There are 9 thoughts on “Oral Creation and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon”.

  1. Brant,
    Thanks, but no thanks (for your efforts here). And who at the Interpreter Foundation even chose to review Davis’ book in the first place; is this the old FARMS ‘Review’ format, but in reverse – taking a secular book and making it plausible? (My comments aren’t ad hominem, they are ad locum (italicized) – ”This is [not] the right place; [don’t] drive on.”)
    The Interpreter’s target readership, generally, is for “believers;” and it abides a wide spectrum of views on almost any gospel topic. Davis’ “Views in a Seer Stone” does not even rise to the level of gospel topic, in that it is directed to “unbelieving” academics (my emphasis). If the rest of us want to read along, well, it’s on our time and on our dime. The cost, however, is too great.
    The premise of the volume under study is so ahistorical that it boggles the mind – even for those of us who cling on most everything about the Book of Mormon’s provenance.
    You state, “That tenuous tie between folk magic and the Seeker movement is crucial to [Davis’] thesis that the seer stones were involved in the process of the generation of a text that attempted to answer those questions [i.e., the Book of Mormon production by Joseph’s oratorical acumen]. What is missing is any indication of how the concepts surrounding the use of a seer stone would lead to such connections. Thus, there is a disconnect between the method and the extended oral performance that is not addressed.”
    Exactly. End of story. Further reading is a waste of time. And dime.
    Unbelievers might enjoy another secular theory of how Joseph produced the Book of Mormon, but the Interpreter should not be the stage for such a misplaced and far-fetched premise. I, personally, can not abide it, although some secularists/academics might lick their chops, froth at the mouth, and howl to the moon at such ill-conceived theses.
    And you, Brant – it’s not your values, or your devotion, or your loyalty, or your hard work that are in question – but instead, given your past writings and Comments in this journal and elsewhere on how Joseph “translated” the Book of Mormon (which are legion), how could you, with your “believer’s” mindset, call Davis’ premise “completely logical?”
    It is NOT logical and it is NOT historical. And it is NOT useful for the Interpreter to have put this review in this forum. Ad locum (against location) for this review of a “loco” book! (I’m sorry for my bluntness, Brother Davis; I would invite you to submit your book for review (or write a corresponding essay) to the Liahona/Ensign, Sunstone, Dialogue or Signature Press and return here with their responses. I’d be interested in what that spectrum of readers opined.)

      • Brant,
        You didn’t waste my time; I read, listened to (a very pleasant reading, BTW) and re-read your review in depth. But I will neither buy nor read the book; you’ve saved me (many) dimes.
        The raison d’ etre of your review must have been to outline for your readers Davis’s “new perspective” or theory on how the Book of Mormon was “translated” and produced. To be credible (and worthy of a credible review), a theory must fit the data. Here, “Davis … SUGGESTS that there are elements [in rather brief BofM tidbits, BTW] of the organizational principles of extemporaneous preaching that can be seen in the Book of Mormon,” and “[t]his, therefore, SUGGESTS that the Book of Mormon was the result [in toto?!!] of EXTENSIVE BACKGROUND WORK that was presented to the scribe as an extended oral performance.” Such suggestions and hypotheses cannot stand; they are NOT supported by credible data. Davis’s entire theory is not credible nor worthy of review in this venue.
        Of course, “[m]ultiple POTENTIAL avenues of influence” can be found (on multiple topics) in the Book of Mormon. But to say that “the way early preachers prepared and delivered their sermons,” and that “during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, [there were] a number of preachers who took pride in their ability to provide a sermon without a written text” has absolutely no relevance here. Where are the citations of facts – where are the data – that Joseph “learned — PERHAPS by instruction, PERHAPS by absorption — the techniques used in extemporaneous speaking”? (And please don’t reference Davis’s finding of his many inclusions in the Book of Mormon; to me, that is circular thinking; it begs the question.) Your (and I dare say Davis’s) ASSUMPTIONS that Joseph may have dictated to his scribes the ENTIRE Book of Mormon using such “techniques” are not documented, verifiable FACTS; they are conjectures, suppositions, and mental machinations.
        That Joseph used “a mystical ‘seer stones,’ [sic] … and proceeded to dictate the entire narrative to his attentive scribes” ARE well-known facts, discovered long before Davis arrived on the secular Book of Mormon-production scene. Yet from such data Davis (mystically) congers up a theory of the Book of Mormon’s provenance with only his own hypotheses to support it. Where are the reviewer’s (and, supposedly, Davis’s) citations of the EXTENSIVE BACKGROUND WORK that Joseph would have had to go to? Where does one turn to find that he actually did such work? To whom did he regale – to which listener, friend, family member, courtroom judge, or enemy – his “extensive” experiences and his mental and memory preparations? Where exactly is Davis’s evidence that – as you quote – “[Joseph] ‘wrote’ his text, but PERHAPS to memory [his must have been a prodigious memory!].” Again you write, “Davis allows that he MAY HAVE written down AT LEAST notes, if not the precise words.” Who has read – or read of – these possible written notes and words? When and where did he think them up, write them down, perhaps catalog them, and then memorize them all?
        Doesn’t this absence of secular evidence present an opportunity to cite the multitudinous, well documented historical facts regarding Joseph’s turbulent and harried life during the limited months of the Book of Mormon’s production? Where are the apologetic data – not unseemly words in the Interpreter – that contradict much, if not all, of Davis’s theories?

        As a “believer,” (you state as much: “As a reviewer who declares himself a believer, it is perhaps inevitable that I would disagree with SOME of what Davis proposes”) how can his entire theory be reviewed positively, even almost credibly, when his book, which magnanimously “intend[ed] to place his examination in the neutral territory of an academic study,” overtly “addresses [readers] who do not embrace the Book of Mormon as an inspired or authentic ancient text”(xi)”? And Davis says all of that while, condescendingly, he invites the “believing scholars and readers” to simply come along for the ride.
        As a reader, I want more of the old ‘FARMS Review’ fire-and-brimstore apologetics. I need it to have “attiude.” Where are the Hugh Nibley’s, the Dan Peterson’s or Louis Midgleys? Or for that matter, where is that critical reader and critic of all things Interpreter, the real Brant Gardner? Is not this why The Interpreter began, at least in part? Is the Journal to print every secular theory of the Book of Mormon’s production without serious scholarly critique and good-willed criticism?

        I rue the day.

        • You asked: “how can his entire theory be reviewed positively, even almost credibly?” For me, it is the golden rule. I would really prefer that someone take what I write seriously, even if they disagree. Then I would expect reasons for the disagreement. Those are the reviews I can respect.

          I am really sorry that you felt the review was “without serious scholarly critique.” That really was what I thought I was doing.

          • Brant, you did exactly what you thought you were doing and you did it in an admirable way. I appreciate this review as a sometimes reader of this blog, as well as your writings in general. You are a beacon in many ways and your kindness and careful attention to the details of your study are much appreciated.
            I do not appreciate the types of commenters that frequent this blog like DanB, though. He admits he has not and will not read Davis’ book and yet feels it appropriate to tell you whether you are right or wrong. If the man is not planning on spending any time with the book then he shouldn’t comment and he should move along, this is an important topic and in all the exchanges with Bill that I have seen it is clear that he deeply cares about us. It is not so clear to me that commenters that DanB care about anything other than their egos, which is unfortunate because that helps no one in a community, not even the egotist themselves.

    • DanB,

      In my book, I made explicit and concerted efforts to offer believing members a way to interpret the information in my study through the lens of faith, without requiring anyone to feel threatened or lose their testimony.

      I did so by showing how LDS theories already account for 19th-century elements in the Book of Mormon, and those same theories have paved the ground to accommodate such studies as mine within paradigms faith and belief — those are LDS theories, not secular/academic ones, that guided my proposals to believing readers.

      Moreover, I frankly bent over backwards to do so. In the publishing process, more than one voice pressured me to remove the information that helped believing members to understand the work through the eye of faith, because that information technically wasn’t a component of academic writing. But I insisted on it anyway, because I have a lot of active, devout LDS family members (immediate and extended), as well as a number of devout, lifelong LDS friends. I wrote this book with them constantly in mind, and I went out of my way to be respectful of their beliefs.

      Your comments, DanB, suggest that you haven’t read my book. Or if you did, you did not understand it. Your claim that my study is “not logical” and “not historical” is completely and utterly inaccurate. You’re welcome to your opinions, but the facts remain: the historical context and the methods of oral performance and composition that I address in my study are all well-attested and pervasive in the historical record. Describing my work as “ahistorical” betrays your lack of knowledge and expertise in the field. While my work will no doubt be worthy of fair criticism, unfounded critiques like yours do not move the conversation forward for anybody, believers and non-believers alike.

      As for submitting my book for review, I did not submit my book to the Interpreter. The Interpreter formally requested copies from the publisher, so the reviews that have appeared on this site were motivated by members of the Interpreter organization and their desires to respond to my work. If you have concerns, you should direct your comments to them.

      Moreover, your comments suggest that you are not aware that Dialogue has already provided a roundtable of reviews about this work. You can find the reviews here:

      Now, DanB, I realize that academic works are often perceived as threats to the faith. I’m also aware that studies like mine often tread in sensitive, sacred ground for many readers. But I would encourage you to consider how there are many non-believing scholars in the academic world who are making good-faith efforts to explore the origins, history, and development of the church, without nefarious hidden agendas.

      And along those lines, and for the benefit of other readers here, I would like to offer a “heads-up” about future academic studies. The Book of Mormon has been seriously neglected in the academy. But that’s starting to change, and scholars are taking more interest in it. As that happens, scholars will likely discover more information that might be uncomfortable for some of the traditional LDS explanations regarding the nature of the work.

      Those situations will undoubtedly cause stress for some people. But it’s my belief that such new information can always be incorporated into paradigms of belief. Devotional explanations will always surface. And when those devotional explanations are based on more accurate information about the past, then faith actually gets stronger.

      While it’s human nature to hold onto some traditions with an iron fist, I think it’s always important to recognize that some traditions — no matter how popular, well-received, or well-intentioned — are traditions of our fathers that are not always entirely accurate. We need to be open to adjustments that make our knowledge more correct. If we’re not open to such adjustments, I would argue, then we’re not open to the whole concept of ongoing revelation.

      As far as criticizing Brant Gardner for his work, I think you are being entirely unfair. While I disagree with several of Brant’s interpretations and concerns with my work, I nevertheless believe that he’s made a concerted effort to be fair and impartial, without abandoning his position as a devout, believing scholar. Engaging in dialogue, even across the perceived academic/devotional divide, should not require the old FARM’s-style approach, with its unfortunate reputation for personal attacks and verbal fisticuffs. We can do better than that. We should do better than that.

  2. Brant,
    Thank you for your review.

    I have found the existence of the Book of Ether in the Book of Mormon to be an interesting outlier. So must others both in and out of the Church since many published synopses ignore the Jaredite account altogether. It seems to get in the way.

    Every time I read Ether I think to myself that if Joseph Smith was the author of the Book of Mormon, how unnecessary the Book of Ether is. Indeed, it seems to interrupt the entire flow of the main story of the ongoing conflict and interaction of the Nephites and Lamanites.

    You repeat a very good point about the genealogy in the first chapter and how the rest of Ether presents that story in reverse order. Without an existing manuscript, it seems highly unlikely that someone could reproduce the inverse order embedded in the later text. I had not thought about the added complication of the genealogy not being a list of rulers and how those shift about, as well as introduction and recycling of names in such a way that makes a perfect memorized reverse recitation even more unlikely.

    I was surprised that neither you nor Brian cited Emma Smith’s famous quote about Joseph being entirely incapable of writing or dictating “a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon.” None of his contemporaries thought he was capable of such an extemporaneous feat, and we have little to no evidence of him secluding himself to work on “cramming” for his next session.

    Thanks again to you and Brian for your interesting reviews.


  3. Hi Brant,

    I tried to post a comment earlier, but it seems to have disappeared into the internet void. Here’s a second try.

    I wanted to reach out and thank you for your professionalism and serious engagement in your review of my work. I appreciate it very much.

    I realize that my book addresses sensitive issues about the origins and production of the Book of Mormon, and I have introduced some ideas that are new and potentially challenging. If we had been able to participate in a roundtable, I would have been able to offer my perspective on the issues and concerns you have raised. But perhaps we will find another time and venue for that.

    In the meantime, I wanted to thank you for your professional tone and approach with this review. I appreciated it very much.


    William L Davis

    • Bill, I moderate the comments, and the ether ate your previous comment before it ever arrived. As I noted, I think there is a lot of important work to be done to sort out orality in the text. In a non-COVID world we might even get a good roundtable going. I would love to have that opportunity. Thank you for challenging ideas.

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