All scripture is literature. Whatever any religion claims, believes, or teaches about their holy book(s) and how it was received, this is still true for all religions. Ironically, however, it is forgetting this universal truth that often separates the believers from the skeptics, and causes some to believe in books they ordinarily wouldn’t have had they approached it from a literary perspective.
The more outlandish or obscure its claims of origin, the more misleading a holy book will be unless one is constantly aware of this truth. The Qur’an claims oral dictation by God through a single prophet; the Book of Mormon claims to be an ancient record divinely translated by Joseph Smith; the Urantia Book claims to have been transmitted to a group of mystics by celestial beings. Such lofty claims successfully convince the followers of these religions that their sacred text is exceptional, but these claims fall short when the text is analyzed using the simple methodology applicable to all literature. The reality is that a holy book that makes more down-to-earth claims about its origins, like admitting human authorship, is far more believable than a text that tries too hard to make supernatural claims.
When examining the Book of Mormon, it’s really unnecessary to question it on the basis of its claims of origin. Critics sometimes spend far too much time focusing on the methods of Joseph Smith’s use of seer stones as a form of divination or black magic. While these criticisms have their validity, obviously those already inclined to believe the Book of Mormon as a literal, historical account of a group of Jews in America will accept whatever means it was transmitted as valid. The critics most often resort to challenging its claims through archeology, and even though there is no evidence to support the historicity of any persons, places, events, or cultures described in the Book of Mormon , this tactic still ultimately fails to discourage the faithful. All Mormon faith revolves around the Book of Mormon, and until Mormons are faced with the literary reality of this text within their own paradigm, all other arguments are futile.
So what is it about the Mormon perception of divine revelation that is irreconcilable with the literary content of the Book of Mormon? In this blog I plan to cover a textual analysis of the Book of Mormon in a fresh, new way, that goes beyond the anachronisms, edits, and plagiarized passages that can already be found all over the internet.
If you haven’t already checked out the aforementioned South Park episode, I highly recommend it as a more accurate presentation than the official LDS version of history. This blog will assume this very basic understanding of Mormon history, even though if you can believe it, South Park was still more sympathetic and merciful than they even had to be (for instance, the show doesn’t mention that Joseph Smith didn’t even need to have the alleged plates in the same room with him to “translate” them).
Next: I’ll be covering the oldest surviving Mormon text, which isn’t even in the Book of Mormon. Stay tuned, and remember: all scripture is literature.