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Hi Brian, I have had a problem with my computer and so I have just seen your review. As I see more and more suggestions that the Book of Mormon came the Prophet Joseph Smith’s mind rather than by revelation from the Lord, the more convinced I am that we have entered the harvest season as stated by our Saviour concerning the parable of the wheat and tares. He commanded that the tares were to be allowed to grow with the wheat until the season of the harvest. Then the tares were to be gathered and bound in bundles to be dealt with. ( PS I am from the UK we met up a couple of years or so ago if you remember and had a meal together. Jeff)
Hales seems to be responding to arguments not found in the book more than he is responding to the contents of the book itself. The author, Bill Davis, has referred to this review as a misrepresentation and inaccurate reading of his work and I agree with that analysis. Hales has suggested that the assumptions listed here should have been addressed in the peer review process but I would like to highlight some of the reasons why this is NOT a reasonable expectation on purely scholarly grounds. He asks for evidence for the following 5 “assumptions”:
• Nephi/Moroni/Mormon would not have used summary headings in their writings.
While the absence of evidence does not constitute evidence of absence, demanding that a scholar respond to an argument from ignorance is not typical in peer review. If you are aware of published work showing that there was in fact similar textual patterns in ancient American texts then this would be an appropriate objection but this has not been demonstrated. Even better, if you could find a metallic codex of similar length written in a language that could be described as reformed Egyptian with such textual features included. This would support your assumptions much better and would be much stronger grounds for insisting that a scholar show why he has deviated from published literature.
• In 1829, JS possessed the creativity to author a complex 270,000 word book.
What is the established methodology that you feel has been forgone here? Is there a systematic test for whether an author had the intellectual capacity to produce a given text? Has that test been shown to have such deterministic value in academia that it should be demanded as a pre-requisite to any discussion of possible structural influences?
• By 1829, JS produced and embedded thousands of outlines (“heads”) and expansive stories, sermons, names, plotlines, geographical details in his brain by 1829.
By what methodology do you suggest that we provide evidence for the contents of Joseph’s mind? Is there a process in academia for doing so which you feel has been bypassed? Are there examples of other scholars who have felt a need to investigate this question? If not, are you suggesting that Davis ought to have developed a new branch of science dedicated to disproving your assumptions about the limits of human capacity for narrative creation?
• JS had developed a level of oratorical excellence by 1829 so he could dictate nearly 7000 long complex sentences that were so refined not one needed resequencing.
You and I have discussed this issue at length but suffice it to say that you would first need to be aware of some academic publications commenting on the frequency of the need for resequencing sentences when given in semi-extemporaneous dictation. To determine what level of oratorical excellence would be required to perform this specific task it would be useful to establish a baseline and range of variation. This is quite different from your reliance on examples from authors using formal writing processes that you provide in your review. The fact that you thought this was a relevant commentary shows that you do not yet grasp the difference between formal writing methods and the sort of process Davis is describing in his book. I have already suggested ways you might go about generating scholarship that might be more informative to the discussion but this does not appear to be of interest to you. You are resting instead on unproven assumptions which are not typically relevant to the peer review process. Publish first (in academic journals) then subject new scholarship to that standard established through the academic process.
• JS could mentally format the recitation in real time to include hundreds of chiasms and other parallelism.
This is an interesting question which may be worth asking but was outside the scope of the work produced by Davis here. I have demonstrated that producing complex chiasmus is possible through just such a method but that was the express purpose of my effort. Again, I am willing to replicate the complex features of any 4,000 word section of the BoM text containing specific features you feel would have been impossible for human capabilities. To hold Davis responsible for providing this type of evidence specifically shows a basic misunderstanding about the intent of the book and the conclusions actually being made. If you would like to attempt to rephrase those critiques in ways that rely on established academic methods then they would be more likely to move the discussion forwards instead of being an example of the unscholarly standards often applied in religious polemic discussion.
I appreciate Brandon’s pushback here. In fact, I appreciate anyone who is willing to address, even tangentially, the actual mechanics of dictating nearly 7000 very longs sentences (in less than three months) that are so refined that none need re-sequencing. (JS’s 269,320 word dictation is remarkable in many other ways, but this is the easiest characteristic to talk about.)
Brandon writes: “Hales seems to be responding to arguments not found in the book.” This is mostly true. Davis doesn’t “argue” that:
• Nephi/Mormon/Moroni would never have thought of using summary headings in their writings.
• JS developed outlines and content for an incredibly long novel between 1823 and 1829.
• JS memorized so much data that only a type of pattern memory system could have allowed instant recall during the dictation.
• JS dictated final draft sentences in a single attempt, sentences that were in a non-standard vernacular, with multiple layers of meaning, and hundreds of parallelisms.
Davis doesn’t “argue” these points; he simply accepts them as valid with little or no historical supportive evidence.
Using scientific method, strong theories will account for most of the variables in an issue as they describe a plausible explanation. I argue that in Visions in a Seer Stone, the most important variables are assumed rather than historically documented, which diminishes the value of the over all theory. I also think good peer review might have picked up on this prior to publication.
As far as the bullet points—I’ll leave those to readers to ponder and contemplate in the context of my review.
Davis made a good try, but it doesn’t fly. At least he accepts the testimonies of those who described Joseph Smith’s dictation of The Book of Mormon. If so, why can’t he accept the testimonies of the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses? Their testimonies are not only the simplest, but they provide the only possible explanation for the existence of The Book of Mormon.
I’m a little confused. I read an Amazon review the other day for this book and it looks like the author of this review might have plagiarized from it. That author goes by the name “Avid Reader,” you can see it here: https://www.amazon.com/product-reviews/1469655667/ref=acr_dp_hist_2?ie=UTF8&filterByStar=two_star&reviewerType=all_reviews#reviews-filter-bar
I don’t know why AMAZON identified me as “avid reader.” I signed in as brianhales and always post using that user name.
I hope my review is helpful to Amazon shoppers seeking to understand the message of Visions in a Seer Stone. This review contains a lot more details than I could include in my Amazon Review.