Lately I have been focusing my blogging on my "Textual Analysis of the Book of Mormon" (click at top of the page or here) where I examine the book from a critical perspective. I have powered through several chapters in the past couple of months. In fact, I have almost finished the second "book" in the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi. Here is my latest entry:
Chapter27: "Morons and Meatheads and Boobs, Oh My!"
Darkness and apostasy will cover the earth in the last days--The Book of Mormon will come forth--Three witnesses will testify of the book--The learned man will say he cannot read the sealed book--The Lord will do a marvelous work and a wonder--Compare Isaiah 29. About 559–545 B.C.
For those who thought that Nephi was done with Isaiah, I have some bad news. Nephi goes back to ripping off Isaiah's work in this chapter.
However, when I read the chapter summary, which gives some pretty specific predictions about the Book of Mormon, I was intrigued. So, I skipped over to the chapter in Isaiah to which Nephi refers (Isaiah 29), and I noticed that the incredible specificity Nephi uses is absent in Isaiah.
In fact, as with most of Isaiah's prophecies, there is no indication that Isaiah is speaking about our day or the Book of Mormon at all. But you wouldn't get this from reading the Mormon-added chapter summary of Isaiah 29:
"A people (the Nephites) will speak as a voice from the dust--The Apostasy, restoration of the gospel, and coming forth of a sealed book (the Book of Mormon) are foretold--Compare 2 Nephi 27."
Basically Nephi (or Joseph Smith) takes a few key points from Isaiah 29 and extrapolates upon them in 2 Nephi 27. Nephi adds his own spin, which is painfully obviously retrofitted and self-fulfilling prophecy. We'll get in to that later.
Nephi returns to the sealed book mentioned in the previous chapter. But before we get to Nephi's interpretation, let's go over what Isaiah actually said:
"11 And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:"
"12 And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned."
It is unclear what is meant by the "vision of all." But the metaphor of a sealed book (not a literal book) is presented to a learned man and an unlearned man, both of whom state that they cannot read the book.
Perhaps this is means that highly educated people will miss the point of Isaiah's vision, and uneducated will be overwhelmed by it. It could mean that in order to understand Isaiah one must be humble enough to set aside their formal education and wise enough to not be intimidated by its content. Whatever the meaning, Isaiah most certainly is not speaking about a literal book presented to a literal educated man and a literal uneducated man.
Nephi seems to think that such is the case, however, as he describes a book being taken to an educated man who cannot read it, and then to an uneducated man who can read it through the power of god:
"15 But behold, it shall come to pass that the Lord God shall say unto him to whom he shall deliver the book: Take these words which are not sealed and deliver them to another, that he may show them unto the learned, saying: Read this, I pray thee. And the learned shall say: Bring hither the book, and I will read them."
"16 And now, because of the glory of the world and to get gain will they say this, and not for the glory of God."
"17 And the man shall say: I cannot bring the book, for it is sealed."
"18 Then shall the learned say: I cannot read it."
"19 Wherefore it shall come to pass, that the Lord God will deliver again the book and the words thereof to him that is not learned; and the man that is not learned shall say: I am not learned."
"20 Then shall the Lord God say unto him: The learned shall not read them, for they have rejected them, and I am able to do mine own work; wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee."
Well, it turns out that just such an event occurred exactly like this!
During the "translation" of the Book of Mormon, Joseph sent one of his scribes, Martin Harris, to linguistic expert, Dr. Charles Anthon (the learned man), to verify the Book of Mormon as authentic. But rather than allow Dr. Anthon to see and hold and examine the gold plates (which is the only way to legitimately verify authenticity), Mr. Harris was allowed to bring a piece of paper with a few lines from the the gold plates scribbled on it. The Mormon version of what happened next is strikingly different from Dr. Anthon's account.
According to Harris (and Mormons at large), Dr. Anthon viewed the characters and announced they were authentic characters from specific ancient languages. Dr. Anthon asked Harris from where the characters originated, as he drew up a certificate of authenticity. Harris answered that an angel had given a young man named Joseph Smith (the unlearned man) gold plates containing an ancient history of Native Americans, and through the power of god Joseph was translating it in to English.
In a fit of anti-religious rage, Dr. Anthon tore up the certificate and told Harris that such things are impossible. But if Harris would just give Dr. Anthon the gold plates, he would translate the record. Harris refused and told the doctor that the book was sealed, and Dr. Anthon withdrew his offer to translate the plates because he cannot read a sealed book.
It should be noted that Joseph claimed that a large portion of the gold plates was sealed off--even to him--and the Book of Mormon is derived from the unsealed portion. This unsealed portion would have been accessible to Dr. Anthon.
According to Dr. Anthon, the events were much less animated. Harris presented the characters to the doctor, who said they were from various incongruent languages arranged in a random and insignificant manner. He then described Harris as a superstitious pushover who was likely being had financially by the charismatic charlatan, Joseph Smith.
It is interesting to me that Mormons still cling to this story as though it proved through prophecy the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. You see, whatever really happened in Dr. Anthon's office some 170 years ago doesn't really matter.
As a quick google search will show, we still have Harris' original paper with the characters from the gold plates. Modern linguists and experts in ancient languages have studied the characters and have concluded that the characters are nonsensical gibberish. Funny how the experts seem to agree more with Dr. Anthon's account.
This far, all of the prophecies in the Book of Mormon can be placed in to one of three categories: self-fulfilling, retrofitted or yet to happen. The Anthon incident appears to be self-fulfilling. Clearly Joseph set up the whole shebang to prove his prophetic prowess. But there are more self-fulfilling prophecies within this very chapter equal to the Anthon incident in terms of transparent charlatanism.
Nephi claims that when the sealed book is revealed to the unlearned man, god will allow three people to witness the book to testify to the world that it really does exist:
"12 Wherefore, at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein."
As you might have guessed, Joseph Smith had three such "witnesses" to the gold plates! You can read their "testimony" (which Joseph wrote beforehand and had the men sign) in the introduction of the Book of Mormon.
The three men Joseph Smith chose to be witnesses are Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. I have given you some context as to the caliber of Martin Harris' character. Let me just add that when Joseph had the men witness the gold plates, they had trouble getting the angel to appear with the plates. Harris thought that his sins might be the reason for the angel's trepidation, and offered to step out so the other two men could go through with it. This sounds noble, but Joseph needed three--not two--witnesses.
So, Harris prayed and prayed until the angel came to him individually (a detailed skipped over in their formal signed testimony) and Harris described the event as a spiritual experience, rather than a physical or literal experience.
He said he saw the plates with his mind's eye the same way a clairvoyant person could see a far-distant city through a mountain. He was a superstitious man hell-bent on seeing this angel. How much stock would we give his testimony today?
David Whitmer is also compromised in that he had family ties to Joseph and a financial stake in the successful publishing of the Book of Mormon. In fact, all of the three witnesses had invested large amounts of money in the publishing of the book. Talk about a conflict of interests.
Mormons love to point out that Oliver Cowdery left the Mormon Church, yet never recanted his angelic experience with the gold plates. He was also very superstitious and had a financial stake in the book. A lesser known fact about Mr. Cowdery is that he used the Book of Mormon to start his own religion after leaving Joseph Smith's cult. So, naturally he would not undermine the Book of Mormon.
As much as I enjoy discrediting the character and intentions of these men, they still may have seen an angel with gold plates. Who knows? But one of the most glaring failings of these men, which they all share, is that not a single one of them was educated or trained in ancient languages or artifacts. Therefore, not a single one of them was qualified to "testify" to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon--angel or not.
Who cares if these three superstitious men with vested interests saw the gold plates? They were unable and unqualified to distinguish an authentic ancient record from a hoax. And I'm willing to bet Joseph Smith knew and counted on this.