October 5, 2009

A few comments on Elder Holland's conference address

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's Fall 2009 conference address on the Book of Mormon was stirring. Right after he concluded I received a text message from my mom, "Are you applauding?" His delivery reminded me of an experience related by Parley P. Pratt when he witnessed a similarly-powerful testimony of the book's divine origin:

"A very large church was opened for [Joseph Smith] to preach in, and about three thousand people assembled to hear him. Brother [Sidney] Rigdon spoke first, and dwelt on the Gospel, illustrating his doctrine by the Bible. When he was through, brother Joseph arose like a lion about to roar; and being full of the Holy Ghost, spoke in great power, bearing testimony of the visions he had seen, the ministering of angels which he had enjoyed; and how he had found the plates of the Book of Mormon, and translated them by the gift and power of God. He commenced by saying: 'If nobody else had the courage to testify of so glorious a message from Heaven, and of the finding of so glorious a record, he felt to do it in justice to the people, and leave the event with God.'"1
Elder Holland has been a longtime preacher of the Book of Mormon. His 1966 Master of Arts thesis at Brigham Young University focused on the Book of Mormon2 and in 1997 Deseret Book published his devotional analysis of the scripture.3

In his conference address, Holland noted several other theories critics of the Book of Mormon have advanced:
"For 179 years this book has been examined, and attacked. Denied and deconstructed. Targeted and torn apart, like perhaps no other book in modern religious history. Perhaps like no other book in any religious history; and still, it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born, parroted and died. From Ethan Smith to Solomon Spalding, to deranged paranoid, to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination, because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young, unlearned translator."
More about Solomon Spalding and Ethan Smith can be found at the FAIR wiki and elsewhere.4 Elder Holland declared his testimony that the Book of Mormon is of divine origin and was translated by Joseph Smith just as he claimed. He added his testimony to that of his great grandfather, George Cannon, who read the Book of Mormon twice through before exclaiming that the book was of God, for "no wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.” George Cannon was the father of George Q. Cannon, a member of the First Presidency under four Church presidents.5

Elder Holland also related a story many members might be surprised to find in the Doctrine and Covenants, when Hyrum Smith read from the Book of Mormon on the day the brothers left for Carthage Illinois as described by John Taylor:
"The same morning, after Hyrum had made ready to go...he read the following paragraph, near the close of the twelfth chapter of Ether, in the Book of Mormon, and turned down the leaf upon it: 'And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity. And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore thy garments shall be made clean. And because thou hast seen thy weakness, thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father. And now I…bid farewell unto the Gentiles; yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood.' The testators are now dead, and their testament is in force."6

Elder Holland said he was holding the very copy from which Hyrum had read—a somewhat unfamiliar printing with a black cover and gold gilding. It is a copy of the 1841 English edition commissioned by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Parley P. Pratt—4,500 copies of which were printed by J. Tompkins at Liverpool, England. According to Royal Skousen, this edition was the first European edition of the Book of Mormon and "it is essentially a reprinting of the 1837 edition with British spellings."7

Elder Holland closed with a powerful personal witness and although the mp3 is already available at LDS.org,8 I look forward to reading the full talk when it becomes available:
"But my testimony of this record, and the peace it brings to the human heart, is as binding and unequivocal as was theirs. Like them, I give my name unto the world, to witness unto the world that that which I have seen, and like them, I lie not, God bearing witness of it. I ask that my testimony of the Book of Mormon and all that it implies, given today under my oath and my office, be recorded by men on earth and angels in heaven. I hope I have a few years left in my “last days,” but whether I do or do not, I want it absolutely clear, when I stand before the judgment bar of God, that I declared to the world, in the most straightforward language I could summon, that the Book of Mormon is true. That it came forth the way Joseph said it came forth, and was given to bring happiness and hope to the faithful in the travail of the last days."

Did you really like the address? Go read the Book of Mormon.

Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Deseret Book Co. (1938), pp. 298-99.

Jeffrey R. Holland, "An Analysis of Selected Changes in Major Book of Mormon Editions 1830-1920," Brigham Young University, 1966.

Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon, Deseret Book (1997).

See also John W. Welch, "View of the Hebrews: "An Unparallel"," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 83–87; Matthew Roper, "The Mythical "Manuscript Found" (Review of: Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon? The Spalding Enigma)," FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 7–140.

The original account is from Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1901–36), 1:44. See also Susan Easton Black, ed., Stories from the Early Saints: Converted by the Book of Mormon, Bookcraft (1992) p. 26.

Doctrine & Covenants 135:4-5.The Book of Mormon references is Ether 12:36–38 in the current (1981) edition.

Royal Skousen, "Book of Mormon Editions (1030-1981)," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Macmillan (1992), p. 175. The image of the actual copy Elder Holland displayed is from the BYU Religious Education Image Archive, photo by Kenneth R. Mays. For more click here. There is another claimant for this book. A same-edition copy owned by Bathsheba W. Smith was donated to the Church archives in 2007. Those making the donation showed a similar page fold and the Church News article seems to claim it was that edition from which Hyrum Smith read as described in D&C 135. A photo caption, however, notes that the leaf on the page was turned down, "perhaps in honor of Hyrum Smith." See John L. Hart, "Fabric of history: Geo. A. and Bathsheba Smith artifacts donated to Church," Church News, 5 May 2007. The copy previously owned by the Church and displayed by Elder Holland belonged to Joseph F. Smith, Hyrum's son. I favor it as being the more likely candidate as opposed to the copy owned by Hyrum's cousin's wife. Richard Turley, Assistant Church historian, clarified as follows: "One book descends from Mercy Fielding Smith and is the one Hyrum took from the shelf and marked before leaving for Carthage. It has a provenance statement in it written by Hyrum’s son Joseph F. Smith on December 25, 1898. It is housed in the Church History Library and is the volume held up by Elder Holland. Another recently donated copy is quite similar and descends from Bathsheba Smith. The same page is marked, but in our reasoned opinion, the person who marked that page was merely indicating the spot Hyrum marked. We don’t believe this is the volume Hyrum removed that day" (personal e-mail in my possession, 7 October, 2009). For more about the book see Emiley Morgan, "'A chain of testimony': 1841 copy of Book of Mormon stays preserved," Deseret News, 8 October 2009

The download is available at "179th Semiannual General Conference, October 2009," LDS.org.


Loyd said...

I found Holland's talk to be a little too confrontational for my tastes. While I believe that the BofM is an account of actual ancient persons, I recognize that it is a matter of faith and that the evidence for it is rather scarce, while the growing arguments against it can be quite convincing. As such, I know there are many LDS who believe the BofM to be scripture and of divine origin, but not necessarily an ancient document. Holland's talk, IMHO, was rather dismissive of the LDSaints and a bit denigrating to them personally.

Also, his quick attack on the Spaulding and View of the Hebrews arguments was a bit of a straw man (especially with the former) as very view who see the BofM as 19th century document subscribe to those theories seriously. There are (and Holland knows it) much more rigorous and meticulous arguments for the BofM as a modern text that are far more convincing than the long-dismissed Spaulding theory. Arguments based on DNA, anachronisms in the text, the anachronistic use of the KJV (especially with Isaiah), and others are far more difficult to respond to without taking a far more liberal understanding of the BofM translation process--such as has been postulated by Blake Ostler.

Mark said...

I stood up and clapped when he said Amen (fortunately I was watching it at home, although I probably would have done the same thing at the Conference Center).

Clean Cut said...

Liberal understanding of the translation process or not, the talk was phenomenal. Of course, so is the book. But I couldn't tell you a single thing Elder Cook said afterwards. I was too busy recovering from being blown away by Elder Holland.

BHodges said...

Lloyd, you said "very view who see the BofM as 19th century document subscribe to those theories seriously."

I agree (though there are still an amazing few hangers-on!) and IMO that was Holland's point in mentioning those particular theories. He talked about theories that have come and gone and died, and noted two examples. The inference is that similar or newer arguments would face a similar fate. It wasn't an argument of proof, though, not a logically argued position, but a declaration.

I'm kinda surprised to see you bring up DNA, since (to me) that is the easiest answered and perhaps most overblown new criticism the Book of Mormon has faced in decades (probably since Spalding).

There are sophisticated responses from LDS geneticists like Ugo Perego, but there are also basic rebuttals that even schmoes like me can generate to deflate the argument. If we assume the Book of Mormon is an ancient text we must answer the following questions in regards to DNA and the book:

1. What did Lehite DNA look like (and perhaps more importantly, Sariah mtDNA)?

This hasn't been answered by any BoM critics; how could it be? But this is a crucial issue!

2. How well would such DNA hold up if dropped into an existing population?

Southerton himself answered this one on Signature's website, though the quote was quickly removed because it vindicated the position that a population like the Lehites did not have a chance at their DNA surviving based on existing populations.

3. How did the ostensible recorders of the Nephite record understand the concept of lineage?

If they were anything like the Hebrews or other Semetic tribes (or even like many Mesoamerican groups as best we can tell) they didn't reckon kinship by DNA. Kinship was more often reckoned by group membership and other factors. A corollary question:

4. Were "Lamanite" and "Nephite" terms that applied to literal DNA relations only?

This one is especially easy, since none of them even knew what DNA was. When they speak of seed and descendants and even brethren they weren't talking about DNA. (Nor was Joseph Smith, so even if we assume 19th century origins we would be arguing fallaciously to assert DNA was what the author had in mind.)

Would it be safe to say these questions need to be addressed by any critic? If so, I believe that when they are, it becomes obvious that folks who think any recent DNA studies have deflated Book of Mormon historicity are entirely mistaken. Not only do they get the science wrong, but they also get the concept of relations wrong.

As for the other stuff, I favor an eclectic translation method, some tight, some loose control. I am working on making my view more explicit, but that'll have to wait for another day. I didn't feel Elder Holland's remarks would deny theories like Ostler's.

BHodges said...

Mark: my mom texted me right after, "Are you applauding?"

Clean Cut: I will need to read Elder Cook's address.

ABH said...

I didn't feel Elder Holland's remarks would deny theories like Ostler's.

Or for that matter (as someone mentioned on the BCC thread for that session) deny the "inspired fiction" crowd. Elder Holland seemed to aim directly at those who say the Book of Mormon is a fraud.

JimD said...

DNA, historical anachronisms, and the KJV are fun tools with which one can poke (limited) holes in the Book of Mormon's own explanation of its origin.

But none of them provide a plausible alternate, comprehensive theory for the book's origin the way the Ethan Smith/Solomon Spalding theories purported to.

Critics can carp about the things Joseph allegedly "got wrong", but when you ask them to account for all the stuff he got right . . . they've still got nuthin'.

California Condor said...


How do you account for Ethan Smith's "View of the Hebrews"?

It was written in 1823, and Ethan Smith was from the same Vermont town as Oliver Cowdery.

BHodges said...

CC: I account for it by it not having anything to do with the Book of Mormon. It quotes the Book of Isaiah, that's about the closest parallel there is between the two books, but of course, the Bible quotes the Book of Isaiah as well. Have you read VoH? It will give you a good idea of why the theory has been rejected. Check out the links I provided in the post, as well.

California Condor said...


What's troubling is that the basic premise of the Book of Mormon is also found in View of the Hebrews:

People from Israel went to present-day America.

If Oliver Cowdery was copying Ethan Smith's idea, it makes sense that Oliver would change a lot of the details. He and / or Joseph Smith might have added their own imaginative ideas to the main idea of View of the Hebrews.

Welch's "Unparallel" apologist essay merely picks out minor details where the two books differ. But the main idea is still the same between the two books.

BHodges said...

Your hypothetical situation doesn't account for the complexity of the Book of Mormon, or anything that happens post-Book-of-Mosiah. You also have no evidence whatsoever that Oliver Cowdery knew anything about about VotH. There are no records whatsoever which indicate that Joseph Smith came into contact with the View of the Hebrews during the period of time that he was translating the Book of Mormon. The View of the Hebrews theory was in fact first proposed by I. Woodbridge Riley in 1902, 58 years after the death of the prophet. Where were the contemporaries who noticed any similarity. The links I provided show why I reject the VotH theory, and I think decisively so. The "main idea" of the two books is not the same. (Have you read VotH?) Dismissing Welch as an "apologist" doesn't overcome his arguments, which are more than nit-picky little points.

IS it possible the BoM was "based" somehow on VotH? Sure. Is it plausible? No. Is it historically demonstrable? Quite the opposite.

Thanks for stopping by, CC.

Loyd said...

BHodges, I'll respond more later, but I just wanted to quickly point our that there were contemporaries of Joseph who pointed out the similarities of VotH and the BofM. While they weren't critics using the similarities to discount the BofM, they were Mormons who used VotH as proof of the BofM truthfulness.

While some apologists want to point to Robert's TWL to discount it, there is pretty good evidence that BH Roberts saw the relation between the two texts too strong to be ignored... which led to him doubting (at least for a time) the historicity of the BofM.

BHodges said...

Loyd: Joseph Smith himself discussed it, see the FAIR wiki article I linked to. This was several years after the publication of the Book of Mormon. It's not just TWL wherein we can see Robert's feelings regarding the BoM, though. Some have used some of Roberts's writings to indicate Roberts had doubts about the authenticity of the BoM and so forth. I've done a significant amount of primary source digging on Roberts and am unconvinced by the theory that in private he didn't believe in BoM historicity. I went into it trying to get the best view possible, not to vindicate the BoM using Roberts. Had I found significant evidence to show Roberts struggled privately I would not mind allowing him that struggle. His own opinions don't vindicate or repudiate the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. I tend to believe Roberts wanted better responses to criticisms and that he tried to state as plainly and explicitly as possible the problems he discovered.

Perhaps more interesting to me is the fact that Roberts may be the last actual believer in the Book of Mormon whom critics will appeal to regarding BoM scholarship.

Why is this so? Especially when Roberts's analysis is badly dated? Perhaps some people are not interested in the best or most up to date scholarship, only the best scholarship that provides them justification to dismiss the book as a "pious fraud" or even a forgery. But since Roberts's time a lot of work has been done, a lot of additional information has been discovered. Many of the problems which drew Elder Roberts's attention in his studies on the Book of Mormon have now been adequately accounted for as more information about the ancient world has become available. But this is just what Roberts himself expected.

"We who accept [the Book of Mormon] as a revelation from God have every reason to believe that it will endure every test; and the more thoroughly it is investigated, the greater shall be its ultimate triumph" (Roberts, "The Translation of the Book of Mormon," Improvement Era (April 1906): 435-436).

Loyd said...

I'm not advocating that the VofH theory is viable, however I think it is very clear that for Roberts it was a very viable explanation for the BofM. From his personal writings and correspondences, I think it is clear as well that for at least a time, Roberts was open to and most likely believed that the BofM was a 19th century document. The question is whether his public testimony reflected a renewal of his faith or whether they are a public statement of faith that perhaps did not reflect his private doubts.

On the matter of DNA, I don't think the DNA is sufficient to discount the BofM, per se. But it raises some serious questions about the narratives provided by Joseph Smith and others surrounding the coming forth of the BofM. Smith's accounts of Moroni's visions, the Zelph incident, his purported instructions concerning the BofM, and his personal statements about the BofM all seem to point to a hemispheric model where all the native inhabitants of the Americas are descendants of Lehi.

BHodges said...

Loyd, I'd have to see what examples of Roberts's writings you are appealing to, from what I have read Roberts did not believe the BoM was a 19th c. prod. He entertained and tested the BoM against the hardest criticism he could muster. He repeatedly explained his purposes for doing so, even in private correspondence, and it was to spark more scholarship and defense of the BoM.

JS's views on the BoM geography and so forth were not consistent; they changed over time. He appears to have help a N. American view, then a hemispheric view, and then became more interested in Meso/S. America.

BHodges said...

Out of curiosity, what conference address did you like best?

JimD said...

CC -

But hadn't Smith outlined the basic concept of the Book of Mormon--a lost American civilization with Hebrew roots--well before he met Cowdery, and indeed before he claimed to have the plates?

BHodges said...

Don't confuse us with the facts, JimD! ;)

Anonymous said...

Reading some of this is evidence of the concept of being "past feeling". PLEASE. Read his talk again...ponder and pray. Don't let it be lost on you. It is not something you can dismiss without consequence.

California Condor said...


The problem is that most (if not all) of the sources for the chronology were written well after Oliver Cowdery met Joseph Smith in 1829. So they could have retroactively fabricated the Moroni visions of 1823-1827.

However, the whole Martin Harris saga (116 pages, Charles Anthon visit) all purportedly took place before Oliver Cowdery met Smith. 1828 is given as the year that Harris met with Anthon and lost the 116 pages, and it seems plausible that they did indeed happen this year since Anthon didn't deny meeting with Harris. What's harder to independently confirm is what the 116 pages had on them, and what Harris thought the Book of Mormon was when he met with Anthon.

In any event, the point you raise is a good one that strengthens the claim of the Book of Mormon. But it would be nice to have something written before April 1829 indicating that Joseph Smith said that the gold plates contained the story of Israelites coming to present-day America.

BHodges said...

Comment by "JesusSmith" removed.

BHodges said...

By the way, tell your RfM friends to read the relevant "apologist" responses on DNA and the Book of Mormon and respond directly to their points rather than dismissing them based on their source alone. ;)


BHodges said...

"Strawman" and anyone else stopping in from RfM: Read the comment guidelines before posting, thanks.

strawman said...

BHodges said about DNA evidences:
I'm kinda surprised to see you bring up DNA, since (to me) that is the easiest answered and perhaps most overblown new criticism the Book of Mormon has faced in decades

Actually, as a Mol Biologist, I must say it is the most damaging thing to the BoM. You push it aside far too easily.

1. What did Lehite DNA look like (and perhaps more importantly, Sariah mtDNA)?

While no one has a DNA from Lehi, arguably a fictitious character anyway, if he and other leaders of BoM lineage are who they're claimed to be in the BoM, they would certainly have semitic DNA. Especially given that Lehi's family (ie Laban) were rulers in important cities (ie Jerusalem). Further, the Mulekites were born of kingly heritage. That would most definitely contain traceable semitic DNA.

2. How well would such DNA hold up if dropped into an existing population?

What existing population? The BoM indicated that the Jaredites arrived to a pristine continent "where never had man been" (Ether 2:5). Coriantumr was the last survivor of their race, no other was found by Lehi's or Mulek's groups. Lehi claimed that "it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations" (2 Ne. 1:8). So existing population theory aside, how sensitive is DNA matching to specific and individual groups?

In general, autosomal and mitochondria DNA testing has been so sensitive that it can find several final and very specific migratory places of a single family line as old as 10,000 years ago. A 2006 study reports DNA-based research linking DNA retrieved from a single 10,000-year-old fossilized tooth from an Alaskan island, with specific coastal tribes in Tierra del Fuego, Ecuador, Mexico, and California. Unique DNA markers found in the fossilized tooth were found only in these limited and specific coastal tribes, and were not comparable to markers found in any other indigenous peoples in the Americas. (Ref: “Genetic analysis of early Holocene skeletal remains from Alaska and its implications for the settlement of the Americas”, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 132(4), 605-621 (2007).) If one can use a single 10,000 year old tooth to link very small groups that migrated from tip to tip across two continents, surely one can find DNA matching Hebrew lines from groups claimed to have filled all land in both continents and still existing from the Navajo to the Ecuadorians (GBH claimed in 1997 they were "Lehites").

3. How did the ostensible recorders of the Nephite record understand the concept of lineage?

See #1 about Mulek and Lehi's standing in their respective communities. They're not Bering Strait Asian descendants, if that's what you're getting at. How do you account for the fact that the only DNA found so far is of Bering Strait Asiatic migrations? 

4. Were "Lamanite" and "Nephite" terms that applied to literal DNA relations only? 

Given that the BoM suggests many times there were no other existing groups that mixed with Lehi's descendants, I'd say that their DNA would be pretty well unmixed. See #1 & #2 above.

1 Thess 5:21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.


BHodges said...

Strawman, there are several problems with your copy/pasted reply.

"While no one has a DNA from Lehi, arguably a fictitious character anyway, if he and other leaders of BoM lineage are who they're claimed to be in the BoM, they would certainly have semitic DNA."

What Semitic DNA? Compared to what? And what exactly is this DNA? Forensic DNA evidence is so effective because we can compare crime scene DNA with suspects' DNA. We have two known samples, run them through the gel electrophoresis, and look for matches. Anthropological DNA research is much, much more cloudy, and in the case of the Book of Mormon, completely impossible to determine. Matt Roper's article "Swimming in the Gene Pool" does a good job of outlining what a Mischvolk Israelites were, based solely on the Bible narrative. It is impossible to say what Lehi or Sariah's or Ishmael or his wife's DNA looked like, but it is certain that it is much different from a modern Jew in the Bronx or Skokie, Illinois.

Book of Mormon peoples are claimed to be descended from Ephraim and Manasseh (sons of Joseph and Asenath) and Judah. Ephraim and Manasseh's mother was the daughter of the priest of On (Egypt, Heliopolis), so the mtDNA from the very outset is undeterminable non-Israelite. Roper lays out the gory details of the muddying of the genetic waters for the Israelites, to the extent that Ezekiel's declaration that "thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite" (Ezekiel 16:3) is literally accurate.

But this is a sidetrack, anyway, and "strawman" has an appropriate name. He/she assumes the BoM people understood DNA, or referred to DNA. This, however, is false. They neither understood nor referred to DNA.

Loyd said...

I'll have to go back and find the articles I read about the matter to give you sources.

To answer your other question, Pres. Monson's talk on Sunday morning was IMO the greatest talk ever given in a general conference. I was lucky to be able to watch it in the conference center, surrounded by thousands struggling to hold back their tears.

BHodges said...

Counting PH session I think this was definitely Pres. Monson's strongest conference since becoming prophet, by far.

BHodges said...

Updated footnote 7. There is actually another claimant for the book said to be read by Hyrum Smith. A same-edition copy owned by Bathsheba W. Smith was donated to the Church archives in 2007. Those making the donation showed a similar page fold and believe that edition was the one from which Hyrum Smith read as described in D&C 135. See John L. Hart, "Fabric of history: Geo. A. and Bathsheba Smith artifacts donated to Church," Church News, 5 May 2007. The copy previously owned by the Church and displayed by Elder Holland belonged to Joseph F. Smith, Hyrum's son. Currently I favor it as being the more likely candidate as opposed to the copy owned by Hyrum's cousin's wife. If I can find more information on the provenance of these books I will provide an update.

Anonymous said...

footnote #7,I am a member of the Bathsheba W. Smith family, we dontatd the similar Book of Mormon to the church as stated in the footnotes. When we donated it, the Church Museum curator was excited and had someone bring the said Book of Mormon out to look at them both together. We knew there were other books and we believe Hyrum was bearing his testimony to his close family and friends by visiting them and sharing the very same scripture with them. We belive there may be more "very same book"s.

BHodges said...

Anonymous, thank you for visiting and adding your thoughts. You present a plausible scenario. Do you have any family history records that describe the meeting other than the oral recollections? I can certainly imagine them all reading their Book of Mormon copies together and turning down the pages, that makes good sense.

Now, I wonder how John Taylor knew about the gathering, whether he was there, and where he got his information from for D&C 135 where he describes Hyrum reading and so forth.

Can you contact me by email at LifeOnGoldPlates(at)yahoo.com?



Denise said...

Debates on evidence or non-evidence not withstanding, the only proof of the truthfulness of the BOM is that gained by prayer through the witness of the Holy Ghost, and that it what Elder Holland was giving us - his personal witness of this truth.
As to the rest, would those who would try to disprove the BOM through science and other means put the Bible under the same scrutiny? If they did, maybe they would find problems there too, yet they would not deny that it is the word of God.
It is interesting that those who would use genetic theory and other means to discredit the BOM are often using ideas and theories which over time change and/or are disproved themselves. Hmm

BHodges said...

Denise, thanks for stopping in. The folks talking about DNA and so forth in this discussion are most likely not believers in the Bible. They trace back to an "ex-Mormon recovery" message board, and one not particularly friendly to religion in general. :)

Denise said...

BHodges ... you could well be right so maybe they should put their time and energies into more productive pursuits ... like trying to 'build' something in this world instead of trying to tear down.

BHodges said...

Undoubtedly, Denise. You're right.

BHodges said...

"Anonymous," please read the blog comment guidelines, thanks.

Loyd said...


actually I was the one to bring up DNA first and I am both a believer of the BofM and the Bible, though I believe that our understandings of both need to be modified by scientific and critical studies.

Most of the strongest arguments against the BofM as a direct translation of an ancient text are done by those who are just as willing to apply those criticisms to the Bible (and often learned the methodology while doing textual analysis of the Bible).

BHodges said...


I was referring to the visitors who were saying DNA was the death knell for the BoM. Strawman and the others from Rfm.

(Unless you're secretly from RfM! The wicked flee where none pursue...)


Papa D said...

BHodges, my favorite talks were Elder Choi's and Elder Sitati's - but that was for purely personal reasons in each case. Otherwise, my favorites were Elder Holland's and Elder Oaks' - which, ironically, were the two most mis-understood talks of the entire conference.

The only thing I would add to the BofM authenticity discussion is one that Nibley made almost 60 years ago and still is, imo, the most compelling "non-spiritual / non-religious" argument. In summary:

Many people get stuck on debating issues of the book POST-arrival in the promised land. Since that time period gets so much attention, and since it really is impossible at this point to be absolutely certain about the post-arrival location based solely on what is in the record itself, it is easy to lose sight of the VAST and overwhelming evidence in the PRE-arrival pages that the BofM is an inspired / revealed work. 1 Nephi can be analyzed quite well, both culturally and geographically - and the fact that it is falt-out ignored by critics speaks volumes about it.

Joseph had NO way of knowing the kind of things that are chronicled in 1 Nephi (and neither did ANY of his contemporaries who get credited by some with central authorship), but it is spot-on in numerous ways. Most of the rabid critics either know this or don't even bother to try to understand it - which are the EXACT two groups that Elder Holland castigated in his talk.

BHodges said...

But what of the non-rabid ones? ;)

Loyd said...

Besides being forceful, what good was Holland's talk? What will it produce?

Clean Cut said...

Lloyd, are you kidding? Let's start with building faith, avoiding distractions, deepening appreciation for the powerful witness the Book of Mormon represents...

Clean Cut said...

Not to mention a deeply spiritual (at least for me) and enriched General Conference listening experience...

BHodges said...

Loyd, I imagine at the very least you and I have a better idea of where Elder Holland stands on the issue. If not, read again and again? Or never read again. Either way. :)

Loyd said...

CC, but what value are those things if the world essentially remains the same as it is. Sure, because of Holland we might have more people getting up on the first sunday of every month and they might bear their testimonies with even more force... but so what?

Monson's talk demanded action and change. It demanded that we start to actually be Christian rather than saying over and over again that we are Christian. Why care so much about the historicity of the BofM, when it's the message of the BofM that is important.

It doesn't matter how strong your testimony is in a book, a prophet, a church, a Christ, or a God... If we aren't loving our neighbor's, if we are neglecting the poor, if we aren't caring for the needy and fighting for the oppressed, it is all for naught.

Based on Jesus' teachings in Matthew 25, an atheist who volunteers at the homeless shelter and prison will have a far better chance being in the Kingdom of God than the strongest of BofM believers who converts a hundred to sharing her testimony of the book, allthewhile neglecting the sick and immigrants.

BHodges said...

I agree that the weightier matters of the law are important. At the same time I see no overwhelming problem with Elder Holland's talk in the garden of conference addresses. Further, I think there are reasons Elder Holland delivered that message though you and I may not be fully aware of it.

Clean Cut said...

Ah, I get what your saying Lloyd. Yes, 1st Corinthians 13 is much more important than, say, Revelation 1. Nevertheless, "all scripture is profitable". For me, my conviction of the divinity of the Book of Mormon convinces me even further in my devotion to Jesus Christ. I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest that truly appreciating the teachings in the Book of Mormon will actually lead to more "love in action". Surly there can't be anything wrong with giving a sermon about a topic of which the Lord himself spoke.

Clean Cut said...

whoops: "you're", not "your" in the first sentence above.

Papa D said...

Lloyd, serious question:

Are you saying that ALL General Conference talks should be action-based ONLY - that there should be no "pure testimony" shared in such a setting?

I don't want to jump to conclusions, but that appears to be what you are saying.

Bookslinger said...

Dear Elder Holland:

Amen, brother!

BHodges said...

From Loyd's recent blog post it's hard to see him arguing any other way. :/

Loyd: I loved Pres. Monson's talk as well.

BHodges said...

No way, the famous Bookslinger drops by? Nice to see you.

Loyd said...

Papa D.,

No. They can share their testimonies all they want. I just think they should share their testimonies in something that actually produces a better world and gets to the heart of what Jesus taught.

I'm not condemning Holland's talk. I'm just saying that it really wasn't worth getting excited over.

Cody said...

I found this blog linked from Loyd's and wanted to comment. I was moved deeply by Elder Holland's talk and think it is exactly what the world needs today (I also loved Pres. Monson's talk and felt it was extremely appropriate as well).
I really think it's sad when members of the church try to secularize the gospel of Jesus Christ, water it down, ignore the divine aspect of modern revelation, the priesthood power, living prophets, and deny the miraculous and wonderful power that the Book of Mormon can bring into peoples lives. If all we did as a church was teach service and kindness to neighbors (yes its the second great law of the gospel and we need to apply it more) we would fail to return to our Father in Heaven and would be no different than any of the hundreds of other religions in the world today.
We need the saving ordinances of baptism and the temple by way of the proper priesthood in order to obtain salvation. As much as we want to sugar coat it, there is only one way to become exalted. It is not being disrespectful of other religions. We don't need to be ashamed of that fact, but yes we definitely need to be tactful with our presentation of it. As hard as we try and as much as we might want, even the perfect lifestyle full of service is not going to unite humanity. Christ himself didn't even come to unite the entire earth during his mortal ministry. He created some extremely large divisions in society by declaring with boldness of the truthfulness of his gospel.
By testifying with power and boldness of the Book of Mormon, Elder Holland is essentially inviting people to Christ. There is no other book in existence that can teach you more about Christ and being a good neighbor than the Book of Mormon. Elder Holland effectively motivated many current members, and possibly many investigators to read the Book of Mormon with more purpose. By so doing, he essentially is helping us to learn of Christ, emulate Christ, and do what Christ would do. This is why the Book of Mormon is so important. It really is the most correct Book on Earth and is the greatest written testimony of Jesus Christ.
Regarding Loyd's last comment, "I just think they should share their testimonies in something that actually produces a better world and gets to the heart of what Jesus taught." Ummmm, what better way than to bear testimony of Christs very words and teachings? I honestly can't believe that you would make such a comment and can't seem to connect the two sides on this. The Book of Mormon is the word of God, contains Christ's teachings, and will produce a better world more effectively than any other document out there.

BHodges said...

Thanks for dropping in. I agree, I believe Loyd is setting up a false dilemma in saying Elder Holland's talk won't help create a better world and so forth when this is more of a comparative, not distinctive, measure of worth.

BHodges said...

I should add, I don't know that Loyd himself is watering anything down. Buy you might be talking about why Elder Holland would give the particular address he gave rather than addressing directly all of Loyd's points.

Loyd said...


"Ummmm, what better way than to bear testimony of Christs very words and teachings?"

feeding a starving child.

Cody said...

Loyd, (and everyone else who still feels the need to complain about Elder Holland's talk)
I find it extremely interesting that you are still attacking Elder Hollands talk. I find it interesting that at the beginning of his talk he warns of a destruction more inside the church than outside it, a personal destruction that comes in the latter days. Elder Holland said, "The Savior warned in the last days, even those of the covenant, the very elect could be deceived by the enemy of truth."
I see eery parallels between his warning and your "rationalizing away" the need for testifying of the Book of Mormon.
I highly suggest you go back and re-read or re-listen to his talk since you fail to see that he invited all to read the Book of Mormon in order to improve their lives. You insist on claiming that his talk was useless and you continue to hold to this thought that the only useful talk would be one urging us to "feed starving children" or one which dwells "in something that actually produces a better world and gets to the heart of what Jesus taught."
In his talk that you so dislike, Elder Holland said, "Love, healing, help, hope, the power of Christ to counter all troubles in all times, including the end of times. That is the safe harbor God wants for us in personal or public days of despair. That is the message with which the Book of Mormon begins and that is the message with which it ends. Calling all to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him." What a beautiful foundation for his talk that testifies of the Book of Mormon.
Those are exactly the words you claim we need to hear, but in your blindness you condemn his talk and testimony.
It is sad that you ignore modern revelation, the power of the book of mormon, and the invitations from the Savior himself.
I wonder why you continue to defend your blog post that condemns Elder Holland with comments that essentially support the very talk you dislike? What is your purpose in condemning a talk that does in fact invite us to come unto Christ? Is it to motivate all those who read your comments to action? I have to believe if you are looking to motivate others to perfrom Christian acts of service you would be infinitely better served to focus on the good messages instead of tearing down Elder Hollands testimony. Why not emulate President Monson and actually inspire others to serve? Why not try being a player in the game rather than a cynical critic on the sidelines?
I shudder to think of how you would have responded were you alive to listen to the apostle Paul, or Abinadi, or Enoch, or Elijah, or any other mouthpiece of God that has spoken with power and authority while offending those who disagree with them.

BHodges said...

I wouldn't go as far as that, Cody, but I agree that Loyd seems to think Elder Holland only said one or two things over and over again. I have been waiting for the transcript to show up so I can do a little proof-texting. :)

Loyd said...

Perhaps I'm just disenchanted by the many professed Mormons and Christians who spend their days affirming over and over again how strongly they believe in the BofM, how much they know so-and-so is a prophet, how they know 'the Church is true," how much they know that Jesus is the Christ, etc, etc, etc... and they continue to live in self-righteousness, ignore those in need, and live a life concerned only for their own supposed spiritual salvation.

I'm disenchanted by Mormons who think the best way to help the hungry and homeless is to give them a BofM and share their testimony.

Furthermore, I was not intending to condemn Holland's talk. I was only intending to say that it wasn't anything to get excited over. I've heard dozens of pastors share their testimonies of Jesus, the Bible, homophobia, anti-Mormonism with the same gusto and triumph as Holland.

If I thought that Holland's talk would make a better world and make Mormons act like actual Christians (and not like our self-righteous evangelical counter-parts), I'd be all over it. But my own experience says that won't be the case.

All the BofM testimony sharing on the first Sunday each month just doesn't do near the amount of what Christ asked of us as does one person reaching out to another in need.

Furthermore Cody, you really ought to avoid accusing me of things I have not said. You claim I said that "the only useful talk would be one urging us to "feed starving children." That simply isn't true. You asked, "Ummmm, what better way than to bear testimony of Christs very words and teachings?" I said a testimony shared by feeding starving children would be better, not only. Big difference there.

Here are some more responses to your claims:

"I really think it's sad when members of the church try to secularize the gospel of Jesus Christ, water it down..."

I agree with the watering down part. And I believe that the watering down occurs when we ignore Jesus' commands to build communities and take care of those in need, and replace it with a conservative individualistic soteriology.

Not quite sure what you mean by the secularizing of it though. If you want to call Joseph' communitarianism 'secularization', then have fun. If you want to call Brigham's cooperative economic system 'secularization,' then have go at it. If you want to call Jesus' radical criticisms of Jewish legalism, Roman oppression, and economic disparity 'secularization,' then I guess we just have a different Gospel.

"If all we did as a church was teach service and kindness to neighbors (yes its the second great law of the gospel and we need to apply it more) we would fail to return to our Father in Heaven and would be no different than any of the hundreds of other religions in the world today."

Jesus taught that we love God by loving our neighbor. He taught we serve God, by serving those in need. Jesus himself said that those who return to the Father are those who care for the sick, feed the hungry, visit the prisoners, clothe the naked, and take in the immigrants. Those were his criteria. If you want to water down his teachings and impost the very Pharisaical legality on him, then have a great day. Throughout the scriptures, baptism is not used as a simple ritual which magically removes metaphysical sin-stains, but is an initiation into a community of believers (aka, the body of Christ, the Kingdom of God, etc) who covenant to take care of those in need. I choose to believe in a loving God who places the needs of others above his own pride and desire to be praised. If I die and discover that God was more concerned with his own praise than the alleviation of his children's suffering, I'd gladly go to hell.

Loyd said...

"We need the saving ordinances of baptism and the temple by way of the proper priesthood in order to obtain salvation."

Well we obviously have a different conception of what sin is, and thus a very different conception of what salvation is. While you seem to see sin as a metaphysical stain on your soul that requires the metaphysical powers of a prescribed ritual, I see sin as the breaking of relationship--with others and with God. With this view, baptism (and the temple ordinances) isn't about literally washing away sin-stains, but is about creating community symbolically washing away the individualism and self-interest that caused divisions in our relationships. While I am admittedly more of a universalist, I nonetheless see baptism (if done in the manner seen in the scriptures) as the best means for this. As my experience as a missionary, it was obvious that for the converts I taught the most valuable part of their baptism was their inclusion into a new community and family. Unfortunately most of the members didn't realize this and didn't embrace them as they should have and allowed them to slip back into their past of severed relationships with others.

"As hard as we try and as much as we might want, even the perfect lifestyle full of service is not going to unite humanity."

The perfect lifestyle full of service is the uniting of humanity. By serving others we create the Kingdom of God. We build the relationships that continue into the next life. Joseph Smith was quite clear that heaven wasn't a place we go, but a place we create. Heaven isn't the gathering of strangers, but the continuation of the relationships and community we develop here.

"Christ himself didn't even come to unite the entire earth during his mortal ministry. He created some extremely large divisions in society by declaring with boldness of the truthfulness of his gospel."

Jesus came down as a person to try to affect change in the same we that we are to try... as humans. He wasn't just going about preaching about a book and a bunch of individual rituals. The Jews already had their devotion to books and rituals. That was their game, they would have loved Jesus if he were playing their game. The Romans would have been just as fine with that as well. Some guy preaching about a book and rituals was no threat. Jesus created divisions because he spoke out against the oppressive systems of his day. He didn't create divisions, but rather pointed out the divisions that already existed from these oppressive powers. He pointed out the divisions created by the Jewish focus on individual piety and ritual observance. He pointed out the division caused by Roman oppression--which got him killed. He pointed out the division caused by the ever-expanding disparity between the rich and the poor. Jesus recognized that peace and true community could not be achieved when oppressive powers existed severed God's children.

Loyd said...

"By testifying with power and boldness of the Book of Mormon, Elder Holland is essentially inviting people to Christ. There is no other book in existence that can teach you more about Christ and being a good neighbor than the Book of Mormon."

I agree with the latter sentence, but unfortunately that is not how most Mormons I know read the text. Holland's talk focused on the truthfulness of the BofM's ancient origins. From my experience, most Mormons find the testimony of the Book's historicity more important than the Book's content. As I mentioned earlier, most Mormon would think that the better way to help the starving poor is to give them a testimony of a book than to give them some food. A testimony of the book is worthless unless it turns into change in the world. Similarly, a testimony of Christ is empty if it isn't shared with Christian living. I think Jesus said it best:

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment.

BWR said...

Can anyone tell me how we know that H. Smith and J. Smith read from Ether before they died? Where is that documented? How do we know that the page is turned down for that purpose? I'd like to see the documentation for that claim.

Loyd said...

Cody, I posted my last few comments on my blog. In an effort to avoid derailing Blair's blog let's move the discussion there.

BHodges said...

BWR: Check D&C 135 where John Taylor describes the incident. It is only implicit that Joseph was with him when he read Ether and turned the corner of the page down. From John Taylor we read:

When Joseph went to Carthage to deliver himself up to the pretended requirements of the law, two or three days previous to his assassination, he said: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I SHALL DIE INNOCENT, AND IT SHALL YET BE SAID OF ME—HE WAS MURDERED IN COLD BLOOD.”—The same morning, after Hyrum had made ready to go—shall it be said to the slaughter? yes, for so it was—he read the following paragraph, near the close of the twelfth chapter of Ether, in the Book of Mormon, and turned down the leaf upon it..."

Taylor proceeds to say things about Joseph and Hyrum, "they," "they," "they," and so forth. In this passage alone it does not explicitly state that "Hyrum read this in the presence of Joseph," but rhetorically Joseph is present in the context of the whole. "After Hyrum had made ready to go" I doubt he text-messaged Joseph to meet up someplace. Rhetorically John Taylor has placed Joseph in the picture. It is speculative, though.

If Joseph wasn't present at the actual reading mentioned in section 135 we also have to wonder how John Taylor knew about the situation to begin with. Either he was there (but he doesn't say he was there, so must we assume he wasn't?) or he heard it reported.

If he heard it from Hyrum it would have more than likely been in the presence of Joseph. Again, the three spent time reading selections from the Book of Mormon at Carthage jail. Hyrum went so far as to turn the leaf on the page down, I imagine this meant enough to him to mention it to his brother at least later. It would be a stretch to think Joseph wouldn't have known about this even if he wasn't present. They spent all their last hours together, and spent part of that time reading from the Book of Mormon. According to the History of the Church, Vol.6, Ch.32, p.600-601, shortly after 9pm, June 26th, 1844, while in the Carthage jail:

"During the evening the Patriarch Hyrum Smith read and commented upon extracts from the Book of Mormon, on the imprisonments and deliverance of the bore a powerful testimony to the guards of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, the Restoration of the Gospel, the administration of angels, and that the kingdom of God was again established upon the earth, for the sake of which he was then incarcerated in that prison, and not because he had violated any law of God or man....Joseph gave expression to several presentiments that he had to die, and said 'I would like to see my family again,' and 'I would to God that I could preach to the Saints in Nauvoo once more.'"

The following morning, some time after 10am, there was written: "Both Joseph and Hyrum bore a faithful testimony to the Latter-day work, and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and prophesied of the triumph of the Gospel over all the earth, exhorting the brethren present to faithfulness and persevering diligence in proclaiming the Gospel, building up the Temple, and performing all the duties connected with our holy religion." (ibid. p.610)

The references to the brothers reading from the Book of Mormon at Carthage jail are in the History of the Church vol. 6.

BWR said...

BHodges: Thanks so much for the reply. I think this is a pretty powerful apologetic argument for the BofM that Elder Holland made, but it's only as strong as the story is true. Your response is excellent and provides the background that I was looking for. Thanks a lot.

BHodges said...

No prob.

Also, I just re-read the address. It begins with something of a common LDS theme, the pitfalls of mortality and the promised hope for a better future. He talks about an ancient prophet's final testimony of God's word, the iron rod, and then refers to Joseph Smith as a testifying prophet of the word of God. He enjoins faith in the Book of Mormon for the purpose of instilling faith in Christ, of whom the book testifies. The Book of Mormon is loaded with info on helping our fellow man, bearing one another's burdens, helping the sick and afflicted and so forth. He continues:

I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon and the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it testifies.

He bore his personal witness of the divinity of the book and added:

My witness echoes that of Nephi, who wrote part of the book in his “last days”:
“Hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, . . . and they teach all men that they should do good.
“And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day.”

Indeed, the Book of Mormon is to enjoin us to do good, to do the words of Christ you refer to on your blog. For me the book is more than a nice fairy tale, a pious fraud, or a "theology" in Plato's sense of the term. It's about stuff that really happened and about stuff that we are supposed to do. And the prophet who brought it forth felt comfort from its pages, and testified of its divinity, which is a powerful message for me. I hope this helps you understand a little bit more why I liked his talk so much, Loyd.

Anonymous said...

The logical fallacies used by Mr. Holland could prove any religion true. The most compelling reason not to believe something right away is that there is not sufficient evidence to support the claim. This is precisely why I don't believe in the Koran, Bible, BoM, and Mother Goose. If Mr. Holland could substantiate any of his claims with any resonable verifiable evidence, he would have no need to bear any emotion about his beliefs whatsoever because the truth would objectively stand on its own.

Thanks for reading. Nice blog you have here.

BHodges said...

"Anonymous," it might benefit you to look into the distinction between deductive and inductive reasoning. Also, please read my comment guidelines.

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