September 19, 2008

Gardner's Book of Mormon Myths: Number 2

Likening With Care, part 7
Today's post continues Gardner's top five myths or misconceptions regarding the Book of Mormon (see myths five, four, and three). Gardner:

"Myth two would be the idea that 'Nephites wear the white hats and Lamanites wear the black hats.'

It is understandable that we get this impression since the story is of the Nephite nation and all external conflicts are with "Lamanites." However, the flexibility of that socio-political label masks Mormon's insistent message that the worst enemies are those who used to be friends and associates. The worst problems the Nephites have (until their final destruction) come from internal dissension and apostasy. "We have met the enemy, and it is us," to quote the line from  Pogo."1


Gardner is referring to cartoonist Walt Kelly's 1971 Earth Day poster depicting what we might call "Pogo's lament."

Gardner believes confining the groups as "Nephite=good, Lamanite=bad" isn't represented so simply in the record itself. In his Book of Mormon commentary Second Witness Gardner views the record as being written much differently from what modern historical conventions would dictate. It is a tribal, or "lineal" account rather than Mormon's academic exercise in presenting history as we might read in textbooks today. For example, in some cases when the record labels the Lamanites in derogatory terms, other details seem to belie such a simplistic description.

Gardner explained:

"In multiple instances, a Nephite describes the Lamanites as lazy and uncivilized. These negative portrayals occur along with descriptions of Lamanite cities that appear more powerful than Nephite cities. This pejorative catalog even gets repeated by Mormon in his abridgment, when it is obviously incorrect. However, the presence of the pejorative characterization is anthropologically accurate for time and place. Rather than attributing it to authorial error, it can be viewed as an accurate replication of typical in-group prejudices that occur in most human populations."2

Thus, Gardner's commentary presents an interesting look at the Lamanites and what caused the continual warfare throughout the Book of Mormon, including a unique view of the rebellions of Laman and Lemuel. A close reading of the text itself reveals the lines were not so neatly drawn between Lamanite and Nephite.This will be discussed further in a future post in this series dealing with "racism in the Book of Mormon."

Brant Gardner, personal email in my possession, Sept. 1, 2008.

These comments from Gardner are found in Kevin Christensen's "Truth and Method: Reflections on Dan Vogel's Approach to the Book of Mormon," FARMS Review 16:1, 349-350. Gardner's Second Witness notes specific instances when the record's description of the Lamanites is self-contradictory. For example, see the discussion of Enos 1:20-21 in volume 3.

September 17, 2008

Gardner's Book of Mormon Myths: Number 3

Likening With Care, part 6
Today's post continues Gardner's top five myths or misconceptions regarding the Book of Mormon (see also myths five and four).Gardner:

"The third myth is that we have the book that Mormon envisioned."
We are missing the first 116 pages of the manuscript, which covered all of the Book of Lehi and the first chapter of Mosiah. In that section, we would have had Mormon's editing of those books and they wouldn't be written in the same way as we see 1 Nephi.1

In his study of the Book of Mormon, Gardner notes that the first 116 pages, dictated by Joseph Smith to Martin Harris, Emma Smith, and possibly Reuben Hale in Harmony, Pennsylvania between April and June 14, 1828, are lost. In the first edition of the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith said the missing pages contained an account "from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon." Lehi's record is mentioned in the Book of Mormon in 1 Nephi 1:17 and it is believed that Nephi's chapters 1-10 follow the same time period.2

Based on this loss, Gardner posits that the Book of Mormon would have been given through Joseph Smith as a complete book from beginning to end as deliberately organized and designed by Mormon (and completed by his son, Moroni). In a 2008 FAIR conference address Gardner laid out his case for the original structure of the Book of Mormon, and how it was designed specifically to "convince the Jew and the Gentile that Jesus is the [Messiah], the Eternal God" (Book of Mormon, Title Page).3 Gardner believes the book still fulfills its purposes in this regard, but finds insight in Mormon's overall approach.


I have seen a couple of fanciful attempts to "reveal" the lost 116 pages. One begins with material obviously modeled on 1 Nephi, but "expanded." That is simply wrong. Nephi crafted his document, he did not edit or abridge it. Mormon wrote very differently from Nephi.

One such attempt is included in Christopher Nemelka's "The Sealed Portion: Final Testament of Christ." In it he claims to have translated the sealed portion, as well as the lost 116 pages of the book of Lehi. Reviews have shown Nemelka's work to be inconsistent with the Book of Mormon, and have typically argued that it was a forgery written by Nemelka himself.4

Brant Gardner, personal email in my possession, Sept. 1, 2008.

See William J. Critchlow III, "Manuscript, Lost 116 pages," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2; D&C 3; 10; HC 1:56.

Gardner, "Mormon's Editorial Method and Meta-Message," FAIR Conference, August 2008.See also a rough summary of the paper in my notes from the FAIR conference here.

A free download of Nemelka's sealed portion can be found here. As an aside, Nemelka incorporated quotes from the modern LDS temple endowment in his sealed portion. For a review see the FAIRwiki article "Christopher Marc Nemelka." See also the article on Nemelka by Ben Fulton, "True Believer," City Weekly, Dec. 27, 2001.

September 15, 2008

Gardner's Book of Mormon Myths: Number 4

Likening With Care, part 5
Continuing with Gardner's top five myths or misconceptions regarding the Book of Mormon, the next involves the problem of excessive modern assumptions.


The fourth myth would be almost any statement that begins with "the Book of Mormon should. . ." 

Gardner intends this myth to refer largely to ethnocentric or modernist assumptions. He explains:

Most who make that statement are reading the text according to a modern preconception that doesn't describe many ancient texts. 
One of the places where we see this is when people assert: "the text should tell us about 'others' if they were there." That is a nice modern assumption, and a modern author would certainly not fail to do so. However, it doesn't describe the way in which ancient histories were written, particularly of the kind we have from Nephi.

We forget that Nephi wrote this as a second type of "history" that was expressly for a different purpose from recording the more "historical" information. The internal logic of the text actually tells us that his need to use the text as a document of ethnogenesis dictated what was and was not in the text. The overriding concerns were different from those we impose upon it when we think it "should" tell us about the "others."1

Thus Gardner argues in his series Second Witness that the Book of Mormon indicates the presence of others in the New World upon the arrival of the Lehites without explicitly naming them. They soon fall under the generic socio-political title of "Lamanites." In his 2001 FAIR Conference address "A Social History of the Early Nephites," Gardner discussed the textual indicators in the Book of Mormon which point to the presence of others. Gardner is not the first or only person to present this view, either.2

Still, some have criticized this position, mainly on the premise that if there were "others," the Book of Mormon should say so in a way that makes it clear to the understanding of the critics. Gardner argues this is a modern expectation and that saying "the Book of Mormon should" is often a problematic approach when it doesn't take into mind what should be expected of an ancient record like the Book of Mormon claims to be.

See myth number 5 here


Brant Gardner, person email in possession of author, Sept. 1, 2008.

See for example, John L. Sorenson, "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1:1; Matthew Roper, "Nephi's Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations," FARMS Review 15:2. Others include Anthony Ivins, Hugh Nibley, and even Bruce R. McConkie. See Jeff Lindsay, "Does DNA Evidence Refute the Book of Mormon."