LDS Apologist Van Hale Denies
Book of Mormon Historicity
Van Hale hosts his own Salt Lake area radio program called "Mormon
Miscellaneous" On February 6th, 2005 Mr. Hale's guest was Simon Southerton,
author of "Losing
a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church".
the two-hour radio broadcast, Van Hale issued a public statement, in
which he declared that he could not accept the Book of Mormon is real
history about real people.
Text Transcript of Van Hale's Statement on the Book of Mormon:
Van Hale, February 6th, 2005
More than 20 years ago I concluded that my belief in the
Book of Mormon as a divinely inspired book of scripture did not require
that it be an accurate, detailed translation of an ancient history.
The argument has always been: "The Book of Mormon is true or Joseph
Smith was a false prophet." I concur with this argument. But what
does that mean? To me, it has nothing to do with the question, "Is
it a translation of an ancient history?" but rather, "Is it
of divine origin?" Through my study, reasoning, reflection and
experience, I have been persuaded to my position, by many different
points, that the Book of Mormon is of Divine origin. I am not persuaded
by suggested evidence for its historicity, but rather by its remarkable
history. I will explain this.
But further, most LDS do not claim that their primary reason for belief
in the Book of Mormon is based upon evidences for its historicity, but
rather a spiritual conviction. I am also one of those. Most also agree
that the teachings and inspiration of the Book of Mormon are far more
relevant to our faith than how many days it took to cross the narrow
neck of land. I am one of those. However, most LDS seem to reason, consciously
or subconsciously, that the Book of Mormon is true or false, concluding
that if it is not a history, it is false, thus either God or Joseph
Smith lied. God cannot, or would not, lie, therefore Joseph Smith was
the liar, and true prophets do not lie. I am not one of those. This
reasoning is entirely foreign to my reasoning as I detail in my statement.
I view the Book of Mormon as a lengthy extended use of a well-known
and widely used literary form. That literary form is the use of a seeming
historical narrative to teach a religious principle. The use of a literary
form does not constitute a lie. Mankind throughout history, now more
than ever, has been inundated with messages clothed with some literary
form. We do not call this a lie. Many insist that they believe in God
and know that he would not use or condone a literary device, no matter
how potent, to lead us to change our lives and join together to build
an international movement. I claim that there is substantial reason
to refrain from claiming to know what God would or would not do.
During these past 20 years, many have asked me questions about my views
on Book of Mormon historicity on the air and off. The issue has become
one of such prominence in recent years in battles between Mormon apologists
and doubting Mormons, non-Mormons, ex-Mormons and anti-Mormons that
the number of my discussions of the topic have greatly increased. This
past year I have discussed my views on the Book of Mormon at considerable
length on a private list, primarily of Mormon apologists. It has been
at the insistence of the members of this private list. They were anxious
to draw out my point of view and argue against it. All but one or two
have been very respectful in their discussions with me, but all have
disagreed with my view that the historicity of the Book of Mormon is
incidental, that the question of its Divine origin does not hang on
whether or not it is a translation of an ancient history.
My main point in this discussion has been that the Book of Mormon is
an authentic Divinely inspired book of scripture which has had a remarkably
successful history (1830 to the present) doing that for which it was
written. It has been the primary missionary tool of the Church effecting
a great change in the life of millions and serving as the keystone of
our Church. I argue that our highly impressive movement owes is existence
to the Book of Mormon. Numerous non-Mormons around the world have been
forthright in commending what the Church and its members stand for and
what we are doing. We receive a great amount of positive press daily.
While they do not draw the direct connection, this positive press is,
in effect, saying, "We are very impressed for a variety of reasons
with the good that the Book of Mormon has done in the world. The world
is a better place because of the Book of Mormon."
Turning to the question of Book of Mormon historicity, I am not aware
of any non-LDS scientists or historians who are the least impressed
with the arguments of LDS apologists for the historicity of the Book
of Mormon. I believe that it is a major mistake to fight against the
consensus of science and history. I simply cannot endorse the argument
advanced by so many apologists that either the Book of Mormon is a translation
of an ancient history, accurate in all its detail, or Joseph Smith was
a fraud and our Church is simply the fruit of that fraud. I argue that
to disprove Book of Mormon historicity does not disprove that Joseph
Smith was a true prophet and does not prove that the Book of Mormon
is not of Divine origin.
As LDS, I take great pride in the Book of Mormon for its teachings
and its effect on the lives of millions. I think that there is merit
in apologists taking advantage of this great strength - the history
of the Book of Mormon. I proposed, in these discussions with apologists,
that there are better approaches than going up against leading scientists
and historians. To my surprise there was absolutely no interest whatever
in my suggestion that instead of always taking a defensive approach,
attempting to refute the consensus of the world's leading scientists
and historians, perhaps some apologists should consider a positive offensive
approach which ignores the question of historicity, focusing instead
on the Book of Mormon's extraordinary success in contrast to its most
unlikely prospects for success in 1830.
I have been an avid student of our history for 40 years and can say,
without any reservation, that the Book of Mormon has made great men
of some of the most ordinary. Who could have been more ordinary than
Joseph Smith and some of his successors Brigham Young, John Taylor,
Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow, to name only a few? The Book of Mormon
transformed these ordinary men into great men who guided a most unlikely
fledgling movement through the most difficult of times and steered it
on the course to become what it is today.
The idea taught by Jesus that a bad tree does not bring forth good
fruit to me suggests merit in some apologists retreating from what I
consider to be a losing battle with scientists and historians. Rather,
I suggest they promote what I think could be a powerful offensive -
the Book of Mormon is accomplishing that for which it was intended.
Its history of success is almost unbelievable.
Optimism of Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith was an unaccomplished, uneducated youth who had not been
successful at anything, and he had no promising prospects for the future,
and then something happened. Something imbued him with a totally unrealistic
optimism. In my extensive study of the life of Joseph Smith I have not
found the slightest hint of this optimism ever faltering.
I spent 10 years daily in the Church Archives seeking all of the documents
related to Joseph Smith's life, and my educated conclusion is that the
optimism for the success of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration,
which he first demonstrated, continued throughout his life up to the
day of his death. His life and that of his family was in constant danger.
He lost two children to mob violence, was betrayed on a number of occasions
by some of his closest associates, saw half of the Church apostatize
in Missouri including the presidency of the Church in Missouri, the
three witnesses and five of the twelve apostles. Governor Boggs had
issued the Extermination Order - Mormons leave Missouri or be exterminated,
and Joseph Smith was incarcerated in the Liberty jail not knowing if
he would leave the jail alive. The prevailing prognosis broadcast widely
by the press in 1838 and 1839 saw Mormonism terminally ill, even on
its deathbed. I have barely begun to describe the dire circumstances.
Joseph Smith, in jail, knowing of the destitute saints fleeing, scattering,
apostatizing, suffering and dying, gave his startlingly optimistic prognosis:
"How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall
stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to
stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream,
as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven
upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints." (Liberty jail letter,
D&C 121:33, see also 122:1-7)
This defied all of the current wisdom, but is consistent with his claim
that he had the strength of knowing.
Further, the consensus of the news media throughout the first decade
of the Church was that this fraud was destined to quick failure. He
had never written anything yet his first writing venture was a hastily
written (less than 3 months) 600 page book filled with intricacies.
He had no financial means, and yet at a time when a typical press run
for books was in the 100 to 300 range, in his optimistic anticipation,
he proposed the publication of 5000. What unrealistic optimism. Of course
you know the story, the financing was found and the 5000 published were
gone in 5 years and to date more than 78,000,000 have been distributed,
millions of lives have been changed and we belong to a very good international
movement for world betterment through conversion to a unique form of
the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I have collected much material from primary documents demonstrating
Joseph Smith's incredibly unrealistic optimism throughout his life.
Doubt the Likelihood of Proof
While this lends support to my faith, I would not argue that this proves
that he was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is of Divine origin or
that the Church is true. Years ago I gave up the idea that we could
ever prove such things. We have no proof of the miracles of Moses or
Jesus. We have no proof of the Divine origin of anything in our Judeo/Christian
heritage, including the resurrection of Jesus. Why would I think that
we would succeed in proving Joseph Smith a prophet and the Church of
Divine origin through science and history? Underlying the quest of those
attempting to prove or disprove Book of Mormon historicity is the idea
that to do so proves or disproves that Joseph Smith was a prophet and
the truth claims of the Church.
I do believe that to prove the Book of Mormon is a translation of an
ancient history would virtually prove that it is of supernatural origin.
After all, the fact is that in 1829 there was no humanly possible means
for anyone to produce an accurate history of the ancient Americas. Even
if an ancient record were found, no one could have translated it. The
only rational conclusion is that to prove the Book of Mormon accurate
ancient history would indeed prove Joseph Smith obtained it through
supernatural means, since that would not have been possible by natural
means. And, for the first time ever, we would have impirical proof for
the claims of a prophet. I, along with all other LDS, would prefer such
unlikely impirical proof, but I consider the prospect unrealistic.
Athough less conclusive, but yet persuasive to me, is the fact that
Joseph Smith's unreasonable optimism is consistent with his claim that
an angel superintended the production of the Book of Mormon as the starting
point for a Divinely pastored movement which, regardess of the trials,
would succeed. He lived his life consistent with his claim that he had
been called of God to initiate the Restoration destined to take the
gospel message to every nation, tongue and people. No matter what Joseph
Smith encountered he had the strength of knowing, rendering his optimism,
SUMMARY OF ARGUMENTS
I touch briefly on the above points in hopes that you will understand
my perspective. For me the Book of Mormon's history is far more impressive
than any claims for its historicity. I believe that there is a much
better approach to defend the Book of Mormon. For me, taking the offense
is superior. The topic is popular and I have been asked about it frequently
in private and on my radio program. For the past decade when those with
doubts, critics and anti-Mormons have pressed me on the historicity
of the Book of Mormon, I have diverted them to the fact that it has
a most impressive history of doing that for which it was intended; that
the modern Church is the fruit of the Book of Mormon; and that there
is substantial agreement among many unbiased non-Mormons worldwide,
who have become familiar with Mormonism, that the fruit is good. I argue
that whatever the questions and doubts may be regarding Book of Mormon
historicity they pale in comparison to the history of the Book of Mormon's
Religious, not History
I assert that it has proven itself a great book, the purpose of which
is religious, not history. Religion is paramount; history is incidental.
When I am pressed to prove Book of Mormon historicity, I press back
requesting an explanation for its remarkable and unlikely history of
religious success. So far no one has even attempted an explanation.
I am certain that somewhere out there in the world of psychology there
is someone who could, and probably will, produce and atheistic explanation
for Book of Mormon success, as there are such atheistic explanations
for the success of Christianity. This approach seems so subjective and
speculative that it would have little if any affect upon LDS belief.
I would much prefer this battleground than the one upon which most apologists
insist. They are determined to take on the consensus of the leading
scientists and historians.
The purpose of the Book of Mormon is entirely religious - to promulgate
Christianity as a faith partially lost but restored through a prophet
in latter days. There is no suggestion in the Book of Mormon that its
purpose was to present ancient history, unknowable in 1830, later to
be confirmed by historical, archeological, anthropological or genetic
research to prove Joseph Smith's source could only have been God. Rather,
the title page declares the purpose of the Book of Mormon to be "to
the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the
Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations." This, with
Joseph Smith's well-known statement that the Book of Mormon "is
the keystone of our religion and a man can get closer to God by abiding
by its precepts than by any other book," make the point that the
purpose of the Book of Mormon is not historical, it is religious.
The conversion accounts of early members focus on their encounter with
the Book of Mormon through which they assert that they were moved by
God to join the restoration movement. I have not read a single account
which attributed conversion to a conviction that historicity questions
were in any way related to their conversion experience.
I stand in awe of the scientific world. Much of what I do daily is
based upon my confidence in science. Computers, communication, travel,
medicine; construction of buildings, highways and dams; the infrastructure
of our communities; our advances in understanding various animal species,
and our own bodies; space travel including the probe which has just
reached Saturn to study that system and return its findings to earth;
etc. etc. etc. - all are founded upon our great confidence in science.
To me it is ludicrous to rely so heavily upon science, even placing
our very lives and well-being in its hands, but then, when it comes
to findings regarding the ancient Americas, declare scientists either
disingenuous or ignoramuses. Our arena is religion. Science is a different
arena. Of course science has its limitations. It cannot answer the questions,
"Is there a God; has He communicated with man; does our being have
a past and future beyond this life?" and many others. It cannot
even explain what life and intelligence are. Religion addresses issues
Why not draw the discussion into our arena. We have a veritable mine
filled with resources and gems which give us the advantage in our arena.
Apologists, however, ignore this great mine and instead charge into
the scientific arena to fight with sling shots and pea shooters. As
you may guess, I think they are fighting a losing battle. We are losing
some members because of the prevalent penchant of our apologists to
insist that the merit of our faith hangs ultimately on Book of Mormon
historicity. I am comfortable with this position: While scientists,
historians and linguists find little or no evidence for Book of Mormon
historicity, whatever the Book of Mormon is, there is substantial support
for my belief that it came from God. This begs the question, "What
support?" leading the way directly into our arena.
When I am asked directly if I believe the Book of Mormon is a translation
of an ancient history, I typically answer that I do not find the arguments
for its historicity persuasive, but for me this is a non-issue. I believe
it is an authentic Divinely inspired book of scripture regardless of
whether it is history or an effective literary device using a seeming
historical narrative to teach religious principles. If it is a story
rather than history, it is a Divinely inspired story. I am convinced
that whatever the Book of Mormon is, it is the combined effort of God
and Joseph Smith. I see the substantial evidence of both.
This tiering of religious principle over history is nothing new. There
is substantial agreement among Biblical scholars, who have produced
a large body of books and articles demonstrating, with many examples,
that in the Judeo/Christian tradition, principle is paramount and history
is incidental. Many literary forms and devices were used with historical
flavoring to teach religious principles without particular regard for
Let me supply one quote. This is from James Moffatt, a highly respected
Biblical scholar of the last century, in his acclaimed book Approach
to the New Testament. He asserts that the minds of "many expositors
of Scripture... conspicuously lack that orientation which is an indispensable
preliminary to a right understanding of the treasures of Eastern thought."
He continues, quoting from another scholar, C.J. Ball:
"The Rabbi embodies his lesson in a story, whether parable or
allegory or seeming historical narrative, and the last thing he or
his disciples would think of is to ask whether the selected persons,
events and circumstances which so vividly suggest the doctrine are
in themselves real or fictitious. . . To make the story the first
consideration, and the doctrine it was intended to convey an afterthought,
as we, with our Western literalness, are predisposed to do, is to
reverse the Jewish order of thinking, and to do unconscious injustice
to the authors of many edifying narratives of antiquity."
I have no desire to change anything. I have no cause other than to
emphasize what I believe has always been the paramount view of the Book
of Mormon - it is not about history. It was not written to educate people
on ancient history. Its purpose is to change lives and bring those thus
changed together to cooperate in making an impact for good on the world
through their acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its restored
and progressive form. It has worked very well. I have five daughters.
The four who are married were all married in the temple and all are
active contributing members with their husbands and families. All five,
and their families, believe the Book of Mormon is a translation of an
ancient history, and do so with my endorsement and support. I believe
the Book of Mormon is far better read as a history. The stories and
images are more powerful and moving from this perspective. It is widely
recognized that messages clothed with with persons, events and circumstances
are more vivid and persuasive.
By way of crude comparison, I love movies and typically step into them
as an observer of events without the question, "Is this actual?"
To question the actuality of the events, looking for the wide variety
of flaws typical of critics, for me is the surest way to miss the impact
of the story. I am very fond of the movie "An American President."
It has strong historical flavoring throughout including many actual
current issues. While I watch this movie, the thought never crosses
my mind that Michael Douglas is not really the President and I am not
really watching events in the Oval Office or other rooms of the White
House. I saw an interview on the making of the movie and how they went
to great lengths to create a set in Hollywood that looked just like
the White House, paying great attention to detail. However, I am certain
that someone intimately familiar with the Oval Office, would be able
to detect inaccuracies in detail and recognize that it is a set. While
I would not discourage a person with this narrow focus on incidentals,
in fact I would actually find myself interested in a special on such,
but this focus would certainly distract from the power of the story.
Returning to the Book of Mormon, I would not discourage anyone from
looking in minute detail at the Book of Mormon, I have done so myself,
but I contend that to grasp the messages and ultimate intent of the
Book of Mormon it must be read through without considering the question,
"Is this history?" I further suggest that the admonition to
read the Book of Mormon "with real intent" does not refer
to the question of historicity - can we prove Joseph Smith was a prophet
and the Church is true by proving its historicity - but rather to the
question, "Is it of Divine origin, and does it speak to me spiritually?"
Candidly, no matter how much I have dissected the Book of Mormon, when
I read it without a scalpel in hand, the power with which it speaks
to my spirit still surprises me.
I am very fond of President Hinckley's comments in his February 2004
article in the Ensign:
"The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that
is prone to demand evidence, lies not in archaeology or anthropology,
though these may be helpful to some. It lies not in word research
or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory. The evidence
for its truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself.
The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God. Reasonable
people may sincerely question its origin; but those who have read
it prayerfully have come to know by a power beyond their natural senses
that it is true, that it contains the word of God, that it outlines
saving truths of the everlasting gospel, that it "came forth
by the gift and power of God … to the convincing of the Jew
and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ."
Further, Joseph Smith, in his last conference address, implied that
a reasonable person could be expected to find difficulty believing his
"No man knows my history. I cannot tell it: I shall never undertake
it. I don't blame any one for not believing my history. If I had not
experienced what I have, I could not have believed it myself."
(Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith, page 361)
I have no interest in dissuading anyone from believing the Book of
Mormon is a translation of an ancient history. When I have been asked
to give reasons for my doubts, except for two or three close friends,
I decline, or give only a vague response. I am not at all interested
in arguing against Book of Mormon historicity, but rather, I ignore
this issue or set it aside in favor of the approach I have outlined
above. I am convinced that there is merit is such an approach.
Some are leaving the Church because they do not find the arguments
for Book of Mormon historicity persuasive and are responding to the
argument of many LDS and non-LDS, that the Book of Mormon must be history
or it is a fraud. I believe that some in this state would not lose their
faith if they could entertain the thought that the Book of Mormon may
not be a history, but yet be of Divine origin. If they could consider
Pres. Hinckley's remark that "Reasonable people may sincerely question
its origin," recall that they have been touched and moved by the
Spirit during their encounter with the Book of Mormon, consider its
impressive history in contrast to its unlikely prospects in 1830, they
may be satisfied that, "It doth not yet appear what the Book of
Mormon may be, but I am persuaded that it is of God."
I know from a number of personal experiences that troubled members
have found solace in knowing that there is a faithful, believing member
who has considered the question of Book of Mormon historicity for some
30 years and yet finds ample reason, drawing from some of our core beliefs,
to believe that, whether it is history or not, the Book of Mormon is
Let me expand upon my reference to core beliefs. These are the beliefs
to which I refer: the Church is in its infancy; the Restoration is a
work in progress; and whatever God does is right, no matter what it
1. The Church is in its infancy.
That is, there is much for which we are not prepared, and thus there
is much which God has not yet revealed. The result is our belief in
continual and progressive revelation; progressive meaning line upon
line, or adding meat to milk to draw from well-known Biblical images.
Joseph Smith taught this frequently. Following is a small sampling:
The Lord deals with this people as a tender parent with a child,
communicating light and intelligence and the knowledge of his ways
as they can bear it. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page
It is not wisdom that we should have all knowledge at once presented
before us; but that we should have a little at a time; then we can
comprehend it. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 297)
And to them will I reveal ... all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom
from days of old, even the things of many generations ... And their
wisdom shall be great, ... and before them the wisdom of the wise
shall perish, ... I enlighten them, ... I make known unto them the
secrets of my will ... those things which eye has not seen, nor ear
heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man. (D&C 76:7-10)
It is my meditation all the day, and more than my meat and drink,
to know how I shall make the Saints of God comprehend the visions
that roll like an overflowing surge before my mind. Oh! how I would
delight to bring before you things which you never thought of. (History
of the Church 5:362)
...we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things
pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Article of Faith 9)
"Would to God that I had forty days and nights in which to tell
you all!" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 355)
Further, Joseph Smith declared that some of what God revealed to him,
which he had not divulged to the Church, would be so startling that
even faithful members would desert and turn to the ultimate hostility.
Many men will say, "I will never forsake you, but will stand
by you at all times." But the moment you teach them some of the
mysteries of the kingdom of God that are retained in the heavens and
are to be revealed to the children of men when they are prepared for
them they will be the first to stone you and put you to death. (Teachings
of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 309)
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints
prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some
of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly
to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to
their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. (Teachings of
the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 331)
My point here is that Joseph Smith gives us every reason to believe
that truths could be divulged which would suprise us. This principle
allows for the possibility that there are details pertaining to the
Book of Mormon, contrary to our tradition, which would startle members
of the Church even to the point of "flying to pieces." October
25, 1831, at a conference, Hyrum asked Joseph to give the details of
the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, but he "said that it was
not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth
of the Book of Mormon; and also said that it was not expedient for him
to relate these things." (History of the Church 1:220)
2. The Restoration is a work in progress.
The Church today differs in many ways from the Church of the 1830s,
not just in organization and practice, but even in some doctrinal beliefs.
Changing views on the Godhead is a prime example. In the 1830s Church
doctrine drew this contrast between the Father and the Son: "The
Father being a personage of spirit... The Son... a personage of tabernacle."
Further, the Holy Spirit was not viewed as a personage: "How many
personages are there in the Godhead? Two: the Father and the Son...
Do the Father and the Son possess the same mind? They do... What is
this mind? The Holy Spirit." This is the doctrine of Lecture on
Faith 5 canonized in the 1835 D&C and published in all editions
On several known occasions in the 1840s, Joseph Smith taught a different
view of the Godhead. The sources for this teaching remained quite obscure
until one, which was recorded in his diary by Willard Richards, was
added to the D&C in 1879 as section 130:22. It reads: "The
Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also;
but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage
of Spirit." The doctrine of the 1830s was supplanted, eventually,
by Joseph Smith's teachings of the 1840s.
Also, throughout the 19th century, Jehovah was viewed as the Father
and Jesus as the Son of Jehovah. This view is found in D&C 109,
a number of hymns, writings and sermons. In 1916 the Doctrinal Exposition
of the First Presidency and the Twelve reversed this, and throughout
the 20th century the predominant view of LDS sees Jesus as Jehovah,
rather than the son of Jehovah. My point is that the LDS movement is
a work in progress, and thus we are not so committed to an idea that
it could not be changed.
There are many other examples discussed by a number of our historians.
Joseph Smith stood firmly opposed to the claims prevalent among non-LDS
Christians that all true doctrine was set in stone at the conclusion
of the 1st century AD, never to be added to, modified, adapted or superceded.
He rejected the idea of producing a creed explaining:
"I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things;
but the creeds set up stakes, and say, 'Hitherto shalt thou come,
and not further;' which I cannot subscribe to." (History of the
To this day we have not produced a creed.
While I certainly do not consider it my place to advocate any changes
in the Church, the precedent is well established, both in principle
and practice, for future changes in Church emphasis, tradition and even
doctrine. I appeal to this principle in the context of this discussion
to suggest that the door is open for the Church's view of the Book of
Mormon to develop along another path than our past tradition.
There is strong urging by FARMS at BYU for a view of the Indians,
the location of Cumorah and the location of Book of Mormon events in
the Americas which differs substantially from our traditional views.
While I do not endorse this approach to the Book of Mormon, it has gained
some significant support among faithful, thoughtful LDS students and
scholars creating an environment where scholarly pursuit of answers
to current issues may entertain non-traditional concepts. To me this
3. Whatever God does is right.
At the core of our beliefs is the conviction that God has the prerogative
to conduct affairs as He chooses. There are many obvious examples in
the Judeo/Christian/LDS tradition. In a letter
on plural marriage Joseph Smith acknowledged this principle. He
"God said, 'Thou shalt not kill;' at another time He said, 'Thou
shalt utterly destroy.' This is the principle on which the government
of heaven is conducted - by revelation adapted to the circumstances
in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires
is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason
thereof till long after the events transpire." (History
of the Church, Vol. 5, p.134-136)
When I was a missionary Isaiah 55:8, 9 was a passage we read in one
of the discussions:
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways
my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
(Isaiah 55:8, 9)
I have found that people who believe in God, when pressed, are reluctant
to claim that they know what God would or would not do. I could turn
to many Biblical dilemmas for those who would claim otherwise.
The Bible is filled with a wide assortment of literary devices used
to convey religious ideas. Such devices or forms include: poetry, proverbs,
metaphor, parable, hyperbole, stories and seeming historical narrative.
There have been many articles and volumes written on the Biblical use
of literary devices. Consider such books as Job, Jonah, Ezekiel, Psalms,
Proverbs, Daniel, the Gospels, the book of Revelation. These represent
many of the well-known literary tools used in our religious tradition.
To assert that God would not employ a lengthy extended use of a well-known
and widely used literary form; that is, a seeming historical narrative,
to effect and promote His religious purposes, does not impress me at
all. Jesus used parables to provide for different levels of understanding
among the people. He explained his use of parables to his disciples:
"You have been permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom
of Heaven, but others have not. To those who are open to my teaching,
more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance
of knowledge. But to those who are not listening, even what they have
will be taken away from them. That is why I tell these stories, because
people see what I do, but they don't really see. They hear what I
say, but they don't really hear, and they don't understand."
(Matthew 13:11-13, New Living Translation)
Jesus used stories to provide an avenue for those who are open to his
teaching, those with real intent, to receive more understanding, be
spiritually edified, even understand Divine secrets, while those who
are closed will not be thus edified.
Portions of the four books of the LDS canon include unquestioned historical
material, some in the Bible, a large percentage of the D&C and a
portion of the PGP. There is convincing evidence that portions of the
text tell of people, places and events which are historical. But, there
is also a significant portion of the Bible and the Book of Mormon for
which, currently, there is little or no historical support. In the Bible
consider such books as Genesis, Job and Jonah. It is interesting to
me that the Book of Mormon, which I consider non-history, has been far
more powerful in the conversion to, and the promulgation of, our faith
than has the D&C, which is almost entirely unquestioned historically.
Non-history has been more persuasive and powerful than history. But,
then, thoughtful people are well aware of this fact. In the art of persuasion
many tools are used far more often and far more effectively than factual
unembellished history or science. Advertising, sales, politics and various
causes are all examples we encounter many times every day. In our legal
system, where we supposedly value facts, those with any experience,
know that historical fact often has little to do with the outcome of
a trial. A very common technique is to provide a story and make it seem
as real as possible. Billions of dollars are spent every year to clothe
ideas in such a way that we forget, overlook or never even think to
ask, Is this history? In many contexts historicity simply is not relevant
I hope that my point is obvious. The more we consider our human nature,
the less offensive it seems that God would employ a literary tool, rather
than history, to accomplish His purposes. The Book of Mormon has worked.
It is remarkable how well it is doing that for which it was published.
If it had not worked, if a few initially believed, but the Restoration
died out, my point here would seem weak, but then, if that were the
case, there would be no need for me to be writing my statement. Why
would God inspire the Book of Mormon as He did. My suggestion: He knew
our human nature, and thus knew it would work.
In conclusion, when these ideas are considered, I see ample room to
believe that our understanding of the Book of Mormon may be in its infancy.
I find strong reason for those who have been moved spiritually by the
Book of Mormon and cherish their faith, experience and life style in
the Church to ignore the challenges to Book of Mormon historicity long
enough to consider other avenues which may validate the Book of Mormon
for them as they have for me. I was fortunate in that I became immersed
in the study of our history and its founders at a young age and was
able to spend thousands of hours in various libraries and archives including
much time in the Church archives. This faith promoting foundation was
laid before I tackled the Book of Mormon historicity issues. I have
great confidence in the disciplines of science and history and show
much respect for their findings. I also have great confidence in my
in faith the Book of Mormon and the Church it has built. This confidence
is the fruit my aggressive personal life-long quest to search and analyze
our history, that should believe, my ultimate leap of faith would be
Van Hale, February 6th, 2005
Official Church Statements on the Historicity of the Book of Mormon