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Response to "Difficult Questions for Mormons: Influenced by Joseph Smith's background"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Difficult Questions for Mormons, a work by author: The Interactive Bible
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Difficult Questions for Mormons
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Response to claim: "Why are themes of the revolutionary war and patriotism woven throughout a book supposedly written over a thousand years before the revolutionary war?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why are themes of the revolutionary war and patriotism (liberty, freedom, country, religion, flags, etc.) woven throughout a book supposedly written over a thousand years before the revolutionary war?"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Book of Mormon speaks of war in defense of liberty and freedom, not "revolutionary" war. Many wars have been fought for this purpose, not just the American revolutionary war.


Response to claim: "Why is an agrarian society similar to the society Joseph was most familiar with described as the setting for the entire book?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why is an agrarian society similar to the society Joseph was most familiar with described as the setting for the entire book?"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Book of Mormon describes great cities, with some brief mentions of cultivation. This does not even come close to the society that Joseph Smith lived in. It is incorrect to classify Book of Mormon society as primarily "agrarian".


Response to claim: "Why is a democracy after a monarchy described?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why is a democracy after a monarchy described? (Mosiah 23, 29) - As happened in the history of the U.S."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

If the authors wish to imply that Joseph Smith patterned the Book of Mormon after the American Revolution, then why did the people of the Book of Mormon elect "chief judges" instead of a President? Why is there no description of a congress representative of the people? The "democracy" described in the Book of Mormon does not resemble democracy as it is implemented in the United States.


Response to claim: "Is it purely coincidental that there was much speculation in Joseph Smith's area about Indian Mounds and battles?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Is it purely coincidental that there was much speculation in Joseph Smith's area about Indian Mounds and battles?"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

People at the time did not believe that Native Americans had advanced and civilized ancestors.


Question: Did Joseph Smith believe that the Book of Mormon explained local legends associated with the "Mound Builders" of the Eastern United States?

When the Book of Mormon appeared, it was a natural assumption by many that the book was the story of the mysterious "Mound Builders"

Joseph Smith himself initially believed that the presence of the mounds supported the story related in the Book of Mormon. In fact, as Zion's Camp passed through southern Illinois, Heber C. Kimball and several other participants claimed that Joseph identified a set of bones discovered in one of these mounds as "Zelph", a "white Lamanite." In a letter that Joseph wrote to Emma the day after this discovery, he stated:

The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.[1]

Statements made by Joseph Smith clearly indicate that his thinking regarding the actual location of Book of Mormon events evolved over time

Joseph felt that the presence of the mounds in North America and ruined cities in Central America supported the Book of Mormon. Since information about the ruined cities in Central America came to light after the publication of the Book of Mormon, it actually strengthens the theories and evidences which place the Book of Mormon in a Mesoamerican setting--Joseph was willing to consider a setting of which he apparently had no previous knowledge. The description of the ancestors of the American Indians as a highly civilized culture capable of building great cities was not a concept which would have been deduced from the contemporary beliefs regarding the Mound Builders.

The presence of numerous burial mounds in the eastern United States was the source of great speculation to those that settled there. The construction of such mounds was not considered to be within the ability of the Native Americans, who were considered to be savages. It was assumed that such sophisticated constructions constituted evidence of a long lost, highly civilized society which had long since vanished. Some even postulated the existence of separate civilized and a savage societies, with the highly civilized group eventually being destroyed by the savage one. After years of research, however, it was concluded that the mounds had indeed been constructed by the ancestors of the Indians that continued to live in the area.

Joseph clearly believed not only the region of the mounds to be part of Book of Mormon lands, but the entire continent, including Central America. The Book of Mormon itself, however, makes no mention of mounds.

In 1841, the Times and Seasons, of which Joseph was the editor at the time, commented on a popular book by John Lloyd Stephens called Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. This book described amazing ruined cities that had been found in Central America.

Joseph Smith himself, as editor of the Times and Seasons wrote and signed (as "ED[itor]") the following on July 15, 1842. Notice that he mentions both the mounds and the ruins in Guatemala as supporting the Book of Mormon:

If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.-were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. They would find their conjectures were more than realized-that a great and a mighty people had inhabited this continent-that the arts sciences and religion, had prevailed to a very great extent, and that there was as great and mighty cities on this continent as on the continent of Asia. Babylon, Ninevah, nor any of the ruins of the Levant could boast of more perfect sculpture, better architectural designs, and more imperishable ruins, than what are found on this continent. Stephens and Catherwood's researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing. The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatamala [Guatemala], and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people-men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormen [Mormon} unfolds their history.-ED.[2]

A later Times and Seasons article, published on October 1, 1842 under Joseph's editorial supervision (though not signed by Joseph Smith as editor) stated:

It would not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens' ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon: Light cleaves to light and facts are supported by facts. The truth injures no one....[3]

If someone of that era were to attempt to write a book about a history of the North American Indians, they would not have written about advanced civilizations with advanced technology

One thing that critics do not consider is that if someone of that era were to attempt to write a book about a history of the North American Indians, he or she would not have written about advanced civilizations with advanced technology. The mysterious "Mound Builders" were not considered to be the ancestors of the current "savage" race that were inhabiting the land at that time.

Some of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon realized that there were going to be problems with this assumption after the publication of the Book of Mormon. In a interview, David Whitmer said:

When we [the Witnesses] were first told to publish our statement, we felt sure that the people would not believe it, for the Book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that He would make it known to the people, and people should discover evidence of the truth of what is written in the Book.[4]


Response to claim: "Why does the Book of Mormon describe wood forts with pickets to protect people--much like the forts of frontier?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why does the Book of Mormon describe wood forts with pickets to protect people--much like the forts of frontier?"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

In reality, the descriptions of Book of Mormon fortifications are quite consistent with those build in ancient Mesoamerica.


Question: Are the fortifications described in the Book of Mormon consistent with those built in ancient Mesoamerica?

The Book of Mormon's description of fortifications matches those in use in Mesoamerica

4 But behold, how great was their disappointment; for behold, the Nephites had dug up a ridge of earth round about them, which was so high that the Lamanites could not cast their stones and their arrows at them that they might take effect, neither could they come upon them save it was by their place of entrance. (Alma 49:4).

3 And it came to pass that after the Lamanites had finished burying their dead and also the dead of the Nephites, they were marched back into the land Bountiful; and Teancum, by the orders of Moroni, caused that they should commence laboring in digging a ditch round about the land, or the city, Bountiful. 4 And he caused that they should build a breastwork of timbers upon the inner bank of the ditch; and they cast up dirt out of the ditch against the breastwork of timbers; and thus they did cause the Lamanites to labor until they had encircled the city of Bountiful round about with a strong wall of timbers and earth, to an exceeding height. 5 And this city became an exceeding stronghold ever after; and in this city they did guard the prisoners of the Lamanites; yea, even within a wall which they had caused them to build with their own hands. Now Moroni was compelled to cause the Lamanites to labor, because it was easy to guard them while at their labor; and he desired all his forces when he should make an attack upon the Lamanites.(Alma 53:3-5).

The Book of Mormon's description of fortifications matches those in use in Mesoamerica. Multiple sites have been found; the city of Becan is well-known:

The moat at Bécan in the Yucatan is 16 meters wide, and covers a distance of 2 kilometers. The enclosed city covers 25 hectares (almost 62 acres). Reconstruction, on-line at http://mayaruins.com/becan.html
Artist’s rendering of Bécan fortifications [AD 100-250]; From John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon Life (Provo, Utah: Research Press, 1998), 133 (Andrea Darais, artist).
“Bécan” earthworks, fortifications from Early Classic period (250-400 AD) David L. Webster, Defensive Earthworks at Bécan, Campeche, Mexico: Implications for Mayan Warfare (New Orleans: Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University, Publication 41, 1976), 3.
Note the modern highway in the upper left corner! [Gives a sense of the scale.] David L. Webster, Defensive Earthworks at Bécan, Campeche, Mexico: Implications for Mayan Warfare (New Orleans: Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University, Publication 41, 1976), 3.

The rise of Mesoamerican fortification in the archaeological record matches the introduction of this form of warfare among the Nephites by Captain Moroni in about 72 B.C.

It should be noted too that the rise of Mesoamerican fortification in the archaeological record matches the introduction of this form of warfare among the Nephites by Captain Moroni in about 72 B.C. (See Alma 49:8).The first number indicates "Definitive" sites; the second is "Possible" sites:

John L. Sorenson, "Fortifications in the Book of Mormon Account Compared with Mesoamerican Fortifications" (Table 2, p. 429) in Stephen D. Ricks & William J. Hamblin, (eds), Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 425-444. The first number indicates "Definitive" sites; the second is "possible" sites.


Response to claim: "Is it purely coincidental that Lehi had six sons as did Joseph Smith Sr., Sam/Samuel were sons of both, and Nephi and Joseph Smith Jr. were so similar?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Is it purely coincidental that Lehi had six sons as did Joseph Smith Sr., Sam/Samuel were sons of both, and Nephi and Joseph Smith Jr. were so similar?"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The authors are really stretching to find parallels here.


Response to claim: "Why did Mormon, Nephi and other 'heroes' of the Book of Mormon have so many common traits with Joseph Smith?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why did Mormon, Nephi and other "heroes" of the Book of Mormon have so many common traits with Joseph Smith? (large in stature, had visions while a teenager, etc. -- see "The Refiner's Fire" by John Brooke for many more similarities)"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

One could make the same comparisons with prophets described in the Bible. Is it not a characteristic of ancient prophets that they experienced visions?


Response to claim: "Why does the Book of Mormon repeatedly addresses 19th century readers?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why does the Book of Mormon repeatedly addresses 19th century readers?"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Book of Mormon does not explicitly address "19th century readers." It is written for our day, which includes everyone who has lived since the Book of Mormon was published.


Response to claim: "Why is the anti-Masonic excitement that arose near Smith's home in 1827 reflected?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why is the anti-Masonic excitement that arose near Smith's home in 1827 reflected? (Gadianton Robbers / Secret Combos)"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is simply the author's conjecture.


Question: Does the Book of Mormon contain anti-Masonic language?

It would seem unlikely that Joseph would be using anti-Masonic language and terms, given his family's close connection and association with the institution of Freemasonry

Many have speculated that the supposed use of anti-Masonic language in the Book of Mormon is 'proof' of 19th century authorship. The authors of these speculations fail to take into account four critical issues which discredit the association between the Gadianton robbers of the Book of Mormon and the anti-Masonry of the opening decades of the 19th century [1826 through 1845].

Joseph Smith grew up with and was surrounded by Freemasons in his home. Both his father, Joseph Smith, Sr., and his elder brother Hyrum Smith were Masons in New York. It would seem unlikely that Joseph would be using anti-Masonic language and terms, given his family's close connection and association with the institution of Freemasonry.

Joseph Smith, Jr. became a Mason himself

In 1842, Joseph Smith, Jr., became a Mason. Had Joseph intended to tie the Gadianton robbers to the Freemasons, it seems most unlikely that only 12 years later he would then join the very group which the critics' theories require that he oppose so vehemently in the Book of Mormon.

To credit the critics' theories, wrote anti-Mormon Theodore Schroeder, we must accept that

when the Book of Mormon was finished, Smith's 'obsession' [with anti-Masonry] suddenly and permanently disappears without any other explanation, and Joseph Smith himself became a Mason, in spite of this anti-Masonic obsession.[5]

The Book of Mormon is a translation, and its phrasing may sometimes reflect the time and place in which it was translated

Any similarity between the language of the anti-Masonic movement and Joseph's translation can better be explained by Joseph using the language of his time and place rather than by a deliberate connection to anti-Masonry.[6]

The phrase "secret combination" was not used exclusively in a Masonic context in Joseph Smith's day

Some have claimed that the phrase "secret combination" was used exclusively in a Masonic context in Joseph Smith's day. This is simply not the case, however. In 1788, during the debates at New York's state convention to ratify the federal constitution, Alexander Hamilton stated:

In this, the few must yield to the many; or, in other words, the particular must be sacrificed to the general interest. If the members of Congress are too dependent on the state legislatures, they will be eternally forming secret combinations from local views.[7]

And, in 1826, Andrew Jackson complained about Henry Clay's "secrete [sic] combinations of base slander."[8] Jackson was a prominent and well-known Mason, and his presidency was rich fodder for those who feared a Masonic conspiracy. Yet, despite the critics' claims that "secret combination" must refer only to Masons, a prominent Mason here complains about an attack on him in exactly those terms.

Latter-day Saints saw the Book of Mormon's prophecies as fulfilled by the U.S. government

Furthermore, the Saints of the 19th century saw the Book of Mormon's prophecies of latter-day "secret combinations" fulfilled by the persecution which they received at the hands of American citizens and the U.S. government. They did not invoke the Masons, which suggests that those who knew Joseph Smith did not recognize anti-Masonic themes in the Book of Mormon.[9]


Response to claim: "Why is infant baptism condemned in Chapter 8 of Moroni when it wasn't even an issue in the Bible?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why is infant baptism (a much discussed issue in the early 19th century) condemned in Chapter 8 of Moroni when it wasn't even an issue in the Bible?"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The Book of Mormon provides Gospel truths that have been lost from the Bible.


Notes

  1. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 324.
  2. Joseph Smith (editor), "AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES.," Times and Seasons 3 no. 18 (July 15, 1842), 860, (emphasis added). off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  3. [Editor], "ZARAHEMLA.," Times and Seasons 3 no. 23 (Oct. 1, 1842), 927. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  4. Interview with James H. Hart, Richmond, Mo., Aug. 21, 1883, as recorded in Hart's notebook; reprinted in Lyndon Cook (editor), David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, Utah: Grandin Books, 1991), 76.
  5. Theodore Schroeder, "Authorship of the Book of Mormon: Psychologic Tests of W. F. Prince Critically Reviewed," American Journal of Psychology 30 (January 1919): 70.
  6. Paul Mouritsen, "Secret Combinations and Flaxen Cords: Anti-Masonic Rhetoric and the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/1 (2003): 64–77. off-site
  7. Jonathan Elliot, ed., The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, Together with the Journal of the Federal Convention, Luther Martin's Letter, Yates's Minutes, Congressional Opinions, Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of '98-99 and other Illustrations of the Constitution, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1861), 318, emphasis added.
  8. Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (New York and London: Norton, 1991), 340; cited in Daniel C. Peterson, "Secret Combinations" Revisited," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992): 184–188.
  9. Daniel C. Peterson, "Notes on 'Gadianton Masonry'," in Ricks and Hamblin, eds., Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 174–224.