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Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Book of Mormon Challenge

The existence of the Book of Mormon is a serious puzzle if it is not an ancient text, translated into English, as it claims. We are often told the Joseph Smith concocted and wrote the story himself. However, if he did write it himself, it would almost be no less amazing that a 21 year old farm boy in 1830 with only two years of formal education could produce such a book.

The following text is taken from the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 8, Ch. 11, pp. 221-2:

"Since Joseph Smith was younger than most of you and not nearly so experienced or well-educated as any of you at the time he copyrighted the Book of Mormon, it should not be too much to ask you to hand in by the end of the semester (which will give you more time than he had) a paper of, say, five to six hundred pages in length. Call it a sacred book if you will, and give it the form of a history. Tell of a community of wandering Jews in ancient times; have all sorts of characters in your story, and involve them in all sorts of public and private vicissitudes; give them names--hundreds of them--pretending that they are real Hebrew and Egyptian names of circa 600 b.c.; be lavish with cultural and technical details--manners and customs, arts and industries, political and religious institutions, rites, and traditions, include long and complicated military and economic histories; have your narrative cover a thousand years without any large gaps; keep a number of interrelated local histories going at once; feel free to introduce religious controversy and philosophical discussion, but always in a plausible setting; observe the appropriate literary conventions and explain the derivation and transmission of your varied historical materials. 
"Above all, do not ever contradict yourself! For now we come to the really hard part of this little assignment. You and I know that you are making this all up--we have our little joke--but just the same you are going to be required to have your paper published when you finish it, not as fiction or romance, but as a true history! After you have handed it in you may make no changes in it (in this class we always use the first edition of the Book of Mormon); what is more, you are to invite any and all scholars to read and criticize your work freely, explaining to them that it is a sacred book on a par with the Bible. If they seem over-skeptical, you might tell them that you translated the book from original records by the aid of the Urim and Thummim--they will love that! Further to allay their misgivings, you might tell them that the original manuscript was on golden plates, and that you got the plates from an angel. Now go to work and good luck! 
"To date no student has carried out this assignment, which, of course, was not meant seriously. But why not? If anybody could write the Book of Mormon, as we have been so often assured, it is high time that somebody, some devoted and learned minister of the gospel, let us say, performed the invaluable public service of showing the world that it can be done."

Hugh Nibley never expected any of his students to accomplish this task. Even with the use of modern information technologies, the assignment is almost impossible. For a 21 year old farm boy to produce a 500+ page "ancient text" in two months which would cover every aspect of ancient life, yet not be conclusively proven false by the world's scholars for almost 200 years is a daunting task.

But if, as critics say, anyone could do it, then why haven't we seen it done, or even attempted?


jenheadjen said...

What a great quote, and a great challenge. For a second I thought you were joining in my ward's 6-month challenge. :) I never thought of it like this, but it's a great example of the marvelous work that it is. Thanks for sharing it.

Cristofer Urlaub said...

Oh no, I'm right in the middle of my stake's challenge to read it in a year (What are the odds?)

I think anyone who has participated in NaNoWriMo will agree that what Joseph did was quite a feat.

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