Overviews of the Scriptures and History of Mormonism
Over the last few months, we have been adding overview topics that look at the specific truth claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints including both the scriptures of the church (Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, etc) and the history (First Vision, priesthood restoration, polygamy, etc). We also spent a lot of time looking at what biblical scholarship tells us about the scriptures of Mormonism, which is a very important area when assessing the truth claims of the church.
Each topic looks at the truth claims of the church, what the historical record tells us, and if the apologetic responses to these issues hold up to the historical and scholarly evidence on each topic.
I will continue to add topics below until the project is complete, but since we're nearing the finish line I wanted to put them all in one place. There are currently 38 different overview pages below, and hopefully they are helpful to you as you go through these topics - I know I learned a lot with each one as I completed them.
Book of Mormon Overviews
Part 1: Joseph Smith and Treasure Digging: We begin our Book of Mormon overview topics with a look at Joseph Smith's involvement in treasure digging, and how his magical worldview is embedded in both obtaining the Book of Mormon plates and the translation of the text using his peep/seer stone in a hat, just as he claimed to see buried treasure with.
Part 2: The Gold Plates: We continue our Book of Mormon overview topics with a look at the gold plates for the Book of Mormon, taking a deep dive into the different accounts to see how treasure digging impacted almost every impact of the gold plates story from the visitation by a guardian spirit, to the retrieval of the plates, and even the story of how the "spectacles" or "Nephite Interpreters" were created during a visit to Hill Cumorah.
Part 3: The Translation: We continue our Book of Mormon overview topics with a look at the translation process for the Book of Mormon. We continue to look at how treasure digging impacted the translation process along with some of the basic problems that arise from the translation accounts, the literary dependence on the King James Bible, and what it means that the gold plates were never used for the Book of Mormon as we have it today.
Part 4: The Lost 116 Pages: We continue our Book of Mormon overview topics with a look at the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon taking a look at the event itself, Joseph Smith's revelation of D&C 10 unveiling the 'small plates' of Nephi, the vagueness of the replacement text, and what clues the dictation order gives us about the authorship of the Book of Mormon.
Part 5: DNA and the Lamanites: Our Book of Mormon overviews continue with DNA studies and what they can tell us about the Book of Mormon's claims of being a literal, historical record. We look not just at DNA, but the text of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's claimed revelations from God as to who the Lamanites are, and if there were other populations that could have swallowed up the Lehites as the current apologetics insist.
Part 6: Surrounding Influences: Part six of our Book of Mormon overviews looks at the surrounding influences that are embedded in the text of the Book of Mormon including Joseph Smith's treasure digging and the King James Bible from previous sections along with the Moundbuilder myth, the Masons, Joseph Smith Sr.'s dream, and events happening while the Book of Mormon was being produced such as the Charles Anthon visit and the loss of the 116 pages.
Part 7: Anachronisms: Our overview continues, looking at how anachronisms and biblical scholarship can help scholars date the Book of Mormon to the 19th century, showing how the Book of Mormon's reliance on the King James Bible is so significant, and what should be in the Book of Mormon but isn't.
Part 8: Tight vs Loose Translation Theories: As we begin wrapping up the overviews on the Book of Mormon, we look at the two different theories of translation - the tight and loose translations. We look at which problems cannot exist with a tight translation, which ones cannot exist with a loose translation, and what those around Joseph Smith told us about the process of translating the Book of Mormon.
Part 9: How the Book of Mormon was Composed: We wrap up the Book of Mormon portion of our overviews with a look at how the Book of Mormon was composed, using Jacob 5 and the parable/allegory of the olive tree as an example of how we can show where the author of the Book of Mormon was pulling from, along with other fingerprints that were left on the text that tell us both when it was written and who wrote it.
Biblical Scholarship and the Scriptures of Mormonism
The Book of Mormon and Adam and Eve Historicity - We look at the historicity of Adam and Eve and how that impacts the Book of Mormon, Abraham, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the temple ceremony. In addition, we look at how Joseph Smith called Adam the "Ancient of Days" and where that idea originated.
The Book of Mormon and the Global Flood - A look at the historicity of a global flood and how that impacts not only the Book of Mormon, but the Book of Abraham, and Moses as well. We also review the apologetic argument that belief in a literal flood is not necessary to be a believing member, and how that stacks up against the church's scriptures regarding a flood.
The Book of Mormon and the Tower of Babel) - A look at the historicity of the Tower of Babel, and what the implications are for the Book of Mormon as the Jaredites left to the Americas right after the confounding of languages was to have taken place.
The Book of Mormon and the King James Bible - A look at the Book of Mormon's reliance on the King James Bible, and what that tells us about the Book of Mormon's authenticity and claims of ancient history. We look at the mistranslations, late additions, and use of Jesus' 'Sermon on the Mount' to see if their integration into the Book of Mormon would be possible historically, and what they tell us about Joseph Smith's translation abilities.
The Sermon on the Mount and the Book of Mormon - A look at the Book of Mormon's use of the King James Version of the Sermon on the Mount in 3 Nephi as the Sermon at the Temple. We look at the historicity of the Sermon on the Mount and what that tells us about its inclusion in the Book of Mormon, as well as a look at the Synoptic Gospels along with the belief of a Q source for Matthew and Luke.
The Long Ending of Mark and the Book of Mormon - We review the scholarship behind the "Long Ending of Mark" that was not in the original Gospel manuscripts, and then examine how material from that late addition to the Gospel could end up in the Book of Mormon (Mormon 9:24) in a word-for-word copy from the King James Bible.
Deutero-Isaiah and the Book of Mormon - An overview of the problem that "Deutero-Isaiah" presents for the Book of Mormon, as scholars can now date Isaiah chapters 40-55 to after 586 BCE, but the brass plates were taken from Laban years earlier in 600 BCE. We look at how extensively this material is used in the Book of Mormon, and why that presents challenges to its claim as an ancient, historical record.
Joseph Smith and Church History
Overview of the First Vision: Different Accounts and Apologetics: A comprehensive overview of the different First Vision accounts, looking at now just what the changes were but why the changes were made. In addition to just the First Vision, we detail where Joseph Smith made similar changes in his other works when he changed the First Vision as well.
Overview of Joseph Smith and the Priesthood Restoration: Our overviews continue with the priesthood restoration. We have a timeline detailing how the revelations in the D&C 13, 20, and 27 were altered and retrofitted to include John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John along with how both Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery used these changes to elevate their status with the church.
Overview of the Word of Wisdom: A look at the Word of Wisdom, reviewing the historical events that led to the creation of D&C 89, how the church viewed the Word of Wisdom during Joseph Smith's lifetime, and how the church has redefined the revelation since it became a temple recommend question in 1919.
Overview of Changes to Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants: Our overviews continue with a look at the revelations received by Joseph Smith, and how he altered the text when compiling the Doctrine and Covenants. I look at some of the changes he made, what those changes tell us about the idea of revelation in the Mormon church, and what they tell us about Joseph's role in creating them.
Overview of the Kinderhook Plates: An overview of Joseph Smith and the Kinderhook Plates, looking at the history of the plates, Joseph Smith's partial translation, and how the church taught about the incident even after Fugate admitted they were a hoax. I also look at common apologetic responses to the Kinderhook Plates, what they tell us about the Book of Abraham, and what they reveal about the leaders of the church and their ability to discern truth.
Overview of Joseph Smith's Translations - An overview of some of Joseph Smith's most significant translations, and what the evidence tells us about their authenticity including the Book of Mormon "caractors," the pure Adamic language, the Kinderhook Plates, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, and the writings of John.
Overview of Race and the Scriptures of Mormonism - An overview of the scriptures of Mormonism and what they teach about race. We look at the curse of dark skin in the Book of Mormon for the Lamanites, who the church believes to be Native Americans and Polynesians. After that we look at the Book of Abraham and Moses and what they say about black skin, as well as quotes from church leaders and what apologists say about the curse of dark skin in the scriptures of Mormonism.
Overview of the Temple Endowment Ceremony and Masonry - An overview of Joseph Smith's introduction of the temple endowment ceremony, looking at the elements that were taken from the Masonic ceremony that Joseph Smith had learned just seven weeks earlier. This overview includes arguments from a 2019 church produced video on the temple ceremony and Masonry along with a look at how Joseph Smith used the signs, tokens, penalties, clothing, and symbols from the Masonic ceremony to create the temple endowment.
Polygamy and Polyandry in the Church
Part 1: A Timeline and Overview of Polygamy and D&C 132: Our overviews continue into polygamy in early Mormonism, and we begin by taking a look at the basic timeline of Joseph Smith and polygamy, the Fanny Walker relationship, Joseph's polyandrous marriages, his 1841 teaching on there being no sin if there is no accuser, the historical process of composing D&C 132, and the problems in the text of D&C 132 as well as how it contradicts both the Book of Mormon and earlier revelations. There is a ton of info in this first overview, and we're just scratching the surface.
Part 2: A look at Joseph Smith's Proposals: Part two of the polygamy overview focuses on Joseph Smith's proposals, looking at the common threads between the women he proposed to, his "Happiness Letter" to Nancy Rigdon, and a closer look at some of his other marriages and what their accounts tell us about how Joseph Smith implemented polygamy and polyandry in the church including Lucy Walker, Zina Huntington, Eliza and Emily Partridge, Helen Mar Kimball, and more.
Part 3: Spiritual Wifery, Common Apologetics, and Conclusion: The polygamy overview concludes with part three, looking at some of the common apologetic responses to Joseph Smith's implementation of polygamy. I look at the difference between 'spiritual wifery' and 'plural marriage,' with testimonies from women who all say the men explicitly claimed to learn it from Joseph Smith, and a conclusion on what all of these accounts tell us about Joseph Smith's claim that it was all God's doing, even though Joseph admits he was the one who originally inquired about it in the first place.
The Book of Abraham
Part 1: Translation and Source Materials - A look at the translation of the Book of Abraham along with the source materials that we have from the translation process, and what that tells us about Joseph Smith's ability as a prophet, and the authenticity of the Book of Abraham as an ancient text.
Part 2: The Book of Abraham Text - We build on our part one overview, and look at what the text of the Book of Abraham itself tells us about the authenticity of the Book of Abraham as an ancient text, and what the material tells us about both who wrote the Book of Abraham and when it was written.
Spiritual Witnesses, Revelations, and What Do We Do Now?
Overview on Spiritual Witnesses and Testimonies - A look a the concept of spiritual witnesses and how all religions have used them to convey that God has told them they are in the true church. I then look at how testimonies are both cultivated and maintained through the church and the many different cognitive biases and fallacies that keep us from being willing to look at information that might harm that testimony, and a story about probably the most powerful spiritual witness that I have ever had regarding the church.
Overview on How the Church Handles Doubt - A look at how the church has approached those with doubts in recent years, looking at youth devotionals from the Renlunds, Elder Corbridge, the Rasbands, and then the April 2021 General Conference talk from Prophet Russell M. Nelson where he called those with doubts "lazy learners" and said that members should stop discussing their doubts with others who are willing to talk about the problems with the church's truth claims.
Overview on Revelation, Part 1: Backdating Prophecy - Our first overview on revelation in the church covers the idea of backdating prophecy. In this overview we look at how Joseph Smith used events around him to backdate prophecies into the Book of Mormon so they could be fulfilled, how that allows us to date the composition of the Book of Mormon, and how members continue to backdate prophecies today, looking at how many members credit Russell M. Nelson with prophesying of COVID when he never gave any kind of indication that a pandemic was coming.
Overview on Revelation, Part 2: Joseph Smith's Revelations - We continue the overview on revelations, looking at the ways Joseph Smith used revelations in the voice of God, including using them to get members to do what he wanted done (raise funds, polygamy, etc) and to get himself out of a tough situation (116 Pages, Emma and polygamy, etc). We then look at some of Joseph Smith's factually incorrect revelations along with some of his failed revelations made as a prophet of God and what that means for his ability and credibility as a prophet.
Overview on Revelation, Part 3: Revelations After Joseph Smith - I continue the overview on revelations, looking at how revelation in the church has changed since Joseph Smith's lifetime. In addition to looking at the overall watering down of revelation since Joseph Smith, I examine John Taylor's 1886 revelation on plural marriage, the lifting of the priesthood and temple ban, and Russell Nelson's two biggest perceived revelations: the "name change" of Mormon and the reversal via revelation in 2019 of the 2015 revelation about LGBT families in the church.
Overview on Revelation, Part 4: Personal Revelation - The fourth and final overview on revelation looks at our own personal revelation, covering how patriarchal blessings have been consistently wrong to the point where patriarchs are told what they are allowed to say and how the leaders both cultivate and define our own personal revelations to keep us from contradicting the leaders. I also cover how personal revelation, just as revelation from the prophets of the church, has been watered down to the point where current leaders tell us not to expect words and visions, but just feelings to answer our questions.
The Transfiguration of Brigham Young - An overview of what is taught as the miraculous event that let members know Brigham Young was chosen by God to lead the church following Joseph Smith's death: the Transfiguration of Brigham Young. I look at what the church teaches against what the contemporary evidence tells us, and why it is such an important event to understand how easily faith promoting stories can not just be created, but solidified in a short time and what that means for the church's other truth claims as well.
The Problem With Apologetics In Mormonism - An overview of the many ways that apologists (and leaders) within the church distort, obscure, and misrepresent history and scholarship in order to make the problems with the church's truth claims and history seem less damaging to members in order to keep them 'in the boat.' I look at many different tactics such as misusing footnotes, cherry picking sources, creating strawman arguments, and probably way too many more. This might be a long overview, but is an important one as you evaluate the church's truth claims openly and honestly.
If Joseph Got It Right, Then Who Got It Wrong? - As our overviews wrap up, we take a look at what is required for the Book of Mormon to be a true, ancient text and for Joseph Smith to be a prophet of God. Then we flip that upside-down and look at what it would mean if Joseph Smith was a prophet of God when it comes to all of the areas of science, archaeology, biblical scholarship, etc that tell us that the Book of Mormon is not an ancient, historical text. This is an important way to look at the claims of Mormonism, because if they are true then much of what we think we know today in those fields is simply not correct and must be addressed.