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Faith and ScienceBook of Mormon Evidences
by Ami Chopine
During school training a couple of weeks ago, we learned that reading books to children that are above their grade level leads to better literacy and better comprehension. I hadn't read to my youngest, nine years old, in quite a while because he's already an accomplished reader above his grade level.
But I had enjoyed reading to him. So what should I read to him now? Well, he hasn't read Lord of the Rings yet. I wonder if I can find some Shakespeare a nine-year-old would like? Need to get a chair back in his room, but we could just read on the couch...
Oh wait. We are reading something that is very challenging to read, at any age: the scriptures, specifically The Book of Mormon right now.
Reading the scriptures is the perfect literary experience. The writing is beautiful, the words are true, and not only am I living vicariously through a character or narrator's point of view, but everything in them is also relevant to me. I can apply it and learn from it. With the witness of the Holy Ghost, they become a spiritual experience. No literature of man can even come close.
Isaiah is one of my favorites. Such a phenomenal writer, with layers of metaphor and analogy and such a beautiful construction of words.
And Moroni had no idea what a great writer he was.
I am reading a translation.
Who translated Isaiah in the KJV? He must also have been a wonderful writer, an expert in Hebrew and a lover of God's word. A learned man of humility who must have worked under inspiration also. I am grateful that there was such a person, and it would be nice to meet him someday.
And how did Joseph Smith choose the words to write in The Book of Mormon? I knew what we all know, that Emma, Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery all wrote down the words as Joseph read them. He spelled out unfamiliar names.
This train of thought lead me to finally get around to reading Royal Skousen's paper, "How Joseph Smith Translated The Book of Mormon." In it, he argues that both the evidence of witnesses and the textual evidence support a tight control of the translation, to the point that one could not even call it translation but revelation.
Skousen took the time, decades actually, to delve into the specifics. He worked with what we have of the original manuscript that Joseph dictated to his scribes.
For instance, the scribe wrote down Zenock (an easy mistake), immediately crossed it out and wrote down Zenoch. Coriantumr could not have been spelled correctly even if Joseph slowly and carefully sounded out the name. He had to have spelled it out.
The paper covers characteristically early modern English that is not necessarily in the Bible, uncharacteristic English phrasing, and Hebraisms. It's an interesting and readable article.
Royal Skousen is a linguist who founded a method of reasoning that can be applied to language. He has published, among other works, Analogical Modeling: Examplars, Rules, and Quantum Computing. Yes, quantum computing and language. I'll get back to you on that one.
As I wandered down this path of inquiry, several things have occurred to me.
A lot of my LDS writer friends, as well as well respected LDS authors (in particular, the one who hosts this site) and literature experts (I am a huge fan of Arthur Henry King) have made the observation that The Book of Mormon just could not be a 19th Century book written in just a couple of months — while under persecution and needing to move, no less.
Authors know what it takes to write, and there is little evidence that Joseph Smith had those tools, including modern writing skills that no one in the 1800s had.
The impression isn't as scholarly as Skousen's. It's the same subconscious impression described in the book Blink, when the card guesser starts guessing correctly more often than not before he knows the pattern.
Sophisticated readers are making good guesses before they really known the pattern, because they're familiar with it.
The pattern of language, culture, and information and story flow is something that can be analyzed and picked apart. The patterns of antiquity and an ancient, non-European culture which are in The Book of Mormon could be found. The Hebrew form of poetry, chiasmus is once such pattern that comes to mind.
And in Skousen's paper we learn that the "if and" style of statements used in The Book of Mormon isn't simply non-standard English, but is the Hebrew version of our "if then" statements.
So far, of those patterns that scholars have been able to consciously discern, The Book of Mormon has held up under that scrutiny.
It is not anti-scientific or illogical to believe The Book of Mormon is true. That is because the hypothesis that it is true leads to predictions that can be tested.
We should be able to determine how the transcription process occurred through textual analysis. It should contain the language and character of one or more ancient civilizations. We should see multiple authors underlying the translation.
We should see a drift in culture over the thousand years in the book. We should discover similarities in some Native American languages to Semitic languages.
It holds up very well to those predictions.
We may find some of our assumptions wrong while The Book of Mormon itself is still true. If B.H. Roberts had lost his testimony based on some of his studies that appeared to discredit The Book of Mormon, he would have left the Church based on wrong assumptions.
Roberts believed in a hemispheric approach to The Book of Mormon, and it colored all of his thinking. It's interesting that this kind of a fact, that all the peoples in the Western Hemisphere are descended from Lehi and the Jaradites, is not true. It was something long believed, and even taught in church.
The Book of Mormon itself stands up to everything we've learned, but not all of our assumptions. But through all the supposed difficulties B. H. Roberts stood firm in his testimony. He must have had questions. He must have figured there was information he didn't know, and that all the pieces would fall together eventually. First and foremost, he relied on the personal revelation of The Book of Mormon's truth.
All of that scholarly evidence is interesting, but it is not relevant to us. We don't grow from it, except in a scholarly way. And I don't think that's how we're going to be judged.
We grow from reading The Book of Mormon as scripture.
First and foremost we should rely on our testimony given to us from God through the Holy Ghost. That is what will have practical application in our lives. And there is another prediction that can be tested: That our relationship with God will grow, our understanding of the Savior will increase, and our lives will improve as we study and follow the teachings of The Book of Mormon as scripture.
That's the most proving evidence: the fruit that The Book of Mormon bears when we hold to it.
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