Shannon Caldwell Montez has written an amazing thesis on the Secret Mormon Meetings of 1922. BH Roberts was an influential Seventy at the turn of the 20th century. He seems to be the first leader who recognized problems with the Book of Mormon. He presented his findings to church leaders, and eventually spoke to Mormon scholars to find answers to archaeological problems with the Book of Mormon. This led to the first limited geography theory, and other attempts to explain anachronisms in the Book of Mormon. Shannon details who attended the meetings, and how their beliefs were affected by this information. Check out our conversation….
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Intro to Secret Mormon Meetings of 1922
GT 01:12 Welcome to Gospel Tangents. I have an amazing historian here with us today. Could you tell us who you are and why we’re here today talking?
Shannon 01:24 My name is Shannon Caldwell Montez. I got a master’s degree in history a couple of years ago, and I did my thesis called, “The Secret Mormon Meetings of 1922.” In this, I talk about B. H. Roberts, and it’s a bunch of series of meetings. I just had a lot of fun, exploring Mormon history, and that’s what we’ll talk about today.
GT 01:46 Nice. Nice. So, I would like to get people’s background. I know you went to Nevada, Reno. Where did you get your bachelor’s degree?
Shannon 01:52 University of Utah.
GT 01:54 Oh, a Utah man, you are!
Shannon 01:56 Yeah. That’s right.
GT 01:58 Well, good. I went to Utah. Go Red! Choose The Red. That’s what people need to know. So, that’s awesome. And you get your Bachelor’s in history as well?
Shannon 02:08 History.
GT 02:09 So, you’re just history through and through.
Shannon 02:10 It’s just, I was raised Mormon. I was like, “I’m not going to really need this. I’ll just do it. I’ll have some fun going to college.” And that’s what I’ve done. I’ve just kind of gone to college to follow my interest, more than pursue money and career.
GT 02:29 Well, I went for math and statistics, and this is my hobby.
Shannon 02:34 It’s probably better as a hobby.
GT 02:38 Well, cool. I never majored in history. So, what gave you this idea to talk about the secret 1922 meetings?
Shannon 02:48 Well, it was a process. I was originally going to be talking about–my proposal for my thesis was, “What happens when someone’s foundational beliefs get challenged?” I had the Protestant Reformation. I had all of these ideas where basic beliefs get challenged, and then the religious views can change based on that. So, my idea, originally, was to–I knew these meetings had happened with B. H. Roberts and the General Authorities. I was hoping to look in their journals and see if I could see a before and after. I think I was a little naive, and I didn’t anticipate the fact that these journals would be very hard to obtain. After looking for a while and trying all of the avenues I could, I did find a couple of entries that were interesting to me, that indicated that there were more than just general authorities at some of these meetings.
Shannon 03:53 I was able to then find, based on one of the General Authority’s journals, other journals that had a bunch more names, and I was able to piece together this group of people. I call them Mormon intelligentsia. But they were experts in different scientific fields that could speak to archaeology and linguistics and all of these problems that B. H. Roberts was talking about in his papers. So, it ended up being more an exploration of those, than it was about any broader religious change. But my adviser, I have to credit her. I said, “I found out about these meetings, I don’t know what to do with it.”
She’s like, “You should explore this.” She really helped direct me and point me to get this finished product, because I kept doubting myself all along. What if it’s just some kind of book club? Or [I had] questions like that. But she’s like, “No, this is really important.” By the time I got there–she obviously she knew what she was doing.
I was like, “Wow, this it really is important, and I really love what I found.” It gives us a really cool snapshot of what Mormonism was like in the early–they got past the frontier stage, and then they were trying to figure out where to go to become more modern America. This was their decision point. So, that was a really great thing for me to study.
GT 05:27 You went to Nevada-Reno, right? Is that where you live now?
Shannon 05:31 Yes.
GT 05:33 I’ve always wondered, I mean, Nevada is kind of in the Mountain West. But, when you’re doing religious history, is that a normal thing to do, outside of Utah? In Utah, everybody would be like, “Oh, yeah, Mormon history, of course.”
Shannon 05:44 Yeah.
GT 05:45 But how was it in Nevada?
Shannon 05:47 Well, it’s a lot harder to access documents. I basically had to go to Utah to do all of my research. But it was fun. Because not everyone had this background, knowing everything about Mormon history. So, they were able to give me different perspectives that I’m not sure I would have had, had they been more familiar with it.
GT 06:13 So your advisors were open to doing a thesis on Mormon history?
Shannon 06:17 Yeah, and some of them had studied religion in other contexts. It just wasn’t necessarily Mormonism. But they were great. I chose Reno, because that’s where I was living. It wasn’t that they have the best religious history degree. My kids were in high school. I was like, “Let’s do this. I want to go back to school.” So, that’s what I did. It had always been a dream to get a master’s so I decided to finally get it.
Shannon 06:30 I took a big break between my bachelor’s and master’s degree. So, I think we have some parallels there.
Shannon 06:57 Yeah, 20 years or so.
GT 06:58 Yeah, I was 15 [years] in between when I started it. Well, interesting. So, how did you find out about the secret meetings first of all, in order to pick this topic?
Shannon 07:12 So, I knew there were meetings, just based on the book. It’s edited by Brigham Madsen. In 1980, or the late 1970s, actually, they had found B. H. Roberts’ papers. Then, they put them all together, added them and put it into a book that was published in 1985. So, you can go read these B. H. Roberts papers. It’s called Studies of the Book of Mormon, and it’s edited by Brigham Madsen. This was published in 1985. Unfortunately, 1985 was also a very big year with Mark Hofmann bombings. So, I think this got a little bit buried, and besides, we didn’t have the internet. We didn’t have people just getting together to talk about all these things. So, I don’t think it got the word…
GT 08:06 People weren’t getting blown up.
Shannon 08:08 Yeah, well, once people got blown up, then everything kind of went that way. Nobody was looking at these B. H. Roberts papers. They didn’t make a splash. But I was really, honestly, surprised at how surprised people were about these meetings when I first started, when I talked about my thesis, and people were like, “What is this?”
I was like, “Well, we’ve known about this since 1985.” But everyone was surprised and had forgotten about this episode, where B. H. Roberts had written these documents and presented it to the General Authorities. It’s mentioned in that book, but I did want to know more about that. I was like, “That’s really interesting. I want more detail on that.” That book was about the papers more than these meetings. So, I just was like, “I want to let you know a little bit more about those meetings.” So, that’s what I went for. This goes deeper in my thesis than it did in that book. Then, I also go into depth about each person that I knew of that we’re in these meetings. So, that’s what the thesis is.
GT 09:19 Very good. So, the idea was, and I’m trying to remember how it was. I read this over the last two days, really fast. So, I didn’t get to delve in there really deep. But, the idea was, B. H. Roberts had some questions about the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, Book of Mormon geography, that sort of a thing. The story is [that] he played a devil’s advocate. Then, there’s another question about, well, did he lose his testimony while doing this study? Can you answer those questions, or should we save that for later?
Shannon 09:55 No, I can. I can answer to my best ability. I don’t remember what your first question is. I’ve already forgotten it. But did B.H. Roberts lose his testimony? I would say he became more nuanced. I would say he believed that–I think he did the journey a lot of us Mormons do. We go from a literal belief to a utility belief where you think, “You know whether or not this happened, I find value in it.” I think that’s where he ended up. When you look at his writings at the end of his life, and after these meetings, I’m saying they were a lot more generically Christian, than they were specifically Mormon a lot of the time. So, I think he was still Christian. I think he’s still believed that God and Jesus were important entities for us to be focused on.
But, as far as the literal belief in the Book of Mormon, I don’t see how he could have had–I don’t think he could believe the story as it had been presented. He knew that the geology, the geography, the linguistics, the archaeology, everything did not fit the Book of Mormon. When you look at the papers he wrote, whether or not he was playing devil’s advocate, there’s facts in here that he’s presenting and he’s asking the Twelve, “How do we do this? How do we overcome these? Please help me get revelation from God.”
Shannon 11:38 They basically said, “Let’s not talk about this again,” and sent him off on a mission and yeah, they didn’t want to talk.
GT 11:46 Okay, so as early as 1922, is that when the first meeting was?
Shannon 11:50 Yes.
GT 11:51 Because there was a series of three meetings, right?
Shannon 11:52 Right.
GT 11:53 So, the idea was, B. H. Roberts had…
Shannon 11:55 Actually, there’s more than that.
GT 11:57 Go ahead.
Shannon 11:58 There were three meetings with the General Authorities. There were also three meetings, at least three meetings, with the intelligentsia. So, once B. H. Roberts had talked to the General Authorities, and he didn’t find answers there, he also began speaking with groups of, a whole bunch of people with PhDs, which was very rare in Utah. So, he had gathered, and I was not able to figure out who put these meetings together, how people got invited. I couldn’t find any documentation about them at all, besides some mentions in people’s journals.
GT 12:36 Did they take place at Henry Moyes’ house?
Shannon 12:38 Yes. So, all three that I know about, there may have been another, all three meetings were at Henry Moyles’ house, yes.
GT 12:47 And that’s right in downtown Salt Lake. You have a picture of it.
Shannon 12:49 There’s a picture of it in my thesis, if people want to see it. It’s still there. Well, actually, I haven’t looked at it, since COVID.
GT 12:58 Right.
Shannon 12:59 And, it was slated for possible destruction, whatever.
GT 13:05 Oh, it was?
Shannon 13:06 Somebody had bought the three houses and was possibly going to tear them down and rebuild. So, if anyone’s got a lot of money, and can buy these houses, then, maybe do it.
GT 13:17 (Chuckling)
Shannon 13:19 I would love to go in.
GT 13:20 Because they’re right downtown Salt Lake City, right?
Shannon 13:21 Yeah, 411 East 100 South.
GT 13:24 Okay, so we can still drive by and see if it’s still there.
Shannon 13:27 As of 2019. I haven’t been there since then.
GT 13:33 Okay. So, the idea was, B. H. Roberts had questions about archaeology and geography, and brought it to the Twelve and then brought it to the intelligentsia, as you say, and nobody had an answer. Is that basically the idea?
Shannon 13:51 Yeah. He brought; we don’t know–he the two sets of papers that he–he really had two studies. Then, the third set of papers is to encapsulate the second study. The first one is the physical evidence, the first set of papers, talking about horses and steel and barley and…
GT 14:18 All the issues we talked about today.
Shannon 14:20 Right, all of the things that everyone’s like, “What? Why?” Anyway, he had already– from what I can tell, this was the first time that this issue was raised with church authorities, saying we might have a problem on our hands if we’re looking for accuracy. We’ve got anachronisms, and, according to most people, one anachronism–if you–we know that Shakespeare wasn’t living in the time of King Henry, because when they talk about a bell tolling, there was not a bell. Clocks didn’t have bells at that time. So, you know it was not written in that period. If we talked about Abraham Lincoln talking on a cell phone, we would know that somebody more modern was writing that, because you’re writing something that only exists in modern times that didn’t exist then.
Shannon 15:12 So, anachronisms can be a real problem in historical documents. He was realizing that this was going to be a real problem for the church. So, that’s the first that I think somebody had compiled it and said, “These are some issues that we’re going to have to attack and know what to do about, because it’s and it’s going to come up again.”
Actually, the story of this is that somebody wrote a letter and said, “I have these questions,” sent it to the First Presidency, who passed it on, and to general authorities. His first letter was ignored. His name’s William Reiter. His first letter was ignored. His second letter…
GT 15:56 Was Reiter a member?
Shannon 15:58 Yeah, William Reiter is the member and he had some questions from a Mr. Couch. Mr. Couch was someone he worked with during the summer, who was a non-member and said, “Hey, I have these questions.”
So, Reiter said, “My friend, Mr. Couch has these questions. What do you want me to tell him?” So, he sent the original letter and then sent a follow up letter and said, “Hey, I would really like to get the answer to my previous letter.” Then, he sent a third letter, and it looks like the third letter is the one that they finally attempted to answer.
- H. Roberts was given the letter and they said, “Can you please answer this?” In his efforts to answer the letter to William Reiter, he compiled this document.
At the end of December of 1921, he sent a letter to General Authorities and said, “We need to talk about this.” Then, he presented this 160 or so page document about all of the anachronisms that he could find in the Book of Mormon, and that he knew about, things like linguistics. “How can we have so many languages?” Oh, the five questions–Reiter had a series of five questions that he wanted answered. They had to do with steel, cimeters, horses, linguistics, things like that. So, those were the five things he asked. But then B. H. Roberts was like, there’s a lot more than what he just asked. And if he’s asking, if people are asking, we should figure out an answer.
GT 17:39 Now, a cimeter, that’s an Arabic curved sword. Is that right?
Shannon 17:44 Right.
GT 17:45 And so, to our knowledge, those don’t exist in the Americas and have never existed, right?
Shannon 17:50 Right.
GT 17:51 Even to this date, we haven’t found anything like that.
Shannon 17:53 No, right. They were kind of a Muslim type of sword back in the Middle East. They weren’t invented until after Lehi and his family would have left Jerusalem. So, for them to show up in the Book of Mormon would, again, be an anachronism.
GT 18:15 Like Abraham talking on the cell phone.
Shannon 18:17 Right. It was like, “These don’t exist yet.” So how could they be bringing them with them to the New World?
GT 18:24 Okay. Then, silk was another issue. To our knowledge, that’s only made in China, right?
Shannon 18:29 Yeah.
GT 18:30 So, how would that have gotten–so, there’s no silk making in America. Steel swords, I know a lot of apologists have tried to say, “Well, we’ve got this nice club with this volcanic really sharp stuff,” which is true. But it’s not made of steel.
Shannon 18:45 Right.
GT 18:47 So, we’ve got all these issues. Barley, the Native Americans didn’t use barley. I think there was another issue about languages you had mentioned. If they came in 600 B.C., how did we get so many Indian languages?
Shannon 19:02 Right, you can’t have hundreds of languages in this short of a time. Language doesn’t change that quickly, especially a language that has been written as Hebrew had. If they had a written language that they could write on plates with, they had a stable enough language that it wouldn’t have changed so quickly. It would have been impossible.
Beginnings of Book of Mormon Geography/View of Hebrews
GT 19:26 Now, I know the current scholarship on that, on the apologetic side, is that the Lehites were a small group and that all these other people were already here. Was that brought up as a possible solution for B. H. Roberts back then?
Shannon 19:43 Yeah, so actually, and I touch on this in my thesis. There was a geography meeting in January of 1921. They were creating the 1920 version. I don’t know how the meeting was in 1921, but it’s a 1920 version of the Book of Mormon. They wanted to include maps of where Zarahemla is, and things like that. They had this group gather together to try to figure out how to do this map. Over the course of this–and B.H. Roberts was in these map meetings. They determined that there was no place that they could put the map. There are too many variables, and one of the men in these intelligentsia meetings, his name is Willard Young. He’s actually a son or grandson of Brigham Young. He was a mapmaker. He was able to say, “Okay, in this passage where they say they cross the thing in this amount of time, the maximum distance this can be is this.” So, he was able to kind of determine what kind of features would need to be there in order to place the map in that place.
GT 21:02 So, he created an internal map. Is that right?
Shannon 21:05 They were trying to, and at the end of these meetings, they were like, “There is no place that we can put this.”
Shannon 21:12 Somebody said, “Maybe we could just say it’s in one small place.” But there is a…
GT 21:18 Because I believe it was Ivins, was it Anthony Ivins? Was he one of the first people to propose a limited geography theory? Because originally it was like North and South America, right?
Shannon 21:29 Right.
GT 21:29 And that’s what everybody believed.
Shannon 21:30 The entire continent, hemisphere. That’s the hemispheric theory.
GT 21:34 Yeah, then the narrow neck of land was, like, Panama. So, Willard Young was among the people who said, “These distances are too large.” There is no way this is going to happen.
Shannon 21:46 And Anthony Ivins, as well, you’re right. You remind me that they were all trying to figure out how we can do this. But the limited geography theory was rejected, because there is a revelation. Joseph Smith is quoted as saying that they landed in a certain place in South America.
GT 22:07 In Chile.
Shannon 22:08 In Chile.
GT 22:09 Thirty degrees south latitude.
Shannon 22:10 That’s right. Thank you.
GT 22:14 It said that it was in D&C 7, but I didn’t see that in D&C 7.
Shannon 22:18 It wasn’t in D&C 7. The D&C 7, if I’m remembering correctly, and, again, I wrote this a couple years ago, my memory is the worst. That’s why I’m a great historian. I can remember nothing. But, from what I remember, D&C 7 was on the other side of this paper. It was on this same paper, so it was like, if we are going to say that Joseph Smith’s revelations…
GT 22:42 Because D& 7 is about John the Beloved never dying.
Shannon 22:46 Okay.
GT 22:46 That was why I got confused. Okay, so it was on the other side of the paper.
Shannon 22:49 Right, it was on the same paper that the revelation came on. So, it’s like, if we’re going to throw this out, we have to throw this out. We can’t keep one and ditch the other.
GT 22:59 Okay.
Shannon 23:01 And he’s saying, maybe we can. But this is going to also be a problem, because Joseph Smith himself believed this theory that all Native Americans are descended from the Lamanites. So, if the prophet says that, and if the prophet is the one that saw this, how do we discount the prophet, without discounting the Book of Mormon? So that’s a question we still have.
GT 23:29 Now, I don’t know. Recently, I had Jonathan Neville on. He’s one of the Heartland theory proponents. I had mentioned that exact point to him. I didn’t realize it was tied to a revelation. That’s interesting. His contention was that it was written in the hand of Frederick G. Williams, I believe. So, he said, “Well, it’s not clear that Joseph Smith said that.”
Shannon 23:57 Right.
GT 23:59 Do you agree with that?
Shannon 24:00 That is what they were arguing in 1922.
GT 24:04 Okay.
Shannon 24:05 Like, okay. Well, if we’re not going to take anything from his scribes, then should we throw out the whole D&C?
GT 24:12 Because D&C 7 was also written in Frederick G. William’s handwriting.
Shannon 24:16 All of that, yeah. So, it was like, if we’re not going to take anything that his scribes have written in this, then we havehardly anything left. So, it’s kind of like, we can’t just pick and choose what we’re going to believe, based on what’s most convenient. That was B. H. Roberts’ argument at the time. And I believe Anthony Ivins was kind of also saying that. They were like, “This will be safer for us to leave it in mystery, rather than to then put it into the Book of Mormon, nail it down. Because then people will go there, look for the evidence. Who knows what they’ll find? On top of that, in previous editions of The Book of Mormon, there were footnotes that would indicate, “Oh, the ripliancum,” or whatever that word–it means, many waters and the footnote would say, the Atlantic Ocean or something like that.
GT 25:14 This is in the 1920 Book of Mormon?
Shannon 25:17 These were taken out in the 1920 Book of Mormon.
GT 25:19 They were taken out.
Shannon 25:20 So, after, if you look in, like, a 1900 Book of Mormon, I don’t remember what all issue years were. But, if you look at previous editions before 1920, they may have footnotes that refer, and I have this in an index in my thesis, the footnotes that were removed.
GT 25:43 Yeah I saw that.
Shannon 25:44 Yeah, they were a lot more indicating that we had hemispheric theory. Right. They knew this and people grew up believing this. It would be like any of us, if the church suddenly changes a stance, you’re like, “Wait, no. I mean, this is settled. Right?”
GT 26:01 So, was B. H. Roberts instrumental in getting rid of some of those footnotes? He said, “We really don’t know that this is the Atlantic Ocean.”
Shannon 26:12 Right. This geography meeting, I think, is where they decided to take out all references to specific geography, because they realized they could not set it down in any one place. So, yeah. I honestly think, actually, the limited geography–I’m thinking about Anthony Ivins, I think he was the one that was saying, “Yucatan might be the area.”
GT 26:39 Yeah, yeah.
Shannon 26:39 That’s limited. It’s not the whole geography. He’s trying to stay limited to just, maybe, a small part of the Yucatan.
GT 26:42 Because if I remember, right, all these geography theories are kind of one of my favorite topics.
Shannon 26:57 Oh, really? They just confuse me. I’m like, eh.
GT 27:03 I mean, it’s interesting. John Sorenson, who recently passed away, he’s kind of the Dean of Mesoamerica now. It was interesting to see how he handled this with, “Well, Joseph Smith’s that it was in Chile,” and then there was some discovery in the Yucatan Peninsula. And Joseph Smith was like, “Oh, see, there’s proof.” Sorensen’s idea was, Joseph Smith had no idea where it was. So, we’re just going to fit the model the best we can.” So, he thought it was Mesoamerica. What do you think of that solution?
Shannon 27:41 I think the brilliance of Joseph Smith was being so vague that people would debate it forever. He doesn’t say anything well enough that anyone can say anything. It’s just, I think it’s all silly. Personally, I think it’s like debating whether platform nine and three quarters really exists for muggles or not. You know, like, we can’t tell because we’re Muggles. Maybe if we were wizards, we’d be able to find this. To me, it’s all fiction. So, we’re debating something that just doesn’t matter.
GT 28:16 Okay.
Composing Book of Mormon
Shannon 28:17 And I personally believe that B. H. Roberts also got to that point, because when he talks about, and I started going there, and then we got on a tangent. His second study was about where he could have found the material that would inspire him to write the Book of Mormon. He found different parallels in different books of his time and showed how he could have gotten the Book of Mormon, based on other things he was reading. So, just kind of it was in the–he didn’t even come up, necessarily, with this story. But then he placed it in these places. Again, I just think somebody who was very creative and inspired a lot of people who wanted a lot of things explained and I think it got out of hand. I think he was really surprised at how it went.
GT 29:09 So, yeah, let’s go there for a minute. Because B. H. Roberts found a lot of parallels with View of the Hebrews.. Now I have to tell you, I started reading that book, and it was the most dry, boring book I’ve ever read in my life. It’s interesting that he went there, because, of course, the earlier theory was the Spalding theory. That was, like, in the 1830s. Supposedly, Sidney Rigdon got the Solomon Spalding manuscript and got it to Joseph Smith somehow. Nobody knows how. But that wasn’t very convincing to B. H. Roberts?
Shannon 29:47 I guess not. I think that had been around for a long time. I think they had already debunked it to some extent and thought, “No, this isn’t a copy,” by then. I think he was a little more worried about View of the Hebrews. What people don’t understand about View of the Hebrews, people think it’s some kind of fiction book that he copied. It was written more like, not quite a textbook, but maybe an archaeological textbook, and it was trying to be scientific. It wasn’t trying to tell a story.
GT 30:23 But it wasn’t religious at all.
Shannon 30:24 No, it wasn’t religious. It was someone trying to explain how, in his view, so many Native American people had parallel ideas to Hebrew, or to Jewish customs and Jewish ideas and Jewish traditions. So, he was trying to make all these connections and saying somebody must have come over from Jerusalem and brought all of these things.
GT 30:54 You’re talking about Ethan Smith, who’s the author of View of the Hebrews.
Shannon 30:57 That’s right. So, yes, I would not say that the Book of Mormon was plagiarized. I don’t think B. H. Roberts was also saying that. Actually, the other document, the third document, a parallel, is where he takes, “This happened in View of the Hebrews. this happens in the Book of Mormon.” He had at least 13, I think, that were like, there’s a Native American guy standing up on a wall, preaching to people and getting shot at with arrows. They have different names, and they may say they’re from different places, and the arrows might be getting shot for different reasons. But, if I’m going to write a book about a boy who wins a ticket to go to a candy factory, you will maybe assume that I had read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There were so many parallels, it just felt like he maybe had– it was more like…
GT 31:57 He’d been influenced.
Shannon 31:58 Inspired by, yeah. B. H. Roberts was trying to show other influences, besides angels.
GT 32:05 Yeah, I don’t deny that there are probably parallels between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon. But, to me, they’re so dramatically different in style. This is, like, King James English versus 19th century English.
Shannon 32:24 Well, and people say The Late War is another one. This is not B. H. Roberts, but other people were writing some kind of historical type [books that were] combining history and biblical talk, to try to speak about history, so that he may have been inspired with that style by The Late War, and with content by View of the Hebrews. It’s just mostly to show that it’s possible that somebody could have taken these ideas from the milieu, at the time, and come up with these ideas, and that they would sound familiar and plausible to everyone at the time.
GT 33:07 Okay.
Shannon 33:08 So, I think Joseph Smith was a very smart guy and a good storyteller. He told stories, enjoyed doing it. He had been telling these stories for years. I think he just developed his own view of what had happened and turned it into this tale and told it in a way that was really appealing to people. I think if he hadn’t lost the first, the 121 pages, we wouldn’t even have a religion. I think he started out writing a story, trying to get an archeological angle to it, saying, “Oh, yeah. I found this record, and oh, my gosh, it matches what we already think. Isn’t that cool?” But because the first portion of his book was lost, he needed to find a way to retell it. And he did it from a religious angle and it took off.
GT 34:08 So a couple questions I have for you then. First of all, are you familiar with Dr. William Davis and Visions in the Seer Stone?
Shannon 34:17 No.
GT 34:18 Oh, you’re not? Because I think that came out after your thesis. Dr. Davis, his training is in theater, and in oral composition. So, Brian Hales and others are like, “There’s no way anybody could have written this.”
GT 34:39 William Davis has said, “Well, actually, Joseph was trained as Methodist exhorter, and he was trained in this and there’s laying down heads.” So, he’s come up with a book that tries to explain a lot of the oral composition. It doesn’t get into the anachronisms and things like that. He’s tried to do it in a neutral way, where it wouldn’t be threatening to believers or non-believers. But it seems like it is threatening to some believers for sure.
Shannon 35:12 Yeah.
GT 35:13 So, you don’t have any opinion on oral composition methods?
Shannon 35:17 I’ve heard people talk about that, how he doesn’t usually return to things. It’s kind of always one way. He doesn’t backtrack, and that’s kind of an oral composition way of talking about things. And clearly, he did do this with, at least, I mean, even if you believe that he was reading from the plates, it was definitely written by scribes. He was not writing this himself. He was, at least, orally dictating that. So, we know whether he was reading or just orally dictating, that’s what happened. So, that makes the most sense to me. I think he was just, and I don’t think we all have to have that ability, in order for that to be possible. Joseph Smith had that ability. I may not be able to write like Stephen King, but that doesn’t mean Stephen King can’t write like Stephen King. So, he may have been really smart and really good at telling a story that has captivated people for 200 years now. But it doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just because it’s unlikely.
GT 36:26 Okay. Well, the other issue, or the other thing I wanted to just bring up was Don Bradley has written a book about The Lost 116 Pages. He’s tried to reconstruct what was likely in those pages. He even said, he thinks that there might have been temple ceremony stuff in there.
Shannon 36:46 Oh, that would be convenient.
GT 36:50 (Chuckling)
Shannon 36:50 Because he doesn’t talk about the temple at all in the Book of Mormon. So, how do we get the temple? I don’t know. But, yeah, that would be convenient to be like, “Well, we don’t have a record, but he definitely…” I don’t know.
GT 37:03 You don’t buy Don’s argument there. Have you had a chance to read his book?
Shannon 37:08 I haven’t. No.
GT 37:10 Okay.
Shannon 37:11 So, I’m willing to be convinced, but I don’t see how, especially if you’re looking at modern Mormon temples, that was definitely an evolution, there’s no way he was thinking about that before everything, and then not have any trace of it all through the rest until we get to Nauvoo or Kirtland. And then suddenly, this theology pops up.
GT 37:33 I’m going to send you a link to the part about the Book of Ether. Don has some interesting parallels that I hadn’t considered until I talked to him. It was interesting.
Shannon 37:44 And are these things that maybe were added later? Because there were a lot of revisions that happened. As time went on, he kept adding things back. So, are you looking at the first copy or are you looking at later copies?
GT 37:57 Well, I mean, the story of Jared and the stones. The finger the Lord touches the stones. Don has a very interesting interpretation, and I’m not doing it justice at all. I will send you a link for sure. But he’s like, “This sounds a lot like the temple.”
Shannon 38:24 Well, if it’s from the same brain. Why not? I’m not saying that Joseph Smith couldn’t have had similar ideas earlier, but I don’t think they were necessarily temple. The temple wasn’t fully[developed.] The idea wasn’t fully formed before he ever started the church. I would definitely say that would be an anachronism, in my historical point of view.
GT 38:50 All right.
Shannon 38:50 But if we’re taking out miracles. Sure, there could have been a miracle. When you add the idea that anything can happen and miracles are [possible,] then why is anything impossible? I’m taking it from a purely academic, logical point of view, that if this is the first time this ever happened, then, maybe, sure. That doesn’t convince me.
B.H. Roberts Post-Manifesto Marriage
GT 39:17 Okay. Well, so what’s interesting is you because you put a little biography together of–how many people were in these, I’m going to say the intelligentsia meetings, approximately?
Shannon 39:30 A total of 21.
GT 39:30 Twenty-one, that sounds about right. Anthony Ivins. He was an apostle, right?
Shannon 39:37 Yes, he was the second counselor.
GT 39:39 Oh, he was in the First Presidency. So, he was one of the first to propose a limited geography theory clear back in 1922…
Shannon 39:48 [In] 1921.
GT 39:48 …21 as a possible solution to the hemispheric model problems.
Shannon 39:54 Right.
GT 39:57 Was he more towards Yucatan peninsula? Do you remember?
Shannon 40:02 Yeah, the Yucatan.
GT 40:04 Do you have anything else to add about Anthony Ivins on that?
Shannon 40:08 No, just he loved that idea. Well, I guess I could say a couple years or a few months later, he did give a General Conference talk, even though he had an idea, he personally thought Yucatan was a possibility. He did give a conference talk that said, “Please don’t try to nail this down anywhere. We can’t know. It’s supposed to be mysterious.” So, he, himself, was saying, don’t try to speculate, although he was speculating. I mean, it’s fun. Speculation is always exciting.
GT 40:48 There’s like six or seven different models, and I could geek out on those. But, I won’t do that. I guess my question is, because, I mean, this is a little bit beyond your thesis. I know when you went on Mormon Stories with John Dehlin, it seemed like he was trying to make the case that, “Look. B. H. Roberts lost his testimony. They’ve known about this for 100 years, and they’re all lying.” And they know that the Book of Mormon is fiction or whatever. At least that was my impression.
Shannon 41:30 Yeah, and I felt like I had to keep pulling him back and being like, “Yo. Okay. We can’t say that exactly.”
GT 41:38 John was going too far with that.
Shannon 41:40 I appreciate his enthusiasm, and I don’t always disagree with what he was saying. But there were times that I was like, “We can’t prove that.” I think, personally, I like to give a little bit more grace to General Authorities whose entire existence is the Church. And when you undermine that, I mean, I’ve had so many conversations with Mormons who, when I present difficult information, they kind of shut down and say, “I don’t want to think about that. I want to forget about that.” Why would these guys be any different? I think even more so. They’re going to be more defensive of their belief and less able to really examine something that’s going to destroy that.
GT 42:23 Right.
Shannon 42:23 So, I feel like they were weak, maybe, and scared, maybe. I do believe B. H. Roberts, himself, had lost testimony in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. I’m not saying he lost faith in the value of it, but I do think the historicity. He just says, “This is a wonder tale written by an immature mind,” at some point in this paper. This looks like a wonder tale. He doesn’t positively conclude. He says, “This appears.”
GT 42:58 So, would it be a fair statement to say that even though B. H. Roberts presented it to the apostles, and I know Joseph Fielding Smith was one of those who was very well aware [that where] science and religion disagree, I’m going with religion, every time.
Shannon 43:12 Yeah, and I think…
GT 43:13 There were probably several like that, right?
Shannon 43:15 I think that is a reaction to something. You see this happen all the time. When you have, say, a married couple, and one of them does this deep dive and says, “It’s not true.”
You’ll find the other spouse often overcorrects, and say, “You know what? I’m not listening to anything. Faith is the only thing that matters.” They will shut off all logic and only go with faith. I’ve seen this reaction lots of times. I think Joseph Fielding Smith was having a reaction. I think the amount of inflexibility that he had was a reaction, knowing that there’s something that could break it on the other side, if I let go of this line. So, yeah, I think he was that way. But I think that was partly in some ways, it’s evidence that he was rocked by this revelation, these things that B. H. Roberts was saying.
GT 43:15 Which would lead to saying, “Hey, quit looking at the archaeology. It’s a rabbit hole. It doesn’t matter.”
Shannon 43:30 Yes. Who cares? It doesn’t matter.
GT 43:51 Because the other thought that occurred to me was, wasn’t it in the 1950s, Thomas Ferguson led a big expedition in Central America. “We’re going to find Zarahemla and we’re going to do this.” I know in Thomas Ferguson’s case, he kind of lost his testimony because he’s like, “There’s no evidence.”
Shannon 44:41 There’s no evidence, yeah.
GT 44:44 But the Church did fund that and so I think it does lead credence to, and I don’t know how involved Joseph Fielding Smith was in that, because he was an apostle forever, wasn’t he?
Shannon 44:57 Yeah.
GT 44:58 And several of them were. But it does lead to the idea that “Oh, I know, B. H. Roberts has presented us with some difficult information. But here, Thomas. Take some money and go find Zarahemla.”
Shannon 45:13 Yeah.
GT 45:14 Because there was still a reaction that, “Well, we still think the Book of Mormon is historical.” Right?
Shannon 45:18 [Church leaders may say,] “I think B. H. Roberts is wrong. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just make him wrong, rather than our entire religion and our entire existence?” Right? So yeah, of course, they’re going to hope that we can counteract what this troubling information is. So, that doesn’t surprise me that they would fund it. I don’t think everyone just accepted what B.H. Roberts said at face value and just lost their testimony. Because, I mean, that would be pretty weak of them if their testimony was that shaky, that one meeting would do that. I think what they did was like, “Wow. That’s really difficult and upsetting. I’m not going to think about this right now. I’m going to sit on it for a while.”
Shannon 46:02 Put it on the shelf, as they say. I think a lot of them put it on the shelf. And B.H. Roberts kind of got stuck in a closet. And I mean, there are letters that I found 50-60-70 years later that were like, “Oh, I’ve heard about these letters. I’ve heard about the B.H. Roberts papers.” They’ve been whispered about for decades in church hierarchy. And nobody wanted to touch them. They were really scared. So, the fact that they were scared shows that it was upsetting, but maybe put on the shelf because nobody wants to look any closer because you know, there’s a monster over there.
GT 46:28 Well, it was also interesting to read through some of those biographies. Because for one, you mentioned that B.H. Roberts was a polygamist, which I think a lot of people probably forget. I’m trying to remember what years he lived approximately, but I believe you said that one of them was a post-manifesto marriage. Does that ring a bell?
Shannon 46:43 Yeah, at least one of them for sure, the one that was his favorite wife. Yeah, this that one was pretty far post-manifesto. Yeah, his wives didn’t know about it.
GT 47:12 Yeah.
Shannon 47:22 It wasn’t before 1922. Yeah. I talk about it in here.
GT 47:29 I know 1904 was when the Second Manifesto was issued. And that was…
Shannon 47:32 It was after 1904.
GT 47:34 Oh, it was after 1904?
Shannon 47:37 Maybe. I can look it up.
GT 47:41 One of his wives was (while you’re looking that up) in these meetings as one of the intelligentsia because she was a smart lady.
Shannon 47:51 Yes. She was a doctor.
GT 47:53 Yeah.
Shannon 47:53 She had been educated abroad, which meant out of Utah. They would send somebody abroad to get an education and she was one of them. She was a doctor.
GT 48:02 She was a gynecologist, if I remember right?
Shannon 48:05 She was a physician, but yeah, she was she was more likely to be treating women.
GT 48:10 Like a midwife. But she was more than a midwife, wasn’t she?
Shannon 48:15 Yes. I mean, she was a physician. So, at that time, we didn’t have specialties as much as we do now. You can’t say I’m an OB/GYN and I only see this. It was like, “I’m a physician, and I see people.”
GT 48:28 But she probably catered more towards women. Right? And childbirth and that sort of thing?
Shannon 48:32 Yes. Yeah. Lots of delivering children and things like that. Let’s see. Because they were married before 1904. Okay, so it was after 1890.
GT 48:46 Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Shannon 48:47 Yeah, that’s what I believe it was after 1900 but it was before 1904 where they’re like, “No, for real. This time. We’re going to excommunicate.”
GT 48:55 Because that was the Reed Smoot Hearings.
Shannon 48:57 Right.
GT 48:57 And Joseph F. Smith. Was the Joseph F that I think got called into Congress. And he said, “Okay. We’re going to start excommunicating you now.”
Shannon 49:07 Yeah. Yeah. Post Second Manifesto is when they got serious. The First Manifesto, everyone knew it was a wink and a nod like, “Oh, yeah. We don’t do this publicly.”
GT 49:18 We’ll just send them to Mexico.
Shannon 49:21 But even then, they didn’t always send them to Mexico.
Shannon 49:24 It was still happening. But that is not what this thesis is about.
GT 49:29 But you touched on it though.
Shannon 49:30 But I did touch on it. Yeah. That is what was fun about doing this thesis. It touched on so many things that I was just like, wow! This is such a perfect snapshot of a Mormonism at this time as they’re trying to navigate ending polygamy and trying to go more mainstream and coming out of the frontier and becoming modern, having all the conveniences that people have. And so, this was a big inflection point for Mormonism. So, it was really cool to catch it.
Shannon 50:04 And again, they’re starting to incorporate archaeology and actual learning and academia. And so, they’re like, how do we match this with academic disciplines? And I think that’s why these meetings were so important, because most members of the church hierarchy were not educated abroad. They were old men by 1922. So, they had grown up, usually in frontier, Utah. A few maybe had been educated, but most of them had grown up and been in Utah their whole time on the frontier. Most of the hierarchy was not highly educated. I think that’s probably why B.H. Roberts, or whoever put these meetings together, called all of these people. And the majority of them had Ph.D.’s, again, which is really rare in frontier Utah. You had to have permission to leave the state to get an education. So, to gather these people, it couldn’t have just been some kind of book club. It was a specific, important meeting where these people who I couldn’t find, except for a few of them, I didn’t find them interacting in any of their other documents. It was just these people were all in this room for these meetings. And I only know that because a couple people made a list of who is in these meetings. And we talked about Brother Roberts was there. And we talked about Book of Mormon archaeology. So, I know that that’s what they were talking about. B.H. Roberts had just presented this. I mean, I’m sure there’s plenty of people that can poke holes. Yeah, I can’t prove beyond that these people met and that they talked about Book of Mormon geography in these meetings. Is it a coincidence that B.H. Roberts had just written this big document and presented to everyone weeks before? I don’t think so. But if people are really trying to hold on to their testimony, they’ll definitely make that argument. So, I’m fine with that. I just wanted to present facts and show what I could and put as much information out there as possible and be as transparent as I could be.
Chicago Experiment: Faith vs Science Battles
GT 52:15 There were a couple other issues that I thought was really interesting. One of my favorite articles was by Casey Griffiths, which you referenced in there and listed as a footnote. I think there were two things. There was The Chicago Experiment, where they were trying to send CES teachers to Divinity School, and the University of Chicago was so liberal, it was the only place that would actually accept Mormons. And so, there was this fundamentalist-modernist battle. And you had Talmage who was pro-evolution and an apostle and Widtsoe and some of these other really highly educated [apostles.] And we still do have educated apostles in our day. But then you had the Joseph Fielding Smith and J. Reuben Clark, who was also educated, but more of on the fundamentalist side. Don’t study all that stuff.
Shannon 53:08 J Reuben Clark came in after these meetings. So, I think he’s still reacting in some way. But he was not part of this. So, I can’t count him as one of the apostles that [participated.] He is an interesting character for sure.
GT 53:22 Oh, for sure. But so, the idea here is you’ve got these apostles, fighting, whether we should be modern and use scriptural techniques and embrace learning, versus the fundamentalists that were like, “Hey, don’t pay attention that stuff. Joseph Smith is a prophet. Book of Mormon is true. That’s all you need to know.” Right?
Shannon 53:45 Yeah.
GT 53:46 And so can you talk about that? Because I know you mentioned in the biography on James Talmage that Talmage was really quite pro-evolution.
Shannon 53:55 He was a geologist.
GT 53:57 But when he became an apostle, he had to tamp that down, right?
Shannon 54:02 Yeah.
GT 54:02 Can you tell us more about that?
Shannon 54:04 Yeah, I do. I’ve covered him in the thesis. So, and I talked a little bit about how he was definitely, as a geologist, he’s like, there’s no way. A 6000-year-old earth does not work. Some of what we have, is his son making arguments. His son was also a geologist. And we know he had consulted with his father on some of these and said, “Is it okay if I write to Joseph F. Smith?” So, there’s this debate through letters with Sterling Talmage. James Talmage, was a geologist. He was employed at the University of Utah as a geology professor. And when he became an apostle, he had to give up his job as a professor and just [worked for the] Church and dedicated himself to that. So, we do know that he held belief in an older earth and evolution. He and his son in the letter to Joseph Fielding Smith, point out that in Adam-ondi-Ahman, the altar that Joseph Smith said that Adam had prayed at in the Garden of Eden, that supposedly there was no death before there are fossils in this altar. All these rocks in this type of rock that supposedly Adam had used. So, there was doctrine that I don’t think we talk about very often, there was no death on the earth until Adam fell. Death was introduced with the fall of Adam. So how would there be fossils?
GT 55:50 Nothing died. No trees died. No animals died.
Shannon 55:52 Yeah. Right. How would there be fossils in the rock that was in the Garden of Eden? He’s like, we’re going to have to fix some of what we’re [teaching.] We can’t completely ignore science in favor of faith. We really need to meld the two, because we can’t have one or the other. It’s not going to work. So yeah, he and his son, mostly through his son, because again, the Twelve have a policy where they have to be united, and you can’t really speak out of turn. You can’t correct someone who’s more senior than you. So, it was bad form for James Talmage to say anything to Joseph Fielding Smith, because Joseph Fielding Smith was higher in the hierarchy than Talmage. But his son, who is not a general authority, could say whatever he wants. So, he does mention that his father had talked to him about it.
GT 56:59 So that’s why he had his son write to Joseph Fielding Smith, to try to get to change Joseph Fielding Smith’s mind.
Shannon 57:08 Yeah, he talks about how science–
GT 57:16 But that didn’t change his mind.
Shannon 57:17 These things that you’re saying are in in these books, science just doesn’t allow that to be the case. So, let’s be a little more flexible. And he was like, “Absolutely. I will never be flexible.” There are some good quotes in here. I can’t [remember.] You’ll just have to look. Some of the things that Joseph Fielding Smith said were pretty classic. “I will never compromise. If I had to, I might, but I will never.”
GT 57:47 And then there was another interesting thing. I’m trying to remember who it was where you referenced this. You said that BYU, I don’t know if they’d lost accreditation, or they just weren’t accredited. And there was a question over evolution. And they fired a bunch of teachers, and then a bunch of teachers resigned in protest.
Shannon 57:48 Yeah, they didn’t teach science after 1911. Between 1911 and 1920. BYU just became a teacher school, because they didn’t want to have to teach evolution. They fired some teachers who didn’t even teach evolution but believed in evolution. And students were up in arms about it saying, “You need to teach us this. We need to be able to discuss this in the real world. You can’t fire people over what they’re thinking if they’re not even teaching it.” But yeah, there were four teachers that were censured. Two of them got fired. Two of them promised never to write or teach evolution, and they got to keep their jobs. But it was a real uproar. And they just didn’t teach science for a decade.
GT 58:23 Did they have accreditation before then and lost it? Or did they just never have it up to then?
Shannon 59:08 I honestly don’t remember. I’m sure I covered whatever I knew at one point in here. Yeah, I don’t think they could get accreditation without teaching it. So, they just said, “We’re not even going to teach it. We’re going to drop that subject.”
GT 59:24 And then I’m trying to remember which prophet it was, but one of them put a new president of BYU and said, “Well, we’ve got to hire more Ph.D’s.” I remember.
Shannon 59:34 Yeah. This is the chapter about Franklin Stewart Harris. He was the president of BYU. So that chapter I really go into the whole academic freedom debate that happened. Franklin Stewart Harris was the president of BYU. He had just become the president of BYU in 1920. And so, he was new to this. But he was like “We’re going to be a real university. We’re going to get national accreditation. I think they had two professors with Ph.D.’s at that point.
GT 1:00:14 I thought it was one, and Utah had 23. I was thinking, “Wow!”
Shannon 1:00:16 Yeah, that’s right. They had they had one. Utah had two dozen. And so, Harris was really trying to get a whole bunch more on board. And he had done half a dozen, at least in the couple years. He was really trying to recruit Ph.D’s.
GT 1:00:32 And said, “We’re going to actually teach evolution.”
Shannon 1:00:34 Yeah.
GT 1:00:36 Because you have to do that in order to get accredited.
Shannon 1:00:38 Yeah, you had to have science that was fact based, not faith based. Right? So he’s like, “We’ll teach what science says. We’re going to be a real university and teach what a real university teaches and have science and facts in our science classes. So, he was really about the academics. And he was hoping to make BYU one of the best universities in the nation. That was his hope. That was his plan. And he kind of did. Some people would say under his leadership, it was the golden age for BYU, of academic freedom and things like that.
GT 1:01:20 So I believe that was under Heber J. Grant. Do you remember who the prophet was?
Shannon 1:01:23 Yeah, Heber J. Grant was the prophet that hired him and was for a while. Heber J. Grant got a little more open to education, and then, within a decade, kind of started getting hesitant and pulling back.
GT 1:01:38 Then Harris ended up leaving and going to Utah State, if I remember, right. Does that sound right?
Shannon 1:01:42 Yeah. Yeah, once he felt like the Board of Directors was really trying to control everything and shut down academic pursuits. It got really heavy there for a while. And he was like, “You know what? I’m going to Utah State.” So, he did.
GT 1:01:58 So this whole issue of academic freedom has been a problem for a century.
Shannon 1:02:03 It crops up every like 25-30 years. They’ll slam it down. And people will be like, “This is terrible.” And people will get afraid to talk and not say anything. And so even the ones that work there, they get quieter and be more in line with faith, but then that doesn’t last forever. And then it’s just this pendulum that keeps swinging back and forth at BYU. That’s what I cover a little bit, just the presidency of Franklin Harris started out on one end of the pendulum. He swung it as far as he could to the other side. And then they tried to push it back. And he was like, “I’m out.” So that’s a fun little journey that we go on there.
[End of Part 1]
 This is a reference to the Harry Potter books.
 Shannon writes in her thesis on page 85, “It [BYU] was mainly a high school with some college courses, largely focused on teacher training, and was not an accredited institution. Programs leading to a bachelor’s degree in science were discontinued in 1909 and had only recently been reinstated in 1920. The institution was constantly on the verge of being closed because the church was in the process of divesting itself of educational facilities rather than competing with state schools and focusing instead on seminary and institute programs that would impart spiritual knowledge and strengthen church ties.” This is when Franklin Stewart Harris was asked to lead BYU in 1920.
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