Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference Presentation

I was invited to deliver a presentation to the above named conference, and attempted to use modern-day technology to do so, but found my plans thwarted.

Here is the presentation in full:

The Bible and its restoration of a stumbling block

One of the ironies of the Book of Mormon is that its translator and his scribe often misunderstood what the text says.  The term “restoration,” for example is clearly defined by Alma and others as something far greater than the bringing back of some Christian church, imaginatively pulled from the pages of the New Testament.  Restoration of the House of Israel is a bringing back of it to God, and this happens by the restoration of knowledge concerning his covenants and his mercy from the Creation on down to this afternoon.

The Restoration was a term from the Book of Mormon, defined there clearly, and describing most generally something like karma: that which you send out will come back to you, to your condemnation or salvation, if one’s ways have been merciful or unjust.

Six months after that book was published, however, a loose group of Restorationists affiliated with Alexander Campbell and his friend, Sidney Rigdon, were gathered on the farm of Isaac Morley outside Kirtland, Ohio.  They were living what they thought was Christian communism, a distinct part of their attempt to restore the ancient order of things.  Campbell and Rigdon did not practice community of goods, however, and sometimes argued over its restoration.

150 of these disciples, as they were called, were rebaptized by one of their own, Parley Pratt, who brought them the Book of Mormon, and speaking of a ‘New covenant’ which he did not, however, define.  This group called themselves “the family,” and referred to each other as “disciple,” or “brother” or “sister,” and belonged like another church from New York legally organized in April of 1830, to the general Church of Christ.

When Pratt offered to rebaptize these disciples, he did not baptize them into Mormonism, or the Mormon Church.  Neither of these existed yet as concepts or terms.  He baptized them, as one non-LDS historian then present later tells it, “unto miracles.”  Had they thought they were joining Pratt’s church, they would’ve been named followers or disciples of Christ, and their congregation yet another Church of Christ.  There was no change in offices, names, or churches in this rebaptism.   So what was Pratt doing?  He brought the Book of Mormon as a sign of the renewal of the Day of Miracles, that now miracles had been restored, and thus the New Testament Church was nearly fully restored.  Sidney Rigdon argued with Pratt over his authority, as some Mormon historians tell it.  But the matter of authority concerned his right to baptize “unto miracles,” which Rigdon regarded as being bestowed by the Holy Ghost, imparted by the laying on of hands.

By the time Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, he found the same organization that existed among the disciples before Pratt rebaptized them: Rigdon claimed the office of bishop, and there were elders, deacons, and teachers.  These were the offices defined by Alexander Campbell as strictly biblical, and part of the restoration of ancient things, as was baptism for the remission of sins, and the newly discovered “plan of salvation,” preached by Rigdon’s companion, Walter Scott, which had faith, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost as all that was necessary to obtain salvation, and to restore the true church.  Obviously nearly everything we think is Mormonism actually came from Alexander Campbell and his preachers, and they brought their biblical ideas into the Book of Mormon.

So, whatever the Book of Mormon said about the House of Israel, and its restoration to knowledge by the revelation of two currently hidden books, by late 1830 the term was redefined to mean what Christian tradition had meant for several centuries: the application of terms taken from the New Testament to describe one’s life, one’s family relations, roles like sinner and saint; and all the hierarchies and metaphysics of power which we now find ourselves subjected to in Mormonism.

When the Christian tradition of Restoration was taken by Rigdon and the Family into the Church of Christ formed by Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith, the entire reading of the Book of Mormon became determined by the very tradition two personages had described as “All Wrong,” full of Creeds declared abominations by God.  Yet before its first year was over, the Book of Mormon found itself confronted with the Great Stumbling Block.

What is the problem?

The Vision of Nephi found in First Nephi has an angel telling Nephi about a book which will go forth to all nations, and this book is a corruption of a text that once contained the testimony of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and many prophecies and covenants relating to the past and future of mankind.  This book the angel names The Book of the Lamb, and it comes to us as The Holy Bible.

The angel explains to Nephi that the corruptions happened not by accident, but in order to harden the hearts and blind the eyes of men, to bring them into unbelief, and ultimately into the captivity of the Devil.  So, the Book of Mormon begins with a claim about the bible: that it has brought all nations, as Nephi later prophecies, into captivity.  These nations are those he addresses when he warns about proclaiming that “all is well in Zion.”  It is not that all is not well in Zion, but that those who say are not, in fact, in Zion: they are in the Kingdom of the Devil, which must shake in order to awaken those souls brought into his captivity.  The Book of Mormon is the first alarm.

Yet when it was sounded in 1830, the translator and his scribe seemingly endorsed the Bible, and the Christian project of restoration of a bible-based church.  While Cowdery seems to have been as much a Restorationist as Sidney Rigdon, Alexander Campbell, and John Knox were, Joseph Smith was not so much interested in the restoration of the Church, as he was in bringing back the House of Israel, by restoring to them knowledge which was removed from the Book of the Lamb, and replaced by the silly tales and violence and power-plays now read inside the pages of the Christian bible.

When Joseph Smith gathered the disciples of Christ to a first conference of the Church of Christ, he read to them Oliver Cowdery’s Articles of the Church, and then read, ironically, from the book of Ezekiel, chapter 14.  It is full of subtle things, which we must understand if we are to understand Joseph Smith, and how the heavenly priesthood works, in contrast the Gentile one, which we can represent as coming from Sidney Rigdon, a man who was said to perform “a great work in the land, even among the Gentiles, for their folly and their abominations shall be made manifest in the eyes of all people.”  Indeed, Rigdon’s Restoration, and his bringing to Joseph Smith things taken from Campbell, like three grand orders of priesthood, and the restoration of primitive Christianity, continues to show the foolishness and abominations of we Gentiles, who insist that priesthood is the power that makes miracles.  It continues to be a great work.

Yet to  Rigdon the Lord make it clear, after the “great work,”  that it is by faith that miracles, signs and wonders occur, “unto all those who believe on my name.”  D&C35.  All the things now attributed to the priesthood, were described to Rigdon, called the walking bible, as the effects of faith.35:11 “But without faith shall not anything be shown forth except desolations upon Babylon, the same which has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”

When joseph Smith gathered the church of Christ in June 1830 he gave them, out of the bible of the Gentiles, these word:

CHAPTER 14

1 Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me.

2 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

3 Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?

4 Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols;

5 That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols.

6 ¶ Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.

7 For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to enquire of him concerning me; I the LORD will answer him by myself:

8 And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.

9 And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the LORD have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.

10 And they shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him;

11 That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord GOD.

The Bible he read from was that Idol, the stumbling block of iniquity which has continued to bring men into captivity, and over the history of the book of Mormon, that text has been subjected to its evil purpose to blind the eyes and harden the hearts of men.

So, we must reimagine the Book of Mormon completely outside Christian tradition, and outside our definitions inherited from their bible.

The following is but a beginning:

Notice that the Garden of Gethsemane, the keystone of the LDS Church’s expansion of St.Anselm’s notion of atonement as vicarious sacrifice, that the garden is not mentioned in the entire book of Mormon.  Moreover, just as restoration is defined differently in that book from how Christian tradition has it defined, so is the term atonement.  Thus, our very experience with Christ is determined by the creeds he or his friends declared abominations.

Note that the tower of Babel is also not in the book of Mormon, although it was added to an introduction to the Book of Ether in 1879 by Orson Pratt.  When we locate the Jaredites inside biblical tradition, we inherit the bible scholars chronology, and folk tales, and this has done great damage to our understanding of the Jaredites.

Notice that our theory of the godhead is not very clearly discovered in the book of Momron, except as we rationalize away the clear statements where Jesus says he is the Father and the Son, as does Alma, Amulek, Abinadi, and the Brother of Jared.  So it appears that our theology comes not from the Book of Mormon, but from Christian traditions declared all wrong.

So why didn’t Joseph Smith fix everything, and explain how the bible as read by Restorationists is a work of evil, designed to captivate souls and bring them down to hell?  If we return to that passage from Ezekiel, chapter 14, it is clear that the prophet cannot speak but through the idols set up before men’s faces.

We have set up the bible, and continue to do so; and the fruit of it is the Corporation of the President, with all its hierarchies, biblical offices, and boastings about restoration of the church.  All of this we inherited from a tradition declared all wrong, and all of this has, over the course of nearly two centuries, been carefully integrated into our imaginations, so that when we read the Book of Mormon, we seldom see what is on the page, but instead our imaginations have been colonized by the bible, and by the structure and hierarchy we realize every Sunday, as we interact one with another.  Church, in other words, is but a flaxen cord leading us into captivity, and the Book of Mormon has been for too long subject to false traditions and idols, stumbling blocks of iniquity.

It is long past time for we Gentiles, to whom the Book of Mormon was prophecied to come, in order to show us the mercies of God, to realize that he is, and we are, not as the Bible describes.  When we received that book, we declared ourselves the House of Israel, and the restored Christian church as well, confusing the entire narrative, and blocking our understanding of what our role is in the history of the world.  If the bible is corrupted, we have no reason to believe we know anything about the House of Israel, nor the Promised Land, nor Moses nor even who these twelve apostles of the Lamb are.  When we remove the bible from our imaginations, we find that the Book of Mormon is a wonderland, and there is a vast landscape we know nothing about, because we’ve been using the wrong map.

The book of Mormon came to us, not so that we can build a fake church we pretend is just like the one in the New Testament, but so that our hearts might open, and we can believe in the One High God:  When the people at Bountiful prayed to the One High God, who appeared and blessed them?  It was Jesus.

With a reimagined reading of the Book of Mormon, liberated from the chains of the Christian bible, we can look forward to a good future not the Apocalypse: with new revelations from the Brass Plates and restoration of the Book of the Lamb, and with these new revelations, we Gentiles will actually find the remnant, those lost Lamanites once thought to be Indians, then this group, and now that group (depending on baptism rates rising among census populations).  When we find that small remnant, then the work of the Father will begin, a marvelous work and a wonder.

Until then we remain in the day of wickedness and abominations, having set up idols and stumbling blocks before our faces, and insisting that the Prophet will tell us all things necessary to our salvation.  We are in captivity, and it began with the Bible, and it will end when we free our minds from the bible, everytime we read the Book of Mormon.

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13 thoughts on “Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference Presentation

    1. day2mon says:

      Joseph makes a comment in a letter to W.W. Phelps, which is never referenced in those who proclaim that Joseph endorsed his own translation. In sustance, he says the Lord told him never to release the translation in his lifetime. Not coincidentally, the day before Phelps planned on printing a New Testament with the Book of Commandments and the Book of Mormon, a mob ransacked the building, and destroyed the press. Not unlike our bible story, of the Lord inspring Assyrians to destroy the Kingdom of Israel, or Babylone to take over Jerusalem, perhaps. Yes, I think that is why the translation fell apart, and become little more than an fixing of thee and thou and some minor spelling changes.

  1. spektator says:

    Daymon,
    It is interesting to consider the opening words of the title page of the Book of Mormon.

    “Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—”

    So… the book was writtern to the Lamanites who are the remnant of the house of Israel, to the Jews, and to the Gentiles. It is obvious that the house of Israel is not one of the choices yet for many years, the members have assumed that erroneous position.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. JH says:

    During an address to the Relief Society, Joseph also read Ezekiel 14, offered up an interpretation, and stated that it applied to the then present state of the people of the church. He reportedly sited their negligence of duty and their envy of the innocent and virtuous as the cause for their darkened minds and unrighteous dependence on him. (Beware of Excessive Zeal, “Teachings of the Prophet Joesph Smith”, Section Five 1842-43, p.237)

  3. tyler says:

    I was wondering if you consider 2 Ne 29 a prophecy about the coming forth of the Book of the Lamb or is it merely talking about the Book of Mormon coming forth? The reason I ask is because, the prophesy in chapter 29 comes after the Gentiles proclaim “all is well in Zion” and “Zion prospereth”(2 Ne 28:21-26).Also due to the fact that Nephi has already addressed the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in 2 Ne 27. So could 2 Ne 29 be talking about the coming forth of the Book of the Lamb as forseen by Nephi in 1 Ne 13:38?

    1. day2mon says:

      I think your suggestion is right, that it is not the BoM, but the Book of the Lamb which comes to remedy the current situation, described by Nephi.

    1. day2mon says:

      Not really. The story was interpreted to fit a theology carried by Pratt and Rigdon, with God the Father and God the Son being preached in contrast to Trinitarianism.

  4. TryTheSpirits says:

    The Book of Mormon is 19th century FICTION. The Bible is at least an historical collection of ancient texts. Therefore, it IS a stumbling block to the Book of Mormon.

    1. day2mon says:

      by “historical collection of ancient texts” you apparently mean, non-fiction? Of course, ancient texts couldn’t be fiction, right? Age must make it true, apparently. And by putting the term fiction in caps, you not only make your argument absolutely true, but also no longer need to define what you mean by fiction, how you know any particular text to be so, and how it is you know the BoM is fiction, also. Bakhtin and Peirce couldn’t come to any definition of fiction, any way of knowing something was fiction versus non-fiction, if they relied only the text itself. But you apparently have solved their dilemma, good work!

      I do agree, the BoM is the stumbling block to the Bible, although so is academic scholarship like archaeology, literary criticism, physics, history … Whatever you say about the BoM can be multiplied ten-fold against the Bible, as atheists in 1830 were bright enough to recognize. I suggest you read something other than your own interpretation of the Bible.

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