Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Taking the Stone Out of the Hat Part 3: Rescuing the Urim and Thummim

The history behind The Book of Mormon translation is based on the written record. Who writes the history and what they have to say has a strong impact on how the events are understood. The Urim and Thummim found with the gold plates has a lot of evidence, where the stone in the hat a few strong statements. It is assumed that history comes fully formed in a textbook or what was written by an author who did the studies. For the modern historian, no history exists unless it is written down and somehow explained. Some physical evidence can be used to corroborate or refute the written record, but only words explain human thoughts and experience. People can only write from their perspective, and sometimes they lie or remember incorrectly. What can be known about the translation of the Book of Mormon depends on who and what to believe.

Previously the stone in the hat discussion focused mostly on David Whitmer with many interviews. Each one brought up more questions than answers about the Book of Mormon translation. He claimed to have witnessed more than the angel revealing the gold plates, Urim and Thummim, and other objects. He said the translation of the Book of Mormon happened in front of him and others. Sometimes he said he witnessed the use of the Urim and Thummim, while other times he denied that and said only a seer stone. This is in direct opposition to what Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, ,and Lucy Mack Smith wrote. Seeing the Urim and Thummim and the gold plates before the translation was finished would be a death sentence for both him and Joseph Smith, according to commands of the Lord. He was one of the Three Witnesses that an angel showed the plates, Urim and Thummim, and other holy objects after the translation. A generous reading might include he saw a non-translation demonstration, misinterpreted what he saw or was misinterpreted about what he said, got frustrated with the resulting discussions, and finally ended up sticking with the stone in the hat to be more consistent.

Another of the Three Witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, always testified the few times he did that the Urim and Thummin found with the plates was the translation instrument. He never mentioned a stone in the hat. One report around 1830 of an interview has him describing Joseph Smith looking on the gold plates engravings with transparent stones in the spectacles, “and afterwords put his face into a hat, and the interpretation flowed into his mind.” (quoted in The Joseph Smith Papers: Documents Vol. 1, xxxi-xxxii). It is hard to determine if this was all Oliver Cowdery or a mix from other stories attributed to him. Nothing apparently is put in the hat other than Joseph Smith’s head, and the words come into his mind. There is no other report like this from any other source, even if many of the elements are present. Regardless, there is no dark colored seer stone, with the inclusion of a hat out of the ordinary for all other reported Cowdery statements.

Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses, is perhaps the first to talk with newspapers.It is hard to say early on how much of the very first reports actually came from Martin Harris or Joseph Smith, or the newspaper editorial opinions. They rewrote articles based on the Palmyra Freeman, 11 August 1829 report, with strong hostile slants. The Rochester Advertiser and Daily Telegraph August 31, 1829 article said, “the [Golden] Bible was found, together with a huge pair of spectacles! He had been directed, however, not to let any mortal being examine them, ‘under no less penalty’ than instant death! They were therefore nicely wrapped up and excluded from the ‘vulgar gaze of poor wicked mortals!’,” that is less than an actual quotation. Another newspaper, Rochester Gem, September 1829, claims to paraphrase Martin Harris. The supposed interview statement reads, “He states that after the third visit from the same spirit in a dream he proceeded to the spot, removed earth, and there found the bible, together with a large pair of spectacles. He had also been directed to let no mortal see them under the penalty of immediate death, which injunction he steadfastly adheres to . . .” What the actual first report said was most likely similar to this one. Both of them, and others that also use the same report, describe the gold plates’ dimensions, engraved hieroglyphics, and placing spectacles in a hat. That last part is not possible considering the descriptions of the size of the spectacles and the white or transparent stones. As explained in another post, this is most likely rumors combined with what believers said.

Another newspaper more local to the events claims to have talked with a few of the Witnesses, including Martin Harris. It writes he stated, “that when he acted as amanuenses, and wrote the translation, as Smith dictated, such was his fear of the Divine displeasure, that a screen (sheet) was suspended between the prophet and himself.” (The Reflector, Palmyra, 19 March 1831). Perhaps it is only a very short quote from a longer explanation Martin Harris gave, but there is no “seer stone” or “hat” present. He couldn’t even see what Joseph Smith was doing because there had to be some kind of cover. In this case, the sheet or screen. The same warnings, although including a hat and not a curtain, were included in the previous reports.

The very hostile 1843 Mormonism Unveiled paraphrases Martin Harris describing the “Urim and Thummim” and the sheet hiding the translation. E.D. Howe claims he was told that, “the presence of the Lord was so great, that a screen was hung up between him and the Prophet,” while at other times Joseph Smith went upstairs with Martin Harris in another room. This does seem to have parallels with the translation change to the Whitmer’s house, after Martin Harris lost the plates and the duty of scribe. The most famous apparent quote of Martin Harris in this book comes from Dr. Charles Anthon who states he was told “This young man was placed behind a curtain, in the garret of a farm house, and, being thus concealed from view, put on the spectacles occasionally, or rather, looked through one of the glasses, decyphered the characters in the book.” Of course, how much was the actual words of Martin Harris, or personal paraphrasing is unclear. Regardless, at no time do they mention he talked about a stone in a hat. The book, as previously talked about in another post, wrote of the Urim and Thummim and the stone in the hat as two separate theories of translation. Both of them equally absurd to the author and editor.

By the 1870s Joseph Smith was no longer alive and the old Lost Spaulding Manuscript theory was invigorated. The “Mormons” had split into a large “Utah Church” and smaller Eastern U.S. claimants to the Restoration. The largest of these Eastern offshoots was The Reorganized LDS Church, who sent missionaries to Utah to gain converts. They were relatively successful, making Brigham Young not happy about their presence. He warned the Saints about them with some back and forth verbal hostilities. The “Utah Church” didn’t really care about the Spaulding Manuscript theory and continued to preach the Urim and Thummim translation. Back east the theory gained momentum. Along with it high profile statements about the stone in the hat to counter it and the LDS Church in the west. The past has become prologue as it is still used in an ever growing battle over history.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Taking the Stone Out of the Hat Part 2: A Convenient Inconsistency

Challenging the stone in the hat translation story can be difficult for those unfamiliar with the documents. For every quote supporting the Urim and Thummim as the only instrument used to translate the golden plates, some other quote will be used to justify the stone as at least a companion tool. Anyone with access to the documents will, with time, realize how confusing the whole becomes. These aren't complimentary recitations that can be reconciled. They are at odds with each other; sometimes within the same sources or interviews. Important evidence needs to be examined for context and agendas, and not only quotes, to come at least close to the truth.

Previously the stone in the hat discussion reviewed early recitations of the Book of Mormon translation. Although the hat, or box, or dark place was found in the earliest non-Mormon reports or interviews, they weren’t always included. None of the earliest believing Mormon writings, including Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery who would know the most, mentioned the hat or “seer stone” in any way. Both the earliest reports and the direct statements of early Mormons, yet again including Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, mention Interpreters or white stones in spectacles. Even the earliest accusation of Joseph Smith as a peep stone in a hat money digger doesn’t point to the same instrument in use for the Book of Mormon translation. That doesn’t show up until the 1834 anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unveiled examined the stone in the hat and the Urim and Thummim behind a curtain as two opposing translation theories. The book didn’t consider them one and the same, or that they were interchangeable in the translation process. Both were ridiculed by the author and publisher as equally questionable. The book writers preference was the curtain with the gold plates and Urim and Thummim or spectacles, because it fit the hidden Lost Spaulding Manuscript theory. Those critics who wrote earlier than the book conjectured or accused Joseph Smith of using occultic powers to translate while merely compared the Interpreters or Urim and Thummim to seer stones. Not until the death of Joseph Smith did some former Mormons, including important witnesses to the gold plates and Urim and Thummim, add the seer stone in a hat as part of the translation story.

Considering all the background information that puts the Urim and Thummin as the principle translation device, it might be surprising how prominent for modern Mormons the stone in the hat has become. Before this it was a peculiarity that might have some authentication, but not enough for inclusion in publications and talks. Artwork, although not entirely accurate, stuck with the Prophet Joseph’s and his scribe Oliver Cowdery’s version of translation methods. To wipe out those inaccurate versions of the translation and replace them with even more questionable versions is revisionist history; not sound doctrine.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The BYU Institutions Need a Change of Direction

Spiritual and Academic problems at "The Lord's University" have slowly escalated over the years. All Brigham Young University schools became full of the World and less of the Spirit. The original mission to educate the Saints while committing to Spiritual development seems less equal. Worldly education has drastically overtaken teaching by the Spirit in each classroom. The places that should be a fortress against a sinful and Godless society turns to them as an example rather than The Savior. Of course, this shouldn't be a complete surprise considering where the Universities get their employees. They go out into the World to get "Higher Education" and then get brainwashed by an immoral society. In return they see BYU as easy access to a job while pretending (for they act and teach the opposite) to uphold the LDS Church standards. Wolves in Sheep's clothing taint and poison both the BYU school institutions and many of their student victims. It is time for the LDS Church to do some BYU housecleaning, changing the direction the schools have gone for over two decades.

Something of an uproar has happened after Elder Holland of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles read a letter with concerns about Brigham Young University. After stating his satisfaction with the Worldly accolades:
But, he added, “the real successes at BYU are the personal experiences that thousands here have had, personal experiences difficult to document or categorize or list.” Elder Holland also shared a few lines from another memo. “ ‘You should know,’ the writer says, ‘that some people in the extended community are feeling abandoned and betrayed by BYU. It seems that some professors (at least the vocal ones in the media) are supporting ideas that many of us feel are contradictory to gospel principles, making it appear to be about like any other university our sons and daughters could have attended. Several parents have said they no longer want to send their children here or donate to the school.
He tried to express the need to defend the LDS Church and its morals at BYU while not becoming over zeolous. The term "friendly fire" was used to express his desire not to get personal. As usual there is much that both sides can pick to try and either hold to the progressive wave or orthodox use as a relying cry. This will most likely not change anything until something is done to make changes.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Taking the Stone Out of the Hat

For several generations the story of how the Book of Mormon came about was taught the same way as Joseph Smith presented the translation. He was worried about religion and decided to pray for answers. A vision of the Lord and God appeared and instructed him not to join any church, but remain worthy of more knowledge. A short time later while again praying to know his standing with the Lord, an angel named Moroni visited him three times in the night before instructing him where a set of gold plates could be found. He searched and found the plates buried in a nearby hill, along with other objects. One of those objects was a set of spectacles to be used in translating the ancient gold plates with ancient engravings. About four years later he took the gold plates and spectacles home, and with the help of a writer taking down what he read translated the words into The Book of Mormon. Three witnesses were shown the gold plates, spectacles, and other objects by an angel of God. Another group of eight witnesses were shown the gold plates with no divine company. Now after so many years this narrative is challenged. Not by non-Mormons, but Mormon academics who think they know better. Instead of an ancient book translated by Holy instruments, its at least part of the time just a common rock put into a hat found in a well. This was a complete fabrication probably built around rumors. Despite their sophisticated words, the academics are wrong. The ancient Interpreters placed with the gold plates was the only instrument that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon.

Any believing Latter-day Saints familiar with the Book of Mormon text knows there was only one set of instruments set aside to translate the ancient language on the gold plates. Book of Mormon prophecy explains in detail where the Interpreters came from and why they exist. God touched two white stones that The Lord gave to The Brother of Jared specifically to translate ancient records by the Power of God. They were handed down from generation to generation used at times, with a prophecy that they would be the means to translate the Nephite records. To claim any other instrument would be used is to speak against the Word of God. At around the time of the Tower of Babel a righteous man and his family were commanded to leave into a new promised land. They built eight boats to cross the waters, but they were sealed tight enough not to let in light. Concerned about this, a man known as "The Brother of Jared" went to a high mountain and prayed to God for guidance. When asked by God how he wanted to resolve the problem, the Brother of Jared suggested The Divine touch white stones and make them glow in the dark. Impressed with his faith, God showed Himself as the pre-mortal Jesus Christ. Along with this amazing vision, The Lord fashioned two stones "For behold, the language which ye shall write I have confounded; wherefore I will cause in my own due time that these stones shall magnify to the eyes of men these things which ye shall write" (see Ether, chapter 3). Several generations later in the Book of Mormon these same blessed stones were used to translate mysterious 24 gold plates found with other artifacts (see Mosiah, chapter 8), "and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men." The white stones touched by the Hand of the Lord are handed down, along with sacred writings that must be interpreted by them, to each generation (see Mosiah 28). These are the same stones specifically prophecied that Joseph Smith would use for interpretation of the ancient "gold plates" record.

Consider all the Scriptural history behind the Interpreters and then wonder why any other instrument would be used. The Lord wouldn't accept any old rock found in a stream or a well, or any other place, after all that time and effort for preservation. No other objects would be Holy enough to translate a record that was protected by God for the Last Days. For a thousand years they were used to translate ancient unknown languages. Another thousand years they were kept hidden to be revealed by an Angel. No matter what kind of "mistakes" were made, it is unreasonable that another instrument takes their place. The interpreters would either be returned because of repentance (as did happen), or the gold plates and Interpreters given to someone (or nobody) else more worthy. By itself the translation of the Book of Mormon with white stone Interpreters touched by the Power of God is strange enough. Try to claim a regular smooth dark brown stone thrown into a hat was the translation device and it changes the whole thing into near blaspheme. The first is a high religious concept while the other a common magic trick. Those who try to reconcile the two are forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Church History in Pictures: Translation of a Book

After Joseph Smith was visited by the Angel Moroni, he was told to go to a hill where he would find a record of an ancient American civilization. He at first worked the farm with his father without mentioning the vision, but related it to his father when exhibiting physical weakness.  Trusting in the vision, Joseph Smith Jr's father told him to find the place located on what would later be called the hill Cumorah.

Today the hill has a memorial to the Angel Moroni at the top. During the summer a Pageant is presented commemorating the Book of Mormon that was translated by the Power of God. It would be about four years before he was allowed to take the "golden plates" from the hiding spot. Every year he as commanded to go back and be taught more information before granted permission to take them.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Church History in Pictures: Visions from Heaven

The first years of Joseph Smith Jr.'s life was not very eventful. His mother in her own recollections states he lived like any other youth. The most noteworthy events for several years was constant moving to new locations.

From  the LDS institute textbook Church History in the Fullness of Times Student Manual second chapter:
During Joseph Smith’s earliest years, his family moved frequently, looking for fertile soil or some other way to earn a livelihood. Their first move after his birth took them from Sharon to Tunbridge. In 1807, soon after Samuel was born, they moved to Royalton, Vermont, where two more sons were born. Shortly after William’s birth in 1811 the Smiths moved to the small community of West Lebanon, New Hampshire . . .
While living in West Lebanon, members of the Smith family became ill with typhoid fever. All of the family recovered, including for a time Joseph Smith Jr. Two weeks after getting better, Joseph Smith Jr. developed a serious leg infection. He pleaded with doctors to not take off his leg. A very skilled physician saved the leg after painful surgery to take out infected bone.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Church History in Pictures: Birthplace of Joseph Smith

Thought of doing a project where I present places of LDS Church history in pictures. This post will focus on the Birthplace of Joseph Smith Jr. He was born on Dec. 23, 1805 on the town line of Sharon and Royalton, Vermont. A white granite obelisk marks the general area of his birth as a memorial.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

My "Favorite" General Conference Apostles

All of the General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are important witnesses of the Savior Jesus Christ. Many people have a "favorite" they like to listen to and get the most out of their talks. Over the years there are some that I also seem to pay attention to more than the others as personal preference. This post will list those Apostles of the Lord, briefly comment about them, and link representative talks. Names are restricted to those alive during my lifetime and distinctly remember. Prophets are in a class of their own, so they will not be mentioned even before becoming President of the Church. It is so wonderful that technology makes it easy to go back and once again read or listen to their words.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Stone in the Hat and the Miracle of Translation


“You find magic wherever you look. sit back and relax. all you need is a book” - Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

"Oh, Man will fly all right - ho-ho-ho! - just like a rock." - Archimedes the Owl from Disney's Sword in the Stone

What can I say? I was, apparently, lied to by whoever I can point a finger at as responsible. Artistic renderings, Sunday School lessons, General Conference talks, and of course Joseph Smith himself concealed the real history. The Urim and Thummim was supposed to be the principle means of The Book of Mormon translation, but it turns out a Seer Stone did most of the work. I mean, it was no secret that a stone in a hat was the means of production. What became lost and confusing is how much that became the tool used by Joseph Smith to translate by the Gift and Power of God.

This introduction is partly facetious, but there is some truth to the words. My own early knowledge was based on what critics consider misinformation, although more like simplifications. The article "Joseph the Seer" is not the first time the topic of The Book of Mormon translation tools have been published. During the first decade of correlated magazines, there was a Friend Magazine article and an in depth Ensign publication that might be superior to the most recent. The history is confusing even with the primary documents. All of them have points of convergence. But, taken all together there is no clear picture of the means or process. The only person who would know for sure, Joseph Smith, was vague to the point of near silence. He was far less concerned with how The Book of Mormon was produced and more focused on the fact it was written. The teachings in the book are to be read, pondered, and studied while translation devices are simply tools to be used and discarded.

To increase the problem is the concern expressed in my previous post about the Age of Reason. Despite stories of ghosts, bigfoot, UFOs, and the persistence of astrology still printed in newspapers, miracles of the religious kind are a bridge too far in Western society. Throw in a physical object where its existence, if not the miracle, cannot be refuted and skepticism becomes scorn. Even believers wince at a small, brown, and smooth stone once used to commune with the Divine. Throw in a funny old hat and there seems nowhere else to go but ridicule. What is that you say? Oh, don't mind my rabbits foot keychain or lucky horseshoe. No one really believes in those kinds of things anyway.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

What the LDS Church Really Says about Reading Anti-Mormon Literature

flier-clipart-ar130411564061063Those members less inclined to know the history of the LDS Church, especially the more complicated parts, express concerns that they were told to keep away from reading non-faithful material. They claim to have been taught to always turn to Church sanctioned material only and avoid non or anti-Mormon literature. No doubt there has been warnings of the harmful effects of the less than official sources, but an outright ban is a misreading of many lessons taught. The message isn't always clear because opinions on just how to approach anti-Mormonism is mixed. There is no one single set of standards how to engage or respond. What is consistent over the years is the warning and how to be careful.

Learning is an essential part of growing in the Kingdom of God. The subject matter that we should focus on is very wide. We read in Doctrine and Covenants 88: 77-80 how open:
77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. 78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; 79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms— 80 That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.
Taken in its literal reading, there is nothing to be avoided in pursuit of truth. Of course, that doesn't mean everything we learn about is true. Discernment is part of gaining the wisdom necessary for spiritual and intellectual growth. It is the line between reading and analyzing that the LDS Church wants the members to recognize.

When I first paid attention to my own faith, the questions were almost overwhelming. My heart had already decided that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and the LDS Church the authorized organization for the Kingdom of God. My teenage intellectual side was not so willing to leave it alone just because the Spirit spoke peace to my soul. I wanted to understand. Knowing my father was a history teacher, he would be the primary person I would go to when I had questions to find answers. For a short time he put up with my pestering and helped.

One day he must have been too busy or felt tired of my constant questions. He looked at me and then pointed his fingers at a bookshelf. I come from a reading family. My house growing up was filled with books and even now my home contains a few full bookshelves. His message was clear; go do your own research. Most of our books were faithful, but I did run into an anti-Mormon pamphlet tucked away that troubled me. However, it was not what it taught that bothered me, but that I had read the material quoted and found it out of context and a false interpretation. From then on I knew there would always be more than one side of the story and therefore should not fear discussion of them all.

Sadly, too many don't go beyond church material because of a false idea nothing else is acceptable. When they do decide to read other literature it is a surprise to them, often spiritually damaging because of a self imposed ban. It becomes more complicated because they haven't learned to check the sources or counter responses. All of this built on a misunderstanding through mistaken interpretations of what the Church teaches about learning outside official publications.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Out of Darkness and Into Light

Pondering death can be tricky. There are several emotions that are involved with the thoughts, from hope of an afterlife to the fear of pain and suffering. Hearing about a person who took their own life, was killed by actions that could have been avoided, accidents and disease, or at the hands of another is always unpleasant. The saying, "they are resting and in a better place," can be slightly reassuring, but that doesn't take away the fact the person is still gone. Grief felt by the survivors heals over time or destroys the soul. Those who are religious believers are not alone in facing emotional pain. All people must face death eventually.

The beauty of most religions is a faith that there is much more than this life to look forward to experience. Every good and bad time here in mortality can be worth much more than what currently can be imagined. For Christians, this idea comes from the the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ where his mortal teachings are more than morals to live by because, "if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Corinth. 15:19). How precious it can be to open the scriptures and read about Angels and Visions given to mortals as a witness that our person continues long after death. Joseph Smith said, "The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God" (History of the Church, 3:295). To live by faith is life eternal.

Despite the great blessings promised with faith, everyone experiences doubt. Perhaps all that we have been taught and come to believe is not true. The alternative is absolute darkness. Once our lives are over there will be nothing. It is a scary and sobering thought. While Joseph Smith discussed a vision he had of seeing family and friends rise from the graves on the day of resurrection to once again meet and hug them, he said, "More painful to me are the thoughts of annihilation than death. If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 295). It is hard to imagine living with the idea that first we are here conscious of existence and then some day we are not.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

I Don't Wear White Dress Shirts

whiteshirt... that often. They just don't appeal to or look good on me. How far back this aesthetic concern goes in my life I am not sure. Perhaps its only as recently in my life timeline as returning from my mission. Every day from dusk until dawn a missionary wears white shirts and ties, if not suits, as a servant of the Lord. Like any uniform, after the official reason for its use ends it feels good to change into something else. No reason to wear a drab color when there are so many other choices. The reason I don't like to wear white shirts might sound shallow, and there is truth to that consideration, but tastes are not always complicated.

Part of my personality is less than white shirt and tie compatible. From an early age I have been an artistic minded person. My most distinct youthful memories include drawing or coloring on whatever piece of paper crossed my path. As an example, on Saturdays after cartoons there was a classic monster show that came on one of the channels. Giant monsters were my favorite. One of those was a giant tarantula that terrorized the American foothills of some unnamed geography. Having at the time fallen in love with the show the first viewing, I put that fandom down in art. Not just any old picture would do for my enthusiasm. No, I drew and colored (for a black and white film) the basic storyboard of the movie's events. In the mind of that young boy sitting half the Saturday doing his creation, he was writer and director of a remake. White means fill the space up with shapes and colors.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Messages from LDS Prophets

"The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth."
-- Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2011), 45–56.

"Jesus is the first begotten from the dead, as you will understand. Neither Enoch, Elijah, Moses, nor any other man that ever lived on earth, no matter how strictly he lived, ever obtained a resurrection until after Jesus Christ’s body was called from the tomb by the angel. He was the first begotten from the dead. He is the Master of the resurrection—the first flesh that lived here after receiving the glory of the resurrection."
-- Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), 272–78.

"When Jesus came, He came to do a work in many particulars similar to that in which we are engaged, and when He got through with His work here, He stood as the Savior of the world, and of the human family. He came to preach the Gospel to the poor, to open the prison doors to those that were imprisoned, to set them at liberty, and to proclaim the acceptable hour of the Lord, etc. This was a work connected with the people who lived at the time of the flood and were destroyed and kept in prison until the Lord should see proper to extend manifestations of His mercy to them. Hence, as we read, “Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit; by which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison: which sometime were disobedient when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” [See 1 Peter 3:18–20.] He having finished His work upon earth for the living, went and performed a work for the dead; as we are informed, “He went and preached to spirits in prison that had sometime been disobedient in the days of Noah.

It is reserved for us to do a work for those who have passed away who have not obeyed or had the Gospel in their lifetime. We are here to do a work connected with the redemption of the dead. When the Temple was commanded to be built in Nauvoo, after the Temple had been built in Kirtland, and after so many keys had been turned, and after so many manifestations, visions and ministrations had been had, yet it was said then that there was not a place upon the earth in which to perform the ordinance of baptism for the dead, and Joseph was commanded to build a house for that purpose."
-- Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, (2011), 182–90.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Story of Noah and the Scriptures

Everyone is talking about the new Noah movie, wondering if its better described as anti-Christian or pure entertainment. The movie collector of critical ratings Rotten Tomatoes has it in the mid 70 percent for critics and in the 40 percent for viewers. The box office has mixed audience result with a respectable showing of over $40 million during the opening weekend. Movies might give promise with such high earnings, but they live or die in the second and following runs. If word of mouth continues to be negative among the most interested possible viewers (Christians), then curiosity and lack of competition gave it the first boost of money. There is far from any guarantee it won't turn out a bomb. Muslim nations have already given it the banned treatment.

What is supposed to be so bad about the Noah movie for those who don't like it? For starters, it is considered way too off story from the Bible. Noah is in it, an ark with animals is present, and a flood happens. Besides that, according to negative critics, nothing else is close to correct or even the spirit of the account. He ends up a jumble of crazy, environmentalist, near abortionist, murdering anti-hero. Not even believers would protest an intervention to have him committed. The bad guys are morally questionable, but mostly a bunch of industrialists who like to hunt and eat meat. A critic from the science fiction blog io9 tried to make a case for its spiritual pedigree, but made things unintentionally worse for those Christians who would be the most unconvinced. They would see too much para-Biblical references over the very short Bible narrative.

This brings up the question of what the Noah story really is in the Biblical account. At first I was going to do a bunch of quotes and then solemnly explicate the text. That would be the traditional way of writing a blog argument. An equal concern is if there is enough in the Bible to make a story worthy of a two hour night at the movies. This is as much about creativity and imagination as bad exegesis. Those who support the Noah treatment point to The Ten Commandments for an example of making things up that aren't found in the text. True enough, as I have my own criticisms about how Moses was portrayed in rather white washed fashion after his conversion. There is a difference because much of what is in the text became part of the film. Not so much, apparently, the Noah movie.

I am going to write a story outline using what can be known from the Bible, Book of Moses and other JST, Book of Jubilee, Book of Enoch, and a small amount of commentary. The end of the story will have a reference list for those who want to check sources and decide for themselves. The intended outcome should evidence that there is enough in the text to make a great film without complete distortion. Obviously it will be from what an equally controversial Mormon point of view. Those who have watched the Hollywood version can decide how close this is to what they saw on screen.