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What are they doing proclaiming Christ?

August 5, 2009

This post will be somewhat irreverent, so you have been warned.

After I finished The Unvarnished New Testament, I moved on in my literary adventure. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to satiate my thirst for an authoritative easy-to-read edition of the Book of Mormon — it seems that no one up in the head leadership of the church fancies that that would be a great idea.

Timothy Wilsons Conservative modernization

Timothy Wilson's Conservative modernization

But all was not lost! for I was able to find several not-quite-so-authoritative projects of similar scope. I went for Timothy Wilson’s A Plain English Reference to the Book of Mormon.

Gaus really spoiled me with the Unvarnished New Testament, because it was incredibly easy-going to read. (So I scoff at projects to read in a year! [j/k, the only reason I’m getting stuff done so quickly now is because summer has become rather boring…it’s odd that reading literature is the most appealing thing around…]) And so, I thought I was in for a let-down as I began to read Wilson’s BoM.

I haven’t finished with it, but I can say, being through Alma 27, that even though I felt I was let down *at first*, I actually am not. Or at least Wilson isn’t letting me down.

And so here is one of my conclusions: The Book of Mormon is just not really fun writing.

This has given me the strange side effect of looking through several angles — the work that Wilson has done to ease things up, the way the original (or rather, the extant translation) reads, and also the goals of the text (whether they are goals of Joseph’s [for apostates who don’t believe it is an authentic document] or goals of the various narrators.)

The Book of Mormon is incredibly didactic…and I’m not a fan. Everything has a moral, and the narrators will drum it in several times. First, an anecdote from the narrator. Then, a reference to scripture/doctrine/whatever. Then, a “historical” event that just so happens to illustrate the moral. Someone will get zapped, probably. And of course, the characters will spell things out several times along the way.

So, of course, Nephi, for whatever reason, feels it is appropriate to…copypasta chapters upon chapters of Isaiah. Ugh. No matter what Wilson does, he can’t make this better. Because it is Isaiah itself which is muddling. And Nephi tries to interpret the words (so, through reading the Book of Mormon, I suppose you get “insight” on how it’s supposed to be read — and if you believe it is revelation rather than exegesis, even better!)

I wondered…why do this? Why go through all this effort to relay Isaiah? And then “foretell” of Christ? And then illustrate rather tame Christian concepts (this actually seems like something any Protestant could accept without sneezing) repeatedly?

And in the end, I came up with a second irreverent conclusion: the Book of Mormon is a primer for legitimizing the movement.

It is repeated so much and the thought recurred to me so much that when I said it, I KNEW it. I was very incredulous of the very setup — my persisting question was: What are a bunch of very pre-Christian Jews doing preaching and believing in Christ so hard? What are the Nephites doing proclaiming Christ? Who are these guys to do this? It never seemed plausible.

And then I realized THAT’S why there was so much didacticism necessary. Nephi extensively quotes (and interprets) Isaiah to give legitimacy to his cause. “See, future reader, I know your scripture too! Hark!” And not only does he try to reach out to us, but he reaches out to himself and others. (However, I think the numerous criticisms of prophecies of Christ [which are then rebuked by the speaker du jour of course!] are weak and unconvincing. It seems like more people would be asking, “Why the heck are we believing this?” than the selected villains of the week.)

When Isaiah doesn’t give him eneough, he and others aren’t afraid of pulling out Zenos or Zenock to cover the gap. So, these utterly un-Christian people are “faking” it, yet they are “making it.”

And so, I got this most irreverent thought… What if Mormons are doing the same? These utterly un-Christian people are “faking” it, but through their “faking” (and their comprehensive justification through appeals to scripture, example, parable, revelation, spiritual experience, and so on), they actually make it.

But how well does each effort work? Well, for me, even after reading, I don’t feel inclined to believe. Prayers are still silent. The whole affair seems less credible, not more. But despite all of that, I say, whatever this is about, it is dedicated.

The same holds true for Mormons today, I think. Whatever these people are, they are dedicated. Yet, it doesn’t incline everyone to take them any more seriously. Yet…that dedication…everyone should keep an eye on it, for even if it doesn’t convince us, it might have something to it.

(I’m not arguing that Mormons aren’t Christian. But I am saying that even if one isn’t convinced they are, one can see they are doing some demonstrably effective things.)

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17 Comments
  1. A friend of mine once asked Elder Eyring why a ‘plain english’ translation of the Book of Mormon was not available. Eyring told him that the plans for one had been in the works, but it had been canned because they decided that the Church culture would not accept it.

    I personally do not want to see a ‘plain english’ Book of Mormon officially produced by the Church. With the Bible it is damned near impossible to translate the ancient texts (and decided which texts are authoritative) without coloring the translation with a specific theology and interpretation in mind. With the Book of Mormon we don’t have an original available – rather – the original manuscript (and printer’s manuscript) is our original text. Because I tend to have very different interpretations and understandings of the Book of Mormon text, and find many of the popular (and correlation-approved) interpretations quite wrong, I don’t want to see an authorized ‘plain english’ translation of the Book of Mormon as it would essentially standardized and cement bad interpretations of the scripture.

  2. My mother had a reading comprehension disorder. She could handle something like the New Living Translation of the Bible, but she could not handle archaic English like the KJV and BoM. The missionaries repeatedly tried to give her a copy of the Book of Mormon and she would always turn them down saying she wouldn’t be able to read it. I’m not sure she would have been that interested in Mormonism anyways, but I’ve always found it sad that the church won’t produce an “NIV” Book of Mormon to be accessible to people like my mom.

    I always found all the Christ-preaching in the pre-Christian section of the Book of Mormon rather jarring, and I especially found the presence of the Gift of the Holy Ghost jarring. The New Testament states pretty clearly that the GofHG wasn’t given until Christ was glorified (John 7:39). I’ve heard the apologetics for it, but the sense that Smith simply wasn’t in tune with what the Bible said on it when he wrote it has never really gone away, and now Mormons are stuck insisting that those things existed in OT times when the only evidence for it is their own extra-biblical scriptures.

  3. FireTag permalink

    Andrew:

    I am curious about your comments on “faking it” and “making it”. Clearly, you have expressed yourself very well why it doesn’t “make it” for you. But what led the church to “make it” with your ancestors (of how ever many generations ago) in the first place? That might be a clue about why it was and, for many people, still is effective.

  4. re Loyd:

    I could TOTALLY see that being the case, with massive backlash toward a plain English version. I mean, not only is the pseudo-Jacobean kinda endearing after all these years, but also, people go crazy whenever there are even tiny changes to grammar and spelling in the BoM…so a new edition would appear just that much more suspect to both members and nonmembers.

    Because we don’t have the ancient texts, this is why I kinda agree with you in a way — at least with the Bible, we *can* turn to the ancient texts and y translator can say to x translator, “HEY, this is biased,” (and of course, x translator would rebut against y translator). I think looking at a breadth of perspectives, however, is like recombining all the colors that once were split by prism.

    :/ So yeah, I (reluctantly) have to agree because we can’t do that with the BoM. Wow, how defeating, lol.

    re Jack:

    That is a sad story indeed. What’s even sad is I know people who have said (in similar situations) things like, “Well, if you’re faithful, the Lord will help you comprehend.” or “The Lord will not give the saints more than they can bear, so the scriptures shouldn’t be a problem.” argh!

    I have gotten a bit of the same sense. I’ve “gotten over” many of the physical anachronisms (those really aren’t important), but the spiritual anachronisms give me a lot more pause.

  5. re FireTag:

    Well, my dad has rather idiosyncratic beliefs. So, to say he is traditionally Christian (though he grew up in variety of traditionally Christian denominations [although even this is suspect, his childhood family and friends are split between Baptists and Pentecostals but also Jehovah’s Witnesses, so…]) might be stretching it. When he discusses things about the church that appeal, they usually are the radical, strange things. It’s not because it “makes it” as Christian (although of course, he believes it is Christian too).

    So, I don’t feel comfortable making the generalization from someone as weird as my father, but if I had to, I’d say something like this: Joseph Smith (or, to take a faithful bent, the Lord) was planning/hoping on people in the latter day who would be familiar with the Bible, or at least familiar enough with the core themes, yet possible bored/disaffected with the current churches. This would allow them to read the Book of Mormon and say, “Oh, ok, Isaiah, I recognize that guy. Oh, ok, these Nephites seem to be preaching what I know about Christ. Oh, the Holy Ghost, I know that dude.” (the backlash could be someone like Jack, who would say, “Wait a minute, I know the Holy Ghost, and he couldn’t have been here…”) So, because of this, the Book of Mormon “makes it” to people who have a traditional Christian background (from most anti-Mormon arguments I see, I feel they haven’t read the Book of Mormon but are *guessing* at what it says, because the BoM is REALLY tame/disappointing when it comes to core LDS doctrines).

    And from making it there, it legitimizes other things. “So you believe in the BoM? Well, the fact that Joseph Smith translated it legitimizes modern day prophecy, and look at what Smith has said now?” And then, over time, LDS doctrine develops and become more interesting (which is appealing in and of itself, but also more and more bifurcated from the Book of Mormon itself and from traditional Christian doctrine).

    So, that seems to me why it has made it. To express in Book of Mormon terms: Nephi relies on the people being familiar with their scripture and Prophets (Isaiah, “Zenos,” “Zenock,” etc.,) and then uses that to legitimize belief in Christ (which, at that time, probably should have seemed as strange as Mormon beliefs can sound). As time goes on, other Book of Mormon narrators have to appeal to different things (because the separation of the Nephites and Lamanites from the Jews makes them [somewhat] less Jewish). Ammon has to appeal to Lamoni’s “Great Spirit,” and so on.

  6. FireTag permalink

    Well, yes, I see how an openness to wierd ideas would make one more receptive to the BofM. I come from a scientific tradition that has as one of its “legends” one famous physicist telling another “Your ideas are crazy, sir, but probably not crazy enough!”

    Usually, the wierd ideas are wrong. Sometimes they turn out to be right. Determining which is which is how we make progress and a good part of the fun.

  7. Whoops. It’s not really openness to weird ideas that make one more receptive to the BofM. Rather, it’s a familiarity with the standard Christian ideas (but perhaps, not too familiar to nitpick). (Again, the BofM is rather tame. Unless people want to continue with arguments like, “B…but it’s not the New testament!” I don’t see how people indict the whole of the religion based on it alone)

    Rather, openness to weird ideas makes one receptive to the rest of Mormonism.

  8. FireTag permalink

    Well, maybe, but my whole denomination comes from people who swallowed the BofM, but shortly thereafter said, “Hold it right there, bub.”

    And my ideas remain very wierd, true to the faith of my physicist forefathers, even if I am not yet “justified” in believing them. :>)

  9. And of course, the Community of Christ appears rather different now because of what happened long ago . I probably still have a lot of off “preconceptions” about how close or distinct the CoC is from the CoJCoL-dS, but it appears that many criticisms of the L-dS church wouldn’t even appear for the CoC (especially the old historical stuff…Adam-God theory? never has been a problem for the CoC. PoGP? Also never been a problem. Trinity? Not a problem. And so on.)

    So I wonder if it weren’t for the “special” stuff of the L-dS like exaltation, the Pearl of Great Price, etc., if my dad would even have been interested in the church (e.g., if he met a CoCer instead of an L-dS missionary)?

    • FireTag permalink

      That’s OK. I’m still getting constantly shocked by how much things like the anthropological concept of God in the LDS church affects behavioral norms, and how strict the LDS are about taking actions against people who do not follow those norms.

      But please spell out Bloggernacle acronyms sometimes for the new guy!

      • oh, haha. CoC = Community of Christ. CoJCoL-dS = Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (although I missed an o and usually I don’t use any). It’s just a way to separate, since technically, “Mormon church” isnt specific enough (even if CoCers don’t formally take “ownership” of that nickname). PoGP = Pearl of Great Price.

        Others you may see (uh, which ones do you want to know?) = TBM = True believing/blue Mormon, NOM = New Order Mormon (for liberal, Mormon types — the CoC were the very first NOMs, lol), BIC = Born in Covenant (referring to children born in the church to parents married and sealed in the temple…geez, I guess CoC doesn’t even have temple sealings? YOU GUYS ARE SO FOREIGN!). DAMU = Disaffected Mormon Underground (for ex-Mormon types)

        uhhh…instead of me just shotgunning, can you find some acronyms you don’t know the meanings of?

      • FireTag permalink

        Thanks, Andrew. I wouldn’t have had a clue about BIC, DAMU, or NOM.

        We customarily acronym ourselves as CofChrist rather than CofC — it’s a reverence thing — but even many of our own members don’t follow that practice, so its no big thing.

        No, we do not seal marriages in the Temple. There are no special temple rites; we encourage the temple’s use by non-members, and I think there’s still a “virtual tour” of the whole yemple complex available at the CofChrist.org website.

      • OK, that makes sense. I think the reason we simply so shortly is because things just get really long any way. Most people wouldn’t even use the full “CoJCoL-dS”…they’d just use LDS, Mormon, the Church. So, I guess pithiness is placed higher than reverence (that sounds bad)

  10. now I feel like I need to research the CoC more

  11. Awkward writing style also works well as evidence of a foreign culture and language.

    As someone who has tried to translate Japanese to English before, I can tell you, the two just don’t jive that well. It leads to a lot of awkwardness. You can see a lot of this in early anime, when the budget for script translation and conversion was very low.

    With modern anime scripts, you almost have to rewrite large parts of the script, and totally abandon any pretense of an accurate word-for-word translation in favor of just conveying the meaning in an attractive way.

    It’s exactly what I did when I translated director Hayao Miyazaki’s masterworks back in the 90s before Disney did their professional dubbing and subtitle jobs. I just chucked any delusions of a faithful translation and rewrote whole sections to convey the general plot and gist of the dialogue.

  12. Bonus post so I can get the email subscription I forgot to check in the previous post.

  13. most certainly, Seth. (Especially toward Japanese -_-). But that’s why most formal translators, when translating, would take the time to put it in proper grammar/terms of the target language. And if you get a really good one, you get localization as well (of course, sometimes, you want the original culture, not a localized one.)

    But then again, Joseph Smith, not a formal translator…would not have known that? But then again, with the seer-stone/hat thing, would he have needed to?

    But then again (again), Joseph Smith’s translation is known in other cases (Abraham) to be more of inspiration anyway. So, we really don’t have too many analogous cases here.

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