Native peoples.” My reading, on the other hand, tries to take after Bushman’s observation that the “signal feature” of Smith’s life was “his sense of being guided by revelation”—that is, that he was driven by real forces outside him rather than acting on behalf of forces he encountered in vision. Nevertheless, the general idea that Smith’s metaphysical translation consisted of Smith “[translating] himself into the ancient American world through the virtual reality technology of the seer stone and then [translating] that world back into his own through the virtual reality technology of oral storytelling,” thereby “altering the way Euro-Christian settlers inhabit the indigenous cosmos they find themselves in,” I find to be compatible with my reading of Smith’s translation.
I also believe that my reading could provide insights into Smith’s own theological innovations around themes of materiality and historicity, which I will only have space to briefly mention here. Moving forward very tentatively, I would suggest that my theory resonates with Rosalynde Welch’s use of the term “prime agency”—drawing implications from Smith’s “King Follet Sermon,” and his claim that “spirit is matter”—to suggest that in Smith’s radically re-envisioned Christian cosmos, agency resides “not in the human personality but in Mormonism’s plural ontology of intelligent matter; prime agency, in other words, is hardwired into the basic structure of reality.” As my theory that the plates were agentive objects that facilitated Joseph Smith’s channeling of ancient voices across time and space constitutes one of Smith’s founding religious experiences, reorienting the dominant paradigm of interior, subjective belief as the foundation of religious experience to an interaction with an agentive material world, I suggest that Smith’s distinctive cosmic vision could stem from formative encounters with the material world that imbued in him a pervasive sense of materialist agency, seen in not only claims of material monism but further distinctive ritual actions around materials, in, for example, building temples and wearing sacred garments.
Finally, I would suggest that moving past claims of linguistic translation need not coincide with an outright rejection of the Book of Mormon’s historical claims. Although it should be clear that the manner by which Joseph Smith produced history is not amenable to modern conceptions of historiography, this should not amount to a declaration that his means are ineffable and his claimed historical productions are impermeable to critical examination. Rather, it would be useful to take up Charles Stewart’s usage of the term “historical consciousness,” referring to “whatever basic assumptions a society makes about the shape of time and the relationships of events in the past, present and future,” the form of which “in any given society is an open question, requiring empirical, ethnographic investigation.” That Smith had a unique conception of time that can be investigated to better understand his “historical productions” has been fruitfully explored by Kathleen Flake and Samuel Brown. Stewart’s application of the term includes an emphasis on how discoveries of buried objects “charged with human-like attributes,” “performative icons” capable of mediating “visionary knowledge,” in conjunction with dreams in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Island Greece (which he explicitly compares to Joseph Smith’s discovery of the gold plates) aid in influencing such unique conceptions of time. It is precisely such an approach, put into conversation with my theory of the gold plates as agents, which could be productive in forwarding theories of Mormon historical consciousness, thereby providing further glimpses into the unique world Smith inhabited.
Note: The Dialogue Foundation provides the web format of this article as a courtesy. There may be unintentional differences from the printed version. For citational and bibliographical purposes, please use the printed version or the PDFs provided online and on JSTOR.
 Special thanks to Dr. Dominic Sur for inspiring this article, and Drs. David Holland and Janet Gyatso for hosting independent studies in which I developed much of my ideas while pursuing a master of theological studies at the Harvard Divinity School. Thanks also to Drs. Frank Clooney and Kimberley Patton for allowing me to present an early draft to the Harvard Comparative Studies Doctoral Colloquium.
Richard L. Bushman, “Joseph Smith’s Many Histories,” Brigham Young University Studies 44, no. 4 (2005): 11.
 I am not the first to notice similarities between these two traditions. However, only Donald Lopez has done more than merely note superficial similarities. In his The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011), Lopez observed that both Joseph Smith and the Tibetan Book of the Dead’s revealer, Karma Lingpa (karma gling pa; 1326–1386), legitimated their discoveries by posthumously attributing their text’s authorship to an authoritative religious figure after purportedly uncovering them from their native lands and translating them from an obscure language by supernatural means. Creating this link to a sacred past, Lopez argues, bolstered the Tibetan Book of the Dead’s popularity while leading to widespread suspicion and persecution of Smith, “at least in part, because [he] lived in a chronologically recent and geographically proximate past” (137–39, 148–52). As for other Buddhist studies scholars who have noted the comparison, in chronological order: Janet Gyatso, Apparitions of Self (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998), 147; Matthew Kapstein, Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 136; Gananath Obeyesekere, The Awakened Ones (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 503–4; Robert Mayer, “Indian niddhi, Tibetan gter ma, Guru Chos dbang, and a Kriyātantra on Treasure Doors: Rethinking Treasure (part two),” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 64 (2022): 368–69. As for Mormon studies scholars: Grant Underwood, “Attempting to Situate Joseph Smith,” Brigham Young University Studies 44, no. 4 (2005): 46; Elizabeth Quick, “Emma Smith as Shaman,” Salt Lake City Symposium, January 1, 2008, Sunstone; Grant Hardy, introduction to The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, edited by Royal Skousen (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009), xxv–xxvi; Ann Taves, “History and the Claims of Revelation,” Numen 61 (2014): 195n20; Grant Hardy, “Ancient History and Modern Commandments,” in Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity, edited by Michael Hubbard MacKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Brain M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020), 216n37. Also tangentially related are the comments of Douglas Osto (“Altered States and the Origins of the Mahāyāna” in Setting Out on the Great Way, edited by Paul Harrison [Bristol, CT: Equinox, 2018], 196n5) and Daniel Boucher (Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahāyāna [Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2008], xii, xiv) that comparisons with Mormonism could aid in understanding the origins of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Both are drawing on comments from Jan Nattier, who has only briefly made the comparison once herself (A Few Good Men [Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2003], 170). Robert Mayer has also suggested that cross-cultural comparisons with anthropological accounts of treasure recovery could aid in understanding the origins of the Tibetan Treasure tradition (“Rethinking Treasure [part two], 368–69); “Rethinking Treasure [part one],” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 52 : 144–46). Also worth mentioning are Edward Conze’s comparison of the Tibetan Treasure tradition and Gnosticism (“Buddhism and Gnosis” in Le Origini Dello Gnosticismo, edited by Ugo Bianchi [Leiden: Brill, 1970], 651–67) and Lawrence Foster’s claim that Mormon studies scholars “greatest single weakness” in theorizing Smith’s translation “has been their failure to take into account comparative perspectives on revelatory and trance phenomena” (Religion and Sexuality [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981], 295).
 Although I have presented these actions in the past tense for grammatical symmetry, it is important to note that Tibetan Treasure discoveries continue in the present day. See David Germano, “Re-Membering the Dismembered Body” in Buddhism in Contemporary Tibet, edited by Melvyn C. Goldstein and Mathew T. Kapstein (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 53–94; Holly Gayley, “Ontology of the Past and Its Materialization in Tibetan Treasures,” in The Invention of Sacred Tradition, edited by James R. Lewis and Olav Hammer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 213–40; and Hanna, “Vast as the Sky,” in Tantra and Popular Religion in Tibet, edited by Geoffrey Samuel, Hamish Gregor, and Elisabeth Stutchbury (New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture and Aditya Prakashan, 1994), 1–14.
 For a more thorough summary (and partial rebuttal) of postmodern critiques of comparative religion, see Kimberley C. Patton and Benjamin C. Ray, introduction to A Magic Still Dwells, ed Kimberley C. Patton and Benjamin C. Ray (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 1–22.
 See Brent Nongbri, Before Religion (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013); Craig Martin, A Critical Introduction to the Study of Religion (London: Routledge, 2017), 4–10; and Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
 This is a paraphrase of Underwood’s comment about comparing these two traditions (“Attempting to Situate Joseph Smith,” 46).
 This approach takes after Barbara A. Holdrege’s observation that comparison can serve to “test and critique prevailing paradigms, expose their inadequacies, and generate a range of possible models to account for the multiplicity of religious traditions” (“What’s Beyond the Post,” in Patton and Ray, A Magic Still Dwells, 85).
 As I will make clear below, the Tibetan gter ma tradition is around 1,000 years old and very diverse. This is a particular reading of that tradition, the sources for which are discussed in part 2 of this article.
 These are terms borrowed from Tibetan Buddhist studies scholar James Gentry in his discussion on treasure objects (gter rdzas) as agents in his book Power Objects (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 8, 13, 36. They will be elaborated below.
 2 Nephi 3:19 (citations with chapter and verse references refer to the Book of Mormon).
 Andreas Doctor claims that Nyangral Nyima Ōzer’s writings in the twelfth century “are the first to show a self-conscious movement” (Tibetan Treasure Literature: Revelation, Tradition, and Accomplishment in Visionary Buddhism [Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion, 2005], 20). However, Hirshberg traces the beginning of the gter ma tradition to the thirteenth century when Guru Chöwang wrote his Great History of the Treasures (gter byung chen mo), since this work marks the first attempt at “deliberate codification” (Remembering the Lotus-Born: Padmasambhava in the History of Tibet’s Golden Age [Somerville, Mass.: Wisdom, 2016], 85–86).
 Traditional sources depict Darma as a demon-possessed tyrant set on ridding Tibet of Buddhist influences, subsequently murdered at the request of the patron goddess of Tibet, dPal ldan lha mo, by the monk Lhalung Pelgyi Dorjé to save Darma from incurring further negative karmic retribution and to preserve Buddhism in Tibet. Jens Schlieter provides an overview of traditional depictions of Darma’s assassination in “Compassionate Killing or Conflict Resolution?,” in Buddhism and Violence, edited by Michael Zimmermann (Lumbini: Lumbini International Research Institute, 2006), 131–58. Scholars have questioned this Buddhist suppression narrative, describing him more as a victim of preexisting clan tensions, which he exacerbated by reducing imperial funding of Buddhist activities, inter alia, in response to his brother’s—King Ralpacan (806–841)—unprecedented Buddhist patronization, military spending, and altering of linguistic and cultural customs, which had led to his own assassination a year earlier. See Ronald Davidson, Tibetan Renaissance (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 64–66; David Snellgrove and Hugh Richardson, A Cultural History of Tibet (Boston: Shambala, 1986), 93–94; and Kapstein, Tibetan Assimilation, 10–12, 52; Per K. Sørensen, The Mirror Illuminating the Royal Genealogies (Weisbaden: Harrassowitz, 1994), 423–424n1488. Some have even questioned whether this regicide actually occurred. See Tsultrim K. Khangkar, “The Assassinations of Tri Ralpachen and Lang Darma,” Tibet Journal 18, no. 2 (1993): 19–22; and Zuiho Yamaguchi, “The Fiction of King Dar ma’s Persecution of Buddhism” in Du Dunhuang au Japon, edited by Jean-Pierre Drège (Geneva: Droz, 1996), 231–58.
 The religious revival was spearheaded by two forces: Central Tibetans affiliated with Tridhé—a purported descendant of Lang Darma who sent young men to receive ordination from monastic refugees on the eastern edge of the empire, who subsequently revived Central Tibetan monastic institutions (Davidson, Tibetan Renaissance, 87–102); and Rinchen Zangpo (958–1055) in the west, who initiated monastic revivals and translation efforts with the patronage of Lha Lama Yeshe Ö (947–1019?) (David Snellgrove, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism [Boston: Shambala, 2002] 471–72, 477–79; Samten Karmay, “The Ordinance of Lha Bla-ma Ye-shes-’od,” in Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson, edited by Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi [England: Biddles Ltd., 1979], 150–51).
 The term tantra refers to texts associated with tantric or Vajrayāna Buddhism (rdo rje theg pa), a loose rubric under which an important part of Tibetan Buddhist practice and ritual is categorized. Traditionally, tantric practice and transmission occur within an intimate teacher-student relationship outlined in initiation ceremonies and sealed through a covenant or vow (dam tshig). This stringent mode of transmission ensures that the teachings—which often prescribe sexual and/or other transgressive actions—are conveyed accurately and only to those spiritually and intellectually qualified, and thus typically operates under an aura of secrecy—as opposed to the mainstream transmission of Mahāyāna and non-Mahāyāna sūtras, which received little polemical attention in Tibet. During the earlier spread of Buddhism in Tibet, tantras even faced heavy regulations by the imperial court, who relegated their distribution to a tight aristocratic circle and even altered or removed entire passages from certain tantric texts. See Jacob P. Dalton, The Taming of the Demons (London: Yale University Press, 2011), 56–57; Jose I. Cabezón, The Buddha’s Doctrine and the Nine Vehicles (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 1–2.
 Davidson, Tibetan Renaissance, 73–80, 105–7.
 Davidson, Tibetan Renaissance, 121. Although, Davidson notes that the standard was often selectively applied. Some of the texts and practices revered by the Nyingma but scorned as Tibetan fabrications by their detractors were actually of Indic origins. Similarly, some of the texts considered authentic by the new (gsar ma) Buddhist schools were Tibetan/Indian hybrids Davidson calls “gray texts.” See Davidson, “Gsar Ma Apocrypha,” in The Many Canons of Tibetan Buddhism, ed. Helmut Eimer and David Germano (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 203–24).
 Germano, “Re-Membering the Dismembered Body,” 73.
 Kapstein, Tibetan Assimilation, 33–36, 144–47, 159; see also Gayley, “Ontology of the Past,” 214; and David Germano, “The Seven Descents and the Early History of Rnying Ma Transmissions,” in Eimer and Germano, Many Canons of Tibetan Buddhism, 225–64.
 On the various contextual genres of gter ma, see Gyatso, “Drawn from the Tibetan Treasury,” in Tibetan Literature, ed. José Ignacio Cabézon and Roger R. Jackson (Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion, 1996), 155–60.
 E. Gene Smith, Among Tibetan Texts (Boston: Wisdom, 2001), 15; Robert Mayer, A Scripture of the Ancient Tantra Collection (Oxford: Kiscadale, 1996).
 As for sūtras, the Āryasarvapuṇyasamuccayasamādhi mentions treasures in mountains, ravines, and woods and that the doctrine will emerge from the sky, walls and trees. The Āryadharmasamgītisūtra refers to concealing doctrines “as treasures.” The Nāgarājaparipṛcchāsūtra describes “four great treasures.” The chu-klung rol-pa’i mdo refers to doctrinal texts being concealed as mind and earth treasures. The Bodhicharyavatara refers to people spontaneously hearing the doctrine, as do a variety of others. See Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom, 1991), 743–44, 747–48, 928. The Pratyutpannasamādhi describes itself being stored in caves, stūpas, the earth, under rocks, in mountains, and into the hands of devas and nāgas. See Paul Harrison, The Samadhi of Direct Encounter with the Buddhas of the Present (Tokyo: International Institute for Buddhist Studies, 1990), 98, 103–4. Gyatso notes that this particular passage has not been noticed by the treasure apologists (“The Logic of Legitimation,” History of Religions 33, no. 2 , 105n17), although Mayer has argued that it may have served as the theoretical basis for the entire tradition (“Scriptural Revelation in India and Tibet,” Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture 2 : 533–45). There are also some events described in Mahāyāna history that allude to similar occurrences. It is said, for example, that the Mahāyāna sūtras were held hidden in the Dragon World until the appropriate time and that Nāgārjuna retrieved the Śatasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā from the nāgas at the bottom of the sea. Similarly, Dudjom notes that “all the tantrapiṭaka which were reportedly discovered in ancient India . . . were, in fact, treasure doctrines,” for they were hidden until revealed to “accomplished individuals [who] were given prophetic declarations” (Nyingma School, 927). Guru Chos-dbang makes a similar point in his gter ’byung chen mo (see Gyatso, “An Early Survey of the Treasure Tradition and Its Strategies in Discussing Bon Treasure,” in Tibetan Studies 1, edited by Per Kvaerne [Oslo: Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture, 1994], 276–77), as does Tukwan Lobzang Chokyi Nyima (thu’u bkwan blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma; 1737–1802) (translated in Eva M. Dargay, The Rise of Esoteric Buddhism [Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1977], 67). There are also a number of sūtras held to be canonical by the gsar ma schools that came about by similarly revelatory means, listed by Kapstein in Tibetan Assimilation, 132–34.
 Gayley, “Ontology of the Past,” 224.
 Dudjom, Nyingma School, 745; Tulku Thondup, Hidden Teachings (Boston: Wisdom, 1997), 49; Gyatso, “Genre, Authorship, and Transmission in Visionary Buddhism,” in Tibetan Buddhism: Reason and Revelation, edited by Steven D. Goodman and Ronald M. Davidson (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), 96–100; Gyatso, “Drawn from the Tibetan Treasury,” 149–50.
 Thondup, Hidden Teachings, 62–63, see also 150; see also Gayley, “Ontology of the Past,” 223–24.
 Theodore D. Bozeman offers a robust summary of the varying Protestant and pre-Protestant “primitivist” claims, from the tenth century to the Puritan era (To Live Ancient Lives [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988], 19–50). On similar strands in Joseph Smith’s religious environment, see Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), 26–27.
 David Holland, Sacred Borders (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 50–53, 84, 97–98, 127, 137–53.
 1 Nephi 13:26–40. Smith claimed that the Bible was fully God’s word “as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers.” However, “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors” (“History, 1838–1856, vol. E-1 [July 1, 1843–April 30, 1844],” October 15, 1843, 1755, The Joseph Smith Papers). Thus, Smith wrote: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God” (“The Articles of Faith,” in The Pearl of Great Price.)
 On the claimed prophetic foresight of the Book of Mormon authors, see 1 Nephi 13; 2 Nephi 3:19, 27, 29; Enos 1:13–17; 3 Nephi 21:9–11, 23, 26:2, 26:8; and Mormon 5:9–14, 8:26–41. For an analysis of this topic as well as examples of this rhetoric among LDS leaders, see Richard D. Rust, “Annual FARMS Lecture: The Book of Mormon, Designed for Our Day,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 1989–2011 2, no. 1 (1990): 1–23.
 See note 21 above.
 Grant Underwood, “Book of Mormon Usage in Early LDS Theology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17, no. 3 (1984): 35–74; Phillip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 48; Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 62–88; Steven C. Harper, “Infallible Proofs, Both Human and Divine,” Religion and American Culture 10, no. 1 (2000): 99–118. As for the biblical references, see Ezekiel 37:15–22; Isaiah 11:10–12, 29:10–14; Daniel 2:34–35, 2:44–45; Joel 2:28–32; John 10:16; and Revelations 14:6–7.
 Janet Gyatso, Apparitions of the Self (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998); Janet Gyatso, “Signs, Memory and History,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 9, no. 2 (1986): 7–35; Gytaso, “Logic of Legitimation.”
 Gyatso, Apparitions of the Self, 150.
 Germano, “Re-Membering the Dismembered Body,” 75; see also Mayer, “Rethinking Treasure (part one),” 137.
 Dominic Sur, “Constituting Canon and Community in Eleventh Century Tibet,” Religions 8, no. 40 (2017): 1.
 Davidson, Tibetan Renaissance, 231; see also 243.
 Acts 3:21.
 To paraphrase Richard Bushman’s apt phrasing of Smith’s transformation (Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling [New York: Vintage Books, 2007], 58).
 Germano has written that gter ma functioned to “authorize and authenticate the Nyingmas’ religious traditions,” “appropriate and transform . . . new intellectual and religious materials stemming from India without acknowledging them as such,” and to develop unique “theories, practices, and systems” in the form of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen) (“Remembering the Dismembered Body,” 75; see also Janet Gyatso and David Germano, “Longchenpa and the Possession of the Ḍākinīs,” in Tantra in Practice, ed. David Gordon White [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000], 232–39). Similarly, Davidson notes that gter ma made apocryphal bka’ ma texts with Great Perfection teachings “into true tantric scriptures, for the authenticity of one secured the authenticity of its related works” (Tibetan Renaissance, 228). The Book of Mormon has likewise served to authenticate parallel biblical narratives under the same logic (Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, 177). Although some have noted that there is not much by way of doctrinal innovation in the Book of Mormon (Hardy, “The Book of Mormon,” in The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism, ed. Terryl L. Givens and Phillip L. Barlow [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015], 134), Givens has written much on its status as a signifier of the validity of the innovations carried out by Joseph Smith (By the Hand of Mormon, 228–39). Further, Gerald Smith has recently argued that the Book of Mormon does in fact carry innovative teachings that contributed to in content, rather than mere sign, to LDS doctrine (Schooling the Prophet [Provo: Brigham Young University, 2015]).
 Doctor, for example, notes that Jamgӧn Kongrtul issued many of the same defenses against twentieth-century polemics, as did Guru Chӧwang in the thirteenth (Tibetan Treasure Literature, 38). Although, it is clear that gter ma responded to changing religious, social, cultural, and political concerns, as can be seen in the work of the gter ston Orgyen Lingpa (o rgyan gling pa; 1323-?) (see Giuseppe Tucci, Religions of Tibet, trans. Geoffrey Samuel [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970], 38) and Sera Khandro (se ra mkha ‘gro; 1892–1940) (see Sarah Jacoby, Love and Liberation [New York: Columbia University Press, 2014], 100). For the evolution of Book of Mormon usage, see Underwood, “Book of Mormon Usage,” and Reynolds, “The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon in the Twentieth Century,” BYU Studies 38, no. 2 (1999): 6–47.
 There have been other non-canonized and generally uninfluential discoveries within Mormonism, such as James Jesse Strang’s Record of Rajah Machou of Vorito (see Don Faber, James Jesse Strang [Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016], 58, 65–70) and W. W. Phelps’s discovery and translation of some Native American petroglyphs in Utah (see Christopher J. Blythe, “By the Gift and Power of God,” in MacKay, Ashurst-McGee, and Hauglid, Producing Ancient Scripture, 47). Christopher Smith has recently drawn attention to a heretofore neglected figure, Earl John Brewer (1933–2007), who claimed to have been led by an angle to find hundreds of inscribed plates in Utah, purportedly placed there by the Jaredites See “The Hidden Records of Central Utah and the Struggle for Religious Authority” in Open Canon: Scriptures of the Latter Day Saint Tradition, ed. Christine Elyse Blythe, Christopher J. Blythe, and Jay Burton (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2022). chap. 15.
 Gyatso and Smith both place the first discovery in the tenth century (Gyatso, “Signs, Memory and History,” 30n2; Smith, Among Tibetan Texts, 15). It is important to note, however, as observed by Doctor, that “although the Nyingma school traces the beginning of Treasure revelation in Tibet to the master Sangye Lama (eleventh century); Nyangral Nyima Ōzer’s writings a century later are the first to show a self-conscious movement” (Tibetan Treasure Literature, 20). Although there is no definitive list, Thondup has compiled the names and dates (if available) of 278 known gter stons (Hidden Teachings of Tibet, 189–201). Dudjom provides short biographies of twenty-four important discoverers (Nyingma School, 743–881).
 See, for example, Doctor, Tibetan Treasure Literature; Davidson, Tibetan Renaissance, 210–42; Hirshberg, Remembering the Lotus-Born, 85–140; Robert Mayer, “gTer ston and Tradent,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 36/37 (2013/2014): 227–42; and Mayer, “Rethinking Treasure (part one)” and “Rethinking Treasure (part two).”
 Hirshberg has recently suggested that scholars differentiate between pre-tradition gter ma—the early gter ma that did not operate within a clear taxonomical schema and origins myth—and post-tradition gter ma, artificially divided by the first classificatory study on the topic, Guru Chöwang’s Great History of the Treasures (gter ‘byung chen mo) written in 1264–1265. (On the topic of earlier vs. later gter ma, see Doctor, Tibetan Treasure Literature, 15–53.) In relation to this schema, as my focus is on Do Drubchen III’s (rdo grub chen, 1865–1926), my study focuses primarily (but not exclusively) on post-tradition gter ma.
 Hirshberg, Remembering the Lotus-Born, 14; see also Jacob P. Dalton, “The Early Development of the Padmasambhava Legend in Tibet,” in About Padmasambhava, ed. Geoffrey Samuel and Jamyang Oliphant (Shongau, Switzerland: Garuda Books, 2020), 29–64.
 Hirshberg, Remembering the Lotus-Born, 1–18.
 Germano, “The Seven Descents,” esp. 232–37; Thondup, Hidden Teachings, 50, 62–63, 150; Dudjom, Nyingma School, 744–45; Gyatso, “Signs, Memory and History,” 16.
 Gyatso, “Logic of Legitimation,” 112–15; Gyatso, “Signs, Memory and History,” 8. On this process in the spoken transmissions (bka’ ma), see Jacob P. Dalton, The Gathering of Intentions (New York: Colombia University Press, 2016), 3, 13–19.
 Dākinīs—literally “sky-goers”—are described by Sarah Harding as “female deities who . . . clear away obstacles and help bring about wisdom” (Machik’s Complete Explanation [Boston: Snow Lion, 2013], 374). Harding describes protectors as “beings or spirits who act to protect a given place or person. Dharma protectors are beings that have been tamed by a great teacher like Padmasambhava and actually serve the best interests of the Dharma” (378). In Tibetan Treasure literature, the terms are used interchangeably (Gyatso, Apparitions of the Self, 161). For a brief history of their role and development from Vedic religion to Tibetan Vajrayāna, see Jacoby, Love and Liberation, 135–37.
 Gyatso, Apparitions of Self, 159–61; Gyatso, “Drawn from the Tibetan Treasury,” 151; Gyatso, “Signs, Memory and History,” 9; Germano, “Re-Membering the Dismembered Body,” 61. Thondup follows a different order and different terminology: (1) “Aspirational Empowerment of the Mind-mandate Concealment” or “Mind-mandate Transmission” in the “expanse of the awareness state or the Buddha nature of the mind”; (2) transcription of the teachings and entrustment to the dākinīs; (3) “Prophetic Authorization” (61, 67–70, 84). Further, two additional orderings yet similar descriptions are given in Thondup’s translation of Wonder Ocean (104–6).
 On the pervasiveness of this historical question, see Doctor, Tibetan Treasure Literature, 32–44; and Gyatso, “Logic of Legitimation,” 102–6, esp. 103n14.
 See, for example, L. A. Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet (1894; repr. Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, 1939), 166–67; and Michael Aris, Hidden Treasures and Secret Lives (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1988), 96–98.
 Hirshberg offers an apt summary of the differing views on this topic, as well as his own nuanced position (Remembering the Lotus Born, 85–87, 134–139). See also Doctor, Tibetan Treasure Literature, 42–51; and Anne C. Klein and Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Unbounded Wholeness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 206.
 One is that the interplay between the Tibetan Buddhist belief in reincarnation and traditions of pragmatic treasure burial prior to the fall of the Tibetan empire create the social and psychological conditions within which scholars could see one actually finding a buried textual object and connecting it with a purported memory of a past live in conjunction with the aforementioned narrative (Germano, “Re-Membering the Dismembered Body,” 54; Gyatso, “Drawn from the Tibetan Treasury,” 151–52; and Gytaso, “Logic of Legitimation,” 107–8). In fact, Hirshberg has made this very argument in sympathy with the claims of the first well-documented gter ston, Nyangrel Nyima Ozer (nyang ral nyi ma ‘od zer, 1124–92) (Remembering the Lotus-Born, 136). See also Kapstein, Tibetan Assimilation, 137. Although, it has been noted that Smith lived in a social sphere in which interest in and discoveries of artifacts, even textual artifacts, from indigenous civilizations were common. See Samuel M. Brown, In Heaven as it is On Earth (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 69–87; and Lester E. Bush, “The Spalding Theory Then and Now,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 10, no. 4 (1977): 40–69. It could also be said that this is because some scholars have actually found authentic ancient materials in some gter mas (although, as we will see below, Book of Mormon scholars have made similar claims). This is particularly true regarding the bka’ thang sde lnga, whose ancient materials are surveyed by Mayer, “Rethinking Treasure (part one),” 120–33. Donald Lopez, the only scholar to address the question directly, claims that this discrepancy has to do with the general public and academia’s sliding scale for tolerance of and interest in supernatural claims in conjunction with their chronological and geographical context. In his recent comparison of the Western public reception of the Book of Mormon and the famed Tibetan Book of the Dead, Lopez notes that this gter ma’s unique origin story greatly contributed to its mystical allure and widespread popularity, whereas Smith’s similar claims brought widespread suspicion, and even violent persecution, which persists (although generally nonviolently) to the present day. These discrepancies, Lopez argues, have to do not with their respective “intrinsic value, regardless of how that might be measured, but, at least in part, because [Smith] lived in a chronologically recent and geographically proximate past” (The Tibetan Book of the Dead, 148). Aris (Hidden Treasures, 96–98) and Terryl L. Givens (Viper on the Hearth [New York: Oxford University Press, 1997], 83, 90–94) make similar claims not on this comparison specifically but on the treatment of these texts in general. To this possibility, I would also add that the multiplicity of gter stons has served to diffuse the perceived religious implications of the veracity of a single gter stons claims, thus mitigating against the emic/etic divide obviously operative not only in Mormon polemics but religious studies as well, which seeks for clear either/or answers regarding the Book of Mormon’s origins.
 Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, 12
 Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, 42.
 For two extremely influential works, see Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon (1957; repr. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1988); and John Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013). Givens gives an excellent summary of the many others who have followed the work of these pioneering figures (By the Hand of Mormon, 117–54).
 Alexander Campbell, Delusions: An Analysis of the Book of Mormon (Boston: Benjamin H. Greene, 1832) 13; Woodbridge Riley, The Founder of Mormonism (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1903); Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History (1945; repr. New York: Vintage Books, 1995); Whitney R. Cross, The Burned-Over District (New York: Cornell University Press, 1950); Marvin S. Hill, “Quest for Refuge,” Journal of Mormon History 2 (1975): 3–20; Brent L. Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993); Michael D. Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1998); Anderson, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999); Dan Vogel and Lee Metcalfe, eds., American Apocrypha (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002); Dan Vogel, The Making of a Prophet (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004); Clyde Jr. Forsberg, Equal Rites (New York: Colombia University Press, 2004).
 Through computational stylistics, scholars have found over 2,000 authorship shifts between twenty-four unique authorial styles, “consistent to [the Book of Mormon’s] own internal claims.” See John L. Hilton, “On Verifying Wordprint Studies,” BYU Studies Quarterly 30, no. 3 (1990): 89–108. Skousen has also found evidence in favor of Smith’s claim to have orally dictated the book to a scribe without prior knowledge of its contents or referencing external sources. These include errors reflective of “mishearing what Joseph had dictated” rather than “misreading while visually copying”—such as writing “&” as a mishearing of “an” or consistently misspelling a name that would be phonetically ambiguous—as well as “scribal anticipation errors,” where phrases from later in a sentence would be written and crossed out before their proper place, due to hearing Smith dictate faster than they were able to write (“How Joseph Smith Translated,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7, no. 1 : 23–31). Moreover, even in sections of the text that seem like obvious plagiarisms—such as when the text quotes verbatim from the book of Isaiah—Skousen has noted the same scribal errors consistent with the oral composition of the rest of the text, unorthodox divisions, and even readings that align not with the King James Bible of Smith’s time but the Masoretic (traditional Hebrew) text and the Septuagint (Greek) (“Textual Variants in the Isaiah Quotations” in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch [Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998], 369–90).
 Two common theories have been that Smith plagiarized from Solomon Spalding’s “Manuscript Found” and Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews. On the original Spalding hypothesis as first explicated in 1834, see E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH: By the author, 1834), 278–88. For a detailed account of the theory in all its expansions, redactions, and challenges, see Bush, “Spalding Theory Then and Now.” Bushman also offers a quick synopsis (Rough Stone Rolling, 90–91). On that of the View of the Hebrews, see Charles D. Tate Jr.’s introduction to the 1996 reprint of View of the Hebrews (1825 2nd Edition) (Provo: Brigham Young University, 1996), ix–xxii. For a succinct summary, see Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, 161–62; and Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 96–97. See also William L. Davis, Visions in a Seer Stone (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020); David P. Wright, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” in Vogel and Metcalfe, American Apocrypha, 157–234.
 For two paradigmatic examples of these divergent approaches, see Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 58–83; and Vogel, Making of a Prophet, 129.
 Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 58.
 This is a paraphrase of Vogel’s statement that “existence of the Book of Mormon plates themselves as an objective artifact which Joseph allowed his family and friends and even critics to handle while it was covered with a cloth or concealed in a box . . . [is] compelling evidence of conscious misdirection” (Making of a Prophet, xi).
 This is perhaps most evident in that one of the few etic scholars who has taken their existence seriously, Jan Shipps, has been since dubbed an “insider-outsider” (Shipps, “An ‘Inside-Outsider’ in Zion,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15, no. 1 : 139–61; Bushman, “The Worlds of Joseph Smith” in Believing History, ed. Reid L. Neilson and Jed Woodworth [New York: Colombia University Press: 2004], 10). On the pervasiveness of this divide in the field, see Jan Shipps, “The Prophet Puzzle,” Journal of Mormon History 1 (1974): 19; Bushman, “A Joseph Smith for the Twenty-first Century” in Neilson and Woodworth, Believing History, 262–78; Taves, “History and the Claims of Revelation,” 183–87.
 Thondup, Hidden Teachings, 106.
 Thondup, Hidden Teachings, 61.
 This is often a form of ḍākinī script (mkha’ ‘gro brda yig) and symbolic language of the ḍākinīs (mkha’ gro brda skad), although Gyatso and Thondup mention myriad other protentional scripts and languages (Gyatso, “Signs, Memory and History,” 12, 18; Thondup, Hidden Teachings, 69–70).
 Thondup, Hidden Teachings, 61–62, 64–66, 85–90, 102–7, 125–35, 159.
 For example, the seventh section of the Doctrine and Covenants claims to come from a “record made on parchment by John [the apostle of Jesus] and hidden up by himself,” not physically discovered by Smith but revealed by him. The “Book of Moses” in the Pearl of Great Price claims to be a revelation of historical events in the lives of the Old Testament prophets Moses and Enoch, the latter of which Smith alluded to being from the prophecy of Enoch mentioned in the book of Jude in the New Testament (Jude 1:14; “History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1 [December 23, 1805–August 30, 1834],” December 1830, 81, The Joseph Smith Papers). Again, Smith never claimed to recover a physical manuscript In a similar mode, verses 6 to 17 of the 97th section of the Doctrine and Covenants are cast as a revelation given to the apostle John. Smith described Doctrine and Covenants section 76 as a “transcript from the records of the eternal world” (“History, 1838–1856, vol. A-1 [December 23, 1805–August 30, 1834],” January 25–February 16, 1832, 192, The Joseph Smith Papers). The “Book of Abraham,” also contained in the Pearl of Great Price, claims to be a translation of a set of Egyptian papyri which Joseph purchased in 1835.
 Joseph Smith Jr., preface to The Book of Mormon (Palmyra, N.Y.: E. B. Grandin, 1830).
 “History, 1838–1856, vol. E-1 [July 1, 1843–April 30, 1844],” November 13, 1843, 1775, The Joseph Smith Papers.
 “History, circa Summer 1832,” The Joseph Smith Papers, 5. For all other accounts not cited above, see “History, 1838–1856, volume A-1,” The Joseph Smith Papers, 9; “Elder’s Journal, July 1838,” The Joseph Smith Papers, 43; Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996), 17; “Journal, 1835–1836,” The Joseph Smith Papers, 26; “Letter to Noah C. Saxton, 4 January 1833,” The Joseph Smith Papers; “Minute Book 1,” The Joseph Smith Papers, 44; “History, 1838–1856, volume C-1,” The Joseph Smith Papers, 1282; and “Times and Seasons, 2 May 1842,” The Joseph Smith Papers, 772.
 These are Emma Smith, Reuben Hale, Martin Harris, Samuel Smith, Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, and David Whitmer. See John W. Welch, “The Miraculous Translation of the Book of Mormon,” in Opening the Heavens, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 83–98.
 Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Missouri: By the author, 1887), 13.
 On Smith’s seer stone and its use before his translating the gold plates, see Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 48–52; and Richard V. Wagoner and Steve Walker, “Joseph Smith: ‘The Gift of Seeing,’” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15, no. 2 (1982): 53–62. How much Joseph Smith used the spectacles buried with the plates, and how much he used the seer stone, is still debated; see James E. Lancaster, “The Method of Translation of the Book of Mormon,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 3 (1983): 62–63; and Michael H. MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, “Firsthand Witness Accounts of the Translation Process,” in The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon, ed. Dennis L. Largey et al. (Provo: Brigham Young University, 2015), 68.
 On spelling out proper names and large words, see Emma Smith’s description from her 1856 interview with Edmund C. Briggs: Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History, October 1916, 454.
 “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” The Saints’ Herald 26, no. 19 (1879): 289–90. For what other scribes and eyewitnesses reported, see Wagoner, “Gift of Seeing”; Lancaster, “Method of Translation”; and MacKay and Dirkmaat, “Firsthand Witness Accounts.”
 “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” 289–90.
 Skousen groups the possibilities into three categories: iron-clad control (the seer stones ensured that Smith nor the scribe could make any errors); tight control (Smith was revealed words and tasked with reading them to a scribe); and loose control (where Smith was impressed with ideas). See “How Joseph Smith Translated,” 24.
 For just a few influential examples, see Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert and The World of the Jaredites (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft Publishing Co., 1952), 184–89; John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” Brigham Young University Studies 10, no. 1 (1969): 69–84; and Skousen, “How Joseph Smith Translated,” 28–31. Skousen has also made this argument based on certain scribal errors that he claims indicate Smith spelled out complicated proper names to his scribe and had access through the seer stone to about twenty words at a time (Skousen, “How Joseph Smith Translated,” 27).
 Brant A. Gardner, The Gift and Power (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2011), 183–95; Samuel M. Brown, “Seeing the Voice of God,” in MacKay, Ashurst-McGee, and Hauglid, Producing Ancient Scripture, 144–46; Blake T. Ostler, “The Book of Mormon as a Modern Expansion of an Ancient Source,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 20, no. 1 (1987): 104; Michael D. Quinn, L. Mayer, D. Young, “The First Months of Mormonism,” New York History 54, no. 3 (1973): 321; Stephen D. Ricks, “Translation of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2, no. 2 (1993): 201–6.
 Gerald Smith, however, has recently studied the corrective conjunction phrases and noted that “over time and across editions the Prophet chose to retain the original translation of corrective conjunction phrases, including seemingly obvious errors and mistakes,” meaning that perhaps they were in fact part of the original text (Schooling the Prophet, 38–39).
 Barlow, Mormons and the Bible, 28–33.
 On these substantive changes, see Royal Skousen, “Changes in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11 (2014): 169–72. For all textual variants in the various additions, see Skousen, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009), 739–89.
 Wagoner, “The Gift of Seeing,” 53; MacKay and Dirkmaat, “Firsthand Witness Accounts,” 71–72.
 Tsele Natsok Rangdröl, Empowerment and the Path of Liberation (Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe, 1993), 17–23; Thondup, Hidden Teachings, 45; Tucci, Religions of Tibet, 44–45.
 Patrul Rinpoche, The Words of My Perfect Teacher, trans. Padmakara Translation Group (Boston: Shambala, 1998), 143–45; Jamgön Kongtrul, The Teacher-Student Relationship, trans. Ron Garry (Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion, 1999), 139–43; Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Guru Yoga, trans. Matthieu Ricard (Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion, 1999), 57–61; Rangdröl, Empowerment and the Path, 33, 35–37.
 Gentry, Power Objects, 10–11.
 Gentry, Power Objects, 13.
 Gentry, Power Objects, 11.
 Gentry, Power Objects, 26.
 Gentry, Power Objects, 52, see also 49.
 Taves, “History and the Claims of Revelation”; see also Ann Taves, “Joseph Smith, Helen Schucman, and the Experience of Producing a Spiritual Text,” in MacKay, Ashurst-McGee, and Hauglid, Producing Ancient Scripture, 169–86; and Ann Taves, Revelatory Events (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2016).
 Taves, “History and the Claims of Revelation,” 195, 202.
 Ether 3:24.
 Jared Hickman, “‘Bringing Forth’ the Book of Mormon,” in MacKay, Ashurst-McGee, and Hauglid, Producing Ancient Scripture, 78–80.
 Sonia Hazard, “How Joseph Smith Encountered Printing Plates,” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 31, no. 2 (2021): 150–178.
 Hazard, “How Joseph Smith Encountered,” 140, 146.
 Hazard, “How Joseph Smith Encountered,” 148.
 Hazard, “How Joseph Smith Encountered,” 180–81.
 Gentry, Power Objects, 299–303.
 Gentry, Power Objects, 246, 310.
 Janet Gyatso, “The Relic Text,” (unpublished manuscript), 7–12; Thondup, Hidden Teachings, 72–76; Jacoby, Love and Liberation, 142.
 Gyatso describes the semiotic process by which one determines the necessary conditions for revelation in detail in her study of the gter ston Jigme Lingpa (Gyatso, Apparitions of the Self, 162–81) and elsewhere (“Signs, Memory and History,” 22–27; see also Drubchen, Hidden Teachings, 130).
 For detailed examples of gter ma discovery, see Hanna, “Vast as the Sky”; Germano, “Re-Membering the Dismembered Body”; Gyatso, Apparitions of Self, 161–74; and Hirshberg, Remembering the Lotus-Born, (96–139).
 Germano and Gyatso, “Longchenpa and the Dakinis,” 242.
 Thondup describes the consort as one who “helps to produce and maintain the wisdom of the union of great bliss and emptiness, by which the adept attains the ultimate state” (Hidden Teachings, 82–83; see also Gyatso, Apparitions of Self, 173, 194–97). Elsewhere, Gyatso explains this as facilitating the “breaking of codes (brda grol), here a metaphor for the loosening of the psychic knots that bind the cakras, necessary for the mature rendering of the full Treasure scripture in determinant form” (“Signs, Memory and History,” 22).
 Although Gyatso is sighting Drubchen (Hidden Teachings, 124–135), her systematic outline of this process is quite helpful (see Gyatso, “Signs, Memory and History,” 17–22).
 Jigme Lingpa’s revelation of the Logchen Nyingtig (klong chen snying thig) for example, took seven years (Gyatso, Apparitions of the Self, 168).
 Hirshberg, Remembering the Lotus-Born, 133.
 Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 234–37.
 Hazard, “How Joseph Smith Encountered,” 146.
 Emma Smith accompanied her husband on his discovery expedition, and many others provided transportation, lodging, protection from thieves, places to hide the plates, and witnessed him return from the hill with a set of plates (although under a cloth) (Bushman, Believing History, 93–105). Emma also describes “[moving] them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my [house]work” (“Last Testimony of Sister Emma”). A select eleven were even given permission by the angel Moroni to “handle” them and “[see] the engravings thereon” (see “The Testimony of the Three Witnesses” and the Testimony of the Eight Witnesses” in the Book of Mormon). For a discussion on the credibility of their accounts, see Dan Vogel, “The Validity of the Witnesses’ Testimonies,” in Vogel and Metcalfe, American Apocrypha, 79–122; and Steven C. Harper, “Evaluating the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” Religious Educator 11, no. 2 (2010): 37–49.
 Mary Keller, The Hammer and the Flute (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 33, 35–37, 54–72.
 Keller, Hammer and the Flute, 7, see also 41, 44–46.
 Keller, Hammer and the Flute, 9, see also 48.
 Keller, Hammer and the Flute, 159–60.
 One other interesting alternative is Taves’s and Dunn’s theory that Smith’s ability to dictate extensive narratives without external sources through reference to trance states that enable “automatic writing” (Taves, Revelatory Events, 250–69; Taves, “Joseph Smith, Helen Schucman”; Scott C. Dunn, “Automaticity and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon,” in Vogel and Metcalfe, American Apocrypha, 17–46). This cross-cultural phenomenon refers to states of consciousness within which an individual can write or dictate words to a scribe for extensive periods of time without prior knowledge of, or control over, the words themselves, and thus attributes them to an external force. The primary problem with this theory, however, is its reliance on Smith’s natural knack for storytelling and high degree of familiarity with the King James Bible to posit a robust set of mentally stored raw materials upon which Smith’s mind drew while under hypnosis to produce the content of the Book of Mormon. There is scant evidence for these innate qualities and/or cultivated knowledge base. In making this claim, Taves and others (Rodney Stark, “A Theory of Revelations,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 38, no. 2 : 294; Hickman, “‘Bringing Forth’ the Book of Mormon,” 76–77) rely exclusively on Lucy Smith’s (Joseph Smith’s mother) comment that during their “evening conversations,” Smith would give “amusing recitals” about “the ancient inhabitants of this continent” before discovering the plates (Scot F. Proctor and Maurine J. Proctor, eds., The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 112). However, I think they are reading too deeply into this comment. This seems to be a reference to what Moroni told Smith during their first meeting. In Smith’s own words: “I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this Country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people was made known unto me” (“History, 1838–1856, vol. C-1 [November 2, 1838–July 31, 1842],” March 1, 1842, 1282, The Joseph Smith Papers). For a critique of the automatic writing theory, see Brian C. Hales, “Automatic Writing and the Book of Mormon,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 52, no. 2 (2019): 1–35.
 The closest approximation to my theory thus far in Mormon studies are Josh E. Probert’s brief comments that the seer stone “acted on Smith” and “acted as a mediator” (“The Materiality of Lived Mormonism,” Mormon Studies Review 3 (2016): 26–27). My emphasis on the plates instead of the seer stones stems primarily from their being the claimed contextual source of the translation and the fact that, when the angel took the plates away, Smith could no longer translate despite having access to seer stones.
 Smith’s mother recorded in the late winter or early Spring of 1827 that Joseph had received “the severest chastisement” of his life at the hand of Moroni for being “negligent” with respect to “the things that God had commanded [him] to do” (Proctor and Proctor, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith, 135). After preparing the first 116 pages of the plates, Smith mistakenly allowed his scribe, then Martin Harris, to show the transcript to family members, after which they were lost and the plates subsequently taken from Smith from June 15 to September 22, 1828 (Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 66–69).
 Two early sources written by friends of Smith record that the angel told him he must “bring the right person” to retrieve the plates, who Smith later learned was Emma Hale, a local woman who married a few months later. These accounts written by these friends, Joseph Knight and Willard Chase, are summarized in Quinn, Early Mormonism, 158, 163. Smith also had to retain an amicable relationship with Emma to be able to translate (“Letter from Elder W. H. Kelley,” Saints’ Herald 1 : 68) and was inspired to engage with different scribes throughout the process.
 Other comparable, interesting arguments for non-linguistic translation, which I do not have space to survey here as they extend to Smith’s other translation projects, are Kathleen Flake, “Translating Time,” Journal of Religion 87, no. 4 (2007): 497–527; and Samuel M. Brown, Joseph Smith’s Translation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).
 Hickman, “‘Bringing Forth’ the Book of Mormon,” 54.
 The other two appearances of the term are in 2 Samuel 3:10 and Colossians 1:13.
 Grant Underwood, The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 163–64n4.
 2 Nephi 3:15–19.
 Hickman, “‘Bringing Forth’ the Book of Mormon,” 75.
 Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, xxi.
 Hickman, “‘Bringing Forth’ the Book of Mormon,” 54, 60, 75, 77–78.
 Doctrine and Covenants 131:7.
 Rosalynde Welch, “The New Mormon Theology of Matter,” Mormon Studies Review 4, no. 1 (2017): 70.
 On this pervasive, Protestant influenced paradigm of religious studies, see Peter J. Bräunlein, “Thinking Religion Through Things,” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 28, no. 4/5 (2016): 370–72; and Brigit Meyer, “How Pictures Matter,” in Objects and Imagination: Perspectives on Materialization and Meaning, edited by Øivind Fuglerud and Leon Wainwright (New York: Berghahn, 2015), 165–66.
 Charles Stewart, Dreaming and Historical Consciousness in Island Greece (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 2.
 Flake, “Translating Time”; Brown, Joseph Smith’s Translation.
 Stewart, Dreaming and Historical Consciousness, 51, 64, 68.
 Stewart, Dreaming and Historical Consciousness, xvii–xviii.[post_title] => The Production of the Book of Mormon in Light of a Tibetan Buddhist Parallel [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 55.4 (Winter 2022): 41–83
Drawing on observations and suggestions from scholars of Tibetan Buddhism and Mormonism, this article compares the production of the Book of Mormon with that of the class of Tibetan Buddhist scripture known as gter ma (“Treasure,” pronounced “terma”) [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-production-of-the-book-of-mormon-in-light-of-a-tibetan-buddhist-parallel [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 00:17:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 00:17:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=31435 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
“The Robe of Righteousness”: Exilic and Post-Exilic Isaiah in The Book of Mormon
Dialogue 55.3 (Fall 2022): 75-106
As a contribution to the larger project of examining the King James Bible’s influence on The Book of Mormon, this essay focuses on several aspects of the problem of Isaiah in The Book of Mormon as they relate to the more significant issue. I will focus on two problems with the use of Isaiah in The Book of Mormon. First, previous scholarship has assumed that none of Third Isaiah has had any effect on the text of The Book of Mormon and the Isaiah chapters it quotes
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The book of Isaiah has enjoyed an enduring presence within Christian thought since the earliest period of Christian history. Isaiah has famously been called “the fifth gospel” because of its ubiquitous presence within Christian writing, thought, and history and its immense influence on the New Testament. The importance of Isaiah within broader Christianity carries over into early Mormon texts as well, and readers of The Book of Mormon get a sense early on in their reading that they will have to deal with a significant amount of quoted material from Isaiah if they are going to engage the book and take it seriously. The book’s earliest character and émigré prophet, Nephi, explicitly states that he does not just want his readers to know his interpretation of Isaiah’s message. Instead, he wants them to read and know Isaiah’s words, mediated at least through a slightly revised and updated version of the King James text of Isaiah.
Scholars of The Book of Mormon have noted at least since H. Grant Vest that it is a historical problem for the book to quote from Isaiah chapters 40–66 because it is widely accepted in biblical scholarship that this section of the book dates to after 600 BCE, the period when Lehi and Nephi left Jerusalem. Numerous previous studies have examined the “problem of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” however, few have set this issue in the more comprehensive, poignant problem of the influence of the entire King James Bible on the composition of The Book of Mormon as a whole. As a contribution to the larger project of examining the King James Bible’s influence on The Book of Mormon, this essay focuses on several aspects of the problem of Isaiah in The Book of Mormon as they relate to the more significant issue. I will focus on two problems with the use of Isaiah in The Book of Mormon. First, previous scholarship has assumed that none of Third Isaiah has had any effect on the text of The Book of Mormon and the Isaiah chapters it quotes. This assumption has relied on a mistaken way of identifying influence by looking only for long quotations. Second, I examine how biblical scholarship on Isaiah complicates having a block quotation including portions of not only Isaiah chapters 40–55 but also those from chapters 2–14 as well. It was just as unlikely for a sixth-century Israelite immigrating from the Middle East to the Americas to have Isaiah 2–14 as they appear in the KJV as it was to have 40–55, and it is the fact that most of the scholarship on The Book of Mormon up to now has obscured this that I wish to address.
1. The Problem of Dating Isaiah
Since the pioneering eighteenth-century work of both Johann Christoph Döderlein and Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, scholars have understood the compositional history of the book of Isaiah to be far more complicated than the notion that Isaiah of Jerusalem wrote all sixty-six chapters of the book. In fact, since the last quarter of that century, scholars have argued that historians need to separate the historical person, Isaiah of Jerusalem, from the literary book itself. This observation is partially due to how scholars argue that Isaiah wrote portions of chapters 1–39 but not 40–66. Scholars continued to examine and refine this approach to the compositional history of the book of Isaiah, and it became the leading theory of the book’s authorship soon after the publication of Döderlein’s and Eichhorn’s work in the 1770s and 1780s.
The best expression of this position is found a century later in Samuel R. Driver’s 1891 study An Introduction to the Study of the Old Testament. Driver argued that chapters 40–66 are clearly of a later date and authorship than 1–39 because, primarily, the prophecies in 40–66 presuppose a sixth-century audience without ever claiming to be about the future and, secondarily, the literary style and theological perspective of the later chapters differ significantly from the earlier chapters. A year after the publication of Driver’s book, Bernhard Duhm identified a third author in the book, Trito-Isaiah, and argued that this anonymous author wrote later than both Isaiah of Jerusalem and Deutero-Isaiah.
Duhm’s theory would later become the standard account of the book’s formation. In the wake of Duhm’s work, most scholarship on Isaiah has engaged the book by dividing it into these three sections, roughly chapters 1–39, 40–55, and 56–66. This designation has remained a valuable tool in biblical studies to quickly explain three of the major blocks in the formation of the book, although for the purposes of this study, it is beneficial to break down the sections of Isaiah further in order to go beyond this simplified and truncated portrait of the critical understanding of the book. The oversimplification of the division of source material in the book of Isaiah has unfortunately led scholars within Mormon studies to assume that only the quotation of Isaiah 48–54 in The Book of Mormon is historically problematic. It is time for a broader and deeper engagement with all the relevant data.
2. Identifying Third Isaiah in The Book of Mormon
The influence of specific phrases from portions of verses in Isaiah 56–66 on The Book of Mormon has almost wholly eluded scholars of the book since they became aware of the problem of Isaiah’s authorship over a century ago. H. Grant Vest, a master’s student at Brigham Young University in the 1930s working under Sidney B. Sperry, believed that he found one example of Third Isaiah in The Book of Mormon, but it comes from Isaiah 55. When he was working on his thesis, scholars identified Isaiah 55 as part of Third Isaiah. To my knowledge, only one other scholar has previously connected language in The Book of Mormon with Third Isaiah. In the following sections, I will describe The Book of Mormon verses influenced by Third Isaiah individually.
2.1 Isaiah 61:10
In 2 Nephi 4, the Lehite company has just arrived at the New World, and Lehi has provided patriarchal blessings and counsel to his and Ishmael’s sons and grandchildren. In verse 12, he dies, and soon after Nephi states that his brothers Laman and Lemuel were again angry with Nephi for chastising them (vv. 13–14). Scholars have labeled the text from verse 15 to the end of the chapter “the Psalm of Nephi,” the “only . . . psalm in the entire volume,” and in verse 33, we find the first instance of language from Third Isaiah in The Book of Mormon. “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!”
The phrase “the robe of righteousness” is found in the KJV only in Isaiah 61:10. The separate words “robe” and “righteousness” are not found together in any other verse in the KJV. In Isaiah 61, the author states that they “will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.” As Claus Westermann has argued, this is related to the songs of praise in Deutero-Isaiah, but the two different authors show “characteristic” differences in how they present their songs of praise. As Westermann states, Deutero-Isaiah’s songs of praise are “sung by the community (call to praise in the imperative),” whereas the song in Isaiah 61:10 is “sung by an individual.”
At stake is Nephi’s use of a part of Isaiah that dates far after his leaving Jerusalem sometime around 600 BCE. It is similar to his quotations of Romans 7:24 in 2 Nephi 4:17 (“O wretched man that I am!”), Hebrews 12:1 in 2 Nephi 4:18 (“I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which doth so easily beset me”), and both James 1:5 (“I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh”) and James 4:3 (“if I ask not amiss”) in 2 Nephi 4:35. These texts date to well after the period that an ostensible historical Nephi could have used them. The key here is that the author of 2 Nephi 4 is dependent on a phrase in Third Isaiah and blends the language taken from that source with language taken from multiple books in the New Testament.
Dependence on this phrase from Isaiah 61:10 is also found in 2 Nephi 9:14. Beginning in 2 Nephi 6:6–7, Jacob quotes Isaiah 49:22–23, then Isaiah 49:24–52:2 in 2 Nephi 6:16–8:25. Jacob expounds on these chapters in 2 Nephi 9, like Nephi did for Isaiah 48–49 in 1 Nephi 22. In verse 14, Jacob explains how “the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.” Nephi and Jacob both approach the text of Isaiah in the same way by quoting entire chapters and then explaining those chapters to their audiences. Although the two sermons are decades separated, Jacob continues Nephi’s quotation and is dependent in his exposition on the exact phrase from Isaiah 61:10 that we find Nephi using in 2 Nephi 4:33. This brings attention to the singular use of Isaiah by two characters in the narrative.
Likewise, we also find many biblical quotations and echoes in this chapter from several New Testament sources. As Philip Barlow has previously shown, 2 Nephi 9:16–17 borrows language from a range of texts, including (in the order they appear in the verses) Matthew 24:35; Revelation 22:11; Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10; Hebrews 12:2; Matthew 25:34; and John 15:11. We can also add an informal quotation of 2 Corinthians 5:10 in 2 Nephi 9:15 to this long list (“must appear before the judgment seat of the Holy One of Israel”). Jacob’s extensive use of the New Testament around the phrase “robe of righteousness” in 2 Nephi 9 is similar to what we found in Nephi’s dependence on Third Isaiah in 2 Nephi 4. Both sections of The Book of Mormon are dependent on Third Isaiah and several texts from the New Testament. These verses also cannot be stripped from Nephi’s or Jacob’s texts without doing irreparable harm to their message. The author of these chapters knew Third Isaiah and the New Testament.
2.2 Isaiah 65:2/Romans 10:21
The second example of a phrase in Third Isaiah that influenced The Book of Mormon is found in Isaiah 65:2. However, the use of this verse was mediated through the New Testament’s quotation of this same passage, specifically in Romans 10:21. The formal quotation of Isaiah 65:2 in Romans 10:21 takes only from the first half of the source text. This part of Isaiah 65:2 reads in the KJV, “I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people.” Romans 10:21 says, “But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” Although slightly varying among themselves in terminology, each of the three verses in The Book of Mormon dependent on Isaiah 65:2 is far closer in its wording to the KJV of Romans 10:21 than Third Isaiah. We find the one exemplar that deviates most from the other two in 2 Nephi 28:32. There the divine states, “for notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me.” Both Jacob 5:47 and 6:4 agree with Romans 10:21 and have “stretched” and “stretches,” respectively, instead of “lengthen,” like in 2 Nephi 28:32, whereas Isaiah 65:2 has “spread out.” The two verses in Jacob also have “all the day long,” which is closer to Romans 10:21, “all day long,” contrary to 2 Nephi 28:32, “from day to day.” These are all different than what we find in Isaiah 65:2, “all the day.” The similarity in thought and imagery suggests that the author was familiar with the basic idea stated in Isaiah 65:2 as quoted in Romans 10:21 but, due to the disparity in wording, likely could not recall the exact wording so instead relied on their memory.
Each of the three verses in The Book of Mormon ends with a negative sentiment about those God reaches out to help. They will deny him (2 Nephi 28:32), they are corrupted (Jacob 5:47), and “they are a stiffnecked, and a gainsaying people” (Jacob 6:4). In each verse, there is some improvisation in how the author uses the language from the source texts. 2 Nephi 28:32 is, just like Jacob 5:47 and 6:4, ultimately dependent on Isaiah 65:2 through Romans 10:21 but more freely engages with the imagery in the text rather than the specific language.
2.3 Isaiah 63:1
Nephi continues to echo Third Isaiah when he is about to “make an end of [his] prophesying” in 2 Nephi 31:19. Earlier in the chapter, Nephi wants the implied audience to remember that he prophesied about how John the Baptist would baptize Jesus, so, it follows, it is vital for everyone to follow Jesus’ actions. In verse 19, Nephi asks if the reader has started on the path of discipleship and whether they are now done; he answers in the negative. “For ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.” The one “mighty to save” is explicitly Jesus in his capacity as savior and redeemer of humanity, an explicitly Christian soteriology that is significantly different from anything found in the book of Isaiah.
There are two other instances of this “mighty to save” language. In Alma 7:14, Alma states that in order to “inherit the kingdom of heaven” a person has to “be baptized unto repentance” and “washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God . . . which is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.” Alma 34:18 is more ambiguous, however. After describing the importance of Jesus’ atonement, in verse 18, Amulek echoes Isaiah 63:1 when he states, “Yea, cry unto him for mercy, for he is mighty to save.”
The Book of Mormon brings a Christological interpretation to Third Isaiah’s phrase. In contrast to how Third Isaiah employs the terminology of YHWH being the one “mighty to save,” the way the chapters of The Book of Mormon specifically engage with Isaiah 63:1 place Jesus front and center as the one “mighty to save.” This Christianizing of the text clarifies how historians should date the texts Smith dictated in a period after the development of Christian soteriology and the rereading of Isaiah 63 as Jesus’ second coming. This development in the history of ideas is crucial for the composition of the passages in The Book of Mormon that are dependent on Isaiah 63:1.
2.4 Isaiah 66:1 and Matthew 5:34–35
The final verse from Third Isaiah that has influenced The Book of Mormon is also found in the New Testament, like the examples above. In Jesus’ injunction against oath swearing (Matthew 5:34–35), Matthew cites Isaiah 66:1: “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” The passage is also referenced in the New Testament in Acts 7:49. Both 1 Nephi 17:39 and 3 Nephi 12:34–35 are dependent on Matthew 5:34–35, the latter more explicitly than the former because 3 Nephi 12–14 is a block quotation of Matthew 5–7. 1 Nephi 17:39 reads, “He ruleth high in the heavens, for it is his throne, and this earth is his footstool.” The particle “for,” found in both 1 Nephi 17:39 and Matthew 5:34—but not in Acts 7:49 or Isaiah 66:1—just before describing the heavens as the throne and the earth as the footstool, indicates the dependence of 1 Nephi 17:39 on Matthew 5:34 rather than either Acts 7:49 or the ultimate source, Isaiah 66:1. Still, that the idea and language originate with Third Isaiah supports the influence of Third Isaiah on The Book of Mormon as mediated through the New Testament.
3. Deutero-Isaianic, Exilic, and Post-Exilic Revision of Isaiah 2–14
As noted above, the dominant approach to the “Isaiah problem” of The Book of Mormon has been to see the uses of First Isaiah, including chapters 2–14, as posing no historical problem for the Nephite record. However, this view adopts a theory that all or nearly all of First Isaiah is authentic and available in its current form by 600 BCE. Many scholars have noted that other parts of Isaiah 2–14 were not written by Isaiah of Jerusalem but rather in the exilic or post-exilic periods. Bernhard Duhm, the scholar who initially proposed the tripartite division of the book of Isaiah in 1892, also recognized that not all of chapters 1–39 could be ascribed to Isaiah of Jerusalem. Instead, scholars had to recognize that much of this material was composed and added to the book of Isaiah centuries after Isaiah’s prophetic career. It is essential to recognize this fact and not forget that the tripartite division is more a heuristic model than an exact representation of scholarship over the last three centuries.
In his 1994 study, H. G. M. Williamson convincingly argued that Deutero-Isaiah redacted, and therefore reorganized and rewrote, much of the material in Isaiah 2–14. Although not everyone accepts his theory exactly as he argued it, Williamson brilliantly grounded his entire argument on specific verses in Isaiah 1–39 that most Isaiah scholars already accepted as later than Isaiah of Jerusalem. The rhetorical power of this approach allowed Williamson to focus on the similarities between the later additions in First Isaiah and the lexicon, historical setting, and theological perspective in Isaiah 40–55 over against those of the sections of 1–39 that scholars view as original to Isaiah himself.
Some scholars have rightly cautioned against approaches they see as too confident in identifying “the editorial growth of a biblical book over the centuries with the barest minimum of actual evidence.” But, as is also the case in J. J. M. Roberts’s commentary, sometimes the later additions and editorial structures are so clear that even a more cautious commentator like Roberts must note how First Isaiah developed well after Isaiah of Jerusalem’s lifetime. It is essential to note the specific passages in Isaiah 2–14 that Roberts, Williamson, and most other Isaiah scholars have agreed are later additions or editorial changes to these passages. The fact that parts of Isaiah 2–14 were either revised, restructured, or composed during or after the Babylonian exile complicates the assumption that Nephi or any of his descendants could have quoted these chapters in full the way Nephi did in 2 Nephi 12–24. As we will see, the shape of Isaiah 2–14 would have been drastically different in a pre-exilic setting than what we find in the KJV, and therefore The Book of Mormon. Due to space constraints, I will only analyze a few examples.
3.1 Isaiah 2:1–5
The block quotation of Isaiah 2–14 begins in 2 Nephi 12:1. The first verse of this quotation is widely recognized as a later addition to Isaiah 2. Roberts views Isaiah 2:1 as a late addition—even later than Williamson dates the verse—connecting Isaiah 1:29–31 to 2:2–4. Isaiah 2:2–4 has a complicated history because of its close parallel in Micah 4:1–4, but the entire pericope, too, is almost universally recognized as a late addition to First Isaiah. Roberts argues that 2:1 was added to bridge Isaiah 2 to Isaiah 1:29–31 and contextualize 2:2–4 and claims that the oracle is original to Isaiah and not Micah. Most scholars also argue that the text in Micah 4:1–4 is a late addition to that book, although scholars often view the version in Micah as more complete than what is found in Isaiah 2:2–4.
There is also the problem of Isaiah 2:5. Williamson argues that Deutero-Isaiah added this verse to connect 2:2–4 to 2:6–21. Otto Kaiser, Hans Wildberger, Ulrich Berges, and others support the argument that 2:5 is a late addition to the text, even though some scholars believe 2:2–4 is original to Isaiah. Recent scholarship has identified at least parts, if not the whole, of Isaiah 2:1–5 as being too late of an addition to the book of Isaiah to have been available on the brass plates as described in The Book of Mormon.
3.2 Isaiah 3:18–23
According to Wildberger and most Isaiah scholars, Isaiah 3:18–23 is a redactional interpolation that interrupts the continuity between verses 17 and 24. There have been several attempts to argue that this is not the case, most recently by Roberts, but the responses have failed to adequately counter all the reasons for seeing Isaiah 3:18–23 as a later, post-exilic (according to Williamson and others) interpolation. Although Williamson notes that for these verses, “Authorship and date is impossible to determine with certainty,” the latter part of his statement is determinative. Williamson, along with numerous other scholars, identifies the final editor of this section, chapters 2–4, as working in the post-exilic period. Wildberger and Kaiser both restructure this section in their commentaries to account for the interpolation of verses 18–23, moving verse 24 after verses 16 and 17. Williamson notes that “Verse 24 follows smoothly on v. 17 both in subject matter and in form.” Many scholars view the use of the phrase “in that day” at the beginning of verse 18 as introducing a redactional gloss, and Williamson sees the statement in verse 18 that “the Lord will take away” as a reference to verse 1, “suggesting a reader who had the wider passage in view rather than being just a late annotator who worked atomistically.” The list of women’s fine clothing and jewelry in verses 18–23 would have a significant influence on the editing of the whole of Isaiah 2–4, according to Williamson, especially as it was developed further in Isaiah 4:2–6, another later addition to this section.
3.3 Isaiah 4:2–6
Wildberger notes that chapters 2–4 have a great deal of material that originally comes from Isaiah of Jerusalem, but that “it is common to find secondary messages” added “at the conclusion of each” of these three chapters. He sees 4:2–6 as a likely addition to the text and non-Isaianic for the following reasons: (1) the introduction includes the formula “on that day,” which he notes several times in his commentary as usually indicating a secondary expansion; (2) the passage uses “the prosaic form in vv. 3ff.”; and (3) there is much secondary material in chapters 2–4 that includes messages of salvation, especially at the ends, that verses 2–6 share. For Wildberger, these verses have to be described generally as post-exilic, since they are a part of the later “shaping of the book of Isaiah, including such additions which announce salvation, and thereby set all of the harshnesses of the preceding words of judgment into the framework of Yahweh’s eventual goal for history and for his people.” Accordingly, this later rethinking of the earlier judgments “was not the learned work of someone sitting at a writing desk, but developed instead in the liturgical use of the prophetic writings in the assemblies of the community during the era of the second temple.” Williamson further notes that 4:2–6 works with 2:2–4, which we saw earlier is a secondary edition, as a “bookend” to this section of Isaiah, chapters 2–4. These two additions were integral to the final redactor’s purposes in their attempt to unify the disparate content that became Isaiah 2–4. I will show further below that more recent scholarship has argued that at least 4:2–6 was authored either by Third Isaiah or one of their contemporaries.
3.4 Isaiah 5:25–30
In his commentary on First Isaiah, which we have seen is more critical of the idea that parts of 2–14 were edited, rewritten, and shifted to their current position within the text at later periods, Roberts places Isaiah 10:1–4a between 5:8–24 and 5:25–30. He does this because “there are a number of indications that the connection between v. 24 and v. 25 is secondary” and that “In terms of form, it would appear that 10:1–4a goes with 5:8–24 and 5:25–30 goes with 9:7–20, probably at its conclusion.” The text as it now stands in 2–14 is not even close to the original order Roberts argues it would have been in during the earlier stages of the book. Although there is some uncertainty about what order exactly these four sections of Isaiah 5, 9, and 10 would have been in, many scholars agree that its current form is due to later redactional activity and that 5:25–30 was heavily edited and added last to its current position. Most of Isaiah 6–9 gets in the way of this earlier organization of the text of First Isaiah.
3.5 Isaiah 8:21–23a
Scholars have long argued that Isaiah 8:21–23a is an intricate collection of small text fragments that likely go back to Isaiah. Williamson noted in his study on the role of Isaiah 40–55 on the editing of 1–39 that 8:21–23a “has been compiled along exactly the same lines as those we suggested for 5:25–30,” namely, that “the redactor was responsible for giving [5:25–30] its new and present setting in the book” and comes closest to the thought and revisionary perspective, against what is in First Isaiah, to Deutero-Isaiah. Although scholars disagree on the dating of this passage, whether it is originally Isaianic or later, they agree that the way it has been edited and brought into its current position occurred later in the book’s history. Wherever these verses might have been initially in a collection of writings by First Isaiah, it is clear that they would not have been in their present position because they do not flow with the surrounding text and that the editor changed some of the wording to fit its new location in the text.
3.6 Isaiah 11:10–12:6
In his commentary on Isaiah 1–12, Wildberger notes that there has been an almost universal agreement in Isaiah scholarship that Isaiah 11:10–16 and all of chapter 12 do not come from First Isaiah. This depiction of the field was accurate up to the time Wildberger was working and it is still the current position within biblical studies. After considering all the reasons why scholars view 11:10–16 and chapter 12 as later additions to 2–11, Williamson shows that none of the objections raised by scholars allow a date of this material beyond the time of Deutero-Isaiah. Because 11:10–12:6 build upon 2–11 in ways similar in theme and content to the way that Isaiah 40–55 build on these earlier chapters as well as the other later additions to 2–11, and because they act as a literary bridge to 13–27 (highlighting their editorial nature), Williamson argues that they likely come from the same hand as the editor he identified for the other sections: Deutero-Isaiah himself. Even if Williamson is incorrect to state that these chapters were either edited or authored by Deutero-Isaiah, the point still stands that Isaiah 11:10–12:6 would not have been a part of the book of Isaiah before 600 BCE because they were written either by Deutero-Isaiah or a contemporary.
3.7 Isaiah 13–14
According to Williamson, most scholars generally date Isaiah 13, which they view as mostly a unified, discrete text, to right before the rise of Cyrus, king of Persia. He notes that some of the major attempts to connect this chapter with Isaiah of Jerusalem have failed because of the text’s references to the nations at play. The Medes, in particular, are depicted in a way in Isaiah 13 that does not comport with the time when Assyria was the dominant power in the Near East, but the prophecy also does not reflect what most likely took place during Cyrus’s reign ca. 539 BCE either. Isaiah 14 does not incorporate enough historical information for scholars to date it exactly, but the fact that the editor has joined it with chapter 13 means that the text refers to the king of Babylon. Williamson notes how the editorial material in Isaiah 14:1–4a and 22–23 make this connection explicit, therefore setting chapters 13–14 in this later context well after the life of Isaiah and into the sixth century, decades after the Lehite group are depicted as leaving Jerusalem.
Even at the minimum, based on the knowledge that we have about the growth of the book of Isaiah, a pre-exilic Israelite scribe or author would not have had access to the full text of Isaiah 2–14, or in the order it is found in the KJV. Although The Book of Mormon quotation of these chapters does vary from the source text, sometimes more than others—this also indicates a redactional and expansionistic approach in Smith’s quotation—it very rarely deletes text from Isaiah, for the most part preserving the text that is found in the KJV. Nephi would not have had available to him most or significant parts of Isaiah 2:1–5, 3:18–23, 4:2–6, 5:25–30, 8:21–23a, 11:10–12:6, or 13:1–14:32. Other verses could also be isolated and analyzed throughout Isaiah 2–14 that would not have been available to Nephi, but for the sake of both space and argument, these examples suffice to highlight the problem that this block quotation poses to simple explanations of the problem of Isaiah in The Book of Mormon. I will now turn to six examples of late additions to Isaiah 2–14 and 48–55 that scholars identify as either related to the circle that produced Isaiah 56–66 or, possibly, written by Third Isaiah himself as he redacted, and therefore rewrote, the book of Isaiah.
4. Third Isaiah in Isaiah 2–14 and 48–55
Recent scholarship has highlighted the probability that several of the late additions to Isaiah 2–14 and 48–55 were composed by the same author as the final redaction of Third Isaiah. The principal scholar proposing this argument has been Jacob Stromberg, whose 2011 publication Isaiah After Exile: The Author of Third Isaiah as Reader and Redactor of the Book has had a positive reception in the field since it was initially published. Likewise, Williamson incorporated Stromberg’s findings in the most recent volume of his commentary on Isaiah 1–27. Further problematizing the issue, this opens the possibility that more of Third Isaiah is in The Book of Mormon than just the verses already discussed in section 2, specifically in the block quotations of Isaiah 2–14 and 48–55 themselves. This also means that The Book of Mormon formally quotes material from Third Isaiah. I will now examine the sections of Isaiah 2–14 and 48–55 that Stromberg and Williamson have identified as Third Isaiah and their reasons for doing so.
4.1 Isaiah 4:2–6
As noted above, Isaiah 4:2–6, quoted in 2 Nephi 14, is not likely traceable to the historical Isaiah. According to Stromberg, Isaiah 4:2–6 is “a text almost universally regarded as much later than the prophet himself, and usually dated to at least as late as the post-exilic period.” Many of the studies published in the years leading up to Stromberg’s work pointed toward his argument that Isaiah 4:2–6 was composed by the final author of Third Isaiah. Most of these scholars asserted that Isaiah 60–62 influenced the author of Isaiah 4:2–6, but Stromberg emphasizes how the author of 60–62 developed these ideas and language to frame the beginning and end of Isaiah 56–66.
Those who reject a post-exilic dating for Isaiah 4:2–6, like J. J. M. Roberts, often fail to engage exhaustively with the reasons why most scholars do so. Roberts notes how the connection between Isaiah 3:16–4:1 and 4:2–6 “and the difficulty of analyzing the oracle as poetry have led many scholars to treat the oracle as a post-exilic insertion.” In fact, the arguments put forward for this view are far more robust than this. Marvin Sweeney, for example, provides at least four reasons outside of the two noted by Roberts to view 4:2–6 as post-exilic in origin. Sweeney notes that (1) the reference to “YHWH’s book of life” is now understood by scholars “as a late concept in Biblical literature,” (2) “the use of Exodus motifs is not characteristic of Isaiah of Jerusalem” but is an integral part of Deutero-Isaiah, (3) “the use of creation language, such as bara in v. 5, is characteristic of Deutero-Isaiah,” not Isaiah of Jerusalem, and (4) these verses are influenced by “an unmistakable priestly stamp which is not characteristic of Deutero-Isaiah but does appear in the Trito-Isaiah materials.” Due to these specific considerations in the development of biblical traditions and the uncharacteristic nature of the vocabulary and ideas to Isaiah of Jerusalem, Sweeney and most other scholars view Isaiah 4:2–6 as originating in the post-exilic period.
Important to our present purposes, those scholars who argue that Isaiah of Jerusalem wrote Isaiah 4:2–6 do so by reordering the verses. As Wildberger has noted, both Bernhard Stade and Karl Budde argued that the verses in Isaiah 4:2–4 are original but have them in the following order: after verse 1, it then goes verse 4, verse 3, and then verse 2. Verse 5 is, according to them, later than Isaiah of Jerusalem. This rearrangement suggests that even if we went with the minority view that some of the verses in 4:2–6 are original to Isaiah, they should be in a completely different order than found in 2 Nephi 14:2–6. The ordering throughout The Book of Mormon simply follows the KJV.
4.2 Isaiah 6:13b
Nephi’s quotation of Isaiah chapter 6 in 2 Nephi 16 includes the second half of verse 13. Stromberg was not the first to connect Third Isaiah with Isaiah 6:13, although he is the first to argue the relationship in detail and explore the possibility that Third Isaiah wrote 6:13. Sweeney also suggested this in an essay originally published in 1997, as did Willem Beuken in an essay in 1989. Berges notes how most scholars view Isaiah 6:12–13 as a late addition to the chapter, some arguing for up to four additions in these two verses. Berges argues convincingly that verses 12–13a are from only one hand and that a later redactor added 13b (“so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof,” KJV) with Isaiah 4:3 in mind. As we saw in section 4.1, Isaiah 4:2–6 is a late addition and, if we follow Stromberg’s argument, either written by Third Isaiah or one of his contemporaries.
According to Stromberg, after analyzing the connections between Isaiah 6:13b and the rest of Isaiah and finding that Isaiah 65:9 is the only text that clearly shares a relationship with this gloss, “it seems best to ascribe 6:13bb either to the same author who composed 65:9 or to a later imitator familiar with this passage.” Stromberg supports the former option by comparing how the author of Isaiah 57, Third Isaiah, alluded to and developed Isaiah chapter 6 in chapter 57 the same way the gloss does in Isaiah 6:13b. It would make sense, then, since Third Isaiah redacted the book that he would harmonize his addition and Isaiah 6:13b.
4.3 Isaiah 7:15
Again, as part of Nephi’s large block quotation of the early chapters of Isaiah, 2 Nephi 17 quotes Isaiah 7:15. In general, for decades, scholars have understood Isaiah 7:15 as a later addition to this chapter, meant to further elaborate on the sign in 7:14. Citing Paul Humbert, Wildberger noted that Isaiah 7 verses 14 and 16 followed what Humbert called “the biblical annunciation style,” or, as Wildberger preferred, “an annunciation oracle.” In this style or oracle formula, there are generally four elements: (1) a clause that begins with “behold” that announces pregnancy or birth; (2) a clause that “instructs the mother how to name the child”; (3) a clause introduced by “for” or “because” (כי, ki) that explains the name; and (4) supplementary information describing what the son will do. This is significant because Isaiah 7:14 and 7:16 follow this annunciation formula perfectly, but the structure is interrupted by 7:15. In every one of the other cases of the formula in the Hebrew Bible, “the naming element is immediately followed . . . by כי.”
The addition builds off both 7:16 and 7:22, initially appearing as a doublet of 7:16 because both texts state that the boy will learn “how to reject the bad and choose the good.” According to Stromberg, this combination of verses 16 and 22 in the interpolated material in verse 15 works “to project the sign into the future beyond the time of Ahaz.” Stromberg notes the close connections between 7:15 and Isaiah 4:3 and chapters 36–39, both of which Stromberg argues to have likely been the work of Third Isaiah. Although Stromberg notes, “That both 7 and 36–9 are so closely related, and that the sign in each has been edited to point beyond the circumstances of its respective narrative, seems beyond coincidence,” he concludes by stating that 7:15 is tentatively the work of Third Isaiah. In the end, whether one follows Stromberg’s arguments to their conclusion or not, 7:15 is a later addition to the chapter and would not have been included in a pre-exilic version of Isaiah 2–14.
4.4 Isaiah 11:10
The large block quotation of Isaiah in 2 Nephi includes Isaiah 11:10 as well. Stromberg argues that the author of Third Isaiah read Isaiah 11 and integrated the idea of a peaceful reign in verses 6–9, which is a later addition to 11:1–5, into his writing of Isaiah 65:25. Because of the evidence that Third Isaiah was reading Isaiah 11 and incorporating aspects of it into his composition well after the return from exile, Stromberg asks if it is also possible that the same author redacted chapter 11 and added verse 10. As Williamson recently noted, “The verse has to be a join between the two parts [i.e., 11:1–9 and 11–16], and so later than them both” because the depiction of a root as a signal or banner in verse 10 “can only be understood as the result of the welding together of figures from vv. 1 and 12.” Verse 10 therefore cannot be part of either 11:1–9 or 11:11–16 but instead works to bridge the two together as a later addition to the chapter.
In this light, then, Stromberg notes the following clear and unique links between Isaiah 11:10 and 65:25. In no other place in the Hebrew Bible do you find the concept of “rest place” and “my holy mountain” together, and these two sections of Isaiah are both explicitly connected to the idea of the Davidic covenant. Scholars have also understood the verse as an editorial addition commenting on the chapter because the verse begins with the formula “on that day,” which is generally understood to mean that it is a later addition, and verse 10 blends material from the first and second halves of the chapter. In all of the examples that Stromberg finds where Third Isaiah most likely wrote the later additions to parts of Isaiah 1–39 or 40–55, he notes that Third Isaiah’s actions as an editor are related to the ways that he reads these earlier chapters of Isaiah and incorporates them into his writing. In this example, Isaiah 11:10 builds on 11:12 the same way that sections of Third Isaiah (Isaiah 56:8 and 66:18–20) built on 11:12 by being more inclusive concerning the nations than the earlier authors in Isaiah had been. Williamson accepts Stromberg’s thesis and notes that “Within the major redactional phases in the growth of the book of Isaiah which I identify, this verse may be set among the last.”
4.5 Isaiah 48:1, 19b, 22
A smaller block quotation of Isaiah 48 appears in 1 Nephi 21. Stromberg and several other scholars have noted that Isaiah 48:22 is an additional verse added to the end of Isaiah 40–48 to connect this part of the book to what comes later. Specifically, they view Isaiah 48:22 as an editorial insertion that builds on Isaiah 57:21, part of Third Isaiah. Stromberg shows how the dichotomy between salvation for the righteous and the wicked, found only in Isaiah 48:22 and nowhere else in Deutero-Isaiah, develops Isaiah 40–48 in the same way that Isaiah 57 does. That “there is nothing in Isaiah 48:20–21 that prepares for the same statement in 48:22” is telling and supports the notion that the verse is a later addition that tries to temper the universalizing views on salvation in Isaiah 40–48. Accordingly, Stromberg views this verse as having been added by the author of Isaiah 57 since they both build on and revise Isaiah 40–48 in the same way.
4.6 Isaiah 54:17b
The Book of Mormon also includes a citation of Isaiah 54 in 3 Nephi 22. Several scholars in recent decades have viewed Isaiah 54:11–17 as a later addition to the chapter that stems from historical groups contemporary to Third Isaiah. Stromberg focuses only on verse 17b and agrees with Odil Hannes Steck that verses 1–16 share a great deal with Isaiah 40–55 in general, but that 17b has some significant variations that go against the norms in Deutero-Isaiah. Primarily, in every place the term “servant” is found in Isaiah 40–55, it is in the singular except for in Isaiah 54:17b. On the other hand, every time the phrase is found in Isaiah 56–66, it is always in the plural, “servants of the Lord,” as found in 54:17b. After examining the arguments about the composition of chapter 54, Stromberg notes that verses 1–16 could still be a later hand than Deutero-Isaiah, but that 17b itself is connected to Third Isaiah, and, since it is generally viewed as an editorial addition, it makes sense to view this as having been added by Third Isaiah.
Although the problem of Isaiah in The Book of Mormon has been a part of Mormon studies since its beginning as an academic subfield, scholars have yet to fully incorporate biblical scholarship into their work on this crucial issue. Prior work has attempted to isolate the problem of Isaiah in The Book of Mormon as only regarding the dating of Deutero-Isaiah. Attempts to understand this issue have not involved more direct engagement with continuing contemporary scholarship on Isaiah. Relatedly, very few attempts to further identify the influence of all of Isaiah on The Book of Mormon have been carried out in the last several decades. This paper invites those engaged in the study of The Book of Mormon to not remain in isolation but to broaden their studies by incorporating different methods, fields, and approaches to locating and analyzing the influence of the Bible on The Book of Mormon. This influence is crucial to understanding the content, message, and composition of the book.
Further, attention to Isaianic scholarship and its relation to the dating of the block quotations of Isaiah 2–14 and 48–55 in The Book of Mormon complicates the normative approach to explaining the quotation of these chapters. The Book of Mormon not only dates them to the pre-exilic period, but it also assumes that before 600 BCE, the book of Isaiah was in its present form and had been well-known and accepted scripture as it is in the KJV, or close to it. Isaiah 2–14 would have been a far shorter text in the pre-exilic period than what is cited in 2 Nephi 12–24. Scholarship on Isaiah broadly speaking has identified numerous verses in both Isaiah 2–14 and 48–55 that date well after Deutero-Isaiah. If Stromberg’s thesis is to be adopted, some of these were composed during the redactional process of the book by the final author of Third Isaiah or one of his contemporaries. This evidence, blended with what we know about how other parts of The Book of Mormon utilize biblical texts, suggests that the author of The Book of Mormon only knew the book of Isaiah as it is found in the KJV.
One of the most important implications of a fresh view of this scholarship is a reconsideration of the influence of Third Isaiah on The Book of Mormon. Until now, the consensus has been that Third Isaiah was missing entirely from The Book of Mormon. In this paper, I have identified several verses in The Book of Mormon that are dependent on Third Isaiah. 2 Nephi 4:33 and 9:14 allude to Isaiah 61:10 for the phrase “robe of righteousness.” 2 Nephi 28:32, Jacob 5:47, and Jacob 6:4 allude to Isaiah 65:2 but are mediated through Romans 10:21, further problematizing the dating and dependence of these Book of Mormon passages on Third Isaiah. 2 Nephi 31:19, Alma 7:14, and Alma 34:18 allude to the description that God is “mighty to save,” originally from Isaiah 63:1. The author of these verses knew both Third Isaiah and New Testament passages dependent on Isaiah 63:1. We can no longer say that Third Isaiah did not influence the composition of The Book of Mormon or that Third Isaiah cannot be found within the book.
Note: The Dialogue Foundation provides the web format of this article as a courtesy. There may be unintentional differences from the printed version. For citational and bibliographical purposes, please use the printed version or the PDFs provided online and on JSTOR.
 John F. A. Sawyer, The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
 Steve Moyise and Maarten J. J. Menken, eds., Isaiah in the New Testament (London: T&T Clark, 2005).
 I refer to the 1830 printing of The Book of Mormon, just as other early Americanists do, when describing the text throughout this essay. My focus is on The Book of Mormon as a part of the print culture of the early national period of US history, and I recognize it as a major site where scholars of Mormon studies can more fully interact with other fields in the academy. See Joseph Smith Jr., The Book of Mormon (Palmyra: E. B. Grandin, 1830); Elizabeth Fenton and Jared Hickman, eds., Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).
 H. Grant Vest, “The Problem of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1938). There were earlier treatments and acknowledgements of the “problem,” including by B. H. Roberts and Sidney B. Sperry. However, Vest’s stands, in my opinion, as the first formal, sophisticated discussion of the issue in an academic setting.
 See Sidney Brenton Sperry, “The Text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon” (master’s thesis, University of Chicago, 1926); H. Grant Vest, “The Problem of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon”; Sidney B. Sperry, Answers to Book of Mormon Questions (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967), 73–97; Wayne Ham, “A Textual Comparison of the Isaiah Passages in The Book of Mormon With the Same Passages in the St. Mark’s Isaiah Scroll of the Dead Sea Community” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1961); Gary L. Bishop, “The Tradition of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1974); John A. Tvedtnes, The Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon (Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1981); Carol F. Ellertson, “The Isaiah Passages in the Book of Mormon: A Non-Aligned Text” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 2001); David P. Wright, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon: Or Joseph Smith in Isaiah,” in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, edited by Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 157–234; Ronald V. Huggins, “Joseph Smith’s ‘Inspired Translation’ of Romans 7,” in The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith, edited by Bryan Waterman (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 199), 259–87; Dana M. Pike and David Rolph Seely, “‘Upon All the Ships of the Sea, and Upon All the Ships of Tarshish’: Revisiting 2 Nephi 12:16 and Isaiah 2:16,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14, no. 2 (2005): 12–25, 67–71; Joseph M. Spencer, “Isaiah 52 in the Book of Mormon: Notes on Isaiah’s Reception History,” Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception 6, no. 2 (2016): 189–217; and Joseph M. Spencer, “Nephi, Isaiah, and Europe,” in Reading Nephi Reading Isaiah: 2 Nephi 26–27, edited by Joseph M. Spencer and Jenny Webb, 2nd ed. (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute Press, 2016), 19–35.
 There is at least one exception to this rule. See Wesley P. Walters, The Use of the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1990). Some reviewers criticized Walters for including analysis on The Book of Mormon’s use of the New Testament, but this is a strength of his master’s thesis. The Book of Mormon blends phrases from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The way the Bible influences The Book of Mormon cannot be analyzed unless scholars consider both. See John A. Tvedtnes, review of The Use of the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon, by Wesley P. Walters,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4, no. 1 (1992): 228ff.
 There are two exceptions to this. See Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 69; and Joseph M. Spencer, The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2016), 21. Both Hardy and Spencer point out how scholarship on Isaiah problematizes the availability of Isaiah 2–14 to characters of The Book of Mormon.
 Johann Christoph Döderlein, Esaias ex Recensione Textus Hebraei (Altorfi: Officina Schupfeliana, 1775); and Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, Einleitung ins Alte Testament, 5 vols. (Leipzig: Weidmanns Erben and Reich, 1780–1783).
 Although the theory proposed by these eighteenth-century scholars broadly argued that a later author wrote all of chapters 40–66 during the sixth century, Eichhorn believed that he could extract more “inauthentic” material from chapters 1–39 as well. Christopher R. Seitz, “Isaiah, Book of (First Isaiah),” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 3: H–J, edited by David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 473.
 S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (New York: Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1910).
 Driver, Literature of the Old Testament, 230–246. See John Goldingay and David Payne, Isaiah 40–55, Volume 1: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, International Critical Commentary (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2006), 1n2.
 Bernhard Duhm, Das Buch Jesaja (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1892). Duhm would change his position to separate the three sections to 1–39, 40–57, and 58–66 in the third edition (1914) of the commentary. See Øystein Lund, Way Metaphors and Way Topics in Isaiah 40–55, Forschungen zum Alten Testament 2. Reihe, 28 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), 25n86.
 While some scholars deny the idea that there is a Third Isaiah, the vast majority of scholarship on this question accepts the notion that there is a broad, tripartite division in the composition history of Isaiah: a Proto-, Deutero-, and Trito-Isaiah. However, all major scholars on Isaiah view chapters 40–66 as written well after 600 BCE. See Claus Westermann, Isaiah 40–66: A Commentary, Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969); Goldingay and Payne, Isaiah 40–55, 1; J. J. M. Roberts, First Isaiah: A Commentary, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 2–3; and Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 28–39: A Continental Commentary, translated by Thomas H. Trapp (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 496ff. Two of the most relevant scholars who see chapters 40–66 as still later than 1–39 but written by a single author include Benjamin D. Sommer, A Prophet Reads Scripture: Allusion in Isaiah 40–66, Contraversions: Jews and Other Differences (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998), 187–95; and Shalom M. Paul, Isaiah 40–66: Translation and Commentary, The Eerdmans Critical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 12.
 Cf. Kent P. Jackson, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” in A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History, edited by Laura Harris Hales (Provo: Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University and Deseret Book Company, 2016), 69–78.
 Vest, “Problem of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” 230.
 See footnote 32.
 Sidney B. Sperry, Our Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Stevens & Wallis, Inc., 1948), 110.
 Smith, The Book of Mormon, 70–71.
 All quotations from the Bible are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.
 Westermann notes Isaiah 44:23 as an example of this kind of song in Deutero-Isaiah. See Westermann, Isaiah 40–66, 371. Joseph Blenkinsopp provides this longer list: 42:10–13; 44:23; 45:8; 49:13, and to cf. 12:1–6. Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 56–66: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible Commentary, 19b (New York: Doubleday, 2003), 230.
 Smith, The Book of Mormon, 80.
 It is noteworthy that Smith also used the terminology from these sources in Doctrine and Covenants 29:12 and 109:76. See Michael Hubbard MacKay, et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2013), 179; and Brent M. Rogers, et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 5: October 1835–January 1838 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2017), 206n139.
 I made the connection to 2 Nephi 9:14 independent of the Joseph Smith Papers editors in the previous note.
 Smith, The Book of Mormon, 80.
 Philip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 30.
 The KJV of the beginning of 2 Corinthians 5:10 reads, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. . . .”
 See J. Ross Wagner, “Isaiah in Romans and Galatians,” in Isaiah in the New Testament, edited by Steve Moyise and Maarten J. J. Menken (London: T&T Clark International, 2005), 124–25; and Steve Moyise, Evoking Scripture: Seeing the Old Testament in the New (London: T&T Clark, 2008), 33–34n5.
 Isaiah 65:2a reads, “I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people,” whereas Romans 10:21 reads, “But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.”
 Smith, The Book of Mormon, 115.
 It is common for Smith, and other early Americans, to not remember the exact wording of a biblical source text but retain the main idea and vocabulary within their allusions. One example found in a handful of Smith’s texts is at the end of Doctrine and Covenants section 4. I have argued elsewhere that in the earliest version, Smith likely realized that he could not remember exactly the list of virtues in 2 Peter 1:5. After a failed attempt, he left a placeholder, “&c,” which was then published in The Book of Commandments (1833) and subsequently updated to reflect the wording in 2 Peter 1:5 in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. See Michael Hubbard MacKay, et al, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2013), 13.
 Smith, The Book of Mormon, 139.
 I am not the first to note the connection between at least one of the three links to Isaiah 65:2 in The Book of Mormon. Brent Metcalfe independently identified this same influence back in the 1980s, decades before my work. At the Sunstone Symposium in 1988, Metcalfe described his forthcoming edited collection New Approaches to the Book of Mormon in a presentation entitled “Chiasmus as Necessary Proof of Ancient Semitic Origins of the Book of Mormon.” In the course of giving the presentation, Metcalfe mentioned the intertextual connection between Jacob 6:4 and Isaiah 65:2 and how it is through Paul’s epistle to the Romans that Third Isaiah influenced Jacob 6:4. See Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), though Metcalfe’s published paper was ultimately on a different topic. For the presentation, see “New Approaches to the Book of Mormon,” Sunstone, Jan. 1, 1988, available in audio form at https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/new-approaches-to-the-book-of-mormon/. Metcalfe describes the connection just after the 48-minute mark.
 The quotation is found in 2 Nephi 31:1.
 2 Nephi 31:19. Smith, The Book of Mormon, 120.
 Smith, The Book of Mormon, 240–41.
 Smith, The Book of Mormon, 320.
 Bernhard Duhm, Das Buch Jesaja übersetzt und erklärt, 4th ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1922).
 While discussing “literary continuity” between the different parts of Isaiah, Kent Jackson recently stated that, “In fact, the literary variations within chapters 1–35 are such that if one wanted to, one could argue for multiple authors within that section alone.” Jackson, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” 74. The problem is that this is not hypothetical; scholars have been making this exact argument since the eighteenth century.
 H. G. M. Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah: Deutero-Isaiah’s Role in Composition and Redaction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).
 Roberts, First Isaiah, 3.
 Roberts argues that Isaiah 2:1 was added as a bridge to connect Isaiah 1:29–31, even though most scholars think that chapter 1 was added as part of the latest redaction of the book as a whole, well into the post-exilic period. See Roberts, First Isaiah, 35. Williamson argues that the author of Deutero-Isaiah added Isaiah 2:1 as the heading of the book as it was in the late exilic period, before the return of the Israelites from Babylon. See Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 153.
 Roberts, First Isaiah, 35.
 Cf. Hans Walter Wolff, Micah: A Commentary, Continental Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1990), 116–18. Gary Stansell leaves it as a given that critical scholarship has isolated Micah 4:1–4 as a later addition to the book. Gary Stansell, Micah and Isaiah: A Form and Tradition Historical Comparison, SBL Dissertation Series 85 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), 7. Berges has noted, “the post-exilic origin of Isa. 2.2–4/Mic. 4.1–3 is nearly universally accepted,” in Ulrich F. Berges, The Book of Isaiah: Its Composition and Final Form, Hebrew Bible Monographs 46 (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2012), 61. These scholars note that Wildberger is an outlier, believing that Isaiah 2:2–4 is original. See Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12: A Commentary, Continental Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 85–87. Williamson notes that “a very early post-exilic date is favoured by a number of the most recent studies of the passage.” Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 148.
 Cf. Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 149. As Williamson has noted in his commentary, though, fragment 1of 4QIsae of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) complicates this notion by agreeing with both the Masoretic Text (MT; the traditional Hebrew Bible) of Micah instead of Isaiah, as well as varying from the standard text and Micah in its own way. H. G. M. Williamson, Isaiah 1–5: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, International Critical Commentary (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2006), 166.
 Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 146. Roberts accepts 2:5, as he does 2:2–4, as being original Isaiah but fails to engage critically with all of the major points brought up by Williamson, Blenkinsopp, Berges, and others. Cf. Roberts, First Isaiah, 44.
 Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 1–12: A Commentary, The Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983), 56; Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 84; Berger, The Book of Isaiah, 60–61.
 Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 147, contra Roberts, First Isaiah, 60. Roberts offers an argument similar to one made by H. Barth in 1977. Williamson responds exhaustively to Barth’s argument (Williams, The Book Called Isaiah, 139), but Roberts does not engage with Williamson—or any of the other numerous scholars on this point besides Wildberger—in his argument that these verses are original. Berges, The Book of Isaiah, 69, notes the obvious textual problems in the traditional Hebrew Bible (MT) and the different versions, showing how 1QIsaa of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) resolves the issue by adding the word “shame.” Roberts takes this reading as a given rather than dealing with the textual problems. According to Roberts, “MT seems clearly defective,” but this is right at the point of the literary seam. Roberts, First Isaiah, 60.
 Williamson, Isaiah 1–5, 288; Kaiser, Isaiah 1–12, 79; Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39, 201; Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 147f. Sweeney says that “3:16–24 could have been composed at any time” (Sweeney, Isaiah 1–39, 110), demonstrating at least a slight shift from his earlier thinking that all of Isaiah 3:16–4:1 was Isaianic (Sweeney, Isaiah 1–4 and the Post-Exilic Understanding of the Isaianic Traditions, 178, 181).
 Williamson, Isaiah 1–5, 288.
 Williamson, Isaiah 1–5, 238.
 Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 148–51; Kaiser, Isaiah 1–12, 79–80.
 Williamson, Isaiah 1–5, 286.
 Williamson, Isaiah 1–5, 286; Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 147.
 Williamson, Isaiah 1–5, 290.
 The following all view Isaiah 4:2–6 as a later addition: George Buchanan Gray, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Isaiah (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1912), 77; Kaiser, Isaiah 1–12, 85; Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 165; Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 143; Sweeney, Isaiah 1–39, 110–11; Berges, The Book of Isaiah, 69; Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39, 204; Williamson, Isaiah 1–5, 305–06; Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 174–83; Roberts, First Isaiah, 67.
 Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 147, 164.
 Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 164.
 Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 165. Cf. Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39, 204, develops some of Wildberger’s points even further and shows how “We are . . . justified in suspecting that this kind of language is presenting an idealization of the specific form of temple community existing in the province of Judah under Iranian rule (sixth to fourth century B.C.E.).”
 Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 165.
 Williamson, Isaiah 1–5, 305n13.
 In biblical scholarship, it is common to call both the text and the potential author Third Isaiah.
 Roberts, First Isaiah, 85.
 Gray, Critical and Exegetical Commentary, 95; Kaiser, Isaiah 1–12, 96, 110–11; Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 194f.; Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 132; Sweeney, Isaiah 1–39, 195; Berges, The Book of Isaiah, 75; Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39, 211, 217, 221–22.
 Gray believed that it was three separate fragments. Gray, Critical and Exegetical Commentary, 157. Cf. Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 378–79.
 Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 140.
 Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 134.
 Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 140–43.
 Wildberger made a convincing case for its origins with Isaiah. Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 378–79.
 See Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39, 244–45.
 Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 489, 502.
 Cf. Driver, Literature of the Old Testament, 210–11; Gray, Critical and Exegetical Commentary, 223; Kaiser, Isaiah 1–12, 262, 269–70.
 Sweeney, Isaiah 1–39, 204 (but see H. G. M. Williamson, “The Theory of a Josianic Edition of the First Part of the Book of Isaiah: A Critical Examination,” in Studies in Isaiah: History, Theology, and Reception, edited by Tommy Wasserman, Greger Andersson, and David Willgren [London: Bloomsbury, 2017], 3–21); Berger, The Book of Isaiah, 113–14; Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39, 266–68; Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 5, 84–86; Williamson, Isaiah 6–12, 669–70, 687–89.
 Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 118–23, 141–43.
 Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 158.
 Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 158n5.
 Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile.
 H. G. M. Williamson, Isaiah 6–12: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, International Critical Commentary (London: T&T Clark, 2018).
 Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 174.
 For instance, as noted above, Sweeney’s fourth argument for dating Isaiah 4:2–6 as post-exilic. Others include Blenkinsopp, who, after noting that some of the language in 4:2–6 best connects to Isaiah 66:15–16, states that “all of this highly charged language projecting a future very different from the unsatisfactory present is in keeping with the perspective of the last few chapters of the book,” i.e., Third Isaiah. Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39, 204. Stromberg notes others in Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 175n114.
 Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 176.
 Roberts, First Isaiah, 67–68.
 Roberts, First Isaiah, 67.
 Marvin A. Sweeney, Isaiah 1–4 and the Post-Exilic Understanding of the Isaianic Tradition, Beiheft zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 171 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1988), 179–81. Cf. Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 174.
 Sweeney, Isaiah 1–4, 179–180.
 See also Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 143–44; and Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39, 203–04; and Williamson, Isaiah 1–5, 205–15; and Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 164–65; and Kaiser, Isaiah 1–12, 85; and Berges, The Book of Isaiah, 69–70.
 Stade wrote in 1884 and Budde in 1932. Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 164.
 Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 160–74.
 Cited in Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 161n53. The essay was republished in Marvin A. Sweeney, Form and Intertextuality in Prophetic and Apocalyptic Literature, Forschungen zum Alten Testament 45 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 46–62. Sweeney briefly notes the connection on p. 56. W. A. M. Beuken, “Does Trito-Isaiah Reject the Temple? An Intertextual Inquiry into Isa. 66:1–6,” in Intertextuality in Biblical Writings: Essays in Honour of Bas van Iersel, edited by Sipke Draisma (Kampen: Uitgeversmaatschappij J. H. Kok), 53–66.
 Berges, The Book of Isaiah, 87. Stromberg also notes that the following scholars view 13b as a later gloss: Beuken, Blenkinsopp, Childs, Clements, Duhm, Gray, Kaiser, Marti, Skinner, Barthel, Emerton, and Williamson. Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 161. As J. A. Emerton notes, “There thus seems to be a contrast, or even a contradiction, between the total disaster of which the beginning of the verse speaks and the hope that is implied at the end.” Emerton, “The Translation and Interpretation of Isaiah vi.13,” in Interpreting the Hebrew Bible: Essays in honour of E.I.J. Rosenthal, edited by J. A. Emerton and Stefan C. Reif (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 86.
 Berges, The Book of Isaiah, 88.
 Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 164.
 Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 307.
 Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 307.
 Williamson, Isaiah 6–12, 163–164, nt. 70.
 Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 223.
 Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 224.
 See Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 174–183, 205–222.
 Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 227.
 Gray views all of Isaiah 11:1–16 as at least late or post-exilic. Gray, Critical and Exegetical Commentary, 214–15, 223.
 Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 101–09.
 Williamson, Isaiah 6–12, 669.
 Kaiser, Isaiah 1–12, 262; Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 1–39, 266–67; Wildberger, Isaiah 1–12, 463; Jongkyung Lee, A Redactional Study of the Book of Isaiah 13–23 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 164n2.
 Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 184–85.
 Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 191.
 Williamson, Isaiah 6–12, 670.
 Westermann, Isaiah 40–66, 205; Williamson, The Book Called Isaiah, 210–11; Klaus Baltzer, Deutero-Isaiah: A Commentary on Isaiah 40–55 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 304; Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 40–55, 286f.; Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 230; Berges, The Book of Isaiah, 310.
 Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 230.
 Nephi quotes Isaiah 48:1–52:2 and 55:1–2. If Nephi had these chapters, then he presumably would have had chapter 54 by implication.
 Cf. Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 245n63.
 Odil Hannes Steck, Gottesknecht und Zion: Gesammelte Aufsätze zu Deuterojesaja (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992), 111–12, 124, 170–71. Cited in Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile, 245.
 See Colby Townsend, “‘Behold, Other Scriptures I Would that Ye Should Write’: Malachi in the Book of Mormon,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 2 (Summer 2018): 103–37; and David P. Wright, “‘In Plain Terms that We May Understand’: Joseph Smith’s Transformation of Hebrews in Alma 12–13,” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, edited by Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 165–229; and Wright, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon,” 157–234. The way The Book of Mormon uses biblical texts is similar to what we find in the revelations Smith dictated during his lifetime, most of which are now in the various versions of the Doctrine and Covenants in the churches based on Smith’s restoration movement. For a complete analysis of these from 1828–1830, see Colby Townsend, “Rewriting Eden with the Book of Mormon: Joseph Smith and the Reception of Genesis 1–6 in Early America” (master’s thesis, Utah State University, 2019), 75–131.[post_title] => “The Robe of Righteousness”: Exilic and Post-Exilic Isaiah in The Book of Mormon [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 55.3 (Fall 2022): 75-106
As a contribution to the larger project of examining the King James Bible’s influence on The Book of Mormon, this essay focuses on several aspects of the problem of Isaiah in The Book of Mormon as they relate to the more significant issue. I will focus on two problems with the use of Isaiah in The Book of Mormon. First, previous scholarship has assumed that none of Third Isaiah has had any effect on the text of The Book of Mormon and the Isaiah chapters it quotes [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-robe-of-righteousness-exilic-and-post-exilic-isaiah-in-the-book-of-mormon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 15:53:54 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 15:53:54 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=30749 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Joseph Smith, Thomas Paine, and Matthew 27:51b–53
Dialogue 54.4 (Winter 2021): 1–33
Despite its alleged antiquity, jutting back centuries before the Common Era, and its predominant setting in the Americas, the Book of Mormon contains several Matthean and Lukan additions to Mark made in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean.
IntroductionDespite its alleged antiquity, jutting back centuries before the Common Era, and its predominant setting in the Americas, the Book of Mormon contains several Matthean and Lukan additions to Mark made in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean. Scholarly consensus in biblical studies today is that the Gospel of Mark was written circa 65 CE, then Matthew and Luke were written in the 70s–90s approximately, and their anonymous authors both expanded and contracted Mark here or there as they reshaped it. One of these add-ons, Matthew 27:51b–53 KJV, describes the earthquake, rent rocks, opened graves, and resurrection of “many bodies of the saints” who “appeared unto many” in the aftermath of the crucifixion and Jesus’ own empty tomb. The retelling of this same story in the Book of Mormon is no accidental anachronism (Helaman 14:21–25; 3 Nephi 8:6–19, 10:9–10, 23:6–14). It reflects the way that the Book of Mormon intervened in early US debates about the reliability of the Bible. The chronological priority of the Gospel of Matthew over Mark was still assumed throughout most of the 1800s. But Matthew’s added details about the resurrection faced a problem, nevertheless. Commentators had noted that the verses seemed to be missing from Mark and Luke as well as John. What was worse, this and other exegetical observations had been hijacked, and the passage derisively challenged, in Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason; Paine wrote the three installments of the Age of Reason in France, but he published the third in New York City, and compendium editions were reprinted there too into the 1820s. Matthew 27:51b–53 was among the numerous passages in the Bible that Paine attacked. Many Christians felt that all of holy writ was under siege. Joseph Smith, a scrying treasure-hunter from Palmyra, New York, on the Erie Canal, came to the rescue, as did those more qualified. The unlikely apologist did not try to meet reason with more reason in the form of another learned commentary or refutation of the deist “Mr. Paine.” Instead Smith shored up revealed religion with more revelation in the form of another bible, one that was recorded by Israelite-American prophets and apostles, then buried in the ground for hundreds of years, and finally translated “by the gift and power of God” (Book of Mormon title page; Testimony of Three Witnesses; see also D&C 1:29, 20:8), hence safe from any manuscript corruption or translation error. Smith’s solution to the problem of Matthew 27:51b-53 is a prime example of how he endeavored to save the Christian scriptures from skeptics. On the whole, the biblical apologetic thrust of the Book of Mormon should be obvious (1 Nephi 13:39–40; 2 Nephi 3:11–13; D&C 20:11), and the general thesis, that one of the functions of Smith’s text was to defend the Old and New Testaments against threats such as deism, is quite widely accepted. There is also a longstanding tendency, however, for Smith’s corroboration of the Bible to be minimized by his text’s role as new scripture and its status as blasphemy against the Christian canon (see already 2 Nephi 29). My contribution builds on the general thesis and highlights the intricate if gaudy armor Smith hammered out to protect Protestant Christianity against Paine’s battering of Matthew 27:51b-53, a passage they and their contemporaries thought was absent from the other gospels—not added to Mark by Matthew—on the venerably wrong assumption that Matthew was the first evangelist and an apostolic eyewitness. To be explicit about what I myself am postulating, in this article I connect three literary occurrences that stretch from the late 1600s to the early 1800s, namely, (1) the writing and publication of a few influential British commentaries, (2) Paine’s theological works, and (3) responses to the “arch-infidel” in England and America including the Book of Mormon. I understand these occurrences to have a loosely reactionary link, not just a heuristic connection. Whether directly or indirectly, the exegetes influenced Paine, who in turn provoked replies. As for Smith, the business of his sources is doubly fraught since he dictated his “translation” of the golden plates in what could be termed an altered state of consciousness while gazing into a folk-magic peep stone. Smith may have regularly relied on memory for his use of the Bible, although hefty quotations from the KJV strongly suggest that he had a copy in front of him now and then. At any rate, he was not interacting with the KJV in a vacuum; he was also interacting with the Christian and deist thought of his day. How, exactly, Smith was exposed to that thought, as a semi-educated farm laborer and “money digger,” will remain unknown. Much of the exposure may have been face-to-face in verbal exchanges with relatives and acquaintances during the years leading up to his dictation of the Book of Mormon. Even if he was not familiar with the very exegetical and apologetic literature that I cite, it is representative, and his text can be compared and contrasted with it to great value. I push more for Smith’s familiarity with Paine which I think is unavoidable—whether or not he was always aware of responding to him, given the nature of religious experience.
From Biblical Commentaries to the Age of ReasonPaine’s challenge to Matthew 27:51b-53 did not come out of nowhere. English exegetes were both interrogating the pericope and defending it against infidels before him. Paine popularized and also radicalized an ongoing discussion and debate. In the British-American theological culture that Paine (1737–1809) and then Smith (1805–1844) shared, some of the most influential biblical commentaries were those by the Presbyterian nonconformist Matthew Poole (1624–1679), the Arminian Daniel Whitby (1638–1726), the Presbyterian nonconformist Matthew Henry (1662–1714), and the Congregationalist nonconformist Philip Doddrige (1702–1751). They were a mixed bag of potential vulnerability and antagonism to freethought. It was openly acknowledged in these commentaries that Mark, Luke, and John did not contain any accounts of the Matthean earthquake, rent rocks, opened graves, and resurrected saints at or around Jesus’ death. Moreover, a spate of perplexing interpretive issues was discussed but without clear resolution, chiefly who the nameless saints were, who saw them, whether they were raised from the dead prior to or following the resurrection of Jesus, and whether they had ascended to heaven or re-entered the ground to await the eschaton. The exegetes also had to fight off incredulity about Matthew’s unique account. As Henry described the problematic passage: “This matter is not related so fully as our curiosity would wish; for the scripture was not intended to gratify that; . . . . We may raise many inquiries concerning it, which we cannot resolve . . . .” In sum: “We must not covet to be wise above what is written. The relating of this matter so briefly, is a plain intimation to us, that we must not look that way for a confirmation of our faith.” Henry’s disapproval of curiosity and covetous wisdom was a tacit reply to probing rationalist critiques at the dawn of the Enlightenment, and his disclosure that Christian belief might need to be confirmed was an involuntary admission of their vigor. Doddridge, in his commentary, did not resort to laments. He struck back and was pleased to say that “a deist lately travelling through Palestine was converted, by viewing one of these rocks,” that is, the rent rocks of Matthew 27:51b, “which still remains torn asunder, not in the weakest place, but cross the veins; a plain proof that it was done in a supernatural manner.” This was the stage onto which British expatriate Thomas Paine stepped as the first two parts of his Age of Reason were published in 1794 and 1795. He challenged Matthew 27:51b-53 in the second part, turning the observations of the biblical commentators against them at length. Paine devoted more space to those few verses than almost any others from the Old or New Testament. He began with the silence of the rest of the evangelists. Confusing Mark and Luke as apostles, he thought they and John could not have ignored the earthquake and the rending of the rocks; they had to be there with Matthew. More momentous was what happened after the tremor:
An earthquake is always possible, and natural, and proves nothing; but this opening of the graves is supernatural, and in point to their doctrine, their cause, and their apostleship. Had it been true, it would have filled up whole chapters of those books, and been the chosen theme, and general chorus of all the writers; but instead of this, little and trivial things, and mere prattling conversations of, he said this, and she said that, are often tediously detailed, while this most important of all, had it been true, is passed off in a slovenly manner, by a single dash of the pen, and that by one writer only, and not so much as hinted at by the rest.Paine then satirized the interpretive issues surrounding the appearance of the awakened dead in Matthew 27:52–53. He accused the first evangelist of being a liar and a poor one at that:
The writer of the book of Matthew should have told us who the saints were that came to life again, and went into the city, and what became of them afterwards, and who it was that saw them; for he is not hardy enough to say that he saw them himself;—whether they came out naked, and all in natural buff, he-saints and she-saints; . . . whether they remained on earth, and followed their former occupations of preaching or working; or whether they died again, or went back to their graves alive, and buried themselves. Strange indeed, that an army of saints should return to life, and nobody know who they were, nor who it was that saw them, and that not a word more should be said upon the subject, nor these saints have any thing to tell us! Had it been the prophets who (as we are told) had formerly prophesied of these things, they must have had a great deal to say. They could have told us everything, and we should have had posthumous prophecies, with notes and commentaries upon the first, a little better at least than we have now. Had it been Moses, and Aaron, and Joshua, and Samuel, and David, not an unconverted Jew had remained in all Jerusalem. Had it been John the Baptist, and the saints of the times then present, every body would have known them, and they would have out-preached and out-famed all the other apostles. But instead of this, these saints are made to pop up like Jonah’s gourd in the night, for no purpose at all, but to wither in the morning. Thus much for this part of the story.Paine’s challenge merged a large dose of mockery and a swift indictment for lying. But the two main features of his critique were already in the commentaries. First was the trouble of the missing earthquake, rent rocks, opened graves, and resurrected saints, all absent from Mark, Luke, and John. Second was the trouble of the limited information in Matthew, yielding the inquiries of who the awakened dead were, whom they appeared to, and where they went after their appearance. The skeptic did not just exacerbate a well-known exegetical problem, however. He also maintained, with a jeer, that if the risen saints were to be identified among the prophets and other heroes of the Old Testament, one of the options in the commentaries, there should be “posthumous prophecies” on record from these pre-Christians. Paine developed this more earnestly when he augmented the first two parts of his Age of Reason with a third, under the title Examination of the Passages in the New Testament, Quoted from the Old, and Called Prophecies Concerning Jesus Christ. It was published in New York City in 1807. As he rejected centuries of christological veiling over Jewish scripture, all the way back to the Gospel of Matthew’s fulfillment citations, Paine inadvertently called for a retro-prophecy of the events in Matthew 27:51b-53 and of the darkness in Mark as well:
Matthew concludes his book by saying, that when Christ expired on the cross, the rocks rent, the graves opened, and the bodies of many of the saints arose; and Mark says there was darkness over the land from the fifth hour until the ninth. They produce no prophesy [sic] for this. But had these things been facts, they would have been a proper subject for prophesy, because none but an almighty power could have inspired a fore knowledge of them, and afterwards fulfilled them. Since, then, there is no such prophesy . . . , the proper deduction is, there were no such things, and that the book of Matthew is fable and falsehood.Paine’s full critique of Matthew, then, hinged not only on the lack of multiple attestation for the evangelist’s individual claims, nor solely on the questions of the identity of the resurrected saints and so forth, but also on the fact that, unlike Matthew’s fulfilment citations, these events were not supported by Old Testament prophecy. To be sure, Paine did not believe any Jewish scripture had been fulfilled in the life of Jesus. He did not expect anyone to compose the wanting prognostication for Matthew 27:51b-53 either. That is what happened, though, some twenty years later, when another resident of New York, Joseph Smith, dictated the Book of Mormon as a translation of prophetic records from the ancient Americas, imagined to be Israelite-Christian. Smith’s text would present a partial solution to the tripartite problem.
Responses to Paine before SmithThe Age of Reason was widely discussed. Between the publication of its three installments and the publication of the Book of Mormon, scores of biblical commentators and other defenders of holy writ were replying to Paine. The vast majority of them were responding to the first two installments, not the third, and only a portion sought to answer his challenge to the passage in Matthew 27: the Anglican Richard Watson (1737–1816), Bishop of Llandaff, Wales; the outwardly Anglican but inwardly evangelical Thomas Scott (1747–1821); and the Presbyterian Elias Boudinot (1740–1821), a US politician and future head of the American Bible Society. Their responses are valuable for the contrast they provide to Smith as much as for the comparanda. About Paine’s contention that there should be more accounts of the opened graves and resurrected saints besides Matthew’s, Bishop Watson assumed Matthean priority and said that the “omission” of events by the second and third evangelists “does not prove, that they were either ignorant of them, or disbelieved them.” The other synoptic writers’ selective retelling of Matthew 27 may be explained from their different audiences and purposes. If the people to whom the saints had appeared were themselves alive when Matthew wrote, subsequently they may have been deceased when Mark and Luke came to write—no need to reiterate the appearance, then. As for the fourth gospel, it was intentionally “supplemental.” Furthermore, the bishop averred, Matthew could not have been mendacious because the Jews he was writing to witnessed what did and did not transpire in Jerusalem; he could not have risked being constantly confronted, so the earthquake, rent rocks, opened graves, and resurrected saints had to be the truth. Scott applied similar logic to Mark, Luke, and John: “Matthew is generally allowed to have written before the other evangelists; had they not therefore credited his account of the miracles attending Christ’s death, they would have contradicted it: for the circumstances he related were of so extraordinary and public a nature, that they could not have escaped detection, had they been false.” Boudinot likewise stated the events were “capable of immediate contradiction and refutation, had they not been known to be true.” About Paine’s contention that the Matthean account of the awakened dead itself should be longer, Watson affirmed:
You amuse yourself . . . and are angry with Matthew for not having told you a great many things . . . ; but if he had gratified your curiosity in every particular, I am of opinion that you would not have believed a word of what he had told you. I have no curiosity on the subject: . . . . If I durst indulge myself in being wise above what is written, I must be able to answer many of your inquiries relative to these saints; but I dare not touch the ark of the Lord, I dare not support the authority of the scripture by the boldness of conjecture.The bishop was shifting ownership of the inquiries from the exegetes to Paine and taking a page out of Henry’s commentary with its disapproval of overly curious freethinkers. Speculation on the identity of the saints and so forth in the commentaries had become a liability that Paine exploited. Accordingly, Watson retreated to the position that asking to know too much was sinful. He cast Paine as petulantly brazen, whereas he himself was satisfied with the amount of information the apostle Matthew, or rather God, had given. Scott followed suit: Paine’s questions were “degrading” of scripture, as if the arch-infidel did not get cues from previous biblical commentators. Boudinot said nothing of the interpretive issues per se, but he amplified Watson’s point. Not only would Paine have no faith in Matthew regardless of the evangelist’s specificity on the resurrected saints, he would be suspicious of the risen Lord too. Boudinot chastened and summoned him to repent for disbelieving the scriptural warrants that Jesus was the messiah—for instance, “the rending of the rocks (to be seen at this day),” a parenthetical allusion to the anecdote of the deist converted in the holy land. Then Boudinot stressed Paine’s pride and skepticism hyperbolically: “For although Christ had appeared after his resurrection to every man in Jerusalem, nay even to all the then world, on the principle advanced in the Age of Reason, our author would not have been obliged to believe, because he himself had not seen him. But if the divine Saviour should even now appear to him,” Boudinot quipped, “as he did to another unbelieving Thomas, and show him his hands and his sides, I have as great doubts of his assent to the truths of the Gospel, as the disciples had of the Jews, who refused equal evidence.” Together, these educated elites resorted to summersaults of intelligence in order to explain the missing material, and they contended that neither an increase in information from Matthew nor in revelation from Jesus would be effective because of Paine’s bottomless skepticism. The unlearned Joseph Smith was more commonsensical than Watson, Scott, or Boudinot on this tally. In a concession to the skeptic, he would simply blame Jesus’ other disciples for forgetting to record the appearance and ministry of the saints. And the translator of the gold bible would exhibit scarcely any satisfaction with the limited information in canonical verse. In the Book of Mormon, the resurrected Jesus would appear to the Amerindians, not for the sake of rhetorical device, but in an alternate reality of salvation history, while deists would be vanquished at last, or so Smith grew to fantasize.
The Smiths and the Age of Reason in Vermont and New YorkPaine’s biting critique of revelation and revealed religion affected the Smith family, like other Americans. Per Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of Joseph Smith Jr., her Universalist father-in-law Asael so severely recommended the Age of Reason that in a disagreement over Methodism, Asael hurled a copy of it at her husband, Joseph Sr., and “angrily bade him read it until he believed it.” That was when the Smiths were living in Vermont. There is some indication, although from a hostile source, that Joseph Sr. may have acted on the endorsement and gone past what Asael hoped. The Green Mountain Boys, who supposedly knew Joseph Sr., later described him as having frequently said “that the whole bible [sic] was the work of priestcraft . . ., that Voltairs writings was [sic] the best bible then extant, and Thomas Paines age of reason [sic], the best commentary.” Whatever the state of affairs with Joseph Sr. in Vermont before the family relocated to New York, and whatever lasting talks about Universalism and freethought the Smiths might have had as Joseph Jr. passed his adolescence in Palmyra, the Age of Reason was a documented topic of conversation in the village. For example, a newspaper column on “The Effects of Infidelity” was printed in the Palmyra Register in 1820, when Joseph Jr. was a religiously anxious minor:
The following anecdote was related about eight[een] years ago in a sermon preached by the Rev. Alphonsus Gunn [1760–1806], at Lothbury Church [in London]. “I was lately (observed Mr. Gunn) called on to attend the death-bed of a young man at Hoxton [in East London]. On my entering the room, I found him in the greatest agony of mind. Thinking, perhaps, that it arose from that deep remorse sometimes attendant on the death bed of a sinner, I began to point him to Jesus, the Sinner’s only friend, and to the glorious promises of the Gospel. When, with an agonizing look of despair, he replied, ‘Ah! Sir, but I have rejected the Gospel. Some years since, I unhappily read Paine’s Age of Reason; it suited my corrupt understanding; I imbibed its principles; after this, wherever I went, I did all that lay in my power to hold up the Scriptures to contempt; by this means I led others into the fatal snare, and made proselytes to infidelity. Thus I rejected God, and now he rejects me, and will have no mercy upon me.’ I offered to pray by him, but he replied, ‘O, no, it is in vain to pray for me!’ then with a dismal groan cried out, ‘Paine’s Age of Reason has ruined my soul,’ and instantly expired.”Long after his own demise in New York City in 1809, the skeptic was still haunting both sides of the Atlantic. Britain and the US were not so distant from one another, the reported concerns of metropolitan churchmen in England from farming life in up-state New York. This column originated in a London-based periodical; within a year, it was in the Palmyra news. The tale of the despairing deist was not the last of Paine’s press coverage there. In 1826, another Palmyra newspaper, the Wayne Sentinel, printed a “Letter from Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin to Thomas Payne” about a draft of his that Franklin had read and counselled him to destroy for the sake of the youth, whose commitment to morality would not endure if he were to publicize his views on religion: “I would advise you,” Franklin had penned to an unspecified recipient, “not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person.” Further newspapers in the state and elsewhere did more than imply that the letter was about Paine’s infamous title; they prefixed stories to it asserting that the draft Franklin read was in fact the Age of Reason. New York divine William Wisner (1782–1871) enlarged the stories into a pamphlet, “Don’t Unchain the Tiger,” amid the many anti-deist ephemera of the 1820s and ’30s. Reverend Wisner himself spent the first half of the 1800s preaching across the western portion of the state and may well have visited Palmyra. In his memoirs, he related exchange after exchange with Universalists, infidels, male and female alike, even the rare atheist, and he told of denouncing the evils of freethought to his congregations. In one city, he organized an “infidel Bible class” by inviting the local deists and skeptics to supply him with written cases against scripture and in favor of skepticism. He then would read them aloud and dismantle them in front of his parishioners. The infidels also attended, and he kept the weekly class going a full season. In another town, he sermonized on “the influence of infidelity upon the moral character and happiness of men in this world,” and to demonstrate he outlined Paine’s rise and fall. Afterward, he ascertained that “one of the young men who heard it . . . had been an admirer of the ‘Age of Reason’ and had adopted the sentiments of its author, but had gone home from hearing the sermon and burnt the book, and had taken up his neglected Bible to learn what he must do to be saved.” These vignettes, though packaged for consumption as literature, were nonetheless indicative of the revivalist atmosphere in western New York, as it was recalled by one Presbyterian reverend, for whom all Universalists were on the brink of spiritual ruin. In sum, the revivals were not only competitions between this or that style of Christianity; they were also battles against rural deism and skepticism. Western New Yorkers who read the Franklin correspondence in the papers or in the many thousands of copies of Wisner’s pamphlet could not have known that the letter itself was left unaddressed, and that it was not about the Age of Reason, which Paine wrote several years after Franklin died in 1790. Paine’s promoters caught the miscalculation and decried the pamphlet, even the letter, as “fraud” and “forgery.” But this was likely inconsequential to most. It was too alluring to have Franklin, the very person who sponsored Paine’s emigration to America, also repudiate his writing and call for the burning of the Age of Reason. Joseph Smith Jr. did one much better by having an ancient prophet and the resurrected Jesus respond to him nearly two millennia ago.
The Book of Mormon qua Rejoinder to PaineIn 1827, the year after Franklin’s letter “to Thomas Payne” was printed in the Wayne Sentinel, Smith acquired or fabricated the golden plates, if they ever existed other than as visionary objects, and he began to translate them. One of the ancient Amerindian prophets and apostles within their cast of characters is Samuel the Lamanite. In Smith’s text, the Lamanites, named for Laman, the disobedient son of Lehi and brother of Nephi, are said to be the iniquitous branch of the Native Americans “cursed” by God with “black” or “dark” skin, whereas the other branch, the righteous Nephites, the scriptural record keepers, are “white,” “fair,” and “delightsome,” except for interludes when the racist trope is inverted to an extent (see 1 Nephi 12:23, 13:15; 2 Nephi 5:21, 30:6–7; Jacob 3:5–9; Enos 1:20; Words of Mormon 1:8; Alma 3:5–12; 3 Nephi 2:15–16; 4 Nephi 1:10; Mormon 5:15–24; Moroni 9:12). At the close of the first century BCE, Samuel preaches to the backsliding Nephites. His Lamanite standing and that of other dark-skinned proselytes serves to underscore the hardheartedness and disbelief of the paler visages. Samuel prophesies of their doom if they do not repent, and he predicts several signs that will punctuate the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus—whose ministry the dwindling ranks of faithful Amerindians have been awaiting with conspicuous detail since their Nephite and Lamanite ancestors vacated Jerusalem and sailed to the Americas. Samuel declares that at the incarnation there will be a day with no night: “And behold, there shall be a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld” (Helaman 14:5; cf. Matthew 2:1–12). Then he pronounces that at the crucifixion there will be the opposite, the darkness that Paine doubted. The Lamanite prophet ups the ante from three hours in the synoptic gospels (e.g., Matthew 27:45) to three days, saying that the light will vanish when Jesus expires on the cross and will only be seen again at his resurrection (Helaman 14:20). Samuel also predicts the Matthean earthquake, rent rocks, opened graves, and resurrected saints, the final components of the retro-prophecy that Paine had unwittingly called for:
And the earth shall shake and tremble. And the rocks which is [sic] upon the face of the earth, which is both above the earth and beneath, which ye know at this time is solid—or the more part of it is one solid mass—shall be broken up. Yea, they shall be rent in twain and shall ever after be found in seams and in cracks and in broken fragments upon the face of the whole earth, yea, both above the earth and beneath. And behold, there shall be great tempests. And there shall be many mountains laid low like unto a valley. And there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains whose height thereof is great. And many highways shall be broken up; and many cities shall become desolate. And many graves shall be opened and shall yield up many of their dead; and many saints shall appear unto many. (Helaman 14:21–25)To bolster his prognostication, Samuel informs the Nephites that he has received it from one of God’s heavenly messengers: “And the angel said unto me that many shall see greater signs than these, to the intent that they might believe—that these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there shall be no cause for unbelief among the children of men—and this,” Samuel cautions, “to the intent that whosoever will believe might be saved and that whosoever will not believe, a righteous judgement might come upon them; and also if they are condemned, they bring upon themselves their own condemnation” (Helaman 14:26–29). When Samuel concludes his sermon, the Lamanite prophet is rejected by most of the Nephites, who are violently apostate, so he runs away to “his own country” where he teaches “his own people” (Helaman 16:1–7). At the turn of the era, as the messianic passages in Nephite scripture are finally being fulfilled, and as Samuel’s prophecy of the sign of the incarnation is about to be accomplished, some believe; others do not. The skeptical Nephites plan to murder the faithful if the day with no night does not happen. It does, and the Matthean birth star sines forth, but that is not enough to convince everyone (3 Nephi 1:4–23). Thirty years later, once more there are “great doubtings and disputations” about the prophesied signs of the crucifixion and resurrection (3 Nephi 8:4). In a reversal of the past episode, God/Jesus sends catastrophes to slay the wicked for their unbelief. The lethal quaking of the earth and rending of the rocks lasts three hours, the darkness three days, as witnessed by myriad survivors. Cities are destroyed. With more than a touch of revenge fantasy, the earthquake and other wrathfully providential natural disasters serve to punish the evil doubters and disputants (3 Nephi 8:5–10:14). Regarding the opened graves and the appearance of the resurrected saints in the Americas, the fulfillment of that key aspect of Samuel’s prophecy is not narrated, but it does receive the highest certification from the risen Jesus himself when the light returns and he appears to the survivors of the earthquake. Like so many semi-doubting Thomases, he invites them to examine the wounds in his side, hands, and feet (3 Nephi 11:12–15). He stays with them a while, and during his post-resurrection ministry to the Amerindians, he picks twelve disciples and checks the Nephite scriptures for completeness. Looking at their records, Jesus says to his New World apostles: “I commanded my servant Samuel the Lamanite that he should testify unto this people that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints which should arise from the dead and should appear unto many and should minister unto them.” Perturbed, he asks: “Were [sic] it not so?” The disciples attest: “Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled.” Jesus goes on to reproach them: “How be it that ye have not written this thing?—that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them.” Then Smith’s narrator editorializes: one of the disciples “remembered that this thing had not been written. And it came to pass that Jesus commanded that it should be written. Therefore it was written according as he commanded” (3 Nephi 23:9–13). Jesus is not checking for the completeness of the Nephite scriptures but rather the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John. He already knows the fulfillment of the key aspect of Samuel’s prophesy is missing from the Amerindian bible before he commands his disciples to record it. Without having seen the Nephite records, he says to them: “Behold, other scriptures I would that ye should write that ye have not” (3 Nephi 23:6). Obviously, Jesus’ omniscience covers the contents of the New Testament gospels as well, where Matthew’s is the sole account of the earthquake, rent rocks, opened graves, and resurrected saints. From the list of items in Samuel’s prophecy of Matthew 27:51b-53, it is striking that Jesus isolates the appearance of the awakened dead. “An earthquake is always possible, and natural, and proves nothing,” as Paine stated; “but this opening of the graves is supernatural. . . . Had it been true, it would have filled up whole chapters of those books, and been the chosen theme, and general chorus of all the writers; but instead . . . this most important of all . . . is passed off in a slovenly manner, by a single dash of the pen, and that by one writer only, and not so much as hinted at by the rest.” In the Book of Mormon, when Jesus reprimands his New World disciples for not recording the fulfillment of the key aspect of Samuel’s prophesy, he obliquely reprimands Mark, Luke, and John for not supporting Matthew, the first evangelist. After Jesus gets them to attest to the fulfillment of Samuel’s words about the awakened dead, thus corroborating the verses in Matthew—they were there and saw the appearance of the saints but forgot to write it down—Jesus censures the disciples themselves for abandoning Matthew to Paine’s derisive challenge. Placed in the context of biblical commentaries as well as other apologetic responses to the Age of Reason, Smith and his text stick out as intrepidly creative, albeit fantastical. Whereas Henry’s method for dealing with rationalist critiques was to denounce them as curiosity and covetous wisdom, and whereas Bishop Watson told Paine he was afraid that conjecture alone would be tantamount to steadying the ark of God’s sacred word, Smith had no qualms creating another entire bible in the process of rescuing Matthew 27:51b-53—among his text’s pluriform drives. As with the darkness at the crucifixion, he embellished the natural phenomenon of the earthquake to the degree of the blatantly preordained. He also brought the evidence to the skeptics. While Doddridge and Boudinot could point to Matthew’s rent rocks visible in far-off Jerusalem, Smith could gesture toward any one of the taller mountains in the western hemisphere as proof that God/Jesus directed nature, that Jesus was the Son of God, and that prophecy had been fulfilled. So deists in the US did not need to travel to the holy land; they only needed to consult the Book of Mormon and a topographical map. If they persisted in their faithlessness—and Smith may have grasped that he could not persuade most of them—as some consolation believers might feel assured that infidels would be destroyed at the second coming of Christ, on the model of apostate Nephites’ ruin. Like Boudinot, Smith summoned skeptics to repent and believe the scriptural warrants of Jesus’ messiahship. But for Smith, unlike Boudinot, extra-canonical post-resurrection appearances of the Christian savior across the globe were not hypothetical (3 Nephi 15:11–16:3; see also 2 Nephi 29:12–13). When it came to Matthew’s opened graves and resurrected saints absent from the rest of the gospels, Smith broke with exegetes and other apologists. He conceded to the arch-infidel that the omitted material did constitute a discrepancy in scripture, and employing some commonsense rationalism, he blamed the disciples for their forgetfulness. He was willing to portray the second, third, and fourth evangelists as fallible in order to guard the essence of biblical infallibility—in this case, the trustworthiness of singular truths in the first gospel, which had to be vouchsafed at all costs if any of the evangelists were to retain eyewitness and apostolic authority. This solution in 3 Nephi—to the problem of Matthew 27:51b-53, exacerbated by Paine—brought with it an unresolved tension. If the risen Jesus could remind and command the disciples in the New World to write, he could have done the same in the Old. Where, then, were the Markan, Lukan, and Johannine accounts of the appearance of the awakened dead? Perhaps Smith resolved the tension as he dictated the remainder of the Book of Mormon. In the final segment of the text, which he dictated last but which comprises the start of the narrative, Smith had the sixth-century-BCE prophet Nephi, son of Lehi, report a sweeping apocalyptic and anti-Catholic vision of Europe/Britain and colonial America. In Nephi’s vision, the Bible is transferred from the Jews to the Christian Gentiles, and from them to a remnant of Israel living in the Americas: the once Christian Indians. But en route, the Bible is corrupted by a “great and abominable church” that is said to have “taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious” (1 Nephi 13:26). Nephi sees that “other books” would be revealed in order to prove to the Christian Gentiles, the Amerindians, and the balance of the scattered Jewish population “that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true,” and in order to “make known the plain and precious things which have been take away from them” (1 Nephi 13:39–40; nota bene the synecdoche of traditional authorship: the Old Testament is subsumed under “the records of the prophets,” and the New Testament under “the records of the apostles”). One of those “other books” is the Book of Mormon itself. And one of those “plain and precious parts” that were “taken away” from the Bible is arguably the passage corresponding to Matthew 27:51b-53 that seemed to be missing from Mark, Luke, and John. Smith certainly had these unique verses in Matthew on the brain while dictating 1–2 Nephi. As back-up to Samuel’s prophecy from the first century BCE, Smith also produced a shorter one for the Matthean earthquake and rent rocks, as well as the darkness, and attributed it to an Old World prophet named Zenos, whose words are supposed to have been on the brass plates, a fuller, Christianized version of Jewish scripture that Lehi and company possessed when they sailed to the Americas. Smith had Nephi echo the words of Zenos and Samuel during the report of his apocalyptic vision (1 Nephi 12:4; cf. Helaman 14:20–27), and he quotes and/or echoes them twice more in the opening of the gold bible (1 Nephi 19:10–12; 2 Nephi 26:3), thereby pushing the prediction many hundreds of years further into the past, from Samuel to Nephi to Zenos. Smith’s finished picture was somewhat incomplete. As he dictated the prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite and its fulfillment, he blamed the apostles for the missing verses. As he continued to dictate, he also alleged that the Catholics had subtracted things from the Bible, things that his text would restore. Thus altogether: the disciples forget; Jesus reminds and commands them to write, and they do (in the New World); but then a “great and abominable church” deletes their record/s (in the Old World, along with the writings of Zenos on the plates of brass), which is why there is no Markan or Lukan or Johannine account of the Matthean earthquake, rent rocks, opened graves, and resurrected saints. Smith’s fellow Protestants could read a kind of parallel account in his text, although the fulfilment of the key aspect of Samuel’s prophecy was not narrated there either. For that, readers would need to flip to Matthew 27 in their Bibles. They would need to go back to the KJV.
ConclusionThe Book of Mormon had and continues to have many functions. In the early 1800s, one of them was to defend the Bible against threats such as deism in general and Thomas Paine in particular. Paine’s attack ranged broadly, including assaults on the traditional authorship of the books of Moses and Isaiah, the framework of christological interpretation of the Old Testament, and the existence of a historical Jesus. In this article, I’ve spotlighted what I consider to be the most blatant response to Paine within Smith’s text, but let me rehearse a caveat from before: how Smith was exposed to Paine is unknown. No copy of the Age of Reason can be definitively put into his hands, since he did not mention or quote Paine in any of his translations, revelations, teachings, or other papers. Then again, neither would that be a prerequisite for contextualization. Samuel the Lamanite’s prophecy and its fulfilment are clearly of a piece with Anglophone discussion and debate surrounding the Matthean earthquake, rent rocks, opened graves, and resurrected saints. Paine was not the only participant in this, not even the only challenger, but it was Paine who drew the most attention to the problematic passage, and it was Paine who said that there ought to be a prophecy of the events. If Smith had no familiarity with Paine, and if his text just happened to supply that prophecy, the coincidence would be astounding. A connection must be made. Nothing, however, could be more banal than making connections in literature from the same cultural and linguistic milieu. Comparisons and contrasts have been my central interest. Apart from his literary creativity, his claims to be a revelator, and his ignorance of ancient tongues, what distinguished the youthful Joseph Smith within exegetical and apologetic ranks was his concession to skeptics of the Bible that the Christian scriptures were at variance and that they had been corrupted. The disciples forgot to record some things, plus some things had been “taken away from,” not added to, “the gospel of the Lamb” in the post-apostolic phase of manuscript copying. As Protestant as his beliefs were in diverse areas, Smith’s model of corruption by omission was not. Out of necessity, he made a move that few if any others ventured to make in order to save God’s word from the onslaught of skeptics: he admitted the gospels were inconsistent, while chalking it up to the humaneness of the evangelists and providing a parallel scriptural account as well as prophetic utterances to compensate. Precisely because Smith was uncredentialed, he could disregard apologetic dogma—from the Anglican archdeacon William Paley (1743–1805) to the Baptist restorationist Alexander Campbell (1788–1866)—that gospel omissions were not discrepancies or contradictions no matter how many infidels came forward. The scryer did not respond to Paine in the learned discourse of qualified exegetes and apologists. But with his folk-magic peep stone, he did defend the Bible, taking Paine more seriously than many trained clergy and academics. In fact, by having an Israelite-Amerindian prophet forecast the events in Matthew 27:51b-53, and by having Christ descend from the clouds to guarantee that the prediction’s realization be written down, Smith composed what is probably the longest and most elaborate answer to Paine’s challenge ever imagined. This has not been recognized before in scholarship maybe because the Book of Mormon is often studied in terms of revelation and an open canon of scripture. No either/or approach to the text is required, and I do not deny it had that extracanonical function and many others already in the beginnings of Mormonism. It was also meant to defend the Old and New Testaments at a time when Matthew was still assumed to be the first gospel and hence the frontline for Bible-believing Christians to hold against freethinkers, deists, infidels, and skeptics. The overall biblical apologetic thrust of Smith’s text deserves more consideration, which will be of significance not only for understanding the impulses of his movement in the early 1800s but also for sussing out what type of bonds the assorted Latter-day Saints are to have to the Bible, and whatever tenuous ties to biblical criticism, in our information age—as faith is yet again in crisis.
Note: The Dialogue Foundation provides the web format of this article as a courtesy. Please note that there may be unintentional differences from the printed version. For citational and biographical purposes, please use the printed version or the PDFs provided online and on JSTOR.  Many thanks to David Mihalyfy and Taylor Petrey for their feedback on drafts, both rough and polished. David had also teamed up with me on some of the mid-stage research. As I shopped around my polarizing argument, a total of eight reviewers gave advice, some pro, others vehemently contra. Each brought improvements, and any stubborn faults are mine. I presented initial findings at the Fourth biennial Faith and Knowledge Conference, hosted at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington DC, in 2013, with a follow-up in the Latter-day Saints and the Bible section of the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion in 2019. My gratitude goes to the organizers at both venues, especially Jason Combs and Jill Kirby, and to Benjamin Park for his generous engagement at the SBL-AAR. For the decline of Matthean priority and for Matthew’s fusion of Mark, other Jesus-material, and the Jewish Bible, see, for example, Carl R. Holladay, Introduction to the New Testament: Reference Edition (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2017), 193–200.  I will be using one such compendium edition, The Theological Works of Thomas Paine (London: R. Carlile; New York: W. Carver, 1824).  Quotations are from Royal Skousen, ed., The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009).  Robert N. Hullinger, “Joseph Smith, Defender of the Faith,” Concordia Theological Monthly 42, no. 2 (1971): 72–87; Robert N. Hullinger, Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism (1980; Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), esp. 121–65; Timothy L. Smith, “The Book of Mormon in a Biblical Culture,” Journal of Mormon History 7 (1980): 3–21; Philip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion (1991; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 11, 27; Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 7, 186–91; Heikki Räisänen, “Joseph Smith as a Creative Interpreter of the Bible,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 43, no. 2 (2010): 68–70, 80–81; David F. Holland, Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 144–47; Philip L. Barlow, “To Mend a Fractured Reality: Joseph Smith’s Project,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 3 (2012): 40–41; Grant Hardy, “The Book of Mormon and the Bible,” in Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon, edited by Elizabeth Fenton and Jared Hickman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 107, 111–13; Daniel O. McClellan, “2 Nephi 25:23 in Literary and Rhetorical Context,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 29 (2020): 15–16.  Recently Samuel Morris Brown has recharted much of the same territory that Hullinger had (and without citing Hullinger’s article or monograph), but whereas the one saw Smith as a champion of the Bible against deism, the other sees him as being almost in league with skeptics against Protestants. Brown, Joseph Smith’s Translation: The Words and Worlds of Early Mormonism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), esp. 127–61. I think Brown is right about Smith trying to save the Bible; I think Brown is wrong about Smith trying to “kill it” or “light it on fire” in order to do so. For me, the bulk of perceived inimicalness is, first, Smith’s allowances to deism and, second, his frustrations with fellow Protestants who would not appreciate what he was doing for the cause of revealed religion. I can sign onto Brown’s proviso that Smith and his movement belong “outside the usual binary of Protestants versus freethinkers or religious versus secular” (11), which makes it odd to have Brown then nearly switch the dichotomy and insist that Smith was “an ardent anti-Protestant” (130). Smith may defy categorization, but he was aligned far more closely with biblical apologists than he was with Paine or any other derider of God’s word in the KJV and Textus Receptus.  In the 1920s in an essay that languished for over half a century, B. H. Roberts discretely explored the chance that the prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite and its fulfillment in the Book of Mormon were spurred by the Gospel of Matthew and “other sources” that he figured may have been “available” to Smith, though the source/s eluded him. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, edited by Brigham D. Madsen (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 236–38; I thank Colby Townsend for the reference.  Within scholarship on Paine, the Age of Reason, and its reception, interest has usually dropped off after Paine’s lifetime. See, for example, Edward H. Davidson and William J. Scheick, Paine, Scripture, and Authority: The Age of Reason as Religious and Political Idea (Bethlehem, Pa.: Lehigh University Press, 1994); and Patrick Wallace Hughes, “Antidotes to Deism: A Reception History of Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, 1794–1809” (PhD diss., University of Pittsburgh, 2013). But that is changing, and in current research, the religious landscape of the early US looks to have been profoundly dotted with deists and skeptics, Paine and others, to whom the faithful were duty-bound to respond generation after generation. See, for example, Mark A. Noll, “Religion in the Early Republic: A Second Tom Paine Effect,” Modern Intellectual History 14, no. 3 (2017): 883–98; Leigh Eric Schmidt, Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2016); and Christopher Grasso, Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).  See, for example, Hardy, “The Book of Mormon and the Bible,” 118–20.  For Smith’s schooling, and for the oral composition of his text through sermon techniques, see William Davis, “Reassessing Joseph Smith Jr.’s Formal Education,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 49, no. 4 (2016): 1–58; and William L. Davis, Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020). For the dictation of the Book of Mormon, (half-) altered states of consciousness, (self-induced) hypnotism, and religious experience, see Ann Taves, Revelatory Events: Three Case Studies of the Emergence of New Spiritual Paths (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2016), 240–69  Twists and turns of publication and reprinting are beyond my scope, particularly since the annals for the commentaries are wonderfully cluttered with postmortem completions, enlargements, and reconfigurations. But as a signal of lasting influence and of shared British-American theological culture, the volumes of Samuel Austin Allibone’s A Critical Dictionary of English Literature, and British and American Authors . . . (Philadelphia: Childs and Peterson; J.B. Lippincott, 1858–1871) should suffice. Poole, Whitby, Henry, and Doddrige are endorsed there along with Richard Watson, Elias Boudinot, Thomas Scott, Adam Clarke, Samuel Thomas Bloomfield, and even William Wisner, whom I will be citing. Allibone also had entries on Paine and the literary “impostor” Smith, though he did not recommend either.  Matthew Poole, Annotations upon the Holy Bible; . . .The More Difficult Terms in Each Verse are Explained, Seeming Contradictions Reconciled, Questions and Doubts Resolved, and the Whole Text Opened (repr., New York: R. Carter, 1853), 3:141–42; Daniel Whitby, A Paraphrase and Commentary on the New Testament; repr. in A Critical Commentary and Paraphrase on the Old and New Testament and the Apocrypha, by Patrick, Lowth, Arnald, Whitby, and Lowman, edited by J. R. Pitman (London: R. Priestley, 1822), 5:222; Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Old and New Testament . . . with Practical Remarks and Observations (repr., New York: R. Carter, 1827), 4:288; Philip Doddridge, The Family Expositor; Or, A Paraphrase and Version of the New Testament, with Critical Notes, and a Practical Improvement of Each Section (repr., Charlestown, Mass.: S. Etheridge, 1807), 2:555.  Henry, Exposition of the Old and New Testament, 4:288.  See Henry, Exposition of the Old and New Testament, 4:iv.  Doddrigde, Family Expositor, 2:555. Doddridge got the anecdote from Robert Fleming who heard it from “a worthy Gentleman” on the tour with the deist. Fleming, Christology, A Discourse Concerning Christ . . . (London: A. Bell, 1707), 2:97–98 note c.  Although Paine wrote parts one and two in France, where he was incarcerated, for the writing of the second part he was out of jail and living in the Paris home of US ambassador James Monroe. Under those conditions, he could have had ready access to a sizable English library as well as French books, to say nothing of his prior learning in England and America. See Davidson and Scheick, Paine, Scripture, and Authority, 54–69, 105–7; Hughes, “Antidotes to Deism,” 35–48, 58–64; J. C. D. Clark, Thomas Paine: Britain, America, and France in the Age of Enlightenment and Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 339–47.  Theological Works of Thomas Paine, 132–33.  Theological Works of Thomas Paine, 133–34.  Theological Works of Thomas Paine, 241.  It was also in France that Paine wrote (much of) the third installment/s of the Age of Reason, before returning to America in 1802, but he waited another half decade to publish his Examination of the Passages. See Davidson and Scheick, Paine, Scripture, and Authority, 102–103; Hughes, “Antidotes to Deism,” 77–87; Clark, Enlightenment and Revolution, 349. Bringing the 1794, 1795, and 1807 installments together, compendium editions were reprinted in New York during Smith’s residence. Most fascinating is the edition of a couple thousand copies done in New York City in 1825, sponsored by an associate and ally of Paine. Apprehensive about reprisals, the printer feigned to be operating in London, but buyers hardly worried, and the copies sold quickly. See “John Fellows to Thomas Jefferson,” Oct. 3, 1825, Library of Congress; also referenced in Grasso, Skepticism and American Faith, 535n47. A slightly earlier compendium edition, the one that I have been using, was printed jointly in London and New York City with no US trepidation: The Theological Works of Thomas Paine (London: R. Carlile; New York: W. Carver, 1824).  Watson’s response to the first and second installments prompted Paine’s third. For more on Watson, Scott, and Boudinot, see Davidson and Scheick, Paine, Scripture, and Authority, 90–91, 106, 114–15; Holland, Sacred Borders, 81–83, 106–7; Eric R. Schlereth, An Age of Infidels: The Politics of Religious Controversy in the Early United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 53–56, 62–63; Eran Shalev, American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013), 126–133; Hughes, “Antidotes to Deism,” 186–91, 203–4, 259–60, 311–12, 326, 330; David Francis Mihalyfy, “Heterodoxies and the Historical Jesus: Biblical Criticism of the Gospels in the U.S., 1794–1860” (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 2017), 70–81; Clark, Enlightenment and Revolution, 348–52; Grasso, Skepticism and American Faith, 194, 218, 550n43; and Elizabeth Fenton, “Nephites and Israelites: The Book of Mormon and the Hebraic Indian Theory,” in Fenton and Hickman, Americanist Approaches, 283–87.  Richard Watson, An Apology for the Bible, In a Series of Letters Addressed to Thomas Paine, author of a Book entitled, The Age of Reason . . .(New York: J. Bull, 1796), 156–61.  Thomas Scott, A Vindication of the Divine Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, and of the Doctrines Contained in Them: Being an Answer to the Two Parts of Mr. T. Paine’s Age of Reason (New York: G. Forman, 1797), 109; see also 105–6.  Elias Boudinot, The Age of Revelation. Or, The Age of Reason Shown to Be an Age of Infidelity (Philadelphia: A. Dickins, 1801), 196.  Watson, Apology for the Bible, 159.  Scott, Vindication of Divine Inspiration, 110.  Boudinot, Age of Revelation, 195–98.  As the young prophet may have been cognizant of, a multipronged threat to Matthew 27:51b-53 was emerging. In addition to the skeptical Paine, there were liberal German Protestant critics on the horizon, with their insidious ideas about interpolations from apocryphal gospels and their budding program of demythologization. What is more, there were commentators such as Adam Clarke in Anglophone countries aiding and abetting German critics of this “skeptical school,” to the disappointment of their countrymen such as Samuel Thomas Bloomfield. See Clarke, The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments . . . (repr., New York: N. Bangs and J. Emory, 1825), 4:258; Bloomfield, Recensio Synoptica Annotationis Sacræ: Being a Critical Digest and Synoptical Arrangement of the Most Important Annotations on the New Testament, Exegetical, Philological, and Doctrinal . . . (London: C. and J. Rivington, 1826), 1:522–55. For Smith’s potential use of Clarke, either in the Book of Mormon or his other writings, see, for example, Davis, Visions in a Seer Stone, 42–44, 174–75, 208n57 and the studies listed there.  Lavina Fielding Anderson, ed., Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001), 291; also referenced in Jan Ships, Mormonism: The Story of A New Religious Tradition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 8; Hullinger, Smith’s Response, 35–36, 43n4; Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 25–26, 567n60; Holland, Sacred Borders, 144, 170n52.  “Green Mountain Boys to Thomas C. Sharp,” Feb. 15, 1844, in Early Mormon Documents, edited by Dan Vogel (Salt Lake City: Signature Books), 1:597.  Palmyra Register, July 12, 1820; also referenced in Hullinger, Smith’s Response, 38, 45n24. The “effects of infidelity” are analogous in the Book of Mormon, though the outcome is not always so bleak. See Jacob 7:1–23; Mosiah 26–27; Alma 11:21–12:7, 15:3–12, 30:6–60.  Evangelical Magazine and Missionary Chronicle 27 (Nov. 1819): 455. Before and after its printing in the Palmyra Register, the column was printed in the Washington Wig (Bridgeton, N.J.), July 10, 1820, and the Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pa.), July 26, 1820.  Wayne Sentinel, Aug. 4, 1826; also referenced in Hullinger, Smith’s Response, 39, 45n26. The paper was not the first to print the letter or have it addressed to Paine. It ran years before in the Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pa.), Nov. 15, 1820, without any proposal of addressee. It was printed once more in the Adams Sentinel (Gettysburg, Pa.), July 12, 1826, as a “Letter from Dr. Franklin to Thomas Paine.”  Western Sun and General Advertiser (Vincennes, Ind.), Sept. 16, 1826; Black River Gazette (Lowville, N.Y.), June 9, 1830; Wabash Courier(Terre-Haute, Ind.), Sept. 26, 1833.  The date of the tract cannot be pinpointed, not even when it was anthologized: Tracts of the American Tract Society 8, no. 280. For Wisner’s authorship, see the Ninth Annual Report of the American Tract Society . . . (New York: F. Fanshaw, 1834), 14, wherein that reporting cycle alone the society printed 122,000 copies of it (p. 20). For its circulation and importance, see also “Don’t Unchain the Tiger: One of the Prize Tracts of the American Tract Society,” Christian Advocate and Journal (Chicago, Ill.) 8 no. 6 (Oct. 4, 1833): 21.  William Wisner, Incidents in the Life of a Pastor (New York: C. Scribner, 1851), 82–85.  Wisner, Life of a Pastor, 312.  For his description of the revivals as such, see Wisner, Life of a Pastor, esp. 271–83.  Albert Henry Smyth, The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Collected and Edited with a Life and Introduction (1907; New York: Haskell House, 1970), 9:520–22.  “Don’t Unchain the Tiger,” Free Enquirer (New York) 1 no. 44 (Nov. 2, 1834): 352; “Don’t Unchain the Tiger,” Western Examiner (St. Louis, Miss.) 1 no. 23 (Dec. 1, 1834): 182; Calvin Blanchard, The Life of Thomas Paine . . . (New York: C. Blanchard, 1860), 73–74; Joseph N. Moreau, Testimonials to the Merits of Thomas Paine . . . (Boston: J. P. Mendum, 1874), 53–56.  About fictive stories, it is worth noting that in a response to Paine’s Examination of the Passages, one apologist, John B. Colvin, defended the New Testament and Christianity as a noble lie: if all scripture were phony, that would not invalidate the religion “because the ‘faith’ of a christian [sic] rests not so much on the genuineness of the books that contain his creed, as upon the correctness of the doctrines which they teach.” Colvin, An Essay Towards an Exposition of the Futility of Thomas Paine’s Objections to the Christian Religion . . . (Baltimore: Fryer and Rider, 1807), 5.  Acquired: If while scrying and treasure hunting Smith did discover something buried in the ground, as he said, it was not what he thought it was. Fabricated: For the both/and position that without being a fraud Smith himself ‘materialized’ the plates in an act akin to the ritual of transubstantiation, see Ann Taves, “History and the Claims of Revelation: Joseph Smith and the Materialization of the Gold Plates,” Numen 61, no. 2/3 (2014): 182–207; and Taves, Revelatory Events, 50–65. For other purported discoveries and translations of ancient texts within the genre of “pseudobiblicism” in the US, see Shalev, American Zion, 108–10; and Shalev, “An American Book of Chronicles: Pseudo-Biblicism and the Cultural Origins of The Book of Mormon,” in Fenton and Hickman, Americanist Approaches, 145–46.  For sustained assessments of the racial dynamics in Smith’s text, which can be quite sympathetic in a number of passages, see, for example, Jared Hickman, “The Book of Mormon as Amerindian Apocalypse,” American Literature 86, no. 3 (2014): 429–61; Max Perry Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 31–59; and Kimberly M. Berkey and Joseph M. Spencer, “‘Great Cause to Mourn’: The Complexity of The Book of Mormon’s Presentation of Gender and Race,” in Fenton and Hickman, Americanist Approaches, 298–320.  The New World equivalent of the Matthean star was featured in Elias Boudinot’s writing about the Indians as Israelites; in Smith’s text it becomes literal, but there it had been metaphoric. Boudinot, A Star in the West; Or, A Humble Attempt to Discover the Long Lost Ten Tribes of Israel . . . (Trenton, N.J.: D. Fenton, S. Hutchinson, and J. Dunham, 1816), i–ii; see also Shalev, American Zion, 127.  A generation prior to Paine, the three hours of darkness at the crucifixion had been challenged by Edward Gibbon, historian of the later Roman Empire. Watson wrote the most successful reply to Gibbon, in which the bishop met the historian half-way, rationalizing but still defending scripture. By the early 1800s, Watson’s responses to Gibbon and Paine were reprinted together; see, for example, Richard Watson, Two Apologies: One for Christianity, in a Series of Letters Addressed to Edward Gibbon, Esq.; the Other for the Bible, in Answer to Thomas Paine . . . (London: Scatcherd and Letterman, 1820), 95–102. Smith, in contradistinction to the rationalizing Watson, doubled down on the darkness.  In Smith’s text, Jesus is the Johannine “light and life of the world” (3 Nephi 9:18; cf. John 1:4–5, 3:19, 6:33, 8:12, 9:5), so there is darkness while he is dead and entombed. In the synoptic gospels, however, the three hours of darkness occur as Jesus is on the cross, before his death. For a variety of Johannine elements within the gold bible and Smith’s revelations, see Krister Stendahl, “The Sermon on the Mount and Third Nephi,” in Reflections on Mormonism: Judeo-Christian Parallels, edited by Truman G. Madsen (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1978), 139–54; Nicholas J. Frederick, The Bible, Mormon Scripture, and the Rhetoric of Allusivity (Maddison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2016); and Nicholas J. Frederick and Joseph M. Spencer, “John 11 in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of the Bible and Its Reception 5, no. 1 (2018): 44–87.  Paine had discussed the New Testament witnesses of the resurrection, the reluctant and doubting Thomas among them (Theological Works, 34–35, 136–137). As stated in the first and second parts of the Age of Reason, the quantity was low and the evidence insufficient, being restricted to one corner of the world. Smith’s text spans both sides of the globe and multiplies the witnesses exponentially to some 2,500 people (3 Nephi 17:25). See also Hullinger (Smith’s Response, 49, 145–46), Holland (Sacred Borders, 146–47), and Brown (Smith’s Translation, 142–44) on the Book of Mormon and the regionalism of the Bible.  Paine had discussed the foundation of Christianity too (Theological Works, 43–44). As stated in the first part of the Age of Reason, Jesus was Jewish and did not found “a new religion” or “new system,” unlike Moses and Muhammed, who did: Christianity was devised by the authors of the New Testament and other “mythologists” who palmed it off on Jesus. But in Smith’s text, after Jesus calls the twelve, he teaches them to baptize, to bless the bread and wine of communion, and he gives them other ecclesiological instructions, even informing them what the name of the church should be (3 Nephi 11:18–41, 18:1–16, 27:1–12). See also Brown (Smith’s Translation, 158–60) on the Book of Mormon, Protestant factions, and the hitch of “Getting from Bible to Church.”  Theological Works, 133. It is also striking that in 3 Nephi 24, Smith’s Jesus then pivots from Matthew 27 to Malachi 3. Paine had attacked them both consecutively in that order (Theological Works, 241–42), in his Examination of the Passages, as he made his way through the quotations of the Old Testament in the gospels, from Matthew 27:51b-53, where no prophecy is quoted, to Mark 1:1–3, where the preaching of John the Baptist is supposed to be a fulfillment of Malachi 3:1. This Matthew-Malachi order, shared between Paine and Smith, is perhaps the strongest suggestion, such as it is, that Smith may have had a copy of Paine at hand.  Granted that one of Smith’s main goals behind composing the prophecy and fulfillment was to protect Matthew all along, a bit of a puzzle persists, namely why he did not go on to compose an account of the appearance and ministry of the awakened dead in the New World. In my estimation, only a couple of scenarios are plausible. Either Smith decided the task was too hard: biblical commentators had reached a similar verdict in their efforts to explicate Matthew 27:52–53, and Paine’s satire rendered the interpretive issues much more difficult. Or he apprehended that whatever he composed in the Book of Mormon, he could never rewrite the actual gospel manuscripts, which was ultimately Paine’s demand. Hickman (“Amerindian Apocalypse,” 452, 457n4) thinks Smith has the Christian savior unmask Nephite racism against Lamanites and by extension the white supremacy of British-American churches; the fact that there is no account of the appearance and ministry of the awakened dead after Jesus’ reminder and command is due to perpetual Nephite prejudice. Analyzing the scene for race as well, Mueller (Mormon People, 49–50, 242n82) diverges from Hickman in that he thinks Jesus commands the disciples to record the prophecy of the saints’ appearance, not its fulfillment in 3 Nephi, and they do, which is why the prophecy can be read in the book of Helaman. See also D. Lynn Johnson, “The Missing Scripture,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3, no. 2 (1994): 84–93. It seems indisputable to me, however, that Smith’s Jesus is focused on the recording of prophecy fulfilled. He asks the disciples why they failed to write that the saints “did arise and appear” and “did minister” (3 Nephi 23:11), not merely that the saints would. Be that as it may, an implication of my argument is that this dominical care has more to do with defending and supporting the first canonical gospel than it does with integrating the subaltern into the canon, though Smith certainly made a deliberate choice of a Lamanite to utter the retro-prophecy Paine called for, just as the Bible’s particularism was another deist critique.  Sans context, Roberts (Studies of the Book of Mormon, 238) aptly perceived the embellishment already in the 1920s.  Even while the text speaks of distorted biblical manuscripts and situates itself as more scripture, it aims to “establish the truth” of the Old and New Testaments (1 Nephi 13:40). This bears some resemblance to the Qur’an. See Räisänen, “Creative Interpreter,” 69; Grant Hardy, “The Book of Mormon,” in The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism, edited by Terryl L. Givens and Philip L. Barlow (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 140. The similarities may not only be structural. Besides anti-Catholic polemic from Protestants and criticism from deists about the corruption of the Bible, Smith could have picked up knowledge of Muslim belief from such best sellers as Charles Buck’s Theological Dictionary. Buck had entries on the “Koran” and “Mahometanism,” including overviews of Muslim belief in lost books of Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Abraham; belief in the corruption of Jewish and Christian scripture; and belief in the restoration of that scripture through God’s angel and prophet. Buck, A Theological Dictionary: Containing Definitions of All Religious Terms . . . (repr., Philadelphia: W. W. Woodward, 1815), 248–53, 279–88. For some usage of Buck in Smith’s other more collaborative writings, see, for example, John Henry Evans, Joseph Smith, an American Prophet (New York: Macmillan, 1933), 95–96.  Davis (Visions in a Seer Stone, 155–57) hypothesizes that Helaman 13–15, 1 Nephi 12, and 2 Nephi 26 incorporate Smith’s summaries of the narrative, committed to memory.  See also Hullinger (Smith’s Response, 143–51) and Brown (Smith’s Translation, 140, 152–54) on the Book of Mormon and the in-house production of prophecy fulfilled.  In Minute Book 1 of the Joseph Smith Papers is a complaint and request for scrutiny that Smith filed with the Kirtland High Council in 1835 about the conduct of one of his followers, Almon Babbitt. Smith’s brother William had hosted a debate club or school, inter alia, on the question of whether divine revelation was indispensable to happiness. Smith attended, helping with the positive case, but he became uncomfortable after the negative was presented too well, so he wanted the school to halt. The brothers clashed badly over this and other grievances. On William’s side, Babbitt said Smith was a sore loser in debate, and that there was no cause for disbandment of the club since there was no harm in playing devil’s advocate. To illustrate, Babbitt boasted “he could read Tho. Paine or any other work without being swerved,” insinuating Smith’s constitution was frail, all of which must have hit a sensitive spot for Smith to launch formal proceedings. See Minutes, 28 Dec. 1835, 132, The Joseph Smith Papers.  For another challenge to Matthew 27:51b-53 after the fashion of the second part of the Age of Reason but lacking the third part’s call for a retro-prophecy, see the anonymous Critical Remarks on the Truth and Harmony of the Four Gospels . . . by a Free-Thinker (1827, 82–84).  William Paley, A View of the Evidences of Christianity . . . (repr., Boston: I. Thomas and E. T. Andrews, 1803), 271–74; Alexander Campbell, “Letters to Humphrey Marshall, Esq. Letter V,” Millennial Harbinger (Bethany, Va.) 2 no. 4 (Apr. 4, 1831): 150–56. In the midst of his debate with Humphrey Marshall that spun off from his larger debate with Robert Owen, Alexander Campbell critiqued the Book of Mormon. He noticed the prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite and the recording of its fulfillment, but he could not or would not appreciate what Smith was doing as a co-defender of the Bible. Campbell, “Delusions,” Millennial Harbinger (Bethany, Va.) 2 no. 2 (Feb. 7, 1831): 89.  On learned versus popular discourse in British-American biblical interpretation, see Mihalyfy, “Heterodoxies and the Historical Jesus,” 14–23.  For recent studies of how Smith’s text undermines the fixity of holy and secular writ and how it mimics print copies of the Bible so as to position itself with biblical weight and substance, see, respectively, Elizabeth Fenton, “Open Canons: Sacred History and American History in The Book of Mormon,” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanist 1, no. 2 (2013): 339–61; and Seth Perry, “The Many Bibles of Joseph Smith: Textual, Prophetic, and Scholarly Authority in Early-National Bible Culture,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 84, no. 3 (2016): 750–775; Seth Perry, Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2018), 110–28. I do not deny, but I do wonder whether that may be ancillary.  Matthew 27:51b-53 is one of several passages from the first gospel supported in the Book of Mormon. Before the Common Era, Nephi’s apocalyptic vision encompasses the virgin birth (1 Nephi 11:13–21; see also 2 Nephi 17:14; Alma 7:10; cf. Matthew 1:18–25; and Luke 1:26–38). The same Nephi preaches a proleptic homily on why Jesus would be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness” (2 Nephi 31:4–13; cf. Matthew 3:14–15 KJV). Then over a half millennium later, when the resurrected Christ appears to the Amerindians after the light of the star at his nativity (Helaman 14:5; 3 Nephi 1:21; cf. Matthew 2:1–12), and after the darkness and the earthquake at his death, he delivers the Sermon on the Mount (3 Nephi 12–14; cf. Matthew 5–7). Unique to Matthew (and Luke), any of these passages would have been an easy critical target, and Paine assailed the virgin birth with as much choler as the resurrection (Theological Works, 33–34, 112–14, 120, 127–28, 145, 215–19, 221–24). There are, as well, many subtler examples of Matthean phraseology from the KJV used creatively in Smith’s text having nothing to do with defense of the Bible. For some within the words of Samuel the Lamanite, see Fenton, “Nephites and Israelites,” 290; and Berkey and Spencer, “Complexity,” 301–5. [post_title] => Joseph Smith, Thomas Paine, and Matthew 27:51b–53 [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 54.4 (Winter 2021): 1–33
Despite its alleged antiquity, jutting back centuries before the Common Era, and its predominant setting in the Americas, the Book of Mormon contains several Matthean and Lukan additions to Mark made in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => joseph-smith-thomas-paine-and-matthew-2751b-53 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-06-06 02:30:58 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-06-06 02:30:58 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=28733 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
The Limits of Naturalistic Criteria for the Book of Mormon: Comparing Joseph Smith and Andrew Jackson Davis
Dialogue 53.3 (Fall 2020): 73–103
Davis compares the two men, saying “Davis, like Smith, was raised in a poor household and received little formal education—Davis, in fact, would claim to have received only “little more than five months” of schooling.”
In an 1879 interview with her son, Emma Smith famously asserted: “My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired.” In support of her declaration, Emma turned from a confessional assertion to a naturalistic line of reasoning, arguing, “for, when [I was] acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having a portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.” Emma’s turn to naturalistic criteria offers an opportunity to explore the persistent relationships that often emerge in Mormon communities between personal testimonies and naturalistic arguments, which usually take the form of direct claims or indirect assumptions about Joseph’s alleged ignorance and illiteracy. Emma’s statement offers a template for this pervasive dynamic: her testimony suggests that her belief in the Book of Mormon hinged, at least in part, on her disbelief in Joseph’s ability to produce the work on his own accord.
Emma, of course, was not alone in this attitude. Early accounts of Joseph’s intellectual abilities, from critics and followers alike, often emphasize his illiteracy and lack of education; whereas those hostile to him did so in order to assert that another person or persons composed the text (hence the Spalding–Rigdon theory), believers did it in an effort to provide supporting evidence for the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. In time, such naturalistic arguments occasionally evolved into complex lists of criteria aimed at disqualifying Smith—or any other individual, for that matter—as the author of the work. In a 1955 devotional at Brigham Young University, the future LDS apostle Hugh B. Brown provided his audience with criteria that would influence subsequent lists of such naturalistic argumentation. “I submit to you that the Prophet Joseph Smith in translating the Book of Mormon did a superhuman task,” Brown declared to his audience. “I ask you students to go out and write a Book of Mormon. . . . I ask you to write, if you can, any kind of a story of the ancient inhabitants of America, and I ask you to write it without any source material.” Brown continued with a list of selective criteria, focusing on the ability to produce multiple chapters devoted to wars, history, visions, prophecies, and the ministry of Jesus Christ. In addition, any undertakers of such a task would need to incorporate “figures of speech, similes, metaphors, narration, exposition, description, oratory, epic, lyric, logic, and parables.” Moreover, alluding to Joseph’s age and lack of education, Brown singled out “those of you who are under twenty” to write the book (Joseph was twenty-three when he dictated the current text), while reminding them that “the man that translated the Book of Mormon was a young man, and he hadn’t had the opportunity of schooling that you have had.” Like Emma’s assertions regarding Joseph’s lack of ability, Brown’s declarations offered a buttress for faith based on naturalistic lines of reasoning.
Brown’s list apparently inspired BYU professor Hugh Nibley to produce a similar but more detailed set of criteria. In addition to the general ideas proposed by Brown, Nibley specified that anyone attempting to replicate Joseph’s feat must produce a work “five to six hundred pages in length,” provide the names of hundreds of characters, and “be lavish with cultural and technical details—manners and customs, arts and industries, political and religious institutions, rites, and traditions, include long and complicated military and economic histories,” among several additional requirements. Brown’s and Nibley’s selective catalogues spurred numerous imitations, often referred to as the “Book of Mormon Challenge.” They might also contain additional exclusionary points of comparison, such as, “You are twenty-three years of age,” “You have had no more than three years of formal school education,” and “Your history must be 531 pages and over 300,000 words in length [at approximately 269,510 words, the Book of Mormon actually falls short of this criterion].” The popularity of such lists has long saturated the cultural imagination of believers, reinforcing the idea that Joseph’s translation of the Book of Mormon would require, to use Brown’s words, a “superhuman task” to duplicate.
Such frameworks of evaluation, though unofficial and nondoctrinal, ostensibly gratify a need for tangible evidence of divine intervention, and variations of these lists make regular appearances in formal and informal settings. In a recent conference addressing the topic of Joseph Smith’s translation, for example, Richard L. Bushman offered an informal set of criteria that revealed the presence of such framing: “Despite all the naturalist arguments, I still do not believe that no matter what his [Smith’s] genius, he could have done it as himself.” In support of his position, Bushman proposed a comparative framework of naturalistic criteria intended to demonstrate the improbability of Smith’s possible authorship: “What I want is a text of similar complexity, produced under such primitive conditions, with so little background or training or precedence, to turn out his master work—not at the end of his career but at the beginning of his career, just as he’s getting started. That seems to me really beyond anything you could call natural.” Bushman’s response was, of course, improvised, rather than a formal statement on the matter. Even so, his observations offer a fitting example of the ways in which naturalistic checklists weave their way into informal discussions about the origins of the Book of Mormon, influencing opinions and oftentimes buttressing the very foundations of faith.
Within the broader spectrum of Mormon apologetic discourse, the regular appearance of such comparative “proofs” (either as individual issues or collective catalogues) reflects a strong and common tendency to move beyond confessional affirmations—such as testimonies of spiritual witnesses confirming the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon—to decidedly non-confessional appeals to naturalistic criteria. Nevertheless, such proposals, which directly entangle naturalistic criteria with the effort to strengthen faith, carry inherent and unpredictable risks. Should the proffered checklists fail to distinguish the Book of Mormon in any substantive way from other notable contemporary examples, then such comparisons not only result in the weakening of popular supports to faith but potentially undermine faith itself. As Loyd Isao Ericson cautions, the possibility then exists that “instead of tearing down potential stumbling blocks to faith, Mormon apologetics actually and unknowingly engages in building and establishing those blocks.” Moreover, such comparisons are burdened with implications of unspoken (and unintended) commentaries on the very nature of faith and belief. The insistent turn to naturalistic criteria in the cultural imagination of believers strongly suggests the existence of an unacknowledged, paradoxical, and potentially incompatible component within the foundations of faith: belief in the Book of Mormon contains an embedded disbelief in Smith’s capacity to create it, or even to participate actively in its creation.
Within the community of faith, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon finds its anchors exclusively in the personal spiritual witnesses and lived experiences of believers, independent of any additional appeals to naturalistic assumptions. Such, at least, is the idealistic and theological claim. The relentless invocations of naturalist arguments, however, trouble this idealism. Whether appearing as broad claims asserting Joseph’s alleged ignorance and illiteracy or as detailed catalogues of idiosyncratic criteria, it becomes clear that naturalistic arguments do, in fact, participate in the actual framework of day-to-day belief and workaday faith concerning the origins and authenticity (and therefore the authority) of the Book of Mormon. The pragmatic nature of faith seems not only to reflect a belief in “things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21), but likewise involves a subjective disbelief in alternative possibilities. Thus, doubt comes to play a role in the composition of faith. The embedded reliance on naturalistic arguments, however tangential, therefore presents the uneasy and troubling possibility that a portion of one’s faith rests upon a foundation of limited mortal assumptions, constrained within the narrow and finite compass of an individual’s personal knowledge, hopes, needs, and experience. As such, the presumably solid rock foundation of faith turns out to contain a lot of destabilizing sand.
Comparing American Seers
With such thoughts on faith and belief serving as a meditative backdrop, we might treat these naturalistic arguments as a convenient analytic framework to compare—and contrast—Joseph Smith and his 1829 translation of the Book of Mormon with Andrew Jackson Davis (1826–1910), another early American “prophet and a seer,” and his trance performance of The Principles of Nature (1847). For within this comparison, we find another complex text produced by a speaker with limited formal education and training, created under similar conditions and circumstances, and a work that stands as its young creator’s greatest masterpiece, even though the text was created at the dawn of the speaker’s career. Davis, like Smith, was raised in a poor household and received little formal education—Davis, in fact, would claim to have received only “little more than five months” of schooling. Davis also received visions and met with angelic messengers, who informed him that he was chosen to reveal important truths to the world. Through a mystical process of mesmeric trance and “conscious clairvoyance,” Davis dictated—without the use of notes, manuscripts, or books—his first and most popular volume, The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and a Voice to Mankind, which, at approximately 320,000 words, contains a collection of intricate revelations that many of his readers treated as new scripture. Though Davis eventually composed more than thirty books, The Principles of Nature would remain “the most famous” and influential text of his career.
These broad-stroke comparisons do not, however, do justice to the compelling and oftentimes uncanny similarities between Smith and Davis. A closer examination of the circumstances surrounding the oral production of their works—both their similarities and important differences—can thus provide crucial insights into the cultural context in which these two fledgling seers performed their respective texts into existence. Moreover, such a comparative exploration alerts us to the problems of invoking arbitrary criteria in a strategic effort to privilege the work of a favored candidate.
The Poughkeepsie Seer
In April of 1829, when Joseph Smith started dictating the Book of Mormon in Harmony, Pennsylvania, Andrew Jackson Davis, not yet three years old, lived just over one hundred miles away in Blooming Grove, New York, a small town in the Hudson River Valley. Like Smith, Davis was born into an impoverished family: his father was a weaver and journeyman shoemaker, while his mother occasionally supplemented the family’s meager income through domestic work in neighbors’ homes. Their indigent circumstances forced them into a peripatetic life, moving from town to town in a constant search for work, disrupting any sense of familial stability. Their arrival in Poughkeepsie in 1841, when young “Jackson” turned fourteen years old, would mark the seventh time the family had moved.
According to Davis, the constant moving from one town to another, coupled with the impoverished circumstances of the family, resulted in a poor education. Indeed, Davis’s supporters and detractors alike would eagerly embrace his claim of having little more than five months of formal education, arguing that Davis’s miraculous revelations could not possibly have come from the mind of such an untutored, ignorant boy. J. Stanley Grimes, a well-known contemporary mesmerist and phrenologist, argued that “Davis was notoriously ignorant and illiterate. . . . How, then, was he to write a superior book?” The Reverend William Fishbough, Davis’s scribe during the dictation of The Principles of Nature, described the young visionary’s purported naïveté in more florid terms: “He remained, then, up to the commencement of his lectures, the uneducated, unsophisticated child of Nature, entirely free from the creeds, theories, and philosophies of the world.” Ira Armstrong, a Poughkeepsie merchant who once hired Davis as an apprentice, stated, “His education barely amounted to a knowledge of reading, writing, and the rudiments of arithmetic.” Armstrong’s description (a common refrain in the period) might well be compared to Smith’s claim that “I was merely instructed in reading, writing, and the ground rules of arithmetic.” The familiar trope of the illiterate mouthpiece of God’s pure and undefiled word offered a convenient framework in which to cast the budding prophet’s career, and Davis’s self-reported ignorance provided his supporters with compelling evidence of divine intervention.
Like the Smiths, the transient life of the Davis household also reflected their restless search for a religious home—at least for some of the family members. Davis’s father seems not to have held much interest in religion, yet his mother was deeply spiritual. Along with formal religious organizations, she was also a firm believer and practitioner in various forms of folk magic. “She had real clairvoyance,” Davis would later recall, adding that she had a “mysterious faculty to foretell the future.” Davis also attended various churches with his mother, who joined at least two different denominations: the Dutch Reformed Church and the Presbyterians. Working as both a farm laborer and an apprentice shoemaker, Davis would also frequently attend the churches to which his employers belonged, exposing him further to the Episcopalians, Methodists, and (indirectly) Universalists.
Among these traditions, Methodism emerged as perhaps the most influential—another commonality with Smith. Davis’s interest began in the spring of 1842, when he started working as an apprentice to Ira Armstrong, a devout Methodist. Davis participated in a variety of services, including probationary meetings, class meetings, Sunday services, and at least one revival. In such gatherings, Davis would have observed ministers and lay members engaged in semi-extemporaneous speaking, praying, and exhorting. He also would have witnessed the audience responses, which, apart from members rising and “shouting” out praises and calling for mercy, would have included members falling unconscious or into trance-like states of spiritual conviction.
Davis’s prophetic career began in December 1843, shortly after J. Stanley Grimes, an itinerant lecturer, arrived in Poughkeepsie to demonstrate the wonders of mesmerism (a form of hypnotism) and phrenology (inferring an individual’s personality traits based on features of the cranium). Davis volunteered as a subject, yet Grimes failed to hypnotize him. A few days later, however, William Levingston, a local tailor studying Chauncy Hare Townshend’s Facts in Mesmerism (1840) and an amateur mesmerist in his own right, approached Davis and asked if he could try to succeed where Grimes had failed. In this next attempt, Davis slipped into a deep trance. In time, among other clairvoyant skills, Davis claimed that he could see the internal organs of people placed before him, as if “the whole body was transparent as a sheet of glass.” This alleged ability prompted Davis and Levingston to set up a clairvoyant medical practice in March of 1844. Levingston, acting as Davis’s “operator,” would induce the mesmeric trance, and then Davis, wrapped in a mystical vision, would look into the patient’s body, diagnose the ailments, and then advise homeopathic remedies.
During this early period, Davis also received visions in which angelic messengers met with him and foretold his mission in life. In his best known vision, much like Moroni’s visit to young Joseph, Davis would claim that the spirits of Galen, the ancient Greek physician and philosopher, and Emanuel Swedenborg, the eighteenth-century mystic and theologian, appeared to him and guided him in a quest to reveal greater spiritual truths to humankind. Such “prophetic admonitions,” as Davis described them, revealed that he was destined for a higher calling as a prophet and seer.
In the months that followed, a Universalist minister in Poughkeepsie, the Reverend Gibson Smith, took great interest in Davis and Levingston’s medical practice and convinced the pair to travel with him on a healing/lecture tour throughout the region, stopping at Albany, New York, and Danbury, Connecticut. During the tour, Davis not only diagnosed patients but spoke in trance about the natural and universal laws that governed all creation. The lectures fascinated Gibson Smith, and Davis “promised to give him three or four lectures on the subject.” Nonetheless, and apparently without Davis’s permission or editorial input, Gibson Smith revised and published the lectures in a thirty-two-page pamphlet, Lectures on Clairmativeness: Or, Human Magnetism (1845). But Davis was not happy with Gibson Smith’s alterations or the resulting publication, describing the pamphlet as “a fugitive and mongrel production—containing a strong infusion of the editor’s own mind.” As Catherine L. Albanese notes, “Davis would later disown the pamphlet.”
As he continued his clairvoyant medical practice, Davis began to focus more attention on the revelation of eternal truths. His patients, in fact, often prompted this transition. “From the very beginning of my mystical experience,” Davis recalled, “convalescing patients and investigating minds” had peppered him with theological questions: “‘Can you tell me what constitutes the soul?’ or ‘Is man’s spirit immortal?’ or ‘Is man a free agent?’ ‘Is God a person, or an essence?’ ‘What is life?’ . . . ‘What is the main purpose of man’s creation?’ ‘Is the Bible all true, or in part only?’” In time, the barrage of questions and Davis’s responsive revelations led to the incremental formation of a complete and systematic cosmology. Later, when patients continued to ask such questions, Davis replied that he would “dictate a Book, which will contain my answers to your interrogatories.” This ambitious book, according to Davis, would contain “a series of extraordinary revelations” that would outline a new system of scientific theology encompassing the natural and spiritual laws that governed all creation.
Later, in the fall of 1845, Davis ended his partnership with Gibson Smith and Levingston. In their place, Davis enlisted the help of a homeopathic physician in Bridgeport, Connecticut, one Dr. Silas S. Lyon, who would act as Davis’s new mesmeric operator. Davis and Lyon then moved to Manhattan, where they set up a clairvoyant medical practice in a local boarding house. In preparation for recording Davis’s revelations, they also recruited the help of the Reverend William Fishbough, a Universalist minister living in New Haven, Connecticut, to act as the scribe for the project. Davis and Lyon then arranged to have three formal witnesses regularly attend the trance lectures in order to provide eyewitness testimony concerning the process of dictation. Along with these witnesses, no less than twenty-three additional observers attended some of the proceedings, “ranging from one to six” guests per session. “Among the more noteworthy visitors,” Robert W. Delp notes, “were Edgar Allan Poe and the organizer of communitarian experiments, Albert Brisbane.” After approximately three months of preparation, in which Davis supported himself and Lyon by seeing patients in their clairvoyant medical practice, Davis finally started delivering the “lectures” on November 28, 1845. The ambitious prophet and precocious seer had only recently turned nineteen years old.
If presented as a tableau, Davis’s revelatory sessions would look similar to Smith’s translations with the seer stone. Both Smith and Davis would sit center stage in a room, their scribes near at hand writing furiously to keep pace, with a small but select audience of eyewitnesses to observe the proceedings. There were, of course, differences. Smith used a seer stone in an upturned hat to block out light, while Davis was blindfolded and induced into a mesmeric trance by his operator, Lyon. Nevertheless, some of the parallel mechanics of the sessions prove intriguing. For example, Davis, like Smith, dictated the majority of his work one phrase at a time, pausing after each phrase and waiting for the operator or scribe to repeat each line back to him. According to Davis, the purpose was “to make sure that each word was correctly heard and written.” Fishbough also described the dynamic: “A few words only are uttered at a time, which the clairvoyant requires to be repeated by Dr. Lyon, in order that he may know that he is understood. A pause then ensues until what he has said has been written, when he again proceeds.” In this phrase-by-phrase process, Davis appeared to slip in and out of his trance state: “the passage into and out of the spiritual state occurs at an average of about once every sentence.” Thus, Davis, like Smith, retained some form of conscious awareness of the development of the transcribed text.
In addition, Davis also spelled out unfamiliar words. When transcribing the term “Univercoelum,” a word that Davis coined to describe the original state of all the physical and spiritual components of the universe, Fishbough interrupted and asked, “What was that word?” Davis then “carefully spelled it, letter by letter, to make the scribe’s writing a matter of certainty.” Moreover, Davis never referred to notes, manuscripts, or books during his trance state—he was, after all, blindfolded. Neither did he review the physical manuscripts of his prior revelations before launching into new revelations. He did, however, claim to review visionary manifestations of the manuscripts in his clairvoyant state. Fishbough recalled, “At each entrance into the abnormal state for the purpose of lecturing, he [Davis] was capable, by an effort of a few moments’ duration, of reviewing all the manuscripts of his previous lectures.” From the very beginning of the project, Davis also claimed that in his trance state he had the ability to view and scan the entire outline of his work. Thus, through this clairvoyant process, Davis was able to start each new dictation session where the last one left off, without referring to material notes or texts—a feat that Smith had also performed during the translation of the Book of Mormon.
In another noteworthy comparison, Davis also explicitly equated his mesmeric trance visions with the same visionary perceptions that allegedly occurred with the use of seer stones. When Davis was still in Poughkeepsie and developing his newfound skills in clairvoyance, an “old English gentleman” by the name of Dr. Maryatt came for a visit and “brought an egg-shaped white crystal, into which he requested me [Davis] to look, and tell him what I saw.” Initially confused about how to make the seer stone operate, Davis eventually succeeded in invoking its power. Within the “glass” he saw visions that revealed Maryatt’s house, environs, and family circumstances in England. Later, when reflecting on the experience and how the seer stone worked, Davis observed that the object merely facilitated the same form of clairvoyance that he experienced with mesmerism: “it occurred to me that my gazing into it [the seer stone], with so much characteristic earnestness, had induced, temporarily, the state of conscious clairvoyance, which had enabled me first to see the landscape, house, paper, &c., and then, by simple concentration of thought, produced a miniature reflection of them in the glass before me.” This “conscious clairvoyance,” as Davis continued to describe it, allowed crystal-gazers to slip into a conscious trance-like state, “without going into sleep.”
Davis’s level of consciousness during the dictation of his revelations alerts us to another important similarity between Smith and Davis. Even though Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon and Davis’s trance lectures have both been analyzed in terms of automatic writing, neither of these two young seers was actually operating within that particular process. With automatic writing, the person receiving the revelations is the same person writing them, acting as a passive medium through whom some other disembodied spirit physically communicates a message. Though Scott C. Dunn has proposed that trance dictation and automatic writing “are only different techniques or expressions of the same underlying process,” the conflation of these modalities obliterates significant and crucial distinctions. Apart from the challenge that neither Smith nor Davis claimed to channel the voice of another spirit or supernatural being, for example, the argument contains an embedded and faulty assumption that a text arising from an oral performance would express the same content, language, and characteristics as a written effort (conscious or otherwise). But these two modes of composition inevitably express significant and crucial differences.
Moreover, Davis vehemently argued that his process of revelatory dictation did not equate to that of writing and speaking mediums: “how glaring becomes the misapprehension of those who advertise my lectures as ‘given through the mediumship of A. J. Davis’—as if my mind . . . were an insensible, unintelligent, and passive substance, or spout, through which disembodied personages express or promulgate their own specific opinions! This is an egregious error—a most unwholesome misrepresentation.” Davis did not passively channel other spirits but rather spoke actively as himself, communicating the enlightened knowledge and divine revelations that flooded into his mind during his transcendent state. When analyzing this process of performance, we find that neither the spontaneous utterances of automatic writing nor the free associations of extemporaneous trance speaking provides an adequate framework for the revelations and oral performances of either Davis or Smith.
Another point of comparison involves the time it took to produce Smith’s and Davis’s revelations, and their resulting lengths. Smith produced the Book of Mormon within a three-month span, while Davis’s revelations occurred over a period of fifteen months. In terms of actual working days, however, the disparity is not so great as these inclusive times might suggest. Scholars believe that Smith produced the Book of Mormon within a period ranging from fifty-seven to seventy-five working days, during which time he often worked at a full-time pace. And, as David Whitmer observed, “the days were long, and they [Smith and Cowdery] worked from morning till night.” Davis, on the other hand, supported himself and Lyon with the proceeds from their shared clairvoyant medical practice when he was not performing his revelations. Financial exigencies forced Davis to produce the lectures intermittently and on a part-time basis, while devoting the majority of his time to treating enough patients to cover the living expenses for himself and his partner. In all, Davis intermittently delivered 157 lectures, each varying in length “from forty minutes to about four hours.” If he could have worked “from morning till night,” as Smith had done, Davis theoretically could have produced at least two lectures per working day, spending a total amount of time that would have ranged from a low of one hour and twenty minutes per day to a high of eight hours. Thus, Davis’s total amount of dictation time, when converted to “full-time” days, equates to a rough estimate of 78.5 working days, and his series of revelatory lectures resulted in a work containing approximately 320,000 words.
When preparing the scribal manuscript for publication, Davis supervised the process but made few editorial corrections to the original outpouring of inspired words. Fishbough, who handled the preparations, stated, “With the exception of striking out a few sentences and supplying others, according to [Davis’s] direction, I have only found it necessary to correct the grammar, to prune out verbal redundancies, and to clarify such sentences as would to the general reader appear obscure.” Occasionally, the original manuscript was apparently illegible, requiring Fishbough to “reconstruct sentences” using “only the verbal materials found in the sentence as it first stood, preserving the peculiarities of style and mode of expression.” In perhaps the most invasive change, Fishbough indicated, “The arrangement of the work is the same as when delivered, except that in three instances contiguous paragraphs have been transposed for the sake of a closer connexion.” Finally, Fishbough asserted, “With these unimportant qualifications, the work may be considered as paragraph for paragraph, sentence for sentence, and word for word, as it was delivered by the author.” In this regard (apart from Fishbough’s transpositions), the final published text of The Principles of Nature parallels similar editorial modifications that appeared in the 1837 and 1840 editions of the Book of Mormon, in which Smith revised the grammar and made selective changes in both editions.
In terms of textual complexity, a comparison between Smith and Davis falls prey to subjective measurement, given that their texts are two fundamentally different products of oral performance. Smith produced an epic narrative containing a relatively complex collection of story episodes that included, as Grant Hardy has detailed, “flashbacks,” “embedded documents,” “year-by-year chronological markers through a century of judges,” “multiple wars,” “scriptural quotations and exegesis,” and “successions of rulers,” among several other standard narrative typologies. Hardy has further argued (curiously) that the stories are “original.” By comparison, Davis produced a series of lectures that outlined his vision of a scientific theology that would guide the world to a state of harmonious perfection. Such lectures, however, lacked the compelling drive of narrative structures filled with interesting, exotically named characters and dynamic storylines. Yet, as a systematic course of instruction that developed a new way of understanding the world, Davis’s lectures were never meant to be an epic narrative—a difference that hinders any direct comparison with the Book of Mormon. Evaluating the complexity of Davis’s thought therefore requires another perspective.
In terms of overall structure, The Principles of Nature contains three major divisions: “Part I.—The Key,” which establishes the fundamental framework of Davis’s ideas; “Part II.—The Revelation,” which Catherine L. Albanese describes as a “Swedenborgian-plus-‘popular-science’ section”; and “Part III.—The Application,” which ultimately provides a utopian vision of a harmonious society, or “The New Heaven and the New Earth.” Albanese also observes that “The Principles of Nature was a complexly combinative work” that moved “in emphatically metaphysical directions.” And, in spite of its “trance dictation and sententious prose,” the work “possessed a logic and coherence that were, in structural terms, clear.” This three-part division offers a simple yet effective organization for the entire work, though, from a structural viewpoint, it does not approach the complexity of the narrative twists and turns found in the Book of Mormon.
Moving beyond structure to evaluate the content, however, the reader discovers a sophisticated syncretism of contemporary scientific, theological, and philosophical thought. Though most of his ideas are now long outdated, especially with regard to scientific theories, Davis nevertheless stakes out positions and provides commentary on cutting-edge scientific theories of his day. And his philosophical forays reveal unexpected adaptations and developments of complex ideas. In the opening “Key,” for example, Davis sets about the task of reshaping the readers’ fundamental epistemologies, moving them away from standard theological narratives and traditional histories to novel views and assumptions informed by Enlightenment ideas, biblical criticism, scientific advances, and new philosophical perspectives. Davis alerts readers that their understanding of the world—how it operates, the nature of universal and divine laws, conceptions of God, and the spiritual nature of all things—is fundamentally distorted. For instance, as David Mihalyfy indicates, Davis addresses the issue of a historical Jesus, insisting rationally that Christ “was no apocalyptic prophet,” but a gifted (mortal) healer and, as Davis describes him, “the great Moral Reformer.” In a quasi-primitivist turn, Davis also reveals that in order to understand how the universe truly operates, we need to sweep away false traditions and conceptions (with an emphasis on traditional religious opinions) and go back to the beginning of creation to understand how the world came to be, how it developed into its current state, and the principles that will structure further development.
In doing so, Davis invokes an overt Neoplatonic concept of material reality, where tangible matter and material forms exist in concert with perfected ideals (their “ultimate” state): “forms and appearances are effects of matter in approximating to its future state of perfection; while its perfected state, or ultimate, is in return controlling and refining these substances and forms.” In this modification of Plato’s theory of forms, Davis extrapolates multiple “spheres” of existence, in which earthly matter interacts with its perfected ideal on higher planes of existence—planes that also offer error-free concepts, greater truths, and complete knowledge. But these relationships do not remain static. With this philosophical foundation, Davis incorporates contemporary scientific advancements into his philosophy to postulate a process of biological evolution.
Drawing on adapted concepts of Newtonian physics and laws of motion to theorize a mechanism for evolution (revising Newton’s concept of vis inertia and commenting on the relationships among rectilinear, curvilinear, and spiral motion) and incorporating contemporary studies in geology and paleobiology (the evolution of lower life forms observed in “the remains of the mollusca, radiata, articulata, and vertebrata” found in successive geological strata), Davis traces the origin, development, and transmutation of plants and animals in the natural world. Not one to avoid controversy, Davis further includes the evolution of “Man” (the human body, though not the spirit) as the pinnacle form of that evolutionary process. Thus, in his 1846 and 1847 trance lectures, Davis rejected a literal interpretation of the traditional story of Adam and Eve and the instantaneous six-day creation of all things and substituted a controversial model of biological evolution that contemporary scholars were fiercely debating in the years leading up to the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859.
Moreover, in a point critical to note, Davis did not simply regurgitate information from a wide range of contemporary source materials and fields of knowledge. Rather, he saw their interrelated connections (or presumed relationships) and used those links to construct the scaffolding of a new belief system. For instance, this modified conception of the universe provided Davis with a philosophical and scientific explanation for how his own trance states operated: while in trance, his spirit transcended this earthly state to the higher planes of existence, where he received pure and unadulterated knowledge, which, in turn, he would share with the world through his revelatory trance utterances. Through a series of adaptations and calculated borrowings, especially from Swedenborg, Davis amalgamated the disparate fields of his knowledge and beliefs into a cohesive and multifaceted cosmology that served his ultimate project of social reform. He was, in essence, a magpie prophet-scientist, drawing on diverse sources of knowledge in order to weave his own innovative patchwork quilt explaining the laws that governed all creation. When we further consider that Davis performed these lectures while blindfolded, at the ages of nineteen and twenty, without the aid of notes or manuscripts for easy reference, and all the while supporting himself and an associate, we might begin to understand why many of his observers believed that this barely educated, substantially illiterate, poverty-stricken son of a poor journeyman shoemaker must have been truly inspired.
Turning from content to form, Davis also displays a wide range of rhetorical devices on par with those found in the Book of Mormon. Because Fishbough kept his editorial changes to a minimum, The Principles of Nature preserves a number of interesting characteristics of Davis’s oral performance techniques, specifically regarding the use of rhetorical figures. Throughout the text, Davis makes use of such devices as anaphora (successive phrases beginning with the same word or words); antithesis (ideas set in opposition); epistrophe (successive phrases ending with the same word or words); various forms of parallelism; symploce (a combination of anaphora and epistrophe); zeugma (multiple phrases, often in a series or catalogue, controlled by a single verb); and, among many other devices, various types of “ring composition” or “envelope patterns” (also called simple and complex “chiasmus,” “inclusio,” and “inverted parallelism,” among other terms).
Indeed, Davis’s pervasive use of chiastic structures suggests that the various patterns of ring composition—patterns of repetition and expansion quite common in oral traditions—reflect a habit of mind in the organization of his thoughts. Scholarship has not yet examined Davis’s use of complex chiastic structures, though it is highly unlikely that Davis knew about or intentionally formed them, particularly when they often lack the precision and clarity of consciously constructed (and revised) literary texts. Davis’s style of dense repetition, however, allows for the ready imposition of chiastic patterns onto his thoughts. A cursory reading can locate numerous examples, which, though certainly produced unconsciously, rival similar complex patterns found in the Book of Mormon (see figures 1 and 2).
Given the prominence of complex chiastic structures and the techniques of ring composition (conscious or otherwise) in oral performances, it would appear that the scholarship on chiasmus in the Book of Mormon needs to address further critical questions regarding the differences between literary and orally derived chiastic structures, as well as revisiting the purported intentionality behind them. Attributing such structures exclusively to the presence of underlying Hebraic literary devices ignores the global pervasiveness of such structures in both spoken and literary contexts, creating yet another illusory buttress to faith that crumbles upon closer examination.
Fixations on Idiosyncratic Criteria
In discussions concerning the origins and nature of the Book of Mormon, the fixation on naturalistic comparisons continues to thrive as a prominent and insistent need. The persistent creation of arbitrary taxonomies that divide and subdivide lists of selective criteria in an effort to privilege a predetermined chosen text suggests that such naturalistic comparisons play a far more important role in the cultural performance of faith and belief in the Book of Mormon than is usually acknowledged (or theologically desirable). Such lists attempt to manufacture miracles with an impressive array of contested categories, such as natural versus supernatural composition; conscious versus unconscious production; the purported significance of lengthy texts; the fixation on (often irrelevant) stylistic differences; dubious lists of information that the speaker allegedly could not possibly have known; and, above all, the purported ignorance and illiteracy of the person producing the work. Given that such non-theological issues ideally do not participate in the confirmation of faith, the inordinate obsession with such naturalistic comparisons would seem to offer a troubling distraction, sending the tacit signal to the audience of believers that such comparisons and criteria must indeed be a crucial if unofficial component of faith.
The introduction of selective criteria, however, presents a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. We might, for example, create a new framework of naturalistic criteria, one calculated to dismiss Smith and the Book of Mormon in favor of Davis and The Principles of Nature: 1) The author or translator must be only twenty years of age or younger when he or she produces the work; 2) The author or translator cannot receive financial support from outside sources during the course of the project but must financially support himself or herself and an associate for the duration of the work; 3) The inspired text must consist of no less than 300,000 words, without being artificially expanded by the incorporation of extensive passages from other texts, especially the Bible; 4) When describing historical events and circumstances, the subject must frequently refer to known historical events and traditions that witnesses can independently verify for accuracy, using sources outside the text; 5) As evidence of truly divine revelation, the author must predict the existence of a planet in the solar system before the scientific community has discovered that same celestial body; and, finally, 6) When in a visionary state, the revelator must have the ability to utter phrases in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Sanskrit, even though the subject has never studied such languages, and then have a reputable university professor of Hebrew witness and verify such a feat. If we were to accept this arbitrary list of criteria, we might hail Andrew Jackson Davis as a true prophet and seer, while Joseph Smith would be disqualified at every point along the way.
While naturalistic catalogues prove popular as rhetorical tools of persuasion, and while the mobilization of exclusionary rhetoric and claims of textual exceptionalism might appear to buttress belief, such dependence on arbitrary naturalistic criteria runs the risk of making faith more vulnerable. Indeed, the damage might already be done: the common day-to-day expressions of belief in the Book of Mormon strongly suggest that the persistent turn to naturalist comparisons reveals an entanglement of personal opinion, belief, theory, and faith. Belief in the Book of Mormon becomes inextricably bound to disbelief in Smith’s ability to create it—a position that reveals the uncomfortable prospect that the foundation of faith contains limited mortal perceptions, impressionability, and finite experience.
With such potential hazards, we might pause for a moment to ask what cultural work these comparative lists of selective criteria are actually performing and inadvertently revealing—not just about the texts but about ourselves. Such projects, after all, cannot prove or disprove the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. They never will. Such lists merely consist of tailored, calculated requirements that artificially isolate a preferred outcome, even as they showcase the preconceptions and assumptions of those who create and/or employ them. Such special pleading thus puts our own biases into sharp relief. Even if a text involves unusual characteristics beyond anything that we might personally describe as “natural,” the conclusion that the text must therefore be “divine” reveals a fatal leap in logic. We thereby display a faulty line of syllogistic reasoning that equates things purportedly unique and allegedly inexplicable with things miraculous and divine, as if these concepts were all somehow synonymous.
The persistent valorization of such projects, which ultimately compete with the development of authentic faith and potentially threaten whatever faith may already exist, should therefore make us pause and question their real value. Though such catalogues of criteria aim to impress (and entertain) an audience of believers, and though they might initially appear to strengthen faith, their effects prove ultimately unreliable and illusory. Moreover, they obfuscate historical complexities, transforming the young Joseph Smith into a two-dimensional, illiterate, know-nothing boy, when a close reading of historical sources rather reveals a young man with a gifted intellect and ambitious desires for self-education and self-improvement. Perhaps most importantly, however, naturalistic sets of criteria reveal more about ourselves than they reveal about Joseph Smith or the origins of the Book of Mormon: instead of discovering eternal markers that signal the presence of the divine, we merely discover the limitations of our individual experience, the borders of our imagination, and the measure of our credulity.
 This essay is indebted to insights from Brent Metcalfe, David Rodes, Colby Townsend, and the editor and anonymous readers for Dialogue.
Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996), 1:542. Hereafter EMD.
 Joseph Smith Sr. may well have started the tradition. According to Fayette Lapham, a farmer from nearby Perinton (aka Perrinton), New York, who visited the Smith home in 1829 or 1830, Joseph Sr. referred to Joseph Jr. as “the illiterate.” EMD 1:457.
 Hugh B. Brown, “The Profile of a Prophet” (devotional, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, Oct. 4, 1955). Modified transcript. For an audio recording, see BYU Speeches, “The Profile of a Prophet | Hugh B. Brown,” YouTube video, 27:04, June 29, 2018, 17:10–19:55. The quotations follow my own transcription of the original audio recording.
 Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, edited by John W. Welch, vol. 8 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 221–22.
 For a common list of criteria, together with commentary, see Jerald and Sandra Tanner, “Book of Mormon Challenge,” Salt Lake City Messenger 107, Oct. 2006. For the 269,510-word count, see John W. Welch, “Timing the Translation of the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies Quarterly 57, no. 4 (2018): 22.
 Richard L. Bushman (panel discussion, “New Perspectives on Joseph Smith and Translation” conference, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, sponsored by USU Religious Studies and Faith Matters Foundation, Mar. 16, 2017). See Faith Matters Foundation, “The Translation Team—with highlights,” YouTube video, 18:53, Apr. 27, 2017, 3:30–4:06.
 As neither a doctrine nor principle of faith, the issue of plausibility falls technically outside the realm of theological apologetics.
 Loyd Isao Ericson, “Conceptual Confusion and the Building of Stumbling Blocks of Faith,” in Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics, edited by Blair G. Van Dyke and Loyd Isao Ericson (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2017), 209.
 J. Stanley Grimes describes how Davis came to the realization that he “was a prophet and a seer.” J. Stanley Grimes, The Mysteries of Human Nature Explained (Buffalo, N.Y.: R. M. Wanzer, 1857), 353.
 Andrew Jackson Davis, The Magic Staff: An Autobiography of Andrew Jackson Davis (New York: J. S. Brown, 1857), 173.
 Catherine L. Albanese aptly describes Davis’s work as “a new Bible of Nature.” See Catherine L. Albanese, A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007), 212. See also Grimes, Mysteries, 354. Brian Hales estimates that The Principles of Nature contains approximately 340,000 words, though I can only account for approximately 320,000. See Brian C. Hales, “Automatic Writing and The Book of Mormon: An Update,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 52, no. 2 (Summer 2019): 5.
 Anthony A. Walsh, “A Note on the Origin of ‘Modern’ Spiritualism,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 28, no. 2 (Apr. 1973): 170. See also Albanese, Republic of Mind, 218.
 For a sample of biographical sketches on Andrew Jackson Davis, see Albanese, Republic of Mind, 206–20, and Albanese, “On the Matter of Spirit: Andrew Jackson Davis and the Marriage of God and Nature,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 60, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 1–17. Robert W. Delp, “Andrew Jackson Davis: Prophet of American Spiritualism,” Journal of American History 54, no. 1 (June 1967): 43–56; Delp, “A Spiritualist in Connecticut: Andrew Jackson Davis, the Hartford Years, 1850–1854,” New England Quarterly 53, no. 3 (Sept. 1980): 345–62; and Delp, “Andrew Jackson Davis and Spiritualism,” in Pseudo-Science and Society in 19th-Century America, edited by Arthur Wrobel (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1987), 100–21. See also Grimes, Mysteries, 350–62.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 24–26, 68, 119.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 40, 51, 87, 118, 123, 136, 169–70, 177, 185.
 Grimes, Mysteries, 354, italics in the original.
 Grimes, Mysteries, xiv, italics in the original.
 Andrew Jackson Davis, The Principles of Nature, Her Divine Revelations, and a Voice to Mankind (New York: S. S. Lyon and Wm. Fishbough, 1847), ix.
 EMD, 1:27, spelling and punctuation modernized. Davis, describing himself in the third person, would assert that prior to his revelations he had only read one book in his lifetime “on a very unimportant subject” (later identified as The Three Spaniards , a Gothic melodrama by George Walker) and that he knew “nothing of grammar or the rules of language.” Magic Staff, 304–05.
 In spite of Davis’s claims, a careful reading of his autobiography suggests that he deliberately downplayed the actual amount of formal and informal education he received.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 110, 119; see also 94–95.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 160, 178.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 158, 191, 200 (“Rev. A. R. Bartlett” was a Universalist preacher).
 Davis, Magic Staff, 192.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 192–93, 199.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 201.
 Grimes, Mysteries, 350. Davis, Magic Staff, 201–02, 210.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 215.
 Davis, Principles of Nature, xii.
 Albanese, Republic of Mind, 207–08; Delp, “Andrew Jackson Davis: Prophet,” 44; Davis, Magic Staff, 238–45; for Davis’s identification of these visitors, see Magic Staff, 248.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 244.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 277.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 275; see also 276, 279.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 279. Likewise, Joseph Smith produced three recorded revelations (Doctrine and Covenants sections 3, 4, and 5) before the publication of the Book of Mormon.
 Albanese, Republic of Mind, 207.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 286.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 286.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 286.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 296–98. Albanese, Republic of Mind, 208.
 Albanese, Republic of Mind, 208; Delp, “Andrew Jackson Davis: Prophet,” 44; Davis, Magic Staff, 298; Davis, Principles of Nature, viii, xiii.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 299.
 Albanese, Republic of Mind, 208; Delp, “Andrew Jackson Davis: Prophet,” 44; Davis, Magic Staff, 300.
 Davis, Principles of Nature, xv; see also 2.
 Delp, “Andrew Jackson Davis: Prophet,” 44.
 Davis, Principles of Nature, xviii.
 Davis was born on August 11, 1826.
 For David Whitmer’s description of Smith’s dictation sessions, see EMD, 5:153–54.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 307.
 Davis, Principles of Nature, xviii.
 Davis, Principles of Nature, xviii.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 318.
 Davis, Principles of Nature, xvii.
 Davis, Principles of Nature, xx.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 299.
 See e.g., EMD, 1:542.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 266–68.
 Davis, Magic Staff, 268. Davis borrowed the term “conscious clairvoyance” (and plagiarized portions of text) from William Gregory’s observations on the use of seer stones. See William Gregory, Letters to a Candid Inquirer, on Animal Magnetism (London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly, 1851), 367–76.
 See e.g., Scott C. Dunn, “Automaticity and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon,” in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, edited by Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 17–46; Hales, “Automatic Writing,” 1–35; Robert A. Rees, “The Book of Mormon and Automatic Writing,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 15, no. 1 (2006): 4–17, 68–70.
 Dunn, “Automaticity,” 23.
 Anita M. Mühl conducted experiments with subjects narrating memories by dictation via crystal gazing and also automatic writing. Though the subjects described the same stories in both modes, the expression of events were inevitably different (e.g., alterations in phraseology, vocabulary, and narrative omissions and additions from one mode to the next); see Anita M. Mühl, “Automatic Writing Combined with Crystal Gazing as a Means of Recalling Forgotten Incidents,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology 19, no. 3 (Oct. 1924): 264–73. More recently, Alexandra A. Cleland and Martin J. Pickering observe that “language is clearly used differently in written and spoken production,” identifying differences in the use of passives, complex phrasal constructions, and size of vocabulary; see “Do Writing and Speaking Employ the Same Syntactic Representations?,” Journal of Memory and Language 54, no. 1 (2006): 185–98, esp. 185–86. In an oft reprinted article, David Crystal offers a concise list of distinctions between written and spoken language; see “Speaking of Writing and Writing of Speaking,” Longman Language Review 1 (repr. 2005): 1–5. For a more comprehensive analysis, see Douglas Biber, Variation Across Speech and Writing (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
 Davis, Magic Staff, 311–12, italics in the original.
 Davis referred to several different trance states, with different levels of consciousness, ranging from being oblivious to his surroundings to being acutely aware of his environment. For Davis’s sketch outline of four trance (“magnetic”) states, see Principles of Nature, 35–37. For his scribe Fishbough’s observations of different trance states, see Davis, Principles of Nature, xvii-xviii.
 For the historical context regarding the development of conscious and unconscious trance states, see Ann Taves, Fits, Trances and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999), 207–27.
 Fishbough states that the first lecture began on November 28, 1845, and the last ended on January 25, 1847; see Davis, Principles of Nature, xviii. In other words, Davis spent fourteen months of actual work time spanning a fifteen-month calendar period.
 For John Welch’s most recent estimate “of only 57 to 63 available full-time working days,” see Welch, “Timing the Translation,” 34.
 EMD, 5:104.
 Davis, Principles of Nature, xiv.
 Davis, Principles of Nature, xviii.
 Davis, Principles of Nature, xviii–xix.
 For a concise description of Smith’s changes, see Paul C. Gutjahr, The Book of Mormon: A Biography (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2012), 63–65.
 Grant Hardy, ed., The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Maxwell Institute Study Edition (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2018), 621.
 Hardy recently claimed that one of the features of the Book of Mormon is its “originality,” specifically stating that, “the content [of the Book of Mormon] is original.” See Grant Hardy, “Textual Criticism and the Book of Mormon,” in Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Examining Major Early Sources, edited by Mark Ashurst-McGee, Robin Scott Jensen, and Sharalyn D. Howcroft (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 39. In the absence of clarification, Hardy’s claim is debatable, given the large body of research in literary criticism that hotly contests the meaning of “originality” in the way that Hardy appears to use the term. The stories of the Book of Mormon, though often “original” with regard to surface features, nevertheless rely heavily on preexisting core narrative templates for their shape and structure.
 Davis, Principles of Nature, xxiii; Albanese, Republic of Mind, 210.
 Albanese, Republic of Mind, 209.
 David Mihalyfy, “What They Don’t Want You to Know About Jesus Christ and the Seer of Poughkeepsie,” Contingent Magazine, June 21, 2019; Davis, Principles of Nature, 434. For a detailed analysis of Davis’s views on a historical Jesus and biblical criticism, see David Francis Mihalyfy, “Heterodoxies and the Historical Jesus: Biblical Criticism of the Gospels in the U.S., 1794–1860” (PhD diss., University of Chicago, 2017), esp. 7, 180–84, 193–217.
 Davis, Principles of Nature, 47.
 For Davis’s references to Newton’s laws, see Principles of Nature, 57, 69. For his discussion on lower life forms, see 78–79. For evolution, see e.g., 57–85.
 Davis situated his theory in what we describe today as intelligent design. See Principles of Nature, 70–76, 92. For an unambiguous statement on the evolutionary process resulting in humankind, see 328.
 Darwin was not, of course, the first to propose a theory of biological evolution. Rather, he proposed new theories regarding the mechanisms driving the transmutation of species (e.g., natural selection). For a contemporary study that acknowledges the controversies of biological evolution and includes the categories of Radiata, Mollusca, Articulata, and Vertebrata, see Charles Girard, “Life in its Physical Aspects,” Proceedings of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science (annual meeting, National Institute for the Promotion of Science, Washington, DC, Jan. 15, 1855), 2–22, esp. 20–22.
 For a detailed and helpful overview of several species of parallelism and a selection of rhetorical devices in the Book of Mormon, see Donald W. Parry, Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted, 2nd ed. (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2007), xi–xlvi.
 The final paragraph on page 6 of The Principles of Nature (1847) offers several common examples: “This ignorance still exists; this bigotry and superstition still exist” (parallelism, symploce); “It has in its long career,” “It has obstructed,” “It has obscured,” “It has covered,” “It has sapped,” “It has produced” (anaphora, parallelism); “Wisdom/folly,” “Knowledge/ignorance,” “Happiness/misery” (antithesis). Such devices are ubiquitous in oral traditions as storytelling techniques, as well as in written texts. Thus, any assertion that such devices provide evidence of the Book of Mormon’s literary (written) origins faces the added burden of proving how such devices were exclusively literary constructions and not orally derived features.
 See e.g., Hales, “Automatic Writing,” 1–35. Rees, “The Book of Mormon and Automatic Writing,” 4–17; 68–70.
 Albanese notes how Davis “predicted an eighth [planet]—in a lecture delivered six months before the discovery of Neptune.” Albanese, Republic of Mind, 211. George Bush, a New York University professor of Hebrew and a devoted Swedenborgian, stated, “I can most solemnly affirm, that I have heard him correctly quote the Hebrew language in his Lectures.” Bush also claimed that Davis dictated phrases “from the ancient languages,” including “long extracts from the Sanscrit [sic].” See George Bush, Mesmer and Swedenborg, 2nd ed. (New York: John Allen, 1847), 161, 203. The “ancient languages” would be later identified as “Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” See Theophilus Parsons, “Review,” New Jerusalem Magazine 20, no. 5 (Boston: Otis Clapp, Jan. 1847), 190.[post_title] => The Limits of Naturalistic Criteria for the Book of Mormon: Comparing Joseph Smith and Andrew Jackson Davis [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 53.3 (Fall 2020): 73–103
Davis compares the two men, saying “Davis, like Smith, was raised in a poor household and received little formal education—Davis, in fact, would claim to have received only “little more than five months” of schooling.” [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-limits-of-naturalistic-criteria-for-the-book-of-mormon-comparing-joseph-smith-and-andrew-jackson-davis [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-06-16 12:30:17 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-06-16 12:30:17 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=26727 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Plain and Precious Things Lost: The Small Plates of Nephi
Dialogue 52.4 (Winter 2019): 85
Such inconsistencies may cause some readers to question the credibility of the text. Upon observing doctrinal andprophetic variation within the Book of Mormon, some dismiss the book’s divinity
Such inconsistencies may cause some readers to question the credibility of the text. Upon observing doctrinal andprophetic variation within the Book of Mormon, some dismiss the book’s divinity [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => plain-and-precious-things-lost-the-small-plates-of-nephi [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 15:56:45 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 15:56:45 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=23879 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Empirical Witnesses of the Gold Plates
Dialogue 52.2 (Summer 2019): 59–84
Due to the fact that visiting with angels isn’t part of the normal human experience, it makes it hard for historians to prove that it happened through an academic investigation. The best way, as discussed by the author, to determine what really happened is by studying other individual’s first-hand accounts about the Gold Plates.
The best way, as discussed by the author, to determine what really happened is by studying other individual’s first-hand accounts about the Gold Plates.[post_title] => Empirical Witnesses of the Gold Plates [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 52.2 (Summer 2019): 59–84
Due to the fact that visiting with angels isn’t part of the normal human experience, it makes it hard for historians to prove that it happened through an academic investigation. The best way, as discussed by the author, to determine what really happened is by studying other individual’s first-hand accounts about the Gold Plates. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => empirical-witnesses-of-the-gold-plates [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 15:57:43 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 15:57:43 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=23880 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
The Gold Plates and Ancient Metal Epigraphy
Dialogue 52.2 (Summer 2019):37–58
Ryan Thomas highlights the different metal writing cultures from around the same time as the Book of Mormon periods to see if it is historically likely for the Gold Plates to exist from that time period.
Ryan Thomas highlights the different metal writing cultures from around the same time as the Book of Mormon periods to see if it is historically likely for the Gold Plates to exist from that time period.[post_title] => The Gold Plates and Ancient Metal Epigraphy [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 52.2 (Summer 2019):37–58
Ryan Thomas highlights the different metal writing cultures from around the same time as the Book of Mormon periods to see if it is historically likely for the Gold Plates to exist from that time period. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-gold-plates-and-ancient-metal-epigraphy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 15:58:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 15:58:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=23881 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Automatic Writing and the Book of Mormon An Update
Dialogue 52.2 (Spring 2019):1–58
ttributing the Book of Mormon’s origin to supernatural forces has worked well for Joseph Smith’s believers, then as well as now, but not so well for critics who seem certain natural abilities were responsible. For over 180 years, several secular theories have been advanced as explanations.
ttributing the Book of Mormon’s origin to supernatural forces has worked well for Joseph Smith’s believers, then as well as now, but not so well for critics who seem certain natural abilities were responsible. For over 180 years, several secular theories have been advanced as explanations. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => automatic-writing-and-the-book-of-mormon-an-update [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 16:00:08 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 16:00:08 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=23877 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Mexicans, Tourism, and Book of Mormon Geography
Dialogue 50.2 (Summer 2017):55–88
Maintaining a conviction of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is no easy task in the era of DNA studies, archaeological excavations, and aggressive attacks by evangelical Protestants. Latter-day Saints cultivate commitment to the veracity of the Book of Mormon in many different ways.
Maintaining a conviction of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is no easy task in the era of DNA studies, archaeological excavations, and aggressive attacks by evangelical Protestants. Latter-day Saints cultivate commitment to the veracity of the Book of Mormon in many different ways. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => mexicans-tourism-and-book-of-mormon-geography [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 16:02:15 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 16:02:15 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=19013 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
From the Pulpit: Learning to Read with the Book of Mormon
Dialogue 48.1 (Spring 2015):169–177
In this “From the Pulpit,” Jared Hickman discussed the self-confessed weaknesses of multiple authors in the Book of Mormon, indicating that the text is not the literal word of God. He observes that it still has sacred truths to teach us including on racism.
In this “From the Pulpit,” Jared Hickman discussed the self-confessed weaknesses of multiple authors in the Book of Mormon, indicating that the text is not the literal word of God. He observes that it still has sacred truths to teach us including on racism.[post_title] => From the Pulpit: Learning to Read with the Book of Mormon [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 48.1 (Spring 2015):169–177
In this “From the Pulpit,” Jared Hickman discussed the self-confessed weaknesses of multiple authors in the Book of Mormon, indicating that the text is not the literal word of God. He observes that it still has sacred truths to teach us including on racism. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => from-the-pulpit-learning-to-read-with-the-book-of-mormon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 16:26:35 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 16:26:35 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=9356 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Archaic Pronouns and Verbs in the Book of Mormon: What Inconsistent Usage Tells Us about Translation Theories
Dialogue 44.3 (Fall 2014):53–101
Initially, I intended only one article on the usage of archaic pronouns and the implications of certain irregularities. But as I delved deeper into the implications, particularly what the erratic usage suggests about the translation of the Book of Mormon, it became obvious that this particular detour needed to stand alone as a companion piece to the main article
Initially, I intended only one article on the usage of archaic pronouns and the implications of certain irregularities. But as I delved deeper into the implications, particularly what the erratic usage suggests about the translation of the Book of Mormon, it became obvious that this particular detour needed to stand alone as a companion piece to the main article [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => archaic-pronouns-and-verbs-in-the-book-of-mormon-what-inconsistent-usage-tells-us-about-translation-theories [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 16:26:43 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 16:26:43 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=9389 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Hospitality in the Book of Mormon
Dialogue 47.1 (Spring 2014):24–57
his article will examine hospitality as it is found in the Book of Mormon. We will look at instances when a person (or group) invites an outsider (or group of outsiders) into the home or community, making note of how the hospitality is exercised, what motivates it, what role it plays in the Book of Mormon narrative, and what spiritual or religious dimensions it is assigned.
his article will examine hospitality as it is found in the Book of Mormon. We will look at instances when a person (or group) invites an outsider (or group of outsiders) into the home or community, making note of how the hospitality is exercised, what motivates it, what role it plays in the Book of Mormon narrative, and what spiritual or religious dimensions it is assigned. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => hospitality-in-the-book-of-mormon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 16:28:54 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 16:28:54 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=9423 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
The Book of Mormon, the Early Nineteenth-Century Debates over Universalism, and the Development of the Novel Mormon Doctrines of Ultimate Rewards and Punishments
Dialogue 47.1 (Spring 2014):1–23
This conclusion is obviously problematic, as it implies that the early Church repudiated teachings from the Book of Mormon immediately following its publication. Thus there is a need for a reassessment of the relation between early nineteenth-century Universalism and the teachings of the Book of Mormon and subsequent revelations.
This conclusion is obviously problematic, as it implies that the early Church repudiated teachings from the Book of Mormon immediately following its publication. Thus there is a need for a reassessment of the relation between early nineteenth-century Universalism and the teachings of the Book of Mormon and subsequent revelations. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-book-of-mormon-the-early-nineteenth-century-debates-over-universalism-and-the-development-of-the-novel-mormon-doctrines-of-ultimate-rewards-and-punishments [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 16:30:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 16:30:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=9422 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Association of Mormon Letters Conference: “For All Things Must Fail”: A Post-Structural Approach to the Book of Mormon
Dialogue 45.3 (Fall 2013):138–177
In this paper, I argue that this preoccupation with structural collapse legitimizes a critical consideration of the way that language functions in the book, rendering the Book of Mormon particularly well-suited to a reading that employs the techniques of post-structural criticism.
In this paper, I argue that this preoccupation with structural collapse legitimizes a critical consideration of the way that language functions in the book, rendering the Book of Mormon particularly well-suited to a reading that employs the techniques of post-structural criticism. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => association-of-mormon-letters-conference-for-all-things-must-fail-a-post-structural-approach-to-the-book-of-mormon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 16:48:52 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 16:48:52 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=9564 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
A Gentile Recommends the Book of Mormon
Dialogue 45.3 (Fall 2013):188–206
The scripture I have in mind, of course, is the Book of Mormon. What follows is a Gentile’s appreciation—even recommendation—of this well-known but largely unread example of worldclass scripture.
The scripture I have in mind, of course, is the Book of Mormon. What follows is a Gentile’s appreciation—even recommendation—of this well-known but largely unread example of worldclass scripture. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => a-gentile-recommends-the-book-of-mormon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 16:49:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 16:49:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=9786 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Response to Earl M. Wunderli's "Critique of Alma 36 as an Extended Chiasm"
Dialogue 39.3 (Fall 2007):188–206
Others, including Wunderli, hold that the proposed chiasms in the Book of Mormon are not deliberate applications of the chiastic form and ascribe their chiastic structure to the ingenuity of the analyst, rather than to the intent of the author.
Others, including Wunderli, hold that the proposed chiasms in the Book of Mormon are not deliberate applications of the chiastic form and ascribe their chiastic structure to the ingenuity of the analyst, rather than to the intent of the author. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => response-to-earl-m-wunderlis-critique-of-alma-36-as-an-extended-chiasm [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 16:59:14 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 16:59:14 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=10296 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Critique of Alma 36 as an Extended Chiasm
Dialogue 38.4 (Winter 2006):105–156
He has written about it at least four times. It reflects most of the problems with all of his extended chiasms. My argument is that he has imposed chiasmus on the Book of Mormon where none was intended.
He has written about it at least four times. It reflects most of the problems with all of his extended chiasms. My argument is that he has imposed chiasmus on the Book of Mormon where none was intended. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => critique-of-alma-36-as-an-extended-chiasm [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:00:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:00:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=10382 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Lehi on the Great Issues: Book of Mormon Theology in Early Nineteenth-Century Perspective
Dialogue 38.4 (Winter 2006):83–104
Thus, regardless of how one chooses to resolve the issues surrounding its origins, one must conclude that the Book of Mormon's theological arguments should be seen as designed to be read and understood by its early nineteenth-century audience.
Thus, regardless of how one chooses to resolve the issues surrounding its origins, one must conclude that the Book of Mormon's theological arguments should be seen as designed to be read and understood by its early nineteenth-century audience. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => lehi-on-the-great-issues-book-of-mormon-theology-in-early-nineteenth-century-perspective [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:02:39 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:02:39 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=10381 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
A Marvelous Work and a Possession: Book of Mormon Historicity as Postcolonialism
Dialogue 38.4 (Winter 2006):45–82
the original text, unfortunately, no longer exists on this earth, and we are left only with the assurances of a "translator" that the testimony contained in the record is "true," although we do not, in fact, have even the complete text as it left the hand of the translator/scribe.
the original text, unfortunately, no longer exists on this earth, and we are left only with the assurances of a "translator" that the testimony contained in the record is "true," although we do not, in fact, have even the complete text as it left the hand of the translator/scribe. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => a-marvelous-work-and-a-possession-book-of-mormon-historicity-as-postcolonialism [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:04:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:04:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=10377 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Simply Implausible: DNA and a Mesoamerican Setting for the Book of Mormon
Dialogue 36.4 (Winter 2004):129–167
Instead of lending support to an Israelite origin as posited by Mormon scripture, genetic data have confirmed already existing archaeological, cultural, linguistic, and biological data, pointing to migrations from Asia as "the primary source of American Indian origins
Instead of lending support to an Israelite origin as posited by Mormon scripture, genetic data have confirmed already existing archaeological, cultural, linguistic, and biological data, pointing to migrations from Asia as "the primary source of American Indian origins [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => simply-implausible-dna-and-a-mesoamerican-setting-for-the-book-of-mormon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:07:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:07:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=10595 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon
Dialogue 36.4 (Winter 2004):109–128
DID JOSEPH SMITH WRITE the Book of Mormon? To this over-familiar question the orthodox Latter-day Saint answer is a resounding "No" because the official belief is that a series of men with quasi-biblical names wrote the book over many centuries.
DID JOSEPH SMITH WRITE the Book of Mormon? To this over-familiar question the orthodox Latter-day Saint answer is a resounding "No" because the official belief is that a series of men with quasi-biblical names wrote the book over many centuries. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => joseph-smith-in-the-book-of-mormon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:08:42 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:08:42 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=10594 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Scrying for the Lord: Magic, Mysticism, and the Origins of the Book of Mormon
Dialogue 36.4 (Winter 2004):109–128
JOSEPH SMITH GREW UP in a time and place where folk magic was an accepted part of the landscape. Before he was a prophet, he was a diviner, or more specifically, a scryer who used his peepstone to discover the location of buried treasure.
JOSEPH SMITH GREW UP in a time and place where folk magic was an accepted part of the landscape. Before he was a prophet, he was a diviner, or more specifically, a scryer who used his peepstone to discover the location of buried treasure. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => scrying-for-the-lord-magic-mysticism-and-the-origins-of-the-book-of-mormon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:10:11 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:10:11 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=10592 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the American Renaissance
Dialogue 35.3 (Fall 2003):9a–128
I am a literary critic who has spent a professional lifetime reading, teaching, and writing about literary texts. Much of my interest in and approach to the Book of Mormon lies with the text—though not just as a field for scholarly exploration.
I am a literary critic who has spent a professional lifetime reading, teaching, and writing about literary texts. Much of my interest in and approach to the Book of Mormon lies with the text—though not just as a field for scholarly exploration. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => joseph-smith-the-book-of-mormon-and-the-american-renaissance [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:11:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:11:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=10764 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events
Dialogue 35.3 (Fall 2003):127–168
DURING THE PAST FEW DECADES, a number of LDS scholars have developed various "limited geography" models of where the events of the Book of Mormon occurred. These models contrast with the traditional western hemisphere model, which is still the most familiar to Book of Mormon readers.
DURING THE PAST FEW DECADES, a number of LDS scholars have developed various "limited geography" models of where the events of the Book of Mormon occurred. These models contrast with the traditional western hemisphere model, which is still the most familiar to Book of Mormon readers. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => critique-of-a-limited-geography-for-book-of-mormon-events [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:15:56 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:15:56 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=10762 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Hebraicisms, Chiasmus and Other Internal Evidence for Ancient Authorship in Green Eggs and Ham
Dialogue 33.4 (Winter 2001):127–173
Upon an initial and cursory reading, the book appears to be a simple morality play. A zealous purveyor of an unusual gustatory selection hawks his wares to an Everyman, whose initial biases preclude his acceptance of the unfamiliar.
Upon an initial and cursory reading, the book appears to be a simple morality play. A zealous purveyor of an unusual gustatory selection hawks his wares to an Everyman, whose initial biases preclude his acceptance of the unfamiliar. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => hebraicisms-chiasmus-and-other-internal-evidence-for-ancient-authorship-in-green-eggs-and-ham [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:17:30 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:17:30 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=10893 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Parallelomania and the Study of Latter-day Scripture: Confirmation, Coincidence, or the Collective Unconscious?
Dialogue 33.2 (Summer 2001):139–173
This article looks at some of the ways parallels have been used by Nibley in the exposition of latter-day scripture, the types of parallels employed, and some of the problems that arise from this comparative exercise.
This article looks at some of the ways parallels have been used by Nibley in the exposition of latter-day scripture, the types of parallels employed, and some of the problems that arise from this comparative exercise. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => parallelomania-and-the-study-of-latter-day-scripture-confirmation-coincidence-or-the-collective-unconscious [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:19:02 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:19:02 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=10934 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Joseph Smith's Interpretation of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon
Dialogue 31.4 (Winter 1999):190–199
It is noteworthy because, instead of laying out the original historical meaning of Isaiah, it reapplies the text to the time of Joseph Smith and to the course of Jewish and Christian history up to his time.
It is noteworthy because, instead of laying out the original historical meaning of Isaiah, it reapplies the text to the time of Joseph Smith and to the course of Jewish and Christian history up to his time. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => joseph-smiths-interpretation-of-isaiah-in-the-book-of-mormon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:23:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:23:04 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=11105 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Reflections on LDS Disbelief in the Book of Mormon as History
Dialogue 30.3 (Fall 1999):90–103
To average LDS church members in 1909, Roberts's New Witnesses for God substantiated their beliefs and further embellished his stature for them as a historian and defender of the Book of Mormon. But only thirteen years later Roberts was to change his mind and that dramatically.
To average LDS church members in 1909, Roberts's New Witnesses for God substantiated their beliefs and further embellished his stature for them as a historian and defender of the Book of Mormon. But only thirteen years later Roberts was to change his mind and that dramatically. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => reflections-on-lds-disbelief-in-the-book-of-mormon-as-history [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:24:12 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:24:12 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=11263 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
A Mosaic for a Religious Counterculture: The Bible in the Book of Mormon
Dialogue 29.4 (Winter 1998):59–83
THE BOOK OF MORMON HAS OCCASIONALLY been portrayed as a deficient first novel. Its characters appear flat and stereotypical; the plots and characters seem to lack moral subtlety; and so on. Should we wonder that today's high literary circles ignore it?
THE BOOK OF MORMON HAS OCCASIONALLY been portrayed as a deficient first novel. Its characters appear flat and stereotypical; the plots and characters seem to lack moral subtlety; and so on. Should we wonder that today's high literary circles ignore it? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => a-mosaic-for-a-religious-counterculture-the-bible-in-the-book-of-mormon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:25:45 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:25:45 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=11364 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
The Structure of the Book of Mormon: A Theory of Evolutionary Development
Dialogue 29.2 (Summer 1998):129–154
WHEN JOSEPH SMITH BEGAN TO DICTATE the Book of Mormon, he did not understand the structure the book would ultimately take. He did not know that the first part of the manuscript would be lost, resulting in a major structural change in the first quarter of the book.
WHEN JOSEPH SMITH BEGAN TO DICTATE the Book of Mormon, he did not understand the structure the book would ultimately take. He did not know that the first part of the manuscript would be lost, resulting in a major structural change in the first quarter of the book. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-structure-of-the-book-of-mormon-a-theory-of-evolutionary-development [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:30:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:30:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=11437 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Apologetic and Critical Assumptions About Book of Mormon Historicity
Dialogue 26.3 (Summer 1995):163–180
FOR TRADITION-MINDED MEMBERS of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints the Book of Mormon's historicity is a given: Book of Mormon events actually occurred and its ancient participants existed in ancient history
FOR TRADITION-MINDED MEMBERS of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints the Book of Mormon's historicity is a given: Book of Mormon events actually occurred and its ancient participants existed in ancient history [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => apologetic-and-critical-assumptions-about-book-of-mormon-historicity [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:30:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:30:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=11793 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Book of Mormon Stories That My Teachers Kept From Me
Dialogue 24.4 (Winter 1993):15–50
n fact, it may be no more than a kind of perversity that brings me to admit what I will tell you now, namely, that when it comes to the Book of Mormon, that most correct of books, whose pedigree we love passionately to debate and whose very namesakes we have, all of us, become, I stand mostly with Mark Twain.
n fact, it may be no more than a kind of perversity that brings me to admit what I will tell you now, namely, that when it comes to the Book of Mormon, that most correct of books, whose pedigree we love passionately to debate and whose very namesakes we have, all of us, become, I stand mostly with Mark Twain. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => book-of-mormon-stories-that-my-teachers-kept-from-me [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:32:29 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:32:29 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=12035 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
The Book of Mormon as a Modern Expansion of an Ancient Source
Dialogue 20.1 (Spring 1987): 69–75
EVEN A CASUAL REFERENCE to studies treating the Book of Mormon reveals a range of divergent explanations of its origins. At one extreme are those who are skeptical of the book's claims to antiquity who generally conclude that it is a pious fraud, written by Joseph Smith from information available in his immediate environment.
EVEN A CASUAL REFERENCE to studies treating the Book of Mormon reveals a range of divergent explanations of its origins. At one extreme are those who are skeptical of the book's claims to antiquity who generally conclude that it is a pious fraud, written by Joseph Smith from information available in his immediate environment. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-book-of-mormon-as-a-modern-expansion-of-an-ancient-source [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:42:29 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:42:29 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=15871 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
B.H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon: Studies of the Book of Mormon
Dialogue 19.4 (Winter 1988):157–192
The major problem with the "Study" is that, if one takes it as anything more than an analysis of possibilities, it must be viewed as an example of the genetic fallacy (that something can be explained solely by its cultural context).
The major problem with the "Study" is that, if one takes it as anything more than an analysis of possibilities, it must be viewed as an example of the genetic fallacy (that something can be explained solely by its cultural context). [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => b-h-roberts-and-the-book-of-mormon-studies-of-the-book-of-mormon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:35:25 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:35:25 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=15923 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Sign or Scripture: Approaches to the Book of Mormon
Dialogue 19.1 (Spring 1986): 69–75
How does the Book of Mormon present the basic doctrines of the gospel? What role should the Book of Mormon play in our religious and intellectual lives?
How does the Book of Mormon present the basic doctrines of the gospel? What role should the Book of Mormon play in our religious and intellectual lives?[post_title] => Sign or Scripture: Approaches to the Book of Mormon [post_excerpt] => Dialogue 19.1 (Spring 1986): 69–75
How does the Book of Mormon present the basic doctrines of the gospel? What role should the Book of Mormon play in our religious and intellectual lives? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => sign-or-scripture-approaches-to-the-book-of-mormon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:40:40 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:40:40 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=15983 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Book of Mormon Usage in Early LDS Theology
Dialogue 17.3 (Fall 1984): 37–75
As one step in that direction, this article explores Book of Mormon usage in the pre-Utah period (1830—46), and seeks answers to the following questions: Which passages from the Book of Mormon were cited and with what frequency? How were they understood?
As one step in that direction, this article explores Book of Mormon usage in the pre-Utah period (1830—46), and seeks answers to the following questions: Which passages from the Book of Mormon were cited and with what frequency? How were they understood? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => book-of-mormon-usage-in-early-lds-theology [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:44:15 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:44:15 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=16144 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
"Is There Any Way to Escape These Difficulties?": The Book of Mormon Studies of B.H. Roberts
Dialogue 17.2 (Summer 1984): 96–105
In 1979 and 1981, members of the Roberts family gave copies of these works to the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. Roberts's two studies, with descriptive correspondence, will be published this year by the University of Illinois Press.4
In 1979 and 1981, members of the Roberts family gave copies of these works to the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. Roberts's two studies, with descriptive correspondence, will be published this year by the University of Illinois Press.4 [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => is-there-any-way-to-escape-these-difficulties-the-book-of-mormon-studies-of-b-h-roberts [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:50:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:50:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=16167 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Dialogue 16.2 (Summer 1983): 39–45
This paper examines Isaiah's prophecies in their historical context and compares their meaning as a message for his time with the expanded meaning that Christians — and specifically Mormons — have since applied to them thousands of years later.
This paper examines Isaiah's prophecies in their historical context and compares their meaning as a message for his time with the expanded meaning that Christians — and specifically Mormons — have since applied to them thousands of years later. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => isaiah-updated [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:52:03 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:52:03 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=16267 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Textual Variants in Book of Mormon Manuscripts
Dialogue 10.4 (Winter 1977): 10–45
A great value of these early manuscripts is that for the most part they substantiate the correctness of the present Book of Mormon text—fully 99.9% of the text is published correctly. In textual criticism, however, evidence should be weighed, not counted, since a unique reading in a reliable source may be better than any number of readings in less reliable sources.
A great value of these early manuscripts is that for the most part they substantiate the correctness of the present Book of Mormon text—fully 99.9% of the text is published correctly. In textual criticism, however, evidence should be weighed, not counted, since a unique reading in a reliable source may be better than any number of readings in less reliable sources. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => textual-variants-in-book-of-mormon-manuscripts [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:53:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:53:53 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=16912 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Beowulf and Nephi: A Literary View of the Book of Mormon
Dialogue 4.3 (Fall 1971): 42–45
It is tempting, of course, to redress the Book's limited literary impress by recourse to history, sociology, psychology, and demonology. It is tempting to say that a hundred and forty years in the literary marketplace is too limited a test for such a grand design — but entire literary movements, like the preRaphaelites, have come and gone in the same period
It is tempting, of course, to redress the Book's limited literary impress by recourse to history, sociology, psychology, and demonology. It is tempting to say that a hundred and forty years in the literary marketplace is too limited a test for such a grand design — but entire literary movements, like the preRaphaelites, have come and gone in the same period [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => beowulf-and-nephi-a-literary-view-of-the-book-of-mormon [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:55:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:55:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=17636 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Ancient America and the Book of Mormon Revisited
Dialogue 4.2 (Summer 1971): 82–85
Secular scholarship and L.D.S. studies of archaeology and the Book of Mormon have had a discordant dialogue for some time. The scripture asserts, for example, that the civilizations it describes in ancient America had their fundamental inspiration in migrations from the Near East.
Secular scholarship and L.D.S. studies of archaeology and the Book of Mormon have had a discordant dialogue for some time. The scripture asserts, for example, that the civilizations it describes in ancient America had their fundamental inspiration in migrations from the Near East. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => ancient-america-and-the-book-of-mormon-revisited [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:59:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:59:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=17663 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Book of Mormon Archaeology: The Myths and the Alternatives
Dialogue 4.2 (Summer 1971): 73–76
Church members, from some General Authorities to some Sunday School teachers, are generally impressed with and concerned about "scientific proof" of the Book of Mormon. As a practicing scientist and Church member, I am singularly unconcerned about such studies — in fact, when it comes to such matters, I am hyper-conservative.
Church members, from some General Authorities to some Sunday School teachers, are generally impressed with and concerned about "scientific proof" of the Book of Mormon. As a practicing scientist and Church member, I am singularly unconcerned about such studies — in fact, when it comes to such matters, I am hyper-conservative. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => book-of-mormon-archaeology-the-myths-and-the-alternatives [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 17:59:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 17:59:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=17660 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Toward a History of Ancient America
Dialogue 4.2 (Summer 1971): 65–68
If there is no history of ancient Antarctica, there is a valid reason for it. Stone Age man penetrated every continent except Antarctica, and until modern times, Antarctica was unexplored
If there is no history of ancient Antarctica, there is a valid reason for it. Stone Age man penetrated every continent except Antarctica, and until modern times, Antarctica was unexplored [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => toward-a-history-of-ancient-america [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-09-28 18:00:12 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-09-28 18:00:12 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.dialoguejournal.com/?post_type=dj_articles&p=17661 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => dj_articles [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) 1
Prospects for the Study of the Book of Mormon as a Work of American Literature
Dialogue 3.1 (Spring 1970): 42–45
No one will want to deny that the Book of Mormon has been a book of considerable impact and importance in America, insofar as it has affected the lives of many millions of citizens; yet it has never really been counted in the canon of American literature.
This month, we are looking at the history of scholarship on the Book of Mormon. There was so much content on this that I have decided to break it into two episodes. Part 1 in this episode will cover though the 1990s—a key moment of a real ﬁssure in Book of Mormon scholarship—while Part 2 in next month’s episode will go over the 2000s to the present.
The Book of Mormon is easily the most important product of the Restoration. It is a narrative that starts in Jerusalem in 600 BCE, a little more than a decade before Jerusalem is sacked by the Babylonians. The protagonist Lehi is a prophet enjoined to take his family to a promised land, which ends up being on the American continent. Two of his sons factionalize into the Nephites and Lamanites who are locked in battle for much of the book, but the principle story is about how this group prophesied of Jesus Christ before his birth and were visited by him after his resurrection. It then tells the story of the destruction of the Nephites and the rise of the Lamanites in the last days who would come to know Jesus Christ through this record.
Joseph Smith called it the “keystone of our religion.” For many, the entire fate of the church itself stands or falls on the Book of Mormon. This means that one of the key questions has been whether it is a historical record or a product of the nineteenth century. We are going to think a bit about how this binary has structured the scholarship around the Book of Mormon, driving critical and apologetic efforts alike. And there have been many efforts to break this impasse! The nature of the Book of Mormon has also been bound up with another of Joseph Smith’s translation projects, the Book of Abraham. I got over this story in a previous episode, but long story short, the original manuscripts of the Book of Abraham were rediscovered in the the 1960s and were not related to Joseph Smith’s translation at all—thus calling into question the nature of the Book of Mormon.
It is also worth pointing out that scholarship on the Book of Mormon has not only happened in Dialogue. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies innovated new apologetic scholarship, which lives on today in the form of Book of Mormon Central. There is a Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, once housed at the old FARMS and now a central feature of the Neal A Maxwell Institute at BYU. There are also new scholarly societies dedicated to Book of Mormon scholarship. We’ve also begun to see articles and books in non-Mormon journals and academic presses. So, this vast landscape of scholarship means that a survey of Dialogue, as robust of material may be found there, is still partial. I’ll try my best to contextualize broader trends, but even in all of this sea of scholarship, I was consistently surprised at the high quality, important pieces that have been published in Dialogue, up through today. Get ready for a wild ride!
Act I: Setting the Scene
Dialogue is founded in 1966, but it isn’t until 1968 that we see the ﬁrst article dedicated to the Book of Mormon. But Book of Mormon scholarship was undergoing some pretty serious innovations already. A couple important ﬁgures and trends to mention. First is B. H. Roberts, a leading intellectual in the early twentieth century who began to take seriously criticism of the Book of Mormon. Next is Sidney Sperry, a BYU professor trained in biblical studies at the University of Chicago. He’d written a number of important articles talking about how historical critical biblical studies intersected with the Book of Mormon—from its use of Paul and other New Testament material to second-Isaiah and more. The other is Hugh Nibley, a classicist trained at UC–Berkeley who began writing in the 1950s articles that set the Book of Mormon in an Ancient Near Eastern context. This culminated in the 1957 priesthood manual for use in the entire church: An Approach to the Book of Mormon. Back then, before anonymous correlated manuals, the church commissioned trained scholars and intellectuals to write the curriculum. Anyway, these major trends of thinking about the Book of Mormon in a critical, historical context, primarily to defend it and even vindicate its historicity, were already exciting, established trends.
But the ﬁrst article published in Dialogue actually takes a different tack. Douglas Wilson’s 1968 article, “Prospects for the Study of the Book of Mormon as a Work of American Literature” comes at the book in an entirely different way. You’ll recall Gene England, one of the founders of Dialogue, came from a literature background, and literature scholarship was an important part of this new endeavor. Wilson was a non-LDS scholar of literature and a relatively important scholar of the period. He talked about how the book is difﬁcult to read, its concerns are not the concerns of twentieth century readers, but is nevertheless important and deserves serious study by scholars of American literature. He suggests that scholars begin with theologically neutral textual criticism, now a robust ﬁeld in Book of Mormon Studies, but then non-existent. Then he suggests myth-criticism as a framework for analysis. But he says this is just the beginning. A brief comment on this. Literary approaches have always a been a small subset of this scholarship, but growing increasingly important. Still, I recall sitting in a Harvard Seminar room where Richard Bushman was speaking to various scholars, making the case for the Book of Mormon as a work of American literature. The conversation was weighty, but one missionary who happened to hear about the talk and came to visit then bore his testimony that it was not an American book, but an ancient one because of chiasmus. It was an awkward moment that illustrated the resistance within some quarters of the LDS community to including the Book of Mormon as an object of study—and probably reinforced concerns that such scholars in the room might have harbored. So, more than fifty years after Wilson’s plea, this remains a controversial appeal.
Summer 1969 examines an interesting, initially promising approach to New World archeology, a project that included Latter-day Saints interested in locating a context for the Book of Mormon. But in the mid-60s, there was a broader popular theory in non-LDS circles of ancient contacts between the Near Eastern and American peoples. A roundtable in this issue examines some of these early efforts (Cyrus H. Gordon, “Toward a History of Ancient America”; Dee F. Green, “Book of Mormon Archaeology: The Myths and the Alternatives”; John L. Sorenson, “Ancient America and the Book of Mormon Revisited”). In the 1950s, Thomas Ferguson founded the New World Archeological Foundation, which was incorporated into BYU and the Church under the direction of Elder Howard W. Hunter. This ﬁrst ofﬁcial apologetic project wasn’t a particularly successful venture and often led to embarrassment. This hypothesis has not held up over the past fifty years, but these entries capture some of the enthusiasm that was prevalent in this period for some trustworthy historical connection. Still, there were some important long-term outcomes. But what might surprise readers is how much myth busting is going on here—challenging the amateurish ideas that had taken hold. One of the earliest important ﬁgures here is John L. Sorenson. In his ﬁrst Dialogue entry, he lays out the hypothesis of a central American anthropological and archeological context. He draws a number of parallels from pyramids to incense to sacriﬁces.
In Fall 1969, there were a few more entries. Robert E. Nichols Jr. wrote “Beowulf and Nephi: A Literary View of the Book of Mormon.” He notes the same challenges to the literary scholar—the lack of a source text and of a text-critical edition. But still, he attempts to offer a literary reading of 1-2 Nephi—perhaps the ﬁrst one ever. He concludes, “the Book of Mormon remains a challenging critical prize, undoubtedly the major prize of nineteenth-century Americana, perhaps the chief prize of the literature we call English.”
That call for a textual study of the Book of Mormon ﬁnally came to fruition in 1977. Stan Larson was the ﬁrst to offer a text critical study in “Textual Variants in Book of Mormon Manuscripts.” Since then, so much more has been done, especially the backbreaking work of Royal Skousen, to establishing a workable text critical edition. But Larson paved the way by looking at the 146 pages of the Original Manuscript held mostly by the LDS Church, the 464 pages of the Printer’s Manuscript held by the RLDS Church, as it was known then. Larson worked for the Translation Services department of the LDS church and was an important ﬁgure in 1970s Book of Mormon scholarship. Now, textual variants were well known in theory. Anti-Mormon literature, including that of the Tanners, frequently noted the substantive changes to the text not only in the early manuscripts, but also the later printed editions. Apologists had engaged these, but there hadn’t really been a systematic study. Larson divides them into four categories: corrections of mistakes, clariﬁcations, corrections that were better left unmade, and mistakes in the manuscripts. He goes through about fifty textual variants here between the Original and Printers manuscripts.
So, the bulk of scholarship in the ﬁrst decade or so of Dialogue’s treatment of the Book of Mormon was laying the foundation for a literary approach, one that was especially interested in the text as text, in narrative, and more. The apologetic arguments with anti-Mormons and the failed archeological approaches were given some small attention, but Dialogue authors—LDS and non-LDS—were making a different case for the Book of Mormon as a work of important and even great English literature. But the schism in scholarship was only just heating up.
Act II: FARMS vs. Dialogue
With the demise of earlier apologetic efforts at New World Archeology, the approach that Hugh Nibley had laid out inspired a whole new generation of apologists interested in establishing the Book of Mormon in the Old World—I’ll just point out the Eurocentrism and colonial frameworks of those labels. Jack Welch, among others, was a part of this movement and founded FARMS in 1979 to become a hub for this movement. It grew in the early 1980s at BYU when Welch moved there in 1980 as a place to defend the Book of Mormon and published his edited volume on chiasmus in 1981. Some of the early Dialogue contributors, like John L. Sorenson, ﬂocked to FARMS. They soon tried to position themselves as the center for Book of Mormon research. One of their targets was George Smith. Smith was a freelance historian and ﬁnancial wizard working in San Francisco. He founded Signature Books.
In 1983, George D. Smith published an article titled “Isaiah Updated.” He discusses a problem that had been earlier mentioned by B. H. Roberts and Sidney Sperry, among others. The problem in brief was this: scholars no longer accepted the unity of the Book of Isaiah nor attributed it all to the historical Isaiah. The problem was that the later chapters from a later prophet, nicknamed Second Isaiah and who wrote during the Babylonian exile, namely, after Lehi had reportedly left Jerusalem. The problem is that this text, which didn’t exist until after Lehi was on a boat sailing to the New World, somehow ends up in Nephi’s record. The paper goes into a lot more issues about Christian and LDS interpretations of Isaiah more generally, challenging the validity of these supposed prophecies. Defenders of the Book of Mormon argued that the evidence should be read the other way around: that the Book of Mormon provided clear evidence that Second Isaiah was pre-exilic, and that Isaiah is a uniﬁed text. Smith’s article called into question these claims. This article got lots of attention in letters, including from Bill Hamblin, an apologetic staple for the next several decades.
In 1984, George Smith had another important article, “‘Is there any way to escape these difﬁculties?’ The Book of Mormon Studies of BH Roberts.” As mentioned before, Roberts was a member of the Quorum of Seventy and a leading intellectual in the church. Beginning in the 1920s he began to seriously examine the arguments around Book of Mormon historicity but also became skeptical of many of those same arguments. For a while before Smith’s article, the debate was whether Roberts was expressing his own doubts or merely laying out the best version of the counterarguments to the Book of Mormon. Roberts seemed to have been persuaded that there were signiﬁcant, meaningful parallels between the Book of Mormon and Ethan Smith’s A View of the Hebrews, a nineteenth-century ﬁctional account that pre-dates the Book of Mormon, but also tells a story of Israelite lineage of Native Americans. He also covers the archeological difﬁculties that Roberts discussed. A lot had changed since the 1920s, but not that much, and the core issues that Roberts faced remain important.
This article too attracted negative attention from FARMS, since Jack Welch had advised Dialogue against publishing it. His connections to Elder Neal A. Maxwell may explain why this otherwise benign piece ended up in a memo by Elder Maxwell, advising that John Sorenson be commissioned to “respond to the recent ramblings of George Smith.” He issued a memo in fall of 1984 commissioning a “scholarship defense of the historicity of the Book of Mormon.”
The Ensign published Sorenson’s essays “Digging into the Book of Mormon, Parts 1 and 2” (Part 1, Part 2) a few months later, and many saw that as a rebuke of George Smith. That same year, Soreson published his classic book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon.
In the Summer 1985 issue George Smith writes a letter to the editor at Dialogue responding to John Sorenson, challenging some of the revisionist apologetics—limited geography and the idea that there were other peoples already in the land besides the Book of Mormon people. Robert Smith responds with a caustic letter to the editor back. This went back and forth in the letters to the editor for a while. Spring and Summer 1986 have pro-Sorenson letters on geography and animals.
George Smith’s pretty mild criticisms of Book of Mormon historicity became a particular target for FARMS over these early years, and they increasingly went after him personally—Bill Hamblin, Daniel Peterson, Louis Midgley, Robert Smith, and others. Smith was a founder of Signature Books and the conﬂicts between these two presses, FARMS and Signature, dominated a decade or more of Mormon intellectual energy.
In Fall 1984, Grant Underwood wrote a really important article: “Book of Mormon Usage in Early LDS Theology.” Now, this research has since been updated and nuanced, but Underwood made a fascinating observation about early LDS citations of the Book of Mormon—they are very, very rare in the LDS periodicals up through 1846, even to the point of neglect. Underwood’s argument was an interesting intervention in two ways. First, a number of LDS scholars were looking to the Book of Mormon to understanding early LDS doctrinal development. It is notable that the theology of the Book of Mormon departs from mainstream LDS teachings on a number of points, and people began to argue that it represented an earlier Joseph Smith, for instance. Underwood’s argument challenged this by suggesting that the Book of Mormon had minimal use or impact on early LDS thought in general, let alone doctrinal development. Second, this absence was implicitly contrasted with the modern church, where the Book of Mormon was quickly outpacing the Bible in importance. Whether good or ill, the Book of Mormon was treated rather casually in Smith’s day, including by Smith himself. What was important, when it was cited, was the millenarian ideas in the Book of Mormon. So, this is what we call reception history, which looks at how a text has been received. Different from George Smith’s study of B. H. Roberts, Underwood was expanding this kind of research to statistical analysis.
So, the early 1980s was still a time when diverse voices and approaches appeared in Dialogue, but hostility was also increasing from a vocal and forceful faction who believed they had apostolic sanction for their tactics. It is the early phases of what is going to become known as the Book of Mormon Wars.
Act III: Breaking Past Apologetics
As I mentioned, apologetics is really heating up, with two major camps. One who is arguing for ancient contexts for the Book of Mormon and the other arguing for a nineteenth-century context. Fortunately, scholars had been looking at entirely different approaches altogether in the pages of Dialogue all along—from reception history to literary studies—but these battles were being fought here too and sucked up a lot of attention. So I want to discuss a few classics that all students of the Book of Mormon should know that was an early attempt to get past the hostility and ﬁnd some common ground and shared solutions.
First is Bruce Lindgren “Sign or Scripture: Approaches to the Book of Mormon” from Spring 1986. Oh, I love this one so much. This is by an RLDS scholar who says that maybe this whole debate about which context we need to read the Book of Mormon is wrongheaded. That is reading it as a history book. “Why does discussion of the Book of Mormon typically tend to focus on questions of its historicity and authorship, on Meso-American archaeology, chiasmus, and word prints?” This sees the Book of Mormon as a “sign” of Joseph Smith’s prophetic call or his status as a fraud. But that is a pretty narrow way of reading it. Instead, he issues a challenge to focusing on historicity in Book of Mormon interpretation, and instead read it as scripture: “I ﬁnd a more personally relevant question to be: how does the Book of Mormon present the basic doctrines of the gospel? What role should the Book of Mormon play in our religious and intellectual lives? Is it a sign of the divine origin of the restoration movement or is it scripture?” There has grown up a whole school of thought around this latter approach in Book of Mormon theology now, especially from Jim Faulconer, which says that history is the wrong genre for understanding scripture. But we see here this early treatment.
The next article is from Spring 1987, “Book of Mormon as Modern Expansion of an Ancient Source.” Here, Blake Ostler takes on the historicity question and attempts to cut the gordian knot with a hybrid solution. He used source criticism, a method that attempts to separate out distinct underlying sources in a single document. This is one of the classical methods in biblical studies here applied in a distinctive way to the Book of Mormon. Ostler argued that the plates were real and that the Nephites were real, but that Joseph Smith drew on his own experience in the narrative. In this way, he could grant the best of the ancient parallels and the best of the nineteenth-century parallels to argue that there was a base text as an ancient source but also that it catalyzed new revelation for the modern day through Joseph Smith as translator. He conceded a number of anachronisms in the the Book of Mormon, especially relating to theological ideas. But he also found value in ancient parallels to rituals, ancient prophetic practices, and more. This approach was obviously hated by many invested on either side of this, but it has grown in popularity with a number of contemporary believing scholars to subscribe to the basic premise. The details of this analysis have continued to be debated, disputing the validity of the various parallels that he discusses, but it remains a useful survey of some of the major arguments from the time.
Sometimes in this period we saw more close exegetical readings of speciﬁc passages, especially those that loomed large in popular LDS culture. Ezekial 37, the sticks of Judah and sticks of Joseph, was one such case. In 1990, Brian Keck wrote, “Ezekiel 37, Sticks, and Babylonian Writing Boards: A Critical Appraisal,” where he explained what those passages meant in their ancient context.
We weren’t done with the B. H. Roberts story either. Brigham Madsen, a professor at Utah State, wrote in 1993: “B. H. Roberts’s Studies of the Book of Mormon.” Was Roberts a believer or skeptic? Madsen offers more insights into how B. H. Roberts dealt with his questions about Book of Mormon historicity. Madsen offers new historical details to the drama around this story.
So, there were articles that were challenging traditional history or interpretations of the Book of Mormon in these years, but I think that in the late 80s there is a really important period. This brief moment showed sincere and serious efforts to bridge the growing gap between scholarly camps—but it was as unsuccessful as it was short-lived. An attempt to ﬁnd a middle way for believers that could also accommodate the arguments from critics seemed to satisfy no one—least of which the apologists. The war was on.
Act IV: Book of Mormon Wars
It’s worth mentioning, brieﬂy, that there were a bunch of important edited volumes that came out during these years. In 1982, FARMS had published one of its ﬁrst volumes edited by Noel Reynolds, Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins. In 1990, Signature books published The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture edited by Dan Vogel. They followed up in 1993 with an edited volume by Brent Lee Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology. These then sparked further, often hostile exchanges with apologists in the FARMS Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, one of the low-points for decorum from BYU authors who often substituted personal attacks and credential-waving for actual argument. The Book of Mormon Wars were underway.
Winter 1991 Neal Chandler, “Book of Mormon Stories that My Teacher Kept from Me”
“It may be no more than a kind of perversity that brings me to admit what I will tell you now, namely, that when it comes to the Book of Mormon, that most correct of books, whose pedigree we love passionately to debate and whose very namesakes we have, all of us, become, I stand mostly with Mark Twain. I think it’s “chloroform in print.” It is a humorous, but serious critique.
“This is a book of men, by men, for men, and openly and conventionally, at least, about men only. “
This got a letter to be sent to his bishop and stake president to not allow him to speak in church anymore. LDS folks were more bold to speak out and even say potentially offensive things, not just air the history.
A 1993 article by Brent Lee Metcalfe also came back to the basic assumptions of competing schools of Book of Mormon scholarship. In “Apologetic and Critical Assumptions about Book of Mormon Historicity,” Metcalfe pointed out how these positions valued historicity differently. For traditionalists, historicity was necessary for value and authenticity. For critical approaches, religious value was independent from historicity. But the real meat of this paper is in the analysis of methodologies and standards of proof. He goes through a few key examples, from metal plates to geography—with the limited geography model paying strict attention to description of travel, but not animals, to chiasmus. Metcalfe also provides some interesting assessment of Ostler’s expansion theory, and some of the early bibliography responding to it. Metcalfe challenges the theory by saying that if you think that the anti-Masonry of the Book of Mormon is an anachronism, as Ostler did, then you must also think that the idea that Native Americans originate from ancient Israelites is also a common nineteenth-century idea—thus the entire historical claim of the book itself is also a modern concept. So, Metcalfe was obviously on the “critical” side of the spectrum, but provides a great discussion of what he saw as an interpretive starting point—Joseph Smith’s own teachings and understandings as comparison documents for the Book of Mormon.
The response to this article, and Metcalfe’s book, was not great. Signature had threatened to sue FARMS for defaming some of its authors by calling them “anti-Mormon.” Bill Hamblin encoded a message “Metcalfe is Butthead” in a FARMS Newsletter. These events and exchanges were spilling out past the pages of Dialogue, Signature, Sunstone, and FARMS, and into the press who was interested in the rancorous exchanges. A lengthy book review in the Winter 1994 issue of Dialogue of Metcalfe’s book and the 556-pages of responses in the 1994 FARMS Review of Books provides a useful summary and fair assessment of the issues.
It also polarized the publication venues. Dialogue had run into some trouble with church leaders in 1993, when things culminated with the excommunication of several authors associated with Dialogue and Signature Books. Though Dialogue had always been and remains open to publishing more conservative voices, those authors ﬂocked to venues seen as safer. That left a smaller group of people submitting and publishing in Dialogue.
Quinn Brewster’s 1996 article, “The Structure of the Book of Mormon: A Theory of Evolutionary Development,” discusses an interesting problem: why does the structure of the Book of Mormon change throughout the book? The book itself addresses the issue with large and small plates source material, and early revelations talk about the crisis of the lost portion of the translation.
Later in 1996, Mark D. Thomas, scripture studies editor for Dialogue for a while, published “A Mosaic for a Religious Counterculture: The Bible in the Book of Mormon.” It is an interesting article. It argues that the Book of Mormon needs to be understood as “countercultural” because of its antielitist stance. The central issue that article also tackles how the Book of Mormon uses the Bible for its purposes. It looks at a number of intertexts between the Bible and Book of Mormon to show how they are used as a “mosaic,” small pieces that together tell a larger story.
In 1997, Brigham Madsen’s “Reﬂections on LDS Disbelief in the Book of Mormon as History” generated a lot of controversy. He drew on the research for his earlier work on B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon, but just made the case that the Book of Mormon wasn’t historical at all—the problems Roberts had ﬁrst wrestled with had not been resolved and the case had actually gotten worse, not better, with more research. But he wants to make space in the church for those who doubt the history of the Book of Mormon as a matter of research, but who still want to belong to the faith, decrying the standards of orthodoxy that preclude different interpretations of the existing evidence.
The ﬁnal article that I will discuss in this section is David Wright’s, “Joseph Smith’s Interpretation of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon.” Wright is a well-known biblical scholar and former Latter-day Saint, who left BYU under pressure for his teaching of biblical scholarship and perhaps his views on the Book of Mormon. He was a contributor to the 1993 Metcalfe volume New Approaches to the Book of Mormon. This article provides an essential study of the Isaiah problem in the Book of Mormon—its use of post-exilic elements of the text—from a different approach. Instead, Wright looks at how Isaiah is being used. He shows the dependance of Book of Mormon Isaiah on the King James Version of the Bible, but looks at how speciﬁc passages from Isaiah are used throughout the Book of Mormon, especially Isaiah 48-49 about the return of Israel from Babylonian captivity, as well as Isaiah 29, a classic proof text used as a prophesy for the Book of Mormon. He then locates the interpretations in the Book of Mormon within the broader history of interpretation.
The quality of the articles we’ve looked at is excellent, even though much may now feel dated. But it is hard to look back on the twists and turns that Book of Mormon scholarship was taking during this period without some wistful hope that things might have turned out differently. My sense is that there was huge damage done to the ﬁeld by the alienation of these camps, which not only damaged feelings, relationships, and even careers—some ongoing for those involved in this ﬁght—but ultimately damaged the ﬁeld when the stakes were set so high and the gloves off. I think it is a sad chapter, and the effects still haunt us decades later. There were a lot of great studies that came out of all of this, and I’m sure that the intensity of the battle helped reﬁne some of the scholarship, but the costs otherwise seem to have been too great. I look forward to later periods that we will discuss, including the present, when some of these wounds heal and the founding principles of Dialogue—a community of those who listen and speak with equal rigor—comes to prevail.
Okay, so that takes us up through the 1990s, through the most serious decades of the Book of Mormon Wars. They weren’t over by any means, but this seems like a good place to pause. In the next episode we will pick up the story and bring it up to the present. I was amazed at just how much, and how good, the Book of Mormon scholarship is these days, including some new work that is about to drop in the Fall and Winter 2021 issues of Dialogue! Tune in next month to learn more.
This month, we are looking at the history of scholarship on the Book of Mormon. There was so much content on this that I decided to break it into two episodes. Part 1 in the last episode covered though the 1990s—a key moment of a real fissure in Book of Mormon scholarship while Part 2 in this month’s episode goes over the 2000s to the present.
This is a good place to start a new chapter. At the 2000 Sunstone Symposium, Brent Lee Metcalfe described the contemporary moment surrounding the Book of Mormon as “a Galileo Event.” What he meant was that the evidence that had been presented against the historicity of the Book of Mormon was so compelling that the church would have to change is paradigm, much like Galileo’s challenge to the geocentric model of the universe. He was overly optimistic, perhaps, that the Book of Mormon wars would have a significant impact on the church, but the issue certainly hasn’t been resolved in the church more than 20 years later.
Act 1: Book of Mormon Wars Continued
In 2000, we are still in the midst of the Book of Mormon wars. These were about setting the context, whether ancient or modern. FARMS was still coming off its height.
But things weren’t calming down.
First up in the new century, Douglas Salmon, “Parallelomania and the Study of Latter-day Scripture: Confirmation, Coincidence, or the Collective Unconscious.” This remains an important article. This goes right to the heart of things–how to explain the apparent similarities between ancient near eastern texts, cultures, and so on. This was a trend we’ve talked about, really pioneered by Hugh Nibley, whose work is discussed a lot in this article, and continued by FARMS. The author, Salmon, makes the case that rather than a careful methodological comparison, this approach exhibits parallelomania. This means that they were overemphasizing similarities and deriving significance from that supposed similarities. Further, he argues that the parallels rely on extreme selectivity, misrepresentation, and more. He goes after a number of the most important examples up to that point. It remains one of the most significant challenges to Nibley’s method up until then. It also contextualizes this approach in broader scholarship on the study of religion, showing connections to Eliade, Jung, and others. A fascinating article.
While this one was a respectful, if hard hitting challenge to the paradigm. They weren’t always like this.
Robert Patterson’s article, “Hebraicisms, Chiasmus, and Other Internal Evidence for Ancient Authorship in Green Eggs and Ham.” Wow, this was a satirical take on the proofs for antiquity that had become commonplace in apologetic scholarship. When Jack Welch made the argument for chiasmus as an ancient Hebrew literary form in the Book of Mormon just a few decades before, it had remained at the center of the defense of the ancient origins for the book. But over the ensuing decades, a number of challenges had arisen, including the fact that chiasmus was discovered in a variety of different different modern texts.
“I am Sam. Sam I am.” Chiasmus.
Patterson writes, “Upon an initial and cursory reading, the book appears to be a simple morality play. Zealous purveyor of an unusual gustatory selection hawks his wares to an Everyman, whose initial biases preclude his acceptance of the unfamiliar. By the end of the story, the Everyman has overcome his baseless prejudices and rejoices in his newfound knowledge. The book made perfect bedtime reading for the generation of youth later known as the baby boomers. Deeper analysis, however, reveals that the book has complex subtexts comprehensible only when the factual nature of its real authorship is known. Indeed, there is overwhelming evidence that the manuscript did not originate with Geisel, who likely fallaciously claimed credit for an archaic work that he or someone else surreptitiously translated from an ancient language into modern English.”
It continues like this, mimicking the seriousness of Book of Mormon literary devices and ancient Israelite themes, and wordprint studies. It didn’t add much to calming things down.
In 2002, Earl Wunderli’s contribution is “Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events,” Like the others, this goes after the FARMS model, this time the main thesis of John L. Sorenson. Sorenson had located the Book of Mormon events in a very specific context in central America, identifying certain features like the narrow neck of land. It also suggests that not all the Native Americans are descendents from Lehi, but rather a specific subset of peoples from this one small area. Wunderli says that lots of people had challenged this hypothesis on external, empirical evidence. Wunderli’s article instead argues against it on internal evidence, of what the Book of Mormon says. This provides a good overview of the major arguments and scholarship, and then critiques the limited geography model, suggesting that the hemispheric model still best fits the internal narrative of the Book of Mormon.
In the same issue, Bob Rees wrote, “Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the American Renaissance.” Rees was the former editor of Dialogue, but also was a literature professor. He summarizes the debates over the Book of Mormon. Both groups, he says, find their own parallels. “I have been labeled,” he says, “both an apologists and a naturalist critic…I have watched the exchange with interest.” He tries to offer a different way here. It’s a good introduction to a lot of the scholarship up to that point, much that we haven’t discussed. Like Ostler or others, he was looking for a middle ground. “the Book of Mormon may be genuinely both an ancient and modern text.” There were real Nephites, but Joseph Smith translated the text into his 19th c. mind.
It is in 2002 that one of the most important studies of the Book of Mormon was published. Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon, came out from Oxford University Press. It was a bit of a sensation. reviewed in the New York Review of Books and really launched his career. This book summarized many of the debates, but sided more with the apologists. Its another great text that captures the eras assessment of the important of the Book of Mormon and the ongoing debate about its meaning.
Act 2: The 19th-Century Hypothesis Continues
By this time, the Book of Mormon wars were in the second generation and had come to occupy significant scholarly attention. That also meant that the publication venues were seriously polarized. FARMS on the one hand, and Signature Books, and to a lesser extent Dialogue. It wasn’t of course by choice, but just how the scholarly landscape shook out.
In 2003, we see more contributions with several articles on the Book of Momron in the Winter issue. Clay Chandler, “Scrying for the Lord: Magic, Mysticism, and the Origins of the Book of Mormon” made another pass at the magical culture of Joseph Smith’s early career. Since the 1980s Hoffman forgeries and then Michael Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview, and others, folk magic was a big topic. This paper looks at three phases of the Book of Mormon’s production—the discovery of the plates, the practices of mysticism that were part of the translation experience, and Joseph Smith’s transformation from translator to prophet. He looks at the role of magic in all three phases, from seer stones and buried treasures to mystical states to a variety of specific episodes that he says make sense as magical practices.
That same year, we see the publication of Robert Price, “Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon.” By this point, the arguments are all pretty straightforward and the camps are solid. Price argues that Joseph Smith is the author of the Book of Mormon. He rejects the idea that someone outside of Mormonism could have been the author, or that it was a pastiche of other early American works. The main reason is because the Book of Mormon itself, and most importantly Joseph Smith himself, is a significant character of the Book of Mormon.
The last article from this 2003 issue is Thomas Murphy, “Simply Implausible: DNA and a Mesoamerican Setting for the Book of Mormon.” This marks the first time that the DNA issue had really come to the pages of Dialogue. Murphy was a key player in this debate. This article a response to some FARMS and FAIR criticisms of an earlier book chapter published by Murphy, where he answers a number of the objections. They all agreed what the evidence was, that it didn’t support any traditional understanding of the Book of Mormon. Native Americans are not descended from ancient Israelites. The issue was what that meant. Apologists argued that the limited geography model meant that the DNA wouldn’t really be detectable. Others argued that it meant that Book of Mormon just wasn’t a historical record. The essay is organized around the key arguments and walks through the evidence, so it is a good place to start to orient yourself on this debate.
Moving ahead to 2005, we see another new contribution. John Williams, “A Marvelous Work and a Possession: Book of Mormon Historicity as Postcolonialism.” I think that this remains an important paper because it really brings in race and politics into Book of Mormon scholarship—not in terms of hashing out the justice or meaning of the curses, but of how the narrative and its interpretation incorporate or take possession of certain peoples for its own purposes. He compares the book of Mormon to the 13th century book The Travels of Marco Polo. He isn’t drawing crude parallels about influence or origins. Indeed, he is explicitly discussing the hazards of parallelomania that Douglas Salmon had put forward. He wants to reframe this whole question at a meta level—to talk about how the Book and its coming forth are colonizing events, taking possession of a people in the narrative. And he calls the contemporary analysis that limits the authority and totalizing claims of the Book of Mormon’s claim about who the Lamanites are, whether from apologists or naturalists, decolonization. The question of the identity of the Lamanites is at the heart of this process.
Other 19th century approaches continued to be put forward, including Clyde Ford, “Lehi on the Great Issues: Book of Mormon Theology in Early Nineteenth-Century Perspective.” Really, he isn’t making a definitive argument about historicity—only that the theological arguments in the Book of Mormon seem “designed to be read and understood by its early nineteenth century audience.” This is an effort to then locate more precisely the theological arguments that it was engaged it by mapping the different schools from Calvinism to Arminianism to Methodism to Universalism and more. He looks at some of the major theological rivalries of the day, and where the Book of Mormon lands on them. He argues that the Book of Mormon doesn’t consistently side with one school, but is an eclectic mix of various theological positions of the day.
The last article in that 2005 issue I want to discuss is about chiasmus. Earl Wunderli’s, “Critique of Alma 36 as an Extended Chiasm.” This article looks at one of the most famous and claimed to be structurally elegant example in the Book of Mormon of this literary form, first noticed by Jack Welch. In Alma 36, Alma the Younger recounts his conversion, from the lowest lows to the highest highs. But Wunderli challenges the evidence here, saying that no such chiasm was intended. There are a number of asymmetries or the pairs are linked in a weak way. If there is extended chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, rather than small examples of a few verses, this chapter is not a good example.
A year later, father and son Boyd and Farrell Edwards respond to this article. They make an argument about statistical probabilities to note that the structural parallels are not an accident. Further, the existence of several other chiasm, large and small, suggest that intentionality cannot be dismissed here.
Act 3: Post-Apologetics
In the 2010s, we start to see a variety of new approaches. Some were really taking Book of Mormon scholarship in new directions entirely, as we will see. Others were continuing to advance to historical analysis.
Peter Huff’s 2010 article, “A Gentile Recommends the Book of Mormon” was just such a new kind of article. This is a matter of interfaith dialogue. The Book of Mormon has often attracted admirers from outside the faith. Huff puts it in the category of “world class scripture.” He also has an interesting line: “In the academic world specialization in Mormon Studies can wreck a promising career.” That was just in 2010 and while there are still some risks, it doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. But he talks about a general prejudice against the Book of Mormon. But he notes, “the Book of Mormon is an extraordinary piece of literature.” So, we see again the resurgence of literary approaches to the Book of Mormon that assess its literary quality. Twain’s assessment of the books as “chroloform in print,” was funny, but wrong, he says.
The truth is that this was a bit of a high point for the Book of Mormon. Terryl Givens followed up his bestselling with a Brief Introduction to the Book of Mormon. Paul Gutjahr published The Book of Mormon: A Biography. Grant Hardy published Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Readers Guide. Rick Turley and William Slaughter published How We Got the Book of Mormon. Royal Skousen was producing a long-awaited text critical edition of the Book of Mormon. Oxford University Press and others were all in, and it wasn’t just LDS scholar but non-LDS ones as well. The dawn had broken and a new generation of scholars was now dictating the narrative—not just the apologists and naturalists.
A 2012 article from Jacob Bender further captures this turn. “For All Things Must Fail”: A Post-Structural Approach to the Book of Mormon.” Bender brings Derrida to bear on the Book of Mormon. “I argue,” he says, “that the Book of Mormon’s text participates in its own self-deconstruction, systematically undermining the reader’s confidence in the text while also engaging in what the Derrida termed ‘freeplay’ with words.” For people into literary and interpretive theory, this is a great read. It really explores the theme of the failures of language in the Book of Mormon. The article is a great example not only of a post-apologetics literary approach, but of the sophistication that Book of Mormon studies was beginning to show.
In 2014 Clyde Ford returns to the journal again with an important follow to his earlier article. In “The Book of Mormon, The Early Nineteenth Century Debates Over Universalism, and the Development of the Novel Mormon Doctrine of Ultimate Rewards and Punishments,” Ford sets the Book of Mormon in the context of debates over universal salvation that were a big part of the scene in Joseph Smith’s day. Further, he locates these teachings in the context of Smith’s own development of teachings on universal salvation. This is an excellent study of the key issues in the history of LDS doctrines, as well as the Book of Mormon’s theology.
That same year, Bryan Warnick, Benjamin Johnson, and Sang Hyun Kim published “Hospitality in the Book of Mormon.” This article compares the theme of hospitality practices to the Bible and other ancient literature. It looks at the stories of Zoram, Alma and Amulek, Ammon and Lamoni, and various homilies in the Book of Mormon that contain elements of hospitality culture and concern, especially that of the Book of Mormon. They conclude, “Hospitality in the Book of Mormon is not just a host increasing his honor by being generous to a potential enemy under his roof; it is also an opportunity to act as God acts toward others, with kindness and mercy, offering up one’s home as a place of safety and protection.” A great discussion of another important theological theme.
In 2014 again, Roger Terry also publishes “Archaic Pronouns and Verbs in the Book of Mormon: What Inconsistent Usage Tells Us about Translation Theories.” You’ll recall that translation theories had been a big deal for a long time—was the Book a word for word translation, read from the seer stone or Urim and Thummim? This had been a popular one, and was dominant in conservative accounts, who had put forward various proofs for this. Or was Joseph Smith responisble for some of the theological and even narrative content of the book? Blake Ostler and others had pioneered this approach of a loose translation to explain the anachronisms and other features. These were perhaps revelations. Terry looks at something else—the grammar of the Book of Mormon. Lots of “ye”s when it should be a “thou,” and so on. He then puts forward what he calls a “new translation theory.” It’s not one that has, to my knowledge, gained wide acceptance—and in the last few years alone several major studies of JS’s translation method have appeared, but is nevertheless an interesting proposal to solve some problems that the earlier theories hadn’t considered.
Act 4: Recent Studies
In this final section, I want to summarize some of the new directions we have seen in Book of Mormon scholarship. The old questions have not been completely settled, and I expect we will continue to litigate these for a long time, but there are new approaches to these questions and new questions entirely as well.
I want to start out with a sermon by Jared Hickman, “Learning to Read with the Book of Mormon.” We haven’t covered sermons here, but this one is an exception. Jared Hickman published in 2014 one of the most consequential, if not the most consequential article on “the Book of Mormon as Amerindian Apocalypse” in the journal American Literature. This article challenged the traditional reading of racism in the Book of Mormon, showing how it deconstructs itself. This approach blew people away and has remained hugely influential for rereading the Book of Mormon. The sermon is really a deep analysis of reading. Gorgeous, from one of the great scholars of our day.
In 2017, another amazing scholar Colleen McDannell makes another key contribution. “Mexicans, Tourism, and Book of Mormon Geography.” McDannell brings a material culture lens to the tourism industry that sprung up from apologetica approaches to the Book of Mormon. How has the Book of Mormon shaped the real world and people’s live experiences? This article is so important and innovative. It tells the whole story of how the Book of Mormon geography got debated, from the early 20th century to today. This is hugely important history of the particular subquestion in Book of Mormon Studies. You’ll also meet some key figures in Mexico who are part of this industry. I love this article, and highly recommend it.
We see a collection of important articles in the summer 2019 that all deal with the Book of Mormon, the first issue in a long time to publish so many articles on the Book of Mormon. First up, Brian Hales, “Automatic Writing and the Book of Mormon: An Update.” Here, Hales examines one of the newer theories for the production of the Book of Mormon among naturalists, who argued that Smith wrote while in a trance, or automatically. There are several examples of this kind of unconscious writing, and Hales examines these as comparisons. Most important here is a 1915 written with a medium called The Sorry Tale. There are others as well, but Hales argues that there are too many dissimilarties to classify the book in this way.
Next up is Ryan Thomas, “The Gold Plates and Ancient Metal Epigraphy.” This article is the definitive study of writing on metal plates in antiquity. It looks at all the examples. This is part of a larger trend to study the question of the gold plates. Richard Bushman, Ann Taves, and others have puzzled over this. What Ryan Thomas does is establishing whether there were any ancient precedents for something like the brass plates or gold plates, metal codices. The descriptions in the Book of Mormon diverge from all known examples. An online only appendix goes into more detail.
In the next article, Larry Morris’s “Empirical Witnesses of the Gold Plates,” there is more discussion of the various witnesses to the gold plates among Joseph Smith’s contemporaries.
Finally, Rebecca Roesler wrote “Plain and Precious Things Lost: The Small Plates of Nephi” as the last contribution to that special 2019 issue. This is a study of the role that the small plates of Nephi play in the narrative of the Book of Mormon itself. It was called a “plain and precious” book. This is actually a really big issue in apologetic and naturalistic approaches. Quinn Brewster’s article from 1996 offers some discussion of this. Roesler offers another perspective that, “sometime in the generations before Alma, the small plates of Nephi and the teachings thereon are lost or obscured from view.” Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it is worth mentioning here, that Becky is one of the only women who has published on the Book of Mormon in Dialogue. Recent years have seen a big influx of women scholars into this subfield, but not as many have been publishing in Dialogue. I hope we see that change!
The most recent article we’ve published is by William Davis. Davis’s 2020 book Visions of a Seer Stone was a finalist in the American Academy of Religion book awards. It’s a huge deal. Anyway, his fall 2020 article is called, “The Limits of Naturalistic Criteria for the Book of Mormon: Comparing Joseph Smith and Andrew Jackson Davis.” This takes his book’s research in a new direction. He looks at the claims that Joseph Smith could not have produced the Book of Mormon, and brings new data to this long-standing question. He looks specifically and Andrew Jackson Davis, an American seer who wrote The Principles of Nature in 1847 while in a trance. “In this comparison,” he writes, “we find another complex text produced by a speaker with limited formal education and training, created under similar conditions and circumstances, and a work that stands as its young creator’s greatest masterpiece, even though the text was created at the dawn of the speaker’s career.” This is sure to make a lasting contribution to the discussion.
Okay, so we conclude the most recent period with a bit of analysis. There is so much more to say about the Book of Mormon. We are still seeing some of the classic questions on historicity come up. But even here, there is so much innovation about ancient and modern cultures, new theories of automatic writing that are being debated, and more. But we are also seeing new approaches altogether. New areas of research on the gold plates, on the structure of the book of Mormon, and new innovations on the reception of the Book, including tourism, show a lot of promise.