“An Unfortunate Approach to Joseph Smith’s Translation of Ancient Scriptures”

The Oberammergau Passion Play stage in 2010 (Wikimedia Commons public domain image). It looks pretty much, but not entirely, the same today.


A new article appeared today in Interpreter: A journal of Latter-day Saint faith and scholarship:

“An Unfortunate Approach to Joseph Smith’s Translation of Ancient Scriptures”, by Spencer Kraus

Review by Jonathan Neville, A Man Who Can Translate: Joseph Smith and the Nephite Interpreters. Salt Lake City: Digital Legends Press, 2020. 385 pages. $22.99 (paperback).

Summary: This is the first of two articles that explore Jonathan Neville’s last two books regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon. Neville has long maintained that Joseph Smith did not use a seer stone when translating the Book of Mormon, and he has more recently expanded his historical revisionism to reject the multitude of historical sources that include the use of a seer stone. of seer. Neville’s “proof hypothesis” is explored in A man who can translate, arguing that Joseph recited a memorized text of Isaiah rather than translating Isaiah from the Book of Mormon narrative. This assumption, intended to redefine how Joseph Smith used a seer stone in the Book of Mormon translation, however, fails to treat the historical account seriously or accurately. Neville, in an alleged effort to save the character of Joseph Smith, ironically portrays Joseph as a liar, reinvigorating old anti-Latter-day Saint claims that Joseph simply recited a memorized text, even to the point where Neville defends hostile sources while targeting Church publications. histories and publications. He further attacks the witnesses to the translation in an attempt to discredit their testimonies regarding the seer stone, and repeatedly misrepresents these sources. Coming from a Latter-day Saint, such claims are troubling and demand a response.


We just got back from Theater of passions in our room at Hotel Wittelsbach. It’s late. We arrived in Oberammergau around eleven o’clock in the morning and had free time to walk around and have lunch. Then our group set off for the afternoon part of the famous Oberammergau Passion Play. After a three hour dinner break, we returned for the evening game, which ended just a few minutes ago. I will probably write my next column for Meridian Magazine on the Passion Play, so I’ll save my comments for that. Funny thing though, I ran into Maurine and Scot Proctor, who run Meridian, in the theater just before today’s afternoon performance. They were seated with their daughter Mariah and a group of tourists. It was fun seeing them here. The last time I saw them was a few weeks ago in Ein Bokek, on the Israeli side of the Dead Sea. There too, they were leading a group. Either we hunt them down or they hunt us down. I am. not sure what it is.

Anyway, because it’s late and I’m tired and we’re leaving quite early in the morning, and because I try to post a blog entry of a certain length every day, I’ll repost here a past article at the moment:

Over the years I have heard the comment – often, but not always, from embittered and hostile ex-Mormons – that Mormonism (a term I will use in certain ways until I think of a better listen)) is a superficial term faith, devoid of any intellectual or cultural merit, catering only to thoughtless intermediate business types (otherwise, in fact, only morons).

A few years ago, Thomas Cahill attempted, in his bestseller How the Irish Saved Civilizationto explain the ancient Manichaean faith, and in his comments gratuitously insulted Latter-day Saints and their beliefs by saying something to the effect that Manichaeism, like Mormonism today, had no depth that would satisfy a serious mind.

I have heard this statement more than once, and I have seen it several times recently.

My pal Mormon scholars testify website – now Latter-day Saint scholars testify — was launched, in part, in response to Cahill’s uncharitable remark. I really need to revive this project, but I’ve been very busy. (Is there anyone who would like to help?)

Probably the first problem I see with the claim is that, in my opinion, it is simply not true. (Of course, one could answer, I’m a very superficial person, so who cares about my “judgment”?)

Although the intellectual and cultural tradition of Latter-day Saints is still young — we were, until fairly recently, a small, relatively rural group, concentrated and largely isolated in the Great Western Basin — I think it is beginning to show . (There were few if any truly great Christian literary figures, philosophers, artists or composers, let alone architects, at a time comparable to early Christianity – that is, around the beginning of the 3rd century.) To give just a couple of examples, I suggest serious engagement with the philosophical work of Blake Ostler or listening to Hugh Nibley’s lecture series Time justifies the prophets.

Moreover, I believe that there is an enormous depth in our doctrine, which still largely needs to be explored. As BH Roberts said,

I believe that “Mormonism” offers an opportunity for disciples of the second kind: no, that its crying need is for such disciples. It requires thoughtful disciples who will not just repeat some of the truths, but expand on the truths; and enlarge it by this development. Not half—not a hundredth part—not a thousandth part of what Joseph Smith revealed to the Church has yet been revealed, neither to the Church nor to the world. The work of the interpreter has just begun. The Prophet planted by teaching the seeds of truth of the great dispensation of the fulness of times. The watering and weeding continues, and God gives the increase, and will give it more abundantly in the future, as more intelligent disciples obtain. The followers of “Mormonism”, increasingly dissatisfied with the necessarily primitive methods which have hitherto prevailed in upholding the doctrine, will adopt still deeper and broader views of the great doctrines entrusted to the Church; and, starting from simple repetition, will throw them into new formulas; cooperating with the works of the Spirit, until they help to give the received truths a more energetic expression and carry them beyond the earlier and grosser stages of development. (BH Roberts, “Book of Mormon Translation,” The age of improvement 9/9 [July 1906]: 713.)

But looking at the question from another angle, I cannot help but think that the question of “depth” – if what is meant by depth is simply the kind of complexity that intellectuals and academics like to play and show off with – is largely irrelevant.

It would be foolish in the extreme for someone sitting in a crowded movie theater to ignore a shout of “Fire!” simply because he comes from a lower class “rube” or “philistine”, someone whose hands are soiled from trade (ugh!) or calloused from manual labor, or because he was expressed in a crude manner, or expressed with an unsophisticated accent, or not supported by allusions to recent developments in critical literary theory, or not formulated in iambic pentameter.

I doubt that any early Christian was an elite intellectual capable of standing up to the philosophers of Athens or the scholars of Alexandria. But then what?

Could the Greek sophists Protagoras, Gorgias, Thrasymachus and Cratylus have tied their tough contemporaries Esdras and Nehemiah in intellectual knots? Very probably. But whatever ?

Also, admonitions to kindness, charity, service, and other such positive attributes are still worthwhile, even if dismissed as lacking “depth.” I would rather live in a society characterized by such qualities than among a colony of highly intelligent intellectuals who lack them. (That might actually be a good description of Hell.)

And I have little patience for anyone willing to dismiss the good news of Christ’s resurrection, or the appearance of the Father and Son to Joseph Smith, on the grounds that these accounts lack intellectual subtlety. Simple or not, if they are true, they are of incomparable importance.

And I will add this: the story that is told in the Passionspiele Oberammergau is not extremely complex. But, if it is true, it is profoundly important.

Sent from Oberammergau, Bavaria, Germany