Dr. William Davis takes exception to the traditional timeline for Book of Mormon Translation. He says Joseph knew about it as early as 1823. He also says Joseph was trained as Methodist Exhorter, which helped him in translation. Joseph wasn’t as illiterate as some claim. We’ll talk about laying down heads, and criticism of William’s book. Check out our conversation….
Re-evaluating Translation Timeline for Book of Mormon
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GT 51:43 So let’s jump back, because I know the thesis of your book is, there’s evidence within the Book of Mormon itself, that this was an oral transmission and not a written translation. Is that correct?
William 52:00 Yeah.
GT 52:01 I know that there are many defenders of the Church that would be threatened by that, because there are all these little tests. “Well, Joseph only had a third-grade education, and he didn’t read. How could he have synthesized all of these thousands of books?” So, I’d like you to kind of talk a little bit about that. I know, part of that is laying down heads, if you can explain what that means. Also, do you have evidence that Joseph Smith was a voracious reader?
William 52:43 Okay. That’s a lot of topics. Which one should I start on first?
GT 52:48 I know that was a lot of questions. I’ll let you take it wherever you want to go with that?
William 52:50 Okay. If we want to look at–because we have Joseph’s education. We have the laying down heads. We have the oral presentation of the text. We’ll just go back. What is this book about? And what this book is about is, I’m not dealing so much with the content of the Book of Mormon, the stories and explaining how Joseph Smith articulated the stories. That’s a different project altogether. But what this is, is this is talking about the mechanics behind the construction of the Book of Mormon. How was it kind of arranged and put together? Now we’ll talk about it from the point of view of Joseph Smith being a translator and loose translation. So, what happens with that, and what I’m proposing in the book, is that as part of the translation process–I’ll tell you what. The best place might be to start by looking at what was Joseph Smith’s translation like? What did that involve?
William 53:52 I’m going to go to the Doctrine and Covenants.
GT 53:59 Okay.
William 53:59 [Doctrine and Covenants] 9. This is Joseph Smith, and I’m going to go to it in my book here, because I have some commentary that was going along with it, where I’m talking about the translation. So, when we’re talking about the translation, what it is, when we’re talking about tight control or loose control, another way of saying that is, Joseph Smith was involved in the articulation of the text, or Joseph Smith was not involved. In other words, other than just reading words, or receiving words that he told Oliver to write down.
William 54:39 But then when you go to D&C 19, and here’s the story that everybody knows about. Alright, so, here we are. Here’s the scenario. We’re in Harmony, Pennsylvania. All right, and Oliver Cowdery has finally come. The 116 pages were lost. There’s a big blowout about that. Martin Harris, through whatever he did, they are lost. Then, the translation is on, halt, nothing’s happening. Then we go through this winter of just distress. Joseph and Emma, their child dies. He’s living on the Hales farm on a tiny little corner of it. I mean, this is about as low as you can get. He’s surrounded by relatives. Nobody likes him. Because he tried to join and be nice and go to the Methodist class meetings and one of the relatives, “Get him out of here. He’s a necromancer. Get him.” So, this is miserable. So, finally, and I think that’s when he was just saying, “I’ve got to get this project done.”
William 55:45 So, anyway, spring comes around. Oliver Cowdery shows up, so then they start working on this. So, they’re working away. They’re doing the translation. How was he doing the translation? Well, Joseph Smith has got the seer stone, and he’s using the seer stone in the hat to kind of block out light. They’re going through and they’re doing this process. Now, in the middle of this process. Oliver says, “Wow, this is really amazing. I’d like to try this. Joseph, can I translate?” Joseph, who knows what Joseph’s thought is like.
GT 56:19 Sure.
William 56:19 “Why not, if I can receive inspiration from God, then why not you, too.” Then he, so, he goes to Oliver, and says, “Go for it.” Now, presumably, then, Oliver has been watching Joseph with the seer stone, doing this work. Presumably, Oliver, then, would have used the seer stone to make his attempt. Some people have tried to argue that Oliver also used a divining rod.
GT 56:55 Right.
William 56:56 So, maybe Oliver decided that he was going to use this divining rod. I don’t find that argument compelling because, well, first of all, if you believe in a tight translation, where Joseph Smith was reading words off the seer stone, there’s your screen. Divining rod doesn’t have a little, unless it’s a tiny little ant-like screen, that’s going to give you the words. I mean, it looks like Oliver was just trying to do what Joseph was doing. So, he’s like, give me the hat and the stone and I’ll try. It didn’t work.
GT 57:27 Well, I think the original versions of D&C 9 mentioned the rod.
William 57:32 Yeah, but not as the translation. It mentions the rod, but this is where your gift is, with the rod. But it doesn’t, it doesn’t say, “You know, when you were trying to translate with the rod, and it didn’t work, this is what happened.”
GT 57:46 “You should have used the seer stone.”
William 57:47 Yeah, you should have used the seer stone. But we’ll read through this closely, because this tells us about the translation. A lot of other descriptions of the translation process took place, 50-60 years after the fact, when you start getting these historical references. But then this is something that’s happening while they’re doing the translation. I mean, this is the closest thing we have to real time description of what that translation process was.
GT 58:13 Okay.
William 58:14 So, here’s what here’s what we’re saying, and I’m going to interject in here as I’m reading this. So again, we’re going, this is the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 9.
GT 58:25 If people want to follow along in your book, what page are you in your book?
William 58:28 In my book, I’m on page 168. I know that everybody is going to want to open up the books that they purchased and got for their own.
GT 58:37 By the way, I probably haven’t told people, but we’re going to give away an autographed copy of Visions and a Seer Stone. So there could be people that get a copy from you.
William 58:48 I didn’t know. Well, hopefully people will participate.
GT 58:53 They’ll go rewatch this interview, and they’ll be like, “Okay, I’m on page,” 160, is that what you said?
William 58:58 [It’s page] 168. It’s under a heading called Dynamics of Revelatory Translation. Now, and if you’re following in Doctrine & Covenants, its Doctrine & Covenants 9, starting on, say, verse 7. Yeah, verse 7. So, this is the translation that comes. So, Oliver Cowdery gets the hat and the stone, he’s wanting to say, “Okay, now I’m going to try it.” So, he starts, and he starts, and he starts, and nothing’s happening. So, finally he gets up and he goes, “Oh, my gosh, what’s going on?”
Joseph’s going, “Well, let’s ask the Lord and get revelation.”
This is what comes, he [The Lord] says, “Behold, Oliver, behold, you have not understood. You have supposed that I would give it,” the translation. “You supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought, save it was to ask me.” So, in other words, he’s saying, “You thought I was just going to give you the words. All you’d do–that’s not how translation works. You don’t come to me and just say, “Okay, Lord, translate it for me.”
GT 1:00:06 Let’s see what’s on the seer stone.
William 1:00:07 He said, “You supposed that I, you have supposed that I would give it unto you.” That means God is not giving you the translation. It’s right here. “And you took no thought save it…” And all you had to do was ask me. In other words, there’s no effort on the part of the translator. So, it’s all passive.
So, what happened here is Oliver got up to the stone, and he’s like, “Okay, Heavenly Father, give me the translation.” And there’s nothing there. It’s because he’s not participating. He’s just sitting back and saying, “Well, where is it? Where’s the screen telling me what to say?”
William 1:00:49 But he [God] says, “But behold, I say unto you that you must study it out in your mind.” You’ve got to think about it first. Then you must ask me if it be right. So, in other words, you’re not just thinking about it. But then you have to start thinking about, what’s happening here? Are the Nephites going to do this? Are the Nephites going to do that? And you’re waiting for a confirmation. So, that’s active thought. That’s active engagement. That’s trying to imagine that’s trying to get inspiration, to get some sort of idea in mind, and then say, “Is this how I say it? Should I say it that way?” And then, and if it is, right, if what you come up with is correct, I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you. So, when you’re thinking and trying to imagine, trying to be open to revelation, and you’re participating in this process, once you start to get it correct, your bosom is going to start to burn within you. Then you can say, “Aha,” and then that’s when you start giving the translation. “Therefore, you shall feel that is right. But if it is not, right, you will have no such feelings. But you shall have a stupor of thought that will cause you to forget the thing which was wrong. Therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred, save it’d be given you for me,” this inspiration. So, it’s this participatory process. Then he says, “Now, if you had known this, you could have translated.”
William 1:02:23 So, what we’re getting here is something–this scripture really militates against the idea of tight control. Because tight control is passive. Tight control is that the person just sits back and say, “Okay, I’m in tune with the Spirit, show it to me. Game on. Where’s my popcorn? I’ll just tell you, as I eat my popcorn, everything that’s coming off here. And the other thing, too, the process doesn’t seem to involve that. Because if the words were coming like that, where you didn’t have to worry about it, the transcription process would have happened so much faster, it would have been so much quicker than the 90-day period framework in which they dictated the Book of Mormon.
William 1:03:04 Here’s the other thing on the other side of the coin of that, though. When Joseph Smith was dictating the Book of Mormon, he wasn’t having these long pauses, where he’s thinking about whatever, and receiving inspiration, waiting till he gets [it,] and then talking. Because otherwise, the descriptions say that he would start to say a sentence, Oliver would write it down and repeat it back to him. Then, once it was repeated back, if everything was okay, then he would say the next phrase, Oliver. So, they’re doing this back-and-forth phrase by phrase thing. There’s no one describing [that] he said a phrase, Oliver repeated, then Joseph Smith went off in five minutes meditation, then came out with another phrase. So, if this is what translation is, is and this is what is coming in the revelation, then that means Joseph Smith, if he followed this process, then he wasn’t studying it out in his mind and finding confirmation in the moment of dictation. That had to have occurred before the dictation session.
GT 1:04:16 Okay.
William 1:04:18 That’s D&C. That’s the description that we’re getting in the revelation from God. Now, if that’s the case, then when did he do that? And how long was he doing that for?
William 1:04:32 So, what I’m proposing in the book is when you go back, and you look at the history, from the moment in 1823, in September, when Joseph Smith, told the family, “This angel appeared to me with these plates, and told me about these plates, and said that there’s this history of ancient Americans and that, eventually, I’m going to be translating them.” That’s the point when we know that Joseph Smith was aware of these ancient people and that there are stories. Then, when you look at what Moroni said to him, even in in the accounts where it’s really brief, apparently the Angel Moroni gave him this overall arc of the story. [Moroni told him] that there was a righteous nation where they came from. They went wicked, and they fell apart and they died. So, you have this kind of general outline about the story.
GT 1:05:23 And this is as early as 1823, right?
William 1:05:24 [Yes,] 1823.
GT 1:05:27 So, Joseph knew what was in the Book of Mormon in 1823.
William 1:05:31 In 1823, yes. But, let’s go into more detail, because I know that when we talk about this issue, a lot of times what will come up is Lucy Mack Smith. [Lucy,] she was talking about how Joseph Smith, after he had this vision, all of a sudden, he came at night, and he was telling us stories about the ancient inhabitants in the Americas. We were all just sitting with bated breath on the edge of our seats, listening to him. And she said what a sight this was with the whole family sitting around this young man just listening to him tell stories.
William 1:06:04 That’s where people tend to go to try to show evidence of what Joseph Smith may or may not have been thinking about, at that time from 1823. But what often isn’t included in that is the Wentworth letter. Let’s go look at the Wentworth letter for a minute, because I think…
GT 1:06:23 This is 1843 when he wrote the Wentworth letter?
William 1:06:26 Yes, so the Wentworth letter, and just so people know, he was a Chicago editor. He wanted to know a little bit about Joseph Smith, and the Mormon movement. So, he wrote to say, “Hey, can you tell us about this?” So, Joseph Smith responded, and in his response, he talked about the visitation from the Angel Moroni. Let’s go look at that in a little bit of detail about what he said the angel told him at this 1823 period when he was first learning about it. So, now, according to Smith, and I’m going to read some of this. I’ll try not to be…
GT 1:07:12 That’s good.
William 1:07:13 I’ll try to be more lively when reading because sometimes it doesn’t get boring. So, he, and this is quoting him. He said that there was a book deposited, written upon golden plates giving account of the former inhabitants of the continent, and the source from which they sprang. He also said that the fullness of the everlasting gospel was contained in it.” So, that’s something else we know. This book isn’t just a history of these people who came and rose up and then died out, but it also has their gospel as delivered by the Savior, to the ancient inhabitants. So, now he’s saying, “This is what…” now if what Joseph said, is accurate, right? If he’s giving an accurate account of what Moroni told him, then not only did Moroni I tell him about the ancient people and their lives, but he’s also told them that Christ the Savior even came to them, and it also talks about the gospel. So, there’s going to be talking about the religious history, not just… Oh, you know what? That was with Oliver Cowdery. I’m sorry. I’m coming to the John Wentworth letter, but that’s another account. That’s with Oliver Cowdery. So that’s his account with Oliver Cowdery.
GT 1:08:27 And when was this account with Oliver Cowdery?
William 1:08:29 In 1833, I think or 1835. That was a series of letters in the Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate. So, what happened is, Oliver Cowdery had written a lot of more detailed information about the origins of the Church, and he went into this, Joseph Smith at the time was the editor. So, he was previewing everything for publication before it went.
GT 1:08:51 Oliver should know, because he was a scribe.
William 1:08:53 Yeah. So, this was really close to the event. Joseph Smith, also, was the editor who was kind of approving what was printed.
GT 1:09:02 So, Oliver’s implying that Joseph knew, do we know, as early as 1823, or does he really specify? But sometime before he wrote the Book of Mormon.
William 1:09:09 This was as the visitation of Moroni.
GT 1:09:11 Okay, so that could have been 1823, 1824, 1825, 1826.
William 1:09:15 Yes.
William 1:09:16 Yeah, we could [say that,] because there were supposed to be visitations after that, and also, when Joseph Smith first appeared, and then he started telling stories to the family about the ancient inhabitants. It wasn’t a one night, one shot deal. It was saying he was continuing to tell us these stories, and we would continually listen.
GT 1:09:33 So, the idea is Joseph could have been practicing translating with these stories, first? Is that the idea?
William 1:09:38 Well, that could have been part of the translation process, and that’s what I’m arguing in the book is that part of this translation process was this preparatory phase of thinking about the ancient inhabitants.
GT 1:09:52 It wasn’t just 90 days. It was seven years.
William 1:09:55 The prep, yeah, not quite seven years. But it was about five and a half years from the time that they started, the actual dictation of the final form of the version. It was about four years when they started. When they began the 116 pages, that was about four years from September 1823, because that was somewhere in late 1827, early 1828.
GT 1:10:15 Okay.
William 1:10:16 But, then the project got stopped, and then they started back up in April of 1829. So, that was then, also, a little more time to think about it. Anyway, when he wrote, and this is was a March 1842 letter to the editor, John Wentworth. These are some of the details that Joseph Smith said Moroni told him in 1823, that first visitation. Joseph says, “I was informed by Moroni, concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, their identity, from whence they came.” So, he knew that they were coming across from ancient Israel, or earlier, with the Jaredites. “A brief sketch of their origins.” So, where they’re coming from, a historical sketch. That means outline, by the way, that’s another word for outline at this time. “Their progress.” So, not just that they got here, but then how they started to develop their civilization.
William 1:11:25 So, he’s describing what’s going on, the type of civilization that they have, their laws, their governments. What kinds of governments do we have in the Book of Mormon? We have the Kings, the monarchies, but then we also have the system of judges. Then, the only other government that I think they mentioned is when everybody totally broke apart, and they were in separate tribes, so you would have tribal leaders. Those are being explained.
William 1:11:52 “Their righteousness and iniquity.” So, events of when they were righteous, events when they were not righteous. “And the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people.” So, this is actually pretty detailed. You’re getting some serious information. So, when Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, he was telling him a lot of stuff.
He’s not just saying, “Oh, there’s a book, it has all the history, just wait for it, you’ll get to it, years from now.” No, he was telling him all kinds of stuff right from the very beginning.
William 1:12:27 Then, in addition to that, and what I point out in the book is, Joseph Smith has a seer stone, right? One of the properties of the seer stone, is that you’re able to look into the seer stone, and through meditation, opening yourself up to the spirit, you’re going to be able to, just like the interpreter’s mentioned in the Book of Mormon, you can see the past the present and the future. So, if Joseph Smith, on his own, outside of these conversations with Moroni was curious and wanted to know more, to kind of see what’s going on, all he has to do is focus on the seer stone, and he can be taken away to see what these events are, even if he doesn’t have the plates. Now, he could have done that. Whether or not he did or not, of course, there’s no historical reference to him saying, “Oh, I was really curious to find out about Nephi. So, on my own, before I got the plates, I got the seer stone and looked into it.” But all the same, that power, that possibility was always there from the very beginning.
William 1:12:27 We also hear that every year he was going and talking to Moroni, and Moroni was preparing him, giving him information, preparing him for the restoration. So, there is preparatory stuff happening here. What I’m arguing is that all of that preparatory process involved preparation to do the dictation of the Book of Mormon. And what would that kind of preparation [be?]
GT 1:13:54 That would have been a lot more preparation than just the short days he was actually dictating it.
William 1:13:59 Yeah. So, I think that during that preparation time, that’s when the, “’Study it out in your mind,’ to see if it’s correct. And if it’s correct, I’ll give you a burning in your bosom.”
Laying Down Heads
William: Then, what I’m arguing in the book is that one of the things that Joseph did, as he was going through that process, is then as he’s studying out and trying to figure out what’s happening in these ancient civilizations, that he’ll just be taking little notes, and those little notes or little sketch outlines of what the stories were going to be. You can see evidence of that in the text of the Book of Mormon, itself.
GT 1:14:35 In the chapter headings.
William 1:14:36 In the chapter headings and it’s not just the chapter headings. You can also see outlines embedded into the story structures, themselves, where you get the succinct outlines of narratives that have not yet appeared, but then you’re getting kind of a story outline in advance. So, when you look at the headings, what these headings are, is they’re really succinct outlines with the short phrases. Oftentimes, they’re not even a full sentence. They’re just really succinct words and all you need. They can be, depending on the notes you look at, is they can be as simple as one or two words, being all you need to kind of cue the memory of the person for what they’re going to speak on. That kind of process is exactly what’s going on in the sermon culture of Joseph Smith’s day, when you have evangelical preachers and the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Baptists and the new light Congregationalists or the people who descended from the new light Congregationalists.
GT 1:15:33 My question is, don’t people even do that, now, today? Like if you’re speaking extemporaneously, you might have a little tiny outline?
William 1:15:40 Yeah, absolutely. But there is a difference. There is a difference. That’s where I’ve noticed that there is, where there has been–this is something that I think I could have done a better job of explaining.
GT 1:15:54 In your book.
William 1:15:56 Yeah, because, well, let’s go to the book. So, it’s this process. The technique of making these little outlines is called laying down heads. So, each one of these little cues, each one of these mnemonic phrases that you just look at that and say, “Oh, that reminds me of a whole bunch of information.” Each one of those things was called a head. So, “When laying down heads,” was creating the short outline.
GT 1:16:24 Kind of like an outline, right?
William 1:16:25 Yeah. Now, if you look at it, we know that this was–a lot of the structuring the Book of Mormon was based on this technique, and how we know it is the Book of Mormon itself mentions it. So, I’m going to go look at that really quickly. It’s in Jacob. And, in the opening, so Nephi has been in charge of everything. Then, everything gets turned over to Jacob. But Nephi when he’s turning over, he says, “Okay, here’s some things. I’m going to give you the plates. But, make sure that when you record the stuff, that you’re recording things that are really important.” And he tells him how to do that.
William 1:17:07 So, “Nephi gave me, Jacob,” and this is the Book of Jacob, Chapter one. I’m going to be reading through, verses one through three. So, “Wherefore,” going just further down in. “Nephi gave me, Jacob, a commandment concerning the small plates upon which these things are engraven. And he gave me Jacob, a commandment that I should write upon these plates a few of the things which I considered to be most precious; that I should not touch, save it were lightly, concerning the history of the people.” So, here we’ve got the commandment. Older brother to younger brother, “Look, don’t waste your time on these small plates with all these stories, just talk about the doctrine.” And he said, “Because the history is going to be on these other plates, the large plates of Nephi.”
GT 1:17:58 Which get lost.
William 1:17:58 Yeah. Well, wait. Yeah, a portion of, well, some of the large plates, they’ll cover Alma. So some of that– anyway, but the 116 pages, that portion of it was gone. So here, we get down to verse four. “If there were any preaching, which is sacred,” so sermons, “or revelation, which was great,” so any inspired revelation and prophecy, “or prophesying, that I should engrave in the heads of them, upon these plates.” What does that mean? We engrave the heads, engrave the main points of the sermons, of the prophecy, of the revelation, “And then touch upon them as much as possible.” So you engrave in the head, and then touching upon it, as much as possible is elaboration.
William 1:17:59 They called that amplification at the time. So, here’s the main idea, and then we’re going to elaborate on it and talk about that idea. So, in other words, if there’s any of the sermons that you give, write down the main points and then write and then fill, flesh it out with what those main points were. So, that’s what he’s telling him, and he’s using this language, ‘laying down the heads.’ That is, specifically, people who were born and raised in the 19th century would know exactly what that meant. Because that’s the kind of language that they use when they’re talking about [speeches.] When you hit the main point of a speech, or the main points of any type of history or narrative, then hitting the main heads and then touching upon the heads or hitting on the heads and elaborating or amplifying the heads was this technique. It’s, essentially, the form of composition that kids were learning in common schools that you would be taught about in Sunday schools. You would learn about [laying down heads] if you’re in self-improvement venues, like juvenile debate clubs, or even domestic education. This is what you’d come across.
William 1:19:59 Every time you went to and listened to a sermon on Sunday, the preachers would be laying down the heads either overtly or concealed heads. I mean, this was all encompassing. You were exposed to this from the moment that you started going to church or started learning how to read or have any kind of instruction.
GT 1:20:17 So, that would be 19th century lingo in the Book of Mormon, basically.
William 1:20:23 Yeah. This type of technique, it predated the 19th century, for quite a while, quite a long while. That’s where some, I think there’s been some mistakes where people have said, “Oh, Davis is saying that this was something that just sprang up in the 19th century.” No, no, no, that’s not what my book says. This is something that has a really long history. Anyway, I mean, there’s lots of stuff to talk about. When we’re coming back to, is it just following bullet points? It’s not just following bullet points. But this is where there is kind of a little bit of confusion. Laying down heads occurs in print culture and laying down heads occurs in the oral culture. In print culture, it is kind of a series of bullet points. When you look at the headings, it’s kind of a sequence of events: t is happened, then this happened, then this happened, then this happened.
GT 1:21:27 I know in–and I’m a math guy, I’m not an English guy. But I remember in high school, my English teacher would say, “Okay, when you write an essay, tell them what you’re going to say, say it, and then summarize what you told them.”
William 1:21:42 Yeah.
GT 1:21:42 I mean, is that kind of what laying down heads is, basically, as well?
William 1:21:46 That comes directly out of it
GT 1:21:48 Okay.
William 1:21:49 I mean, what we’re learning today has a history. And that history–so, what people kind of learn, whether someone’s extemporary high school debate, or somebody who’s, even, who might have come up with this on their own. I competed in extemporaneous speaking in high school, and then no one trained me in it. But I learned how to do it by just saying, here’s a few formulaic trick ways to open it up. But then all I had to do is, gee, you could give me any topic. I would take and sit with it for five minutes, and I could get up and talk about any of it. Part of it was, I would just say, here are the main points I want to talk about. Then, all I had to do is kind of remember that, and then I could just get up and go. All I had to do is reference that little outline and create it in my mind. That’s really similar to what’s going on here. But the problem is, it’s not just that that’s going on when it comes to sermons. When it comes to prophesying and these revelations, there’s something more complicated going on here. This is what I wish I could have gone into a little bit more is because seeing how…
GT 1:21:49 You can do a second edition, right?
William 1:23:04 Yeah, I’ll have to come out with a second edition. I put this down in here, because I was hoping to get back to it. Okay, so what happened is, we have here in the scriptures, we have Jacob saying Nephi told me to lay down heads, and then to touch upon them as much as possible whenever I’m recording these sermons. So, then the next thing in what I talked about in the book, and it’s a little bit later, and it kind of goes by, so people might miss it. That’s where I made, I think, the mistake of not banging people over the head with this more, is the question of not that he just laid down heads as part of this process of documenting sermons, and revelations. But how did he lay down heads? It wasn’t just bullet points. The way he laid it down, was following a very specific pattern of sermonizing called the doctrine and use pattern. So, it wasn’t just a list of bullet points, but it’s bullet points with specific categories of information or a specific focus on how we talk about this information.
William: They called it doctrine and use, and it had different names. But I’m just going to talk about this just for a little bit. Okay, here we go. So, I’m going to read a little bit about this, and we’re going to talk about it a little bit because the doctrine and use pattern is something that is not an age-old, timeless pattern. It’s something that is fairly recent, in the whole course of history. So, when Jacob’s sermons follow this doctrine and use pattern, it’s something that’s very typical in 19th century preaching. It deals with when you start out the doctrine and use, what would start out with this pattern is usually they begin with a text. And when they say the text, inevitably 95% of the time it’s a scripture.
William: So what will happen is you start out and you’ll say, Okay, today’s sermon is going to be on this scripture. And then that’s followed by a bit of an introduction, where they try to contextualize the Scripture. It will have just preliminary information that people know to get the scripture in context. Like, here’s this scripture, and here’s the story context in which it occurs. It’s one of Paul’s letters, or it’s in the middle of the Exodus or something. So, they get people to know what that is. Then, once they have that, then they start to break it down and say, here are some of the doctrines that we can pull out of that. Then, they have something called the uses or the applications. What that was, is they would say, now that we pulled this doctrine out of it, now, here’s how it applies to you. Whoever’s listening to this, this is what this means in your life. This is how you apply it in your life. This is how it’s not just applicable, so, if we’re talking about an ancient scripture, the people in Exodus, it’s not just something that applies to them. It’s something that applies to us. So, it was also a type of interpretation that was based on the types and shadows. So, if you see something happening in the text anciently among the Israelites, well, we can use this as a lesson that was also about us today, how we apply that.
William 1:25:59 So, when he goes through, and then I kind of track this in the book, for those who want to read more closely about it, you might want to start at, say, page 94, and then read up at least through 97. But anyway, because that’s when I go into detail about how this works out. I’m probably spending too much time talking about this. But the point I’m trying to make, though, is that particular style of pattern.
William 1:26:48 It’s not just in Jacob, but you see the same type of sermon pattern appearing, again, and again, with all the sermons that stretch across the Book of Mormon. That’s a sermon pattern that was developed out of what’s called the Sermo modernus, and that’s among the medieval scholastics. So, what was happening is in the medieval period, the preachers were wanting to get information out to the masses. Because what was happening is a lot of people were preaching in Latin, and the common laypeople were like…
GT 1:27:23 “I don’t know what that means.”
William 1:27:24 “What are you saying?” So, what they started…
GT 1:27:26 I’ve been to Catholic mass, and I’m like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
William 1:27:30 So, what would happen is, part of the Scholastic movement, part of the sermo modernus, which means the modern sermon. Of course, it’s not modern for us now. But, for them, it was modern. It was new. It was exciting. It was different. It was different than anything prior to it. What they would do, then, is they’d say, “We want to teach these people who don’t know much about the gospel, but we want them to really understand it more. So, what we’re going to do is we’re going to take a scripture, and we’re going to break it apart.” And they break it apart in different ways. Some people would actually break it apart and say, “This word means this, and this word means this, and that they’d call it dissection, where one of the terms…
GT 1:28:08 I’ve seen seminary teachers do that.
William 1:28:11 So, they’re different approaches. But that’s one of what they would do. Then, by pulling it apart, then they’re trying to teach people what this all means, to give them a better understanding. Then, they’d also break it up into say, three or four main heads, and they wouldn’t go any further, because they’re trying to teach people in a way–you have people who, a lot of people were just simply illiterate. So, the only way they’re going to learn is by listening to a sermon. What they would do is, you don’t want to throw too much information at your audience. You want to break it down into a short, but logical sequence. Then, so that they’ll learn something, so that when they go home, they’re going to remember this. A lot of times people would go home, and then they’d have discussion.
William 1:28:53 Sometimes people who were literate would write it down. The way they’d write down the sermon is also by listening for the heads and writing down the heads. [It was a] really, super common practice. Kids in Sunday schools, they were taught that laying down heads.] When you listen to the preacher on Sunday, and by the way, you were required to go to church if you went to Sunday school. So, when Joseph Smith was attending Sunday school, he had to be going to church somewhere at the same time, because that was a requirement. Anyway, one of the things that would happen is, you’d be listening to a sermon. After the sermon was over, then a Sunday school teacher or parent might say, “Okay, what was what was the sermon about?” So, later on that evening, someone would say, “Okay, tell us what the sermon was.”
GT 1:29:30 We do that now and my kids say, “I don’t know.”
William 1:29:34 But what was common practice, the kids, then they would listen for the main point. What were the heads? Because sometimes the preacher would say, “Okay, we’re going to this point now when we’re going to do this,” and so kids then would have to recite back to a parent or recite back to a teacher, the main heads of a sermon. Anyway, I’m kind of going off…
GT 1:29:54 To prove that they were listening.
William 1:29:55 Yeah. All of this specific type of tradition goes back to this medieval time period with the Sermo modernus. That’s when it originated. So, we’re talking about a 13th century onward 14th 15th. I mean, it was in development. It wasn’t always just for teaching the masses, because sometimes you do have this sermon format that’s still all in Latin. Because they would even use that in the early universities and whatnot. But that is the pattern that shows up in the Book of Mormon. And there’s no way that an ancient Nephite is going to be using that pattern.
GT 1:30:38 Why not?
William 1:30:39 Because it didn’t exist, yet, for most of the time. Then, by the time that, I mean, it just didn’t exist. It hadn’t been developed, it hadn’t been developed for several centuries, in another part of the country. So, how do we deal with that?
GT 1:30:55 Well, let me argue with that. Because we know so little, assuming the Book of Mormon took place in the Americas. And there’s a fun theory about Malay, which I think’s really fun. But anyway, I’m going to ignore that for now. Assuming it took place in the Americas, we know so little about the ancient inhabitants. How do we not know that they just used heads back in 400 BC or whatever?
William 1:31:19 We do have to have some kind of evidence. We can’t just say, “Well, they might have had it. So, they’re good.
GT 1:31:25 Well, but this may, I mean, the argument I’m trying to play devil’s advocate here. But the argument could be, “Well, maybe Nephi knew that in 600 BC or whatever. That’s just the way you did it.” Or I guess with the loose translation, Joseph converted whatever was on the plates to get these heads that you’re talking about? Would that be a better explanation?
William 1:31:48 Yeah, absolutely. That’s where we’re going. Because that’s one of the things I’m proposing. Then, right away, I know, some people say, “Uh uh. No.”
GT 1:31:57 “This is not what I leaned in Sunday school.”
William 1:31:59 Yeah. So, the way to think about that is to go back to the translation process. Now, one thing people could argue is, say Nephi, was given a vision of the future, and he saw how information was packaged for 19th century audiences who listen to sermons. So, Nephi, when he wrote down on the gold plates, he decided to make his sermons conform to 19th century conventions, because he’s…There’s a point that’s really — the issue here is, what God does and what God doesn’t [do.] I mean, if we take the position with God, anything is possible. So if God wanted to do it, it could have been done. That’s oftentimes a fallback. But the real issue isn’t what God could do. The real issue is, what did God actually do? Because, if we just say God can do anything, then any possibility is equally valid with any other possibility. But God has given us evidence. He’s not saying, shut off the mind. Don’t look at it. Don’t explore it. Don’t go deep. Because, if we do that, then we start to miss out on what’s really happening. We might miss out on the chance to understand Joseph Smith’s translation process. So, if we just say, God can do anything–BH Roberts talked about it this by the way, not this specific topic. But B.H. Roberts was getting frustrated with people who said, “Well, God could, if God wanted to give information to these ancient Nephites, knowledge about the Americas, he could have done it.”
William 1:33:41 B.H. Roberts, what he said, he said, “That is,” and to quote, B.H. Roberts, “lazy.” That’s how he describes people who fall back on those arguments. The reason why he says that is because there’s a lot of information that’s given, that if we pursue it, and if we get out of our own way of feeling threatened with information that challenges our thinking, we might be able to discover some truths that are even deeper. So, this is going back to this theory. On the one hand, you could say, “Well, if God wanted to, all of these ancient prophets could have looked into the future and saw how we formatted our text and saw how we arranged our sermons and then they conformed everything about their lives to match for the 19th century audiences.” That’s a stretch, and it’s not a stretch, even just from an academic looking at it. I mean from a theological position. That’s more of a stretch than if you say, if Joseph Smith were a translator, like he said he was, and he’s receiving inspiration about these ancient sermons. But he’s limited by his own experiences in life. Then when that comes filtering into his mind, it’s going to filter out through his translating brain into a form and framework that he’s familiar with. So, you expect to see 19th century elements. You would expect to see 19th century frameworks, because he’s a 19th century translator.
William 1:35:17 So, the fact that all of these Nephites are using a style, a sermon pattern that didn’t exist and wouldn’t exist for centuries after they were all dead, you could still say, Joseph Smith is a translator. This is evidence of him participating in that translation process, and [our] testimony is intact. We don’t have to feel threatened. What it does, though, is it helps us to gain a greater appreciation of what Joseph Smith was doing in the process of translation. If we weren’t willing to take that step, then that’s information about Joseph Smith, the history of the church and the history of the Book of Mormon, we would never know, because we refuse to consider that possibility.
William 1:36:08 So, that’s kind of what I’m doing with this book. In the opening of the book, I talked about how we have to be careful when we’re talking about these subjects. There are some things we’re talking about that are doctrines of the church and beliefs of the church. But there are a lot of things we’re talking about that are not doctrines. They’re theories. They are explanations that people are coming up with. Sometimes people who see themselves as defending the faith are not actually defending the faith. They’re defending their cherished theory. Sometimes that gets in the way of finding out more accurate information about our own past, because someone has a knee jerk, angry reaction, and then it shuts a door that should not be shut.
GT 1:37:01 So, when Joseph says he’s a translator, you take him at his word.
William 1:37:05 Yes.
GT 1:37:05 He just translated in the 19th century language. Is that right?
William 1:37:09 Yeah. Speaking of which, and then we talked about this earlier. I’m going to go to the scripture, because I don’t think people always recognize it. But when we’re trying to figure out what Joseph Smith meant by the word translation, and there’s a lot of different ideas, whether it’s revelatory translation, receiving inspiration, just trying to articulate things in his own words. He also did mean that he was actively participating in translating, and we know that because he used the word translate in the act of describing what he was doing while translating when he was working with the King James revision of the Bible.
William: So, that’s in Doctrine and Covenants, if people want to follow along, Doctrine and Covenants 128. Ultimately, we’re going to verse 18, or verse 17, before that. Joseph Smith is going through and he’s answering some questions, and he’s referencing some scriptures. First, he’s talking about 1st Corinthians, Paul, where the scripture, “Else what shall they do, they which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all?” [He’s] explaining the scripture and then he’s saying how that’s connected to the Malachi scripture, where, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” I can’t read. I don’t have my reading glasses on. It’s a little blurry. “And he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
William 1:38:49 So, he’s explaining this. Now, in the process of explaining this, he gives us this wonderful thing, and this is verse 18. Joseph says, “I might have rendered a plainer translation to this.” So, he just gave us Malachi, and then he says, “I might have rendered a plainer translation of this scripture, but it’s sufficient, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands.”
William 1:39:19 So, what he’s saying is when I could have given you a different translation of this verse, but it’s good enough, as it is, for me to explain what I need it to say. What Joseph Smith is [saying,] he’s used the word translate, “I could have rendered a different translation.” And he’s also saying, “I had options.” So, he’s saying, “This is one way to translate it. I could have translated it another way that might have been more specific to the purpose, but this one’s good enough.” So, what he’s saying is that the translator has options on how something is expressed.
GT 1:39:58 It’s not just a single option.
William 1:39:59 It’s not this one direction endowment of words, otherwise Joseph would have said, “I don’t know why the Lord did it that way. But he gave it to me word for word. But if I were doing that I would have…” He’s not saying that. He’s not describing translation as a process where everything is given to the translator, and they don’t do any work on their part. And that’s consistent with the Book of Mormon.
GT 1:40:23 Kind of consistent with what you were doing with the Māori translation of the Doctrine and Covenants, as well, right?
William 1:40:29 Yeah, so you’d have some idea, and then you’d say, “Here’s about four or five ways to do it. Which one do you think is the best?” And then having the native speaker choose or even for the revised. So, that’s what’s going on here. What that tells us is that Joseph Smith is involved in that process. The desire to see this hard rock, tight translation where the translator is fully passive, just, wow, what an uphill battle. Not only is it a harder apologetic stance to defend, it just really doesn’t match what we get from the text and also the historical record. It’s not the best option. So anyway, that’s my opinion.
Joseph’s Training as Methodist Exhorter
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GT 1:41:20 Very interesting. I was curious if you could talk a little bit about, you mentioned it earlier in the conversation that Joseph spent some time as a Methodist exhorter. In your book, you mentioned that they were expected to study certain things. So, first question, how long did he spend doing that and what are the types of things he would have studied?
William 1:41:44 Okay, Methodist exhorter–now, that’s kind of hard, because when you get into the Methodist class meetings, I mean, they had some general things in common that they tried to do. There were some rules and regulations on…
GT 1:41:57 They weren’t correlated, is that what you’re saying?
William 1:41:59 It was not correlated like it is [in our church] yeah, no. There was a lot of freedom. A lot of it depended on who was in the class, how sophisticated or unsophisticated were they? Or how familiar were they with all the doctrines? How long had they been a member of Methodism? There’s just so much. Anyway, so Joseph Smith, he joined a class meeting. This is when they were living in the Palmyra/Manchester area. He’s getting older. He participates in the class meeting.
GT 1:42:36 Do we know approximately what year, 1825?
William 1:42:38 He was a teenager, I would say. But I don’t think we’re given a specific date. The people who reference it just talked about him going, and joining the class meeting, but not giving us details about when exactly that took place. I suspect it would have been when he’s 15 to 17 years oldish.
GT 1:43:04 So, as early as 1821 , maybe.
William 1:43:05 Yeah. But that’s a guess, a total guess on that, because the historical record doesn’t really tell us. But what would happen is you would join this class meeting, and they have the texts called the doctrines and discipline. That was, essentially, like, here’s how we run the Methodist connection, what they called it. This is what we believe. Then, in that time period, you would go over that text. You would read from that text, virtually every week, because that was basically to give people an idea of what is the Methodist culture. What are the rules? How do we do things here? Then, and then also during the class meetings is when people would also share stories. It’s almost like a mini testimony meeting, you might think about it. People would share their conversions and their conversion stories or the conversion narratives. So, people would talk about their experience of being touched by the Spirit. Oftentimes, in, especially in Methodists, there’s kind of a before and after type thing. So they say, “Oh, my life, I was just horrible. I was rotten. I was terrible. Then, all of a sudden, Christ came down, and wow, I was just, you know, life turned around, and then I’m just feeling all this love and joy.”
William 1:43:14 Would they use the term saved or not?
William 1:44:15 The term?
GT 1:44:18 I was saved?
William 1:44:21 My impression is yes. But that starts to get into doctrinal stuff. I’m more interested in the dynamics of these meetings and what these meetings meant for oral performance.
GT 1:44:34 Right.
William 1:44:35 So, what would happen is then people would also not just tell their stories, but then they’d also kind of encourage other people to obey the commandments or to do better and whatnot. That was lay exhorting. The exhorting took place at all different types of levels where you might just turn to your partner and just say, “We can be a better person, embrace Christ. Just bring Christ into your life and you’ll be a better person.”
William 1:45:00 But then, it started to get a little bit more formal. This was what’s described as Joseph Smith going through, is where he actually started to exhort at these class meetings. So, the exhorter would get up, and then they would often just be kind of generic exhortations about you need–we’re all sinners, and we need to recognize that, Christ, in his great atonement has done such a wonderful thing for us. So, you need to awake from your sinful state. You need to embrace Christ, and you need to pull him in to your life and change your life. So, the exhortations were the sort of thing that–and the exhortations, learning those things was also what comes back to this process of laying down heads. It’s a similar type of thing, you have certain points that you’re hitting along the way. Exhorters were, it was kind of a preparation stage to become an early career preacher. That’s one way, because a lot of the class members, and this is in the doctrines and discipline, they would tell the leaders of these classes, once people start exhorting, with one another, kind of look and see if there’s anybody who’s kind of talented at this, and maybe we ought to encourage them to go further to become a preacher and then to actually become a licensed preacher, eventually.
William 1:45:00 But Joseph Smith, usually in those class memberships, when someone was just starting out, and they’re like the equivalent of what call an investigator, someone who’s just kind of coming in, and they’re not sure, but they just want to participate, and they want to see what it’s like. But then there comes a time when this probationary period of six months, and then once you get to the end of that six months, is usually when a decision was made whether or not you’re going to continue with it or not. From what we know, Joseph Smith, even though we don’t have all the records, it doesn’t appear that Joseph Smith joined. So, more than likely, his timeframe in there would have been six months or less. And who knows how long that was? But that’s certainly plenty of time to learn some of these sermonizing techniques, because some of these techniques, the laying down heads, you can take someone aside and teach that to him in 30 minutes. It doesn’t require some awesome order. It doesn’t require someone who is seasoned going 10 years into public speaking. It’s something you can teach someone in a few minutes, and right away, they can start using it. Not only that, you’re in a culture where people have already been submerged in these techniques, already from their childhood. All the places where the Smith family had gone, and where they had attended churches, whether it was Congregationalists, where they’re being exposed to the revivals, the joint revivals, where you had Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists all in same place, this is something that they immediately would have been familiar with already. So, when it comes to the training, the type of training that someone would have gotten to be an exhorter in a Methodist class meeting, all that would have done is just made more explicit stuff that they already had been exposed to for their lifetime.
William 1:48:09 So, to learn these things, or to have them more explicitly mentioned, it would have come really easily. Now, the other thing about the Methodists is they were known to be writing journals, and lots of study. One of the reasons why [we know this] is because John Wesley, who was, well, pretty much the one who started Methodism, he did help have help from his brother, and also from George Whitfield. But Wesley, he was really determined, because he was reaching out to all of these people who were not trained at Cambridge, or Oxford, or Harvard or Yale. So, he put together what he called the Christian library. It was enormous, forty-two something volumes of information, and it would be treatises by early preachers that Wesley agreed with their doctrine. So, it could be a short little reading, or it might be an entire book that he just kind of pushed in, edited out to make sure it conformed to his doctrine. So, what people would do, some people would try to read through it. Most people couldn’t.
William 1:49:19 But there was this real culture of self-improvement going on in Methodism. It also matched the culture of self-improvement going on outside Methodism. So, like when Joseph Smith joined a juvenile debate society, I mean, that’s an example of someone who was definitely trying to improve themselves in society. The way you did that was by education and the way that education, and you expressed that education, the way you got up in society in Joseph Smith’s day, was also making sure you could present. You could get up in front of an audience and speak. So, kids, even at the end, the way you did tests in common schools at the end of the year, and sometimes this would happen at the end of each week inside the classroom, kids would have to get up and recite. It could be a poem. It could be a speech. It could be part of dialogue. It could be an essay they wrote themselves. But that was exhibition day. They’d have a great big exhibition day at the end of the school year. And then local dignitaries and local worthies would come. They would watch. The way you got graded was on how well you performed orally performed in front of an audience. You didn’t get letter grades at that time.
William 1:50:32 So, this is kind of this intensely oral culture that Joseph Smith is being raised in. So, when people, these lay ministers, they would, like the Christian library, going back to the Methodists in the classroom–so, they have this intense, intense culture of self-improvement, that was also part of a wider movement of self-improvement. So, people were always trying to read. Now we look at Joseph Smith. I know that people are saying that Joseph Smith, he didn’t care about books.
GT 1:51:00 He had a third grade education.
William 1:51:02 Third grade education—okay. I have to be kind of patient with some of this. I understand that people want to have Joseph Smith, as illiterate as possible, because the more illiterate you can make him, the more amazing the Book of Mormon is. But I think what’s happened in Mormon scholarship, to its detriment, is that people are so fixated on making this look like a miracle, that they’re shortchanging the history about Joseph Smith in his own life. They’re shortchanging the history of what he went through to improve himself in the circumstances. They’re shortchanging that story of someone who was born in extremely difficult circumstances, with the poverty and then also the dynamics at home, the financial destruction that had happened before he was even born, and then growing up in just enormously difficult [times], and he did a lot to improve himself. Some of his critics will say, “Oh, he didn’t care about school, he was rather off fishing.” But, if that’s the kind of person he was, he would have never joined a juvenile debate society. Never. Juvenile debate societies were what you did, when you had kind of done the maximum you could at a common school, and that you were trying to further your education. Here we have Joseph Smith doing that.
GT 1:52:49 So, kind of, because they didn’t have public schools. They didn’t even…
William 1:52:54 Well, they did, yeah. The common school was just coming in and being developed in the few years before that. So, the common school that Joseph Smith was attending was actually a New York State Common school system. So, it was a public school system.
GT 1:53:08 Oh. But there wasn’t like any college. He couldn’t go to college. So, would this have been like post-secondary education, or trade school or something along those lines?
William 1:53:18 Kind of, but it was what you do if you didn’t get into a college, but you wanted to be able to come a local civic leader, or you wanted to be able to become someone of standing in your community. This was a way of doing it. The debate societies, it wasn’t just debating. They just didn’t go there and argue with each other. Because they’re often called debate and literary. So, I’m sorry, am moving around too much?
GT 1:53:43 No, you’re fine.
William 1:53:44 So, what would happen is, there are all sorts of things that you would do there besides just debating. Then, we’ll talk about the debate. We’ll start with debate. What kind of debates took place? They didn’t just come up and say, “It’s time to argue.”
‘You’re a jerk.”
It wasn’t like that at all. What would happen is in a debate society, there would be people who would be divided up on two sides of an issue. Then, you also had judges. It could be just one person who was acting judge, it could be three people acting as judges, depending on how many people were participating. [It depended on] whether or not you had enough people for, like, this full house thing. Then a topic would be chosen. One side of the room had to argue one side of the topic, and the other side of the room had to argue the opposite argument. It didn’t necessarily matter what you believed in or not. You had to argue the side you were assigned.
William 1:54:41 So, if there was some argument about Jesus Christ and the nature of miracles,” is it necessary that Christ had miracles in order to inspire us to believe or were the miracles just a nice extra event that helps us believe? So, what did you do? That assignment would be given in one week, and a week later, you’d have to come back and debate about it. So, what do people do? They scramble out and they start reading everywhere they can about it. If you have books at home, great. But if you’re poor, like the Smiths, so you don’t have books at home, you see if you have something at a neighbor’s. You go to a local bookshop. If you can borrow someone’s book, maybe a neighbor belongs to a lending library. So, you go to that neighbor and say, “Can I use that book?” I mean, books circulated all around. But one thing you do is you show up to, like, one of the booksellers. That’s an easy way to do it. Just go to the bookseller and just start flipping through and reading through and reading through, as best as you can.
William 1:55:43 Do we have evidence of Joseph Smith who was doing that? Yes. Who was a local bookseller? It was like Pomeroy Tucker?
GT 1:55:50 That sounds right.
William 1:55:52 He described Joseph Smith coming in, and he didn’t like Joseph. I mean, he’s saying, “Oh, yeah, he read, but he would read all these little stupid little, Captain Kidd books and stuff. But he did say in it that when Joseph Smith came in, that he read, and this is his word, comprehensively. What does that mean in 19th century lingo? It means he was reading every single topic in the entire bookstore. But he’s saying he kind of fixated on these little ratty, little cheat novels, but then that’s also where he said, but then he would start talking with other people and giving these really unique interpretations to Scripture. That’s the kind of activity–so, you look into stuff, you read as much as you can, then you start generating your own ideas. That is exactly what the juvenile debate societies were teaching people how to do.
William 1:56:44 Even though there’s only one reference to Joseph Smith being in a juvenile debate society, when you understand how juvenile debate societies operated and what they were doing with people and how people went about preparing for their meetings of the debate society, what Pomeroy Tucker is telling us, verifies. It provides corroboration for what the events were that were going on at Joseph Smith’s life. That’s not the only time he did it. When Joseph Smith was also wanting to publish the Book of Mormon, and he couldn’t get, is it [pronounced] Grandin or Grandean?
GT 1:57:14 Grandin, well, I say Grandin.
William 1:57:18 At first, he didn’t want to publish it.
GT 1:57:19 Yeah, E.B. Grandin.
William 1:57:21 So, he [Joseph] said, “Okay, fine. I’m off to Rochester.” When he was there, he approached one of the companies to do, to whether or not they would publish it. Then, the clerk at the time, who met with Joseph Smith, when he first came in, he said, “He came in, he talked to us.” Then, while Joseph Smith was waiting to get response from the workers and stuff, what did he do? He dove into the book stacks, and he started reading everything he could get his hands on. So, there’s corroboration from that event going on, as well.
Proof Joseph was not Illiterate
William: Now, people will say, “But wait a minute, his mom said he didn’t like to read.” Well, was his mom with him in Rochester to watch him do that? Was his mom with him when he was coming into Pomeroy Tucker’s shop on his own?
William 1:58:11 When you have a poor household, and you don’t have a lot of books, Joseph Smith isn’t going to be sitting around reading books at home. That’s the thing about it. To really look at some of these historical references with critical thinking, you’ve got to ask questions about it. You can’t accept it on the surface, because you have to say, well, that’s what Lucy said. Was Lucy attached to Joseph Smith and followed him everywhere he went? And so she can say, “I know he hated books, because I was with him 24/7 for 10 years. He was never out of my sight. He hated books.” No, what was happening is a lot of times he was he was going into town by himself. He was either taking wood, probably, to barter with. He went there, some people said he even had little jobs around some of the shops.
William 1:59:03 Then, he was also going up there to pick up the newspaper for his dad. He was there by himself alone, a lot, without mom looking over his shoulder. So, if he’s participating in juvenile debate societies, and if he’s given topics, and then he’s going out to try to get this information, there’s a lot going on that people at home are not going to observe. So, that’s why you have to keep poking into these. A lot of people will say, “Well, a lot of people said he was dumb who both adored him and who hated him.”
GT 1:59:38 Right.
William 1:59:38 “So, that’s got to be proof that he really was illiterate.” No, it’s not. Because the people who hated him said he was illiterate because they wanted to make him look bad. It was an insult. They’re trying to say he’s an idiot. He’s just gone off and created this Bible and he’s a jerk.
GT 1:59:56 I know Colby Townsend told me illiterate in those days did not mean what it means in our day. It meant, like uncultured. He didn’t study Shakespeare and that sort of thing.
William 2:00:06 Yeah.
GT 2:00:06 Not that he couldn’t read and write.
William 2:00:08 Right.
GT 2:00:08 Because that’s what we think of now.
William 2:00:10 Right.
GT 2:00:11 And then there’s the letter from Emma, this said that Joseph couldn’t write a well-worded letter,
William 2:00:16 We’re getting to that one, too. Because, wow, when people just accept it on the surface, then you get these really distorted images of what Smith actually could do, versus what was being said about him. And going back, so the people who hated him would say stuff that was really insulting. The people who loved him but wanted to say what he was doing was really miraculous, they would say, “Well, of course, he’s illiterate, because this miraculous Book of Mormon appeared.” But the question is, these are statements are coming from people, a lot of whom had no personal exposure to what Joseph Smith really could or could not do. They’ve never sat in the classrooms he had been in. His brother, William, did. And what did William say about it? Well, he’s kind of like, “Well, yeah, um…” When you look at William Smith’s quote, and this is coming from someone, even though it’s really late, it was probably in the 1870s, 1880s when he gave this quote. But, yet, even though it’s late, it he has the benefit of the fact that he was participating in the same classroom with Joseph for probably several school terms.
GT 2:01:29 Right.
William 2:01:30 And what did he say about Joseph’s education? He said, “Well, yeah, that he was illiterate, to some extent is, is true. But, come on, it’s not as bad as what people are saying.” Then, he starts listing off topics that go beyond just simple reading, writing, arithmetic. It also includes geography. He’s also talking about Joseph Smith in a way that we know that Joseph Smith was practicing penmanship. You can verify this stuff, because when you go look at Joseph Smith’s earliest writings, he’s not like scrabbling around with chicken scratches. He’s practiced. What he has is a well-practiced form of what was called round hand. At the time, it’s kind of a mixture between print and cursive today.
GT 2:02:09 Okay.
William 2:02:11 When he’s writing it, you can see that he was trained in it. He received instruction in it. Where? We don’t have it documented what exact day or when it happened, but we have the evidence of it with his writing.
GT 2:02:25 Okay.
William 2:02:26 So, we know, and some of the earliest people when they’re talking about Joseph Smith being ignorant, they said, “He absolutely couldn’t even sign his name. He’s so illiterate.” But we have evidence that this is totally wrong. But what that tells us is that we know that even at this earliest stage, people were trying to take advantage of this illiterate aura, in order to make the Book of Mormon look more miraculous. But they went too far with it. He can’t even write his name. That got repeated a lot by several people. Then, Colby was talking about how, eventually, it appeared in a newspaper that he’s just so dumb, he can’t spell his own name or anything. Then a response came into the same newspaper, where it said, “Hold on, I’m a relative of Joseph Smith. I know he can at least read and write.”
William 2:03:27 Emma Smith, and the letter. It’s in a letter book, and it’s not actually in Joseph Smith’s hand. But Frederick G. Williams, he was copying down letters because they wanted to keep documentation of the history of the Church and Joseph Smith said we need documentation. We need to take a record of everything that’s happening. So, Frederick G. Williams was putting together, it’s where the 1832 history originally was, and I think it got torn out. But then, there are other letters that are in there. So, there’s a letter in which Joseph Smith is writing to, I believe it’s all over Cowdery, but and whether or not Joseph Smith actually wrote this by hand or dictated it, we don’t know. The spelling’s kind of wacky, but whether that was Joseph Smith’s spelling, or whether it’s Frederick G. Williams, when he was copying over it spelled it his own way, we don’t know. But Emma doesn’t say he couldn’t write a letter, she said that he couldn’t dictate a coherent letter. When you read the letter. It is fully coherent. There’s nothing wrong with it. So, what is she saying?
William 2:04:36 Well, you have to go back and look at the context of the interview in which that took place. Her son, William Smith, the third, he’s asking his mom. Now, all these people are saying that Dad copied the Spalding manuscript, or that he wrote it and it was on a hidden manuscript and he was…
GT 2:04:56 Buried in the hat.
William 2:04:57 Buried in the hat or whatnot, and that he created this story that way and was doing it. Then Emma comes along, and she goes, “He couldn’t even dictate a letter, much less write something like the Book of Mormon.” What happens, we get removed from that in time, and then people start saying, “It’s really literal. He couldn’t even dictate a well-worded letter. She was making an objective statement of fact.” But what is she really saying? When you go back into that time period and you say, “What did that mean, to say [that] someone couldn’t even dictate a well-worded letter? When did people learn how to dictate letters? Or when did people learn how to write letters? That was one of the very first forms of composition exercises that children learned in common school.
William 2:05:45 So, she’s saying, “Look.” I said this in another essay. That’s like someone’s saying, “Oh, he’s so dumb, he can’t chew gum and walk at the same time.” Now, that’s like a hundred years from now saying, “It’s a historical fact. He was unable to chew gum, and walk while chewing gum.” That’s what’s happening now, and it’s just because we’re not going back into the context of some of these quotes and understanding what is the context of that quote?
GT 2:06:22 “He was physically disabled. The whole gum chewing thing just messed up his walk.”
William 2:06:25 Right, and so when just when Emma Smith is saying, “He couldn’t even dictate a well-worded letter..} [She’s not saying] he couldn’t even do Dick and Jane. He couldn’t even read or write in the level of Dick and Jane, much less the Book of Mormon.”
GT 2:06:43 It was more of a figure of speech.
William 2:06:45 It’s a figure of speech. It’s facetious. The heart of what she’s saying is she doesn’t believe Joseph could have done it. So, she’s trying to emphasize it by giving this extreme example of, “He’s not even as smart as some…”
GT 2:07:00 It was a hyperbolic statement.
William 2:07:01 Yeah. So, when you see people quoting that, and using that to say, “Look, this is this is how bad Joseph Smith was,” it’s just like–you’re missing the history. Then, because you miss the history, and people will focus on debating all that and fighting all that. But you know what the casualty of those debates is? We’re missing out on Joseph Smith’s life. What did Joseph Smith go through? Was he learning how to write in school? Yes, he was. We have the evidence. We have his handwriting. Look at the dictations. He did have revelations. Was he capable of doing it? Yes, he was. And then the third grade school thing, that’s nonsense. People just need to throw that away. That’s complete nonsense. Because what they’re trying to do is say–what people are doing is saying, we can only document Joseph Smith being in school at certain periods in his life. And if you take all those little moments and pieces and put it all together, it’s roughly only about three years. That’s all the training he had.” Oh, that is the most horrible kind of historical…
William 2:08:15 I mean, I don’t remember ever hearing that he attended a Methodist exhorting school or whatever it was.
William 2:08:20 Yeah.
GT 2:08:21 So that was one of the cool things in the book. I don’t remember hearing that before.
William 2:08:25 Yeah, but part of that is there are very few references to it. So, you have to learn about, well, if he attended the school, what’s going on at it? If he attended a class meeting, what’s going on at class meetings? What are the types of things that people are learning? What if someone is kind of aspiring to be a preacher? What sorts of things are they doing? They’re learning how to exhort. Well, Joseph Smith was exhorting. So, what does that mean? What kinds of things is he been exposed to?
William 2:08:48 Then in school and education, there’s a lot going on there that just has not been pursued, because there are some people who were so determined to make Joseph Smith as illiterate and dumb as possible, in order to make the Book of Mormon look miraculous, that there’s a lot of history there, that has just been pushed aside. I think it’s tragic, actually. Seriously, think about it. Just kind of think about it. This is Joseph Smith, the Prophet, the great person who restored the gospel. Why are people trying to make him as dumb as possible? I mean, seriously, as far as Joseph Smith’s biography is concerned, some of his greatest enemies are coming from some of his own followers, because they’re denying him his own history. They’re denying him the chance to have his whole life and childhood brought to light and he’s this tremendous example, not just of a person and what they can develop themselves into over time, but it’s a story that was happening across early America.
William 2:10:02 [In early America,] people did not have access to all of these things that we have today, and if you are going to make it in life, you have to really go out and work for it. So, here’s someone who’s at the bottom rung of society, this poor family. When you look at the record, you look at what he’s involved in, this is someone who was trying desperately to get out from where he was. He went. He was participating in juvenile debate societies. Those are voluntary. No one forced him to. He wants to be part of that. Learning how to become an exhorter. No one’s forcing him to come exhort. He wants to be part of–he needs to get somewhere. So, this is a tremendous story that people could look at and be proud of, that this is someone who worked really hard to move up in the world, from some really difficult, trying circumstances. That whole story just gets bashed aside, because we have to say how wonderful and miraculous the Book of Mormon is, at the expense of the Prophet, himself. It’s just like, come on. Enough is enough. Saying that he was too dumb to do that is never based on actual evidence. It’s always hearsay evidence. It’s always people who are knocking him down, who really, whose opinions are not objective. They’re not trying to be objective. They’re either trying to make him look like something he’s not or insult him or something else. They’re not objective descriptions.
William 2:10:30 The one thought that comes to mind is Harold Bloom. Are you familiar with him?
William 2:11:36 Yeah.
GT 2:11:36 He’s written a lot of stuff about Joseph Smith. Harold’s a Jewish scholar. I think he’s passed away now. But he always referred to Joseph as a religious genius, because he could synthesize so many things.
William 2:11:49 Yeah.
GT 2:11:50 I mean, do you do agree with that? If you’re going to take a naturalistic explanation, that Joseph used Adam Clarke and Jonathan Edwards, and Captain Kidd and whoever, and just synthesize all this stuff, wouldn’t he have to be a genius in order to pull this off?
William 2:12:07 Well, I mean, I think that term genius, in some ways, that’s really, depending on how you frame the genius, is someone a genius at chess is someone a genius at, you know…
GT 2:12:26 Well, you know, Mark Hoffman’s been called an evil genius. (Chuckling)
William 2:12:30 Yeah, I just avoid using that term altogether, because ultimately you can’t pin down the parameters of what that actually means. When you’re talking about someone like Joseph Smith, in my opinion. What I would say is this. Joseph Smith had a powerful mind. He did not have photographic memory, in my opinion, because I think there’s too much evidence to show that that was not the case. But he did have a powerful memory in terms of ideas. The way his mind operated is that he was seeing connections in the world beyond what the average participant in life might see. So, he would see things going on with his life, with things going on in Scripture and other things, and be able to see connections and similarities and pull those all together. And that those ideas just came into him, and then just became this soup and storehouse of swirling thoughts and ideas that, over time, as he’s trying to develop his own understanding of life and the universe and the meaning of everything, that all of these other things can came in and just swirled together. From that, they were the building blocks in which he then started to express and articulate his own vision.
William 2:14:02 So, in some ways, that’s just the way the brain works. I mean, that’s the cognitive process that we all have. It’s just that someone’s ability to make those connections is more powerful than others. I mean, to think of someone who makes these rapid-fire connections, but in a totally different context in say, comedy and humor was Robin Williams.
GT 2:14:29 Yeah.
William 2:14:30 You watch him and just off the cuff, he’s just doing these fantastic, hilarious things because he’s pulling in information and juxtaposing things that we might not otherwise think of. But just think of that kind of brain, suddenly, in a religious situation where there’s pulling in all of these, something from a sermon, something from family prayers and devotionals or reading in Psalms, and then something you read and then something down at the class. These things are all there and swirling around. So, to be able to then come up with these ideas–I think he had a much more powerful mind in those skills than the average person. That sort of thing started to blow people away.
GT 2:15:17 Is there anybody else that you can think of? Because there’s a challenge out there by some people that will say, “Well, if you think that somebody can do it, you try it. Or do you know anybody who could come up with a book like The Book of Mormon?”
William 2:15:31 I actually wrote an essay about that, and it’s in Dialogue. There are real problems with those lists. Because what happens is people will start to tailor a list with idiosyncratic criteria, where they’re embedding their biases into that text. So, what they’re doing is they’re saying, “How is the Book of Mormon similar or different to other books? Then I’m going to create a criterion that cuts out certain comparisons, and I’m going to tailor it in such a way that nobody could have done it.” Those lists inevitably tell you more about the person who made the list, than about Joseph Smith’s actual abilities. Anyway, but, it’s where I compare Joseph Smith to another early American Prophet, Andrew Jackson Davis. In the course of that, I made a list outlining some things that Andrew Jackson Davis [did,] just to show how you can bias a list. I said, “Here’s a list of what Andrew Jackson Davis did when he did Principles of Nature, and if we follow this list, then he’s the Prophet and Joseph Smith, he gets disqualified.
William 2:16:54 So, you can always create a list, and then some of the lists are disastrous. I know where people are trying so hard to make a long list that they’re including things where they’re just padding it with stuff that is just irrelevant, or meaningless. Those types of lists, what I argue in the essay, my conclusion is that those types of lists actually do not [help.] People will claim, “Oh, they’re a support to faith. They buttress faith.” But what happens when you go through, and you actually show how every single one of those points on the list is either biased or poorly conceived? The next thing you know that buttress collapses. What if someone’s leaning on it for help? Then you’re out to support somebody’s testimony and you actually do the very opposite. That might be the thing that makes someone collapse and then start to wander off and think, “You know, maybe this isn’t it.” I mean, people are not being careful about that. When you see a big list saying, “Oh, here are all the things that Joseph Smith did. No one else could have done.” You can pretty much be guaranteed that you’re looking at a list that is so heavily biased, that you’re not getting a fair evaluation of what’s happening.
GT 2:18:12 Cool. Well, are there any misunderstandings about your work that you’d like to clear up, that some critics have?
William 2:18:25 Yes, there are. But I’m always torn about responding to critics. I kind of outline this in the book, a little bit. I just don’t want to get into those debates.
GT 2:18:41 The mudslinging.
William 2:18:42 Yeah. Because if someone throws mud at me, then I feel like I’m just picking that mud back up and throwing it back, and then I’m covered with mud. Then, what’s really gained? It’s kind of like when you’re when you’re a missionary, and you’re going around and trying to find people who are receptive to the message. Then you find someone who’s gung-ho from another religion. They just want to debate and argue, and then, how many times did we slip and we get into the argument and like, three hours later, no one’s mind is changed. People are still dead set, even more so now, in their own opinions. And there’s been no progress. It turns out to have been a waste of time.
William 2:19:37 So, a lot of times I’ve been wanting to, “I’m going to tackle these misrepresentations of my work,” but then I think, “Yeah, but to do that, I have to take time away from things that, for me, are more important.” So, I’ve really avoided it, even when it’s hard, because there have been some critics who clearly did not understand what I was saying in my work, and now they’re promulgating false information. They’re telling people false things about the book. For better, for worse, I’ve just been trying to bite my tongue, and just let it go, and turn the other cheek type of thing. But it’s been surprising to me. I have to be honest. It’s really surprising when you have some people who style themselves as defenders of the faith, who are defending the faith by misrepresenting what I’m saying. And even when I’ve told people, “Some of the stuff you’re saying is not accurate,” to see them double down and just keep pursuing these false claims. I’ll give you one example. Maybe.
William 2:20:58 When, I was talking about the chapter headings in the book, and we’re talking about something very specific, and in the book, I’m very specific of what we’re dealing with. So, in the front of the chapter headings, we’re dealing with a very specific type of formatting, a very specific type of style, to open up a chapter heading. So, you have these little phrases. It might be a full sentence. Oftentimes, it’s just part of a sentence, where–here, we’ll just go to the Book of Mormon, and up to 1st Nephi.
GT 2:21:36 You should use the 1830 edition, because ours, we have different chapters than the 1830 edition, right?
William 2:21:41 We do have different chapters, but the opening heading is the same.
GT 2:21:44 Okay.
William 2:21:46 So, in the heading, and I’m not going to read the whole thing, just part of it. But when you’re starting out the Book of Mormon, right before you get to, “I, Nephi, having been born a goodly parents.” Well, right before that you have, and not all of these are in the original Book of Mormon, but some of them are. And in the book, I just reference the ones that were in the original dictation. But, anyway, you start out and so you have the first book of Nephi, his reign and ministry. Then, you have this section of phrases that kind of give an index or an outline of what’s going to happen next. “An account of Lehi and his wife Sariah, and his four sons being called, beginning of the eldest, Laman, Lemuel, Sam and Nephi. The Lord warns Lehi to depart out of the land of Jerusalem, because he prophesieth unto to the people concerning their iniquity.” And these are kind of long, “And seek to destroy his life. He takes a three days journey into the wilderness with his family.”
William 2:22:42 Then you go to other ones, and some of those are actually a little bit longer, and more descriptive than other places. Like, they can get, like in the same one, when you go further down, there’s short phrases like, “The course of their travels.” These are all heads. When you have a series of heads, at the beginning of chapter, like that, we’re talking about a really specific formatting style. That formatting style, and it’s called a paratextual feature. It’s part of a text apparatus. So, in other words, you have the story, and then all the things that you plug in on top of it, like the cover of a book, the title page, chapter headings, section headings, internal book headings, an index. Those things are all attached to a book, but they’re not really part of the story. That’s called the paratextual features of the text. So, in here, I go into great detail where I’m talking about the specific paratextual features that appear in the Book of Mormon, and how they conform to the same print culture conventions of text in the 19th century, that were available in the 19th century. They didn’t originate in the 19th century. They originated long before, but those are part of a very specific tradition with a known history. It’s part of the Greco-Roman literary tradition.
William 2:24:12 So, when you push that back, and you say, when did that collection of paratextual features appear in the history of textbooks, or manuscripts? Now I couldn’t, I was only allowed to do 90,000 words in the book. At one point, this book was 180,000 words. I had to cut it in half to get it to where it is for publication.
GT 2:24:34 Oh, my goodness, wow.
William 2:24:35 I would have had the chance to go into that history. But what that history is, is that specific Greco-Roman literary tradition as manifest in the Book of Mormon, that tradition did not yet exist when Lehi left Jerusalem. It’s something that developed over the centuries and some portions of that didn’t even develop until we get clear up into the time of printing, with movable type in printing. So, in this, I mentioned that that structure is an anachronism, and it is an anachronism. Now, we can explain that just the way we have before, if you have a 19th century translator, and he’s trying to package a book, according to his knowledge and understanding, then you’re going to see 19th century style packaging. But didn’t originate then. But it’s a specific style.
William: So, for some reason, one critic said that I’m claiming that ancient writers didn’t have any kind of summarizing phrases in their books at all. That’s not what I said. And then based on that, he starts saying, “Look, Josephus had it in his first century text.” You know what? That’s impossible to know, because we don’t have the first century Josephus text. We don’t have a second century, Josephus, third, fourth century, we don’t have one. The earliest Josephus text we have is the late fifth century to the early 16th century, and it’s in Latin. It’s a translation. Josephus originally wrote in Greek. I could go on about this.
William: But it turns into playing whack a mole, and, and there are some people who are in the business of, they say they’re defending the faith, when in actuality, they’re defending their opinions or the theories that they like. And the belief of the Church is not under attack at all. The paratextual features the Book of Mormon, that’s not a belief. You can explain it by having a 19th century translator, who was framing it for a 19th century audience, so it’s not a threat. So, anyway, but it’s the equivalent, to kind of simplify it, because I know I’m talking about things that maybe aren’t familiar to people. It’s the same thing as if I said, “Ancient Egyptians did not drink Diet Coke.” And then to have a critic come along and say, “Davis said that ancient Egyptians didn’t drink any kind of flavored liquid.” That’s what’s happened. And, they’re just like…
William 2:27:22 What do you do? Because I did try to kind of reach out make some corrections. People were just interested in debates not in… And that’s just one of a litany. There are some people who made some critiques that I can kind of see how they didn’t understand, and I could have been clearer in my work. But then there are some other critics who, all they are doing is fault finding. It seems like when they can’t find a fault, they create one. I could spend all my time with just one of the critics. I could write a book on showing how every single thing I say has been twisted into something else. All this aside, I mean, when we start talking about apologetics and what it means and how it’s important, I think apologetics are valuable. But we have to understand what apologetics means. Apologetics outside of Mormonism is people who are trying to explain their tradition. Apologia. It’s explaining to help other people understand where they’re coming from. Polemics is when you just get in there and start punching and fighting.
William 2:28:32 A lot of times in Mormon culture, when we say apologetics, we’re actually talking about polemics. I don’t like that. I mean, one thing I took away from Mormonism is that contention is of the devil. I wish that people would recognize that contention and polemics isn’t as effective as they want it to be. Also, I would hope that people would be more careful in the way they represent someone else’s work. Because it becomes a situation, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, that people are starting to bear false witness about someone else. It’s okay that you have a misunderstanding once in a while. It’s okay that when you’re tackling a point, and it turns out, “Oh, I didn’t fully understand what that author said.” But when someone is just full board, “I’m going to attack this person every which way and possible and who cares if I’m accurate or not.” That’s a point when someone who sees themselves as defending the faith needs to spend more time practicing the faith, because that’s not what we were taught as a way to live and interact with other people, as being a good Latter-day Saint person.
William 2:30:06 That’s something that, for me, personally, has been kind of surprising. Because I’ve seen it before, but I’ve always been away from it, but then, suddenly, to have some of that directed at me, and I’m saying, “Look, that’s not fair. No, that’s not accurate. That’s not…” What are they doing? So, anyway, that’s just my two cents. I know that that whirlwind will go on. I may try to write something that’s neutral to try to just say, “This is what I’m saying in the book, and this is what I’m not, not to make it about personalities and not to make it about arguments.” I may do that, if I have time. But it’s just, every time I think I’m going to start doing that, I just, suddenly, my motivation goes away. Because I’m like, I’m not into this argument stuff. So, anyway.
GT 2:30:52 Oh, great. Well, is there anything we’ve missed? I know I’ve kept you a long time.
William 2:30:55 Well, I think I rambled on sometimes about topics that are too general and too uninteresting to warrant having been here. But if I were to tie this all up, I would say for people who are interested in seeing what’s happening, now, here’s the thing. The Book of Mormon is starting to gain–and it’s been happening for the last couple decades, but I think it’s going to continue to gain momentum in the academic field. So, you’re going to have a lot of scholars who are not Mormons.
GT 2:31:33 Chris Thomas.
William 2:31:34 Yeah, or people, like Chris, he’s very sensitive to the religious issues. So, he’s really someone who you can engage with and have that religious sensitivity, as well as the scholarly sensitivity. But there are other people out there in academia, who don’t care at all about religious sensitivities. They’re just going to look at the text, and they’re going to say what they think, whether it offends somebody or not. I guarantee with what little I have seen in the Book of Mormon, in my own research, I think that when some of the really good scholars, not just in literature or history, but also in rhetoric, when they start turning their focus on the Book of Mormon, if they do, there’s going to be additional information come out about the nature of the text that could be really threatening to people.
William 2:32:31 So, I think the best thing to do now would be, to try to–there are ways to reconcile this with faith. I would say that the least workable one is to put on blinders and start fighting. It’s understandable. It’s a human reaction. But, if we can just start to listen, and just look at the evidence, there’s always ways to reconcile faith. Ultimately, in the end, I think it pays off, because if your faith is based on accurate information, then your faith inevitably, will be stronger for it. But if people are believing in things that are demonstrably wrong, but they just refuse to change, then they really are building theirr house on sand, and it’s eventually just going to wash away. So, things will come, things will be kind of tough to swallow, but just be patient. There are ways to develop. Some things evolve and change, and sometimes we have to let go of nostalgic reminiscences from the past, the way things used to be. Because maybe the way things used to be weren’t the ways that Heavenly Father would want to have it be. So, that’s just that’s me on the outside looking in, just offering a suggestion. People can take it or leave it. But there’s going to be more research coming out. I mean, because I have my ear to the ground. I’m in the scholarship area, and there’s always stuff coming out that is going to be new and unexpected. And to just know that that’s why that’s just part of the process of living, learning, growing and getting more information.
GT 2:34:20 All right, any Mormon studies topics you’re working on?
William 2:34:26 Yes, sort of, but kind of indirectly. I mean, ultimately, I think I would like to do something more in depth on Joseph Smith’s education, and the types of things he would have been exposed to and experienced growing up. Because of the nature of the way people have shuffled that off and because it’s so important to do this miracle, and so important to keep Joseph illiterate, maybe I shouldn’t say this because there are going to be scholars out there who might watch this. But there is so much research that’s just low hanging fruit there for the picking.
GT 2:35:11 Well, because I think Jonathan Edwards, Adam Clarke, there’s probably other theologians of the day. I know that wasn’t really the focus of your book. But, I know there’s people, Jonathan Neville has mentioned Jonathan Edwards, that are like, “Hey, these were influential in the Book of Mormon.
William 2:35:29 Yeah, there’s a lot to be explored, and not just about the Book of Mormon, but just about Joseph Smith’s early life. There have been certain topics that are great to study, and then other topics, like his exposure to educational avenues, that have been kind of pushed aside because it’s a little uncomfortable, because it challenges this other narrative of him being the illiterate farm boy. So, because…
GT 2:35:53 You’re not working on that, right?
William 2:35:55 Not yet, but I’ve done a lot of work on it. But that’s kind of down the road. Yeah, there’s some other things I’m working on. There’s something I’m working on now that involves Mormon topics in the Book of Mormon, but it’s actually aimed at an audience outside of Mormonism. It has to do with source criticism, methodology and stuff like that.
GT 2:36:17 All right. Well, Dr. William Davis, I really appreciate your hospitality, and for sitting down with me and talking about the Book of Mormon. And your wonderful book, somebody is going to be a winner of an autographed copy here. I’m going to have Bill, autograph it here very shortly. It’s a great book. I encourage you guys to check it out. All right, thanks again for being on Gospel Tangents.
William 2:36:42 I appreciate it. This was a fun. I appreciate it.
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