Monday, May 23, 2022

Real vs. Rumor, part 5: inexplicable errors

As I've explained before, I wanted to like and recommend the book Real vs. Rumor because people need to understand how to approach Church history. But the book itself perpetuates rumors!

The subtitle of Real vs. Rumor is sadly ironic: "How to dispel Latter-day Myths." The book includes several factual errors that contribute to, instead of reduce, confusion about Church history. 

Here are some key passages.

p. 2. Given that history is nearly everywhere in Latter-day Saint life, it's no surprise that we frequently encounter rumors and myths. "It never ceases to amaze me," President Harold B. Lee observed, "how gullible some of our Church members are in broadcasting sensational stories, or dreams, or visions, or purported patriarchal blessings, or quotations, or supposedly from some person's private diary." 

The quotation misleadingly fails to alert readers with an ellipsis that it omitted the end of President Lee's sentence: "without first verifying the report with proper Church authorities."

In a book that emphasizes the importance of accuracy, it's surprising to see such an omission. You can read President Lee's entire statement in context here: 

More of President Lee's talk is found below.*

How do we verify reports with proper Church authorities? Obviously we can't ask Church leaders every question that comes to our minds. Church leaders have emphasized repeatedly that we consult the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets. Keep that in mind when we see what else is in this book, Real vs. Rumor.

Page 2 continues.

Antagonists distort the Church's history, and some Saints abandon their faith because they can't make sense of the past or discern present manipulations.

As we've seen elsewhere, it is not only "antagonists" who distort the Church's history. The Saints book, volume 1, deliberately presented a false historical narrative present by omitting any reference to Cumorah, which early Church members universally knew was in New York. The reason was to accommodate modern ideas of geography that varied from what Joseph and Oliver taught, specifically the modern idea that the "real" Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is somewhere in southern Mexico (M2C). The manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith deliberately omitted key parts of the Wentworth Letter that also contradict M2C. 

These distortions of Church history do lead some Latter-day Saints to abandon their faith. They can't make sense of these changes to Church history. Because scholars such as Erekson don't teach what the prophets taught, Latter-day Saints can't easily discern present manipulations. 

Page 10 discusses Emma Smith. We read, "The pages she wrote as scribe for the Book of Mormon were lost with the 116 pages." 

This is presented as a statement of fact (without a citation), but it contradicts what Emma herself said, as well as what David Whitmer and others reported. Emma claimed that Joseph used SITH, but only after the 116 pages were lost. Before that, she said, he used the Urim and Thummim. Yet she claimed that she wrote when Joseph used SITH. Whatever she wrote, therefore, had to be after the 116 pages were lost. David Whitmer also said that Emma was a scribe, as did John Gilbert, who typeset the Book of Mormon. 

This is relevant for two reasons. First, Erekson warns us about people who cite facts without references, just as he did here. Second, if Emma served as scribe in the Whitmer home, the pages she wrote are missing. We have most of 1 Nephi and the first part of 2 Nephi, so she apparently scribed for part of 2 Nephi. This means she probably wrote while Joseph dictated some of the Isaiah chapters, consistent with David Whitmer's description of the SITH demonstration downstairs in the Whitmer home. While we don't know what Joseph dictated during the SITH demonstration(s) because none of the witnesses told us, if those dictations are in the text we have today, they were probably the Isaiah chapters. This is significant because it indicates that the Isaiah chapters in 2 Nephi were not translations, as I discussed in more detail in A Man that Can Translate.

But in Real vs. Rumor, instead of a discussion of the historical record, we get a statement of fact which is nothing but an unfounded opinion that contradicts the facts: "The pages she wrote as scribe for the Book of Mormon were lost with the 116 pages."

On page 11, we read this: "In a history that is now part of the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith described his visits from Moroni in only 900 words. Later, Oliver Cowdery related what Joseph had told him about the visit in 2,400 words--almost three times as many as Joseph left."

This chronology is simply wrong. Oliver published his account in 1835. He explained that Joseph helped him write that history and Joseph had his scribes copy it into his own history as part of his life story.

Joseph's history in the Pearl of Great Price was compiled by his scribes in 1838-9 and first published in 1842. We don't know how directly Joseph was involved in creating this history, as explained here: However, when first published in the Times and Seasons, this history identified the messenger as Nephi, not Moroni. So even on this detail, Erekson misleads the reader.

We realize that Real vs. Rumor is not a comprehensive history, but shouldn't it at least be accurate in the details it does relate? And how can readers trust what they're reading when Erekson tells us on page 11 that "we have to do the best we can with what has survived" but he doesn't do that himself? 

Real vs. Rumor repeats the Moroni version of the Mary Whitmer story, without explaining that this historical record identified the messenger as one of the Three Nephites.

On page 27, we read, "A dozen men and women reported being eyewitness observers of the plates--three witnesses were shown them by an angel, eight witnesses were shown them by Joseph Smith, and Mary Whitmer was shown them by a visitor who was later deduced to be Moroni."

It is exasperating to see this in a book that was supposedly intended to "dispel Latter-day myths!"

The historical evidence from David and Mary shows that the messenger was one of the Three Nephites and called himself Brother Nephi. That it could not have been Moroni should be obvious, both from the fact that David Whitmer had personal, face-to-face encounters with both Moroni and the messenger, and from the teaching that resurrected beings are restored perfectly and are not shape-shifters who can deceive people by changing their appearance. (Alma 11:44)

To his credit, Erekson recognizes that there is no historical evidence to support the Moroni version, but he writes in the passive voice, obscuring the source: "a visitor who was later deduced to be Moroni."

Interested readers can see the historical details here:

The fake Moroni/Mary Whitmer story is one of the most destructive "Latter-day myths" for two reasons. First, it contradicts Alma's teaching of the resurrection. Are we now to believe that after we're resurrected, we can appear as a tall man in perfect condition, but if so inclined we can change our shape so we can appear as an short, older man, heavyset with a long beard, simply to mislead people?

The second problem here is the way M2C scholars such as John W. Welch have used the Moroni myth to deflect from the point of David Whitmer's account. David explained that when he first encountered the messenger, he was taking the plates from Harmony to Cumorah. That was direct corroboration of what Joseph and Oliver always said; i.e., that the Hill Cumorah was in western New York. We infer that the messenger was taking the abridged plates to the repository in Cumorah so he could pick up the plates of Nephi and take them to Fayette so Joseph could translate them as directed by D&C 10. But of course the M2C scholars insist Cumorah cannot be in New York. Even in the reference book Opening the Heavens, Brother Welch changed the reference to omit the mention of Cumorah. 

Readers of Real vs. Rumor should expect to see such myths exposed, not amplified.

I have more examples of this type of thing in the book, but by now you should get the gist.

Next, we'll look at the way Real vs. Rumor perpetuates one of the worst of all the Latter-day myths: SITH (the stone-in-the-hat theory).

* President Lee gave that talk in the Oct. 1972 General Conference when he was first sustained as President of the Church. Here is more from that talk. Consider whether Real vs. Rumor cherry-picked from President Lee's talk, even while objecting to cherry picking.

I want to warn this great body of priesthood against that great sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, which has been labeled as a sin second only in seriousness to the sin of murder. I speak of the sin of adultery, which, as you know, was the name used by the Master as he referred to unlicensed sexual sins of fornication as well as adultery; and besides this, the equally grievous sin of homosexuality, which seems to be gaining momentum with social acceptance in the Babylon of the world, of which Church members must not be a part.

While we are in the world, we must not be of the world. Any attempts being made by the schools or places of entertainment to flaunt sexual perversions, which can do nothing but excite to experimentation, must find among the priesthood in this church a vigorous and unrelenting defense through every lawful means that can be employed.

The common judges of Israel, our bishops and stake presidents, must not stand by and fail to apply disciplinary measures within their jurisdiction, as set forth plainly in the laws of the Lord and procedures as set forth in plain and simple instructions that cannot be misunderstood. Never must we allow supposed mercy to the unrepentant sinner to rob the justice upon which true repentance from sinful practices is predicated.

One more matter: There are among us many loose writings predicting the calamities which are about to overtake us. Some of these have been publicized as though they were necessary to wake up the world to the horrors about to overtake us. Many of these are from sources upon which there cannot be unquestioned reliance.

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