There are 15 thoughts on “The Book with the Unintentionally Self-Referential Title”.

  1. Hey Brant,

    I found your article on the “Skin of Blackness” in the Book of Mormon but didn’t see any way to ask questions about it. A Mormon friend of mine asked me to read some of the BoM and I came across 3 Nephi 2:15. A few searches and I found about 7 total verses that mention skin color changing based on morality. Yes, God gives multiple commands in the Old Testament about not marrying people from pagan nations. There’s nothing wrong with that idea. The problem is the Bible never mentions skin color changing because of morality.

    The Bible verses you quoted don’t even come close to the BoM verses. Lamentations 4:7-8, Joel 2:6 and Nahum 2:10 only mention faces changing color, not their whole skin color. The Hebrew word for ‘blackness’ in Joel and Nahum is better translated as ‘pale’ or ‘drained of color,’ which is how all other translators word it. The verses make a lot more sense as a description of people’s face turning pale from fear.

    Job 30:30 is most likely referring to Job’s boils, along with blood and dirt, covering his skin. Plus, Job’s point for most of the book was that he wasn’t disobeying God. The idea that God suddenly turned his skin black because of disobedience doesn’t make sense.

    Daniel 11 is an ‘end of the age’ prophecy. Notice the mention of the abomination of desolation in verse 31 which Jesus quotes in Matt 24. The ‘white’ in verse 35 is most likely a metaphor for being cleansed from sin, like in Isaiah 1:18.

    But none of the BoM verses sound like metaphors. Four of the verses clearly say their skin color changed and none of them were written in poetic verse or with anything in the text that would suggest it being a metaphor. The idea that exposure to the sun was the cause makes even less sense. The obedient Nephites would have been outside just as much as the Lamenites, so one group getting more sun exposure doesn’t make sense.

    I also found some quotes from an LDS president on the topic. In Joseph Fielding Smith’s book The Way To Perfection gives some insight on the ‘skin of blackness issue.’

    “Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race” (p. 101).

    “Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fulness of the blessings of the Gospel. These are the descendants of Cain” (p. 101).

    “President Brigham Young, answering a question put to him by Elder Lorenzo D. Young in a meeting held December 25, 1869, in Salt Lake City, said that Joseph Smith had declared that the Negroes were not neutral in heaven, for all the spirits took sides, but the posterity of Cain are black because he (Cain) committed murder” (p. 105).

    “This doctrine did not originate with President Brigham Young but was taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith” (p. 110).

    All that from a President of the LDS church. Why should anyone trust the Book of Mormon when it treats skin color so drastically than the Bible does? Why should anyone trust LDS prophets when one of them published a book describing black people as an inferior race?

    • Dustin, the point of the article was that the Book of Mormon isn’t talking about a change in pigmentation at all. The reason that you see differences between what the Bible verses say and what the Book of Mormon says is that you clearly understand that the Bible is using the terms metaphorically, but you insist on reading the Book of Mormon literally.

      In addition to attempting to show that blackness applied to the visible self might indicate something other than pigmentation in the Bible, the article looks at the nature of the usage of the term in the Book of Mormon to show that the phrase is also metaphorical in the Book of Mormon.

      As for prophets talking about a change in skin color, I agree that the text has been interpreted that way for a long time. That doesn’t mean that it was the correct interpretation. So you are asking two different things. You may ask me what I think about the text, or you might ask about the history of the interpretation, but those are two different things.

      Regardless of the way many have read the text (and the way you appear to see it as well), the text itself does not support any change in skin color.

      • It’s not enough to just say ‘It’s a metaphor.’ Specifically, what in this verse suggest it’s a metaphor?

        3 Nephi 2
        15 And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites;

        The Bible doesn’t even use black skin as a metaphor at all. Like I said, the Joel and Nahum verses are better translated as ‘pale’ and it makes a lot more sense that Job’s skin was black because he was covered in boils, blood and dirt, not because he was disobedient.

        An LDS friend of mine recently sent me a book about church history which gives many, many examples of mistakes early church leaders made. It kept saying today’s Catholic and Protestant churches can’t be trusted because those leaders were so wrong on significant doctrines. Yet an LDS president can be very wrong on this significant doctrine and we should just brush it off? It was some offhand comment. Joseph F. Smith felt strongly enough about the doctrine to publish a book with it and he made it clear Brigham Young and Joseph Smith taught the same thing as doctrine. If they can be so wrong on this doctrine, why should we trust them on any other doctrine?

        • Dustin, if you haven’t yet discovered it, Mormon beliefs do not have defined parameters. You may ask me what I believe and how I interpret scripture, but I certainly cannot begin to defend your friend when I don’t know any of the particulars.

          As for why I think that skin of darkness is metaphorical in the Book of Mormon–that is what the article was about. I went through the examples and the usage. I specifically noted an occasion that, had there been a pigmentation difference, it would have been noted–but wasn’t. The evidence is from the text. Perhaps you should read the arguments again. I explained them better there than I can in a short response here.

  2. Brant,
    Thanks for the review.
    The influence and injection of translator vocabulary into translations of different works by a same translator is addressed in the following study. It is very interesting the traces a translator can leave in translations of vastly different works.
    G. Bruce Schaalje, John L. Hilton, and John B. Archer, “Comparative Power of Three Author-Attribution Techniques for Differentiating Authors,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 6/1 (1997).

  3. From the last two sentences of the essay:
    “Historian G. J. Renier quoted the French historian Fustel de Coulanges as saying, ‘If we approach a text with a preconceived idea we shall read in it only what we want to read.’ However openly Wunderli made his first incursion into these questions, this book is clearly written from so strongly a preconceived idea that he doesn’t even notice that he has seen only what he wanted to see as he selected what to examine and how to examine and present it.”

    What the essay accuses Wunderli of here is often exactly what apologists have done and still do. In a recent article, Muhlestein even admits his bias towards his starting assumption. Here is a quote from Muhlestein from this Deseret News article:

    “I start out with an assumption that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon, and anything else that we get from the restored gospel, is true,” he said. “Therefore, any evidence I find, I will try to fit into that paradigm.”

    The essay claims Wunderli has started with a preconceived idea and that Wunderli avoided addressing:

    “the large body of work LDS scholars have amassed setting the Book of Mormon in a historical context. Convincing or not, it is not entered into the equation.”

    Yet, this “large body of work” is often if not always created with the assumption that the Book of Mormon is true. Hence, the ending argument of the essay seems to just be nothing more than the “pot calling the kettle black”.

    Another comment I have is about the title which implies the Wunderli book is imperfect. I’m sure this is true; I doubt there is any book that is perfect. However, Joseph Smith has made (and the church repeated) the claim that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct book of any book on earth”. Wunderli has made no such claim about his book. So, the higher standard should be held to the Book of Mormon, and regardless of the apologist counter-explanations of the issues Wunderli addresses, the Book of Mormon is an imperfect book, even through Joseph Smith’s own statement of saying it is the “most correct” book instead of a completely correct book. Whether or not it is imperfect to the degree of being convincing that it is not a true ancient historical record is perhaps the real question.

    • Mark, I can see why you suspect that you have found a contradiction, but you miss an important difference. Everyone begins with an initial assumption. it is virtually impossible not to. When hypotheses are tested, the hypothesis is that very initial assumption against which the data are tested. The difference is whether or not one allows the evidence to openly support or deny the hypothesis. If the only evidence you accept is that which supports the hypothesis and you deny any possible contradictory evidence, you create the fallacy of pre-determining your conclusion by guiding the evidence.

      So the question becomes whether any particular author has allowed the evidence to speak both for and against the hypothesis. I can’t make any suggestion about anyone’s work I haven’t looked at, but the very careful examination of Wunderli’s selection of topics and very selective presentation of evidence clearly demonstrates that he has only accepted evidence that supports the original hypothesis.

      One of the things that one must do, to determine authenticity of something like the Book of Mormon is to begin with the hypothesis that it might be what it claims to be. Starting with anything other than that hypothesis skews the selection of data in such a way that anything that supports the text would be denied. However, even beginning with the hypothesis that the Book of Mormon might be historical must required the analysis of a wide range of data, including that which might be contrary to the hypothesis. Thus the positive hypothesis can be falsified, where beginning with the opposite hypothesis virtually eliminates any data that might be positive.

      As for the “most correct book” statement, you would do well to understand it in context rather than pull it out of context and read into it a meaning that was never intended. That is also an important aspect of using evidence. One must use it carefully and appropriately, not simply by the assumption of what one supposes it might mean.

  4. How do the experts answer how the jaredites survived almost a year at sea without enough fresh water or food? Was there room in the vessels? An average person needs 7.5 liters of water per day to survive. Multiply that by 344 days = 2,580 liters per person for the trip. How did they store the water? We are not told how many supposedly made the journey so if ten made it, then 25,800 liters were needed for just the people. The animals would have needed at least that much water. So lets say 50,000 liters were needed for drinking. What about bathing? What about food for everyone? Wouldn’t the weight of the provisions have sunk the vessels?

    This is just one example.

    Surely the Book of Mormon is not historical.

    • The very first step in assessing any document’s relationship to history is to treat it as a historical document rather than something created in modern times. Assuming that because the text says 344 days that it means 344 days, or that there were no stops along the way, is an assumption read into the text. It is an assumption that the text should behave the way we expect a modern history to behave. That means that we begin with the wrong questions.

      It is not unusual for historical texts to make certain exaggerations of time, and to leave things out. When we see Israelites wandering for 40 years in the wilderness, we don’t have to ask how they could possible get that lost, or what they did with themselves each of those years. We also don’t claim that there can be no history in the Bible because the 40 years is not likely to have been 40 years.

      What your one example does is show that you are beginning with the wrong questions. It also ignores the very large number of very good indications that the text was created anciently and responds to political, social, and literary forces from antiquity rather than a presumed modernity.

      I do notice that you rather missed the entire point of the review, which was to point out the problems with methodology. Debates about whether the Book of Mormon represents an ancient text are certainly continuing, but they are rather tangential to the particular discussion at hand.

      • Along those same lines, it’s important to remember what our present ‘Book of Ether’ is: it’s Joseph Smith’s translation of Moroni’s highly selective and agenda-driven redaction of (presumably) Mosiah’s translation of the 24 plates containing Ether’s own highly-selective and agenda-driven redaction of nearly 3000 years of Jaredite history taken from unknown oral and/or written sources.

        As per Brant’s comments, it’s easy to push a lot of assumptions onto the text that don’t actually exist there (strawman fallacy). Furthermore, claiming it’s “not historical” can actually be a question-begging fallacy by assuming a definition of “historical” that’s impossible to meet given the multiple hands of authoring, editing, and redacting over some 5,000 years.

        There’s nothing in the text we do have to indicate that the Jaredites never landed for resupplies — for that matter, there may be nothing in the historical records/stories that Jared worked from to indicate that one way or the other. On the other hand, the stories/records may even have represented the voyage as continuously at sea — for dramatic emphasis and/or to show God’s hand — when in fact it wasn’t.

        As a side note, the current longest record for being at sea without resupply or setting foot on land is 1,152 days. The crew (a man and a woman, though the woman left after several months) packed 3 years of food onto a 70-foot schooner, then during the trip collected rainwater and used a desalinator (which we presume the Jaredites didn’t have).

    • PJ

      Your math skills are seriously challenged or you are very much misinformed. 7.5 liters is 2 gallons. Experts recommend drinking 1/2 gallon (8 cups) per day to stay healthy, and that is with normal physical exertion (walking, working, etc.). If we are talking survival, then the quantity would be even less. A sedentary existence on an enclosed boat would probably require even less also. So, you need to cut your required supply by at least 75%.

      Did you ever consider that they most likely had a rain catchment system on the vessels? We are not given the blueprints for the vessels, but the brother of Jared was. When he brought his concerns to the Lord (light, air, and where to go) water and food were not among his concerns. Apparently those were already handled.

  5. If the Matheny letter to Hamblin is accurate, it is apparent that Matheny recanted his Sunstone presentation. But reading the transcript of Matheny’s Sunstone presentation is it really impossible to conclude that Dr. Matheny didn’t mean what he said then. There’s a lot to this sub-story that can’t be adequately explained with the purported letter of recantation.

  6. I recently finished reading E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible myself. That and your BofM commentary have brought the BofM to life for me. It is surprising how many people project their 20th century culture in to the BofM. I remember a institute teacher when discussing King Benjamins discourse asked, Who were these people?” to which she replied, “Temple recommend holders of course.” If we could let go of traditions and projections and begin to understand the BofM for what it is and ancient history we might actually begin to understand it message as well. Thanks again Brant for you insites.

  7. I don’t want to sound uncharitable, but I remain continually amazed at the shallow, sloppy, and uninformed basis of much if not most Book of Mormon criticism. I have absolutely no problem with those who believe the Book of Mormon to be a modern composition by Joseph Smith or others. But when they raise issues de novo that have been addressed repeatedly (and, in my opinion, usually quite solidly) in the vast corpus Book of Mormon literature and either fail to engage that literature or, worse yet, misrepresent what it says, I just can’t have much respect for them.

    Beyond that, as you note in several places, it often becomes apparent that they just haven’t read the book itself that much or that closely, based on their (to my eyes) obvious errors in portraying what the book itself says.

    And thanks for the pointer to Richards & O’Brien — I’ll track that down.

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