Reading Project 1.1

The first PDF in the Book of Mormon Cultural History Reading Project.


They are coded in the following sequence, by the way:
North, East, West, South. (Again, trying to outsmart the copy-bots)

Repost About The Reading Project:
I am starting this month The Book of Mormon Cultural History Reading Project. It will run for eight months.

For the Reading Project, I will offer for download a PDF of every book in the series, on a monthly, rotating basis.

Every Tuesday for the next eight months, I will provide, for that week, a link to download 1/4 of the entire book. That quarter of the book will be removed and the next quarter posted for the next week, until the entire book has been posted. The PDFs will be removed from my blog, so that other websites don’t mistakenly believe it is their PDF to post or to sell.

(All PDFs posted in this Reading Project remain under copyright of this author, but you are encouraged to share the PDFs with whomever you like. I just don’t want some robot selling complete copies of the series on Amazon or Scribd.)

The schedule looks like this:

February: Volume One
March: Volume Two A
April: Volume Two B
May: Volume Three Beta
June: Volume Three Delta
July: Volume Four A
August: Volume Four B
September: Volume Five


I will also be available to answer questions on the Facebook page for the Cultural History, as well as on the comments section of the post for that week. Not every day, but a few times a week I’ll check in to see if questions want answering.

The hope is that those who cannot afford the series can access it here, while others would share it with friends who may be reluctant to jump into a series of this length. (Volumes Four and Five will be available soon, on Amazon, too.)

In addition, the list price of the book for that month, and for the following month, will be reduced to $17.50. Thus, for February, Volume One and Volume Two A will be reduced in price; for March, it’ll be Two A and Two B. And so on.

In March I will also be releasing a “unified” Volume Two (with A and B), for sale at the list price of $27.50. It’ll be a big book. Volumes Three and Four will follow, as I finish the reformatting.

Finally, The Book of Mammon and The Abridging Works will be reduced to $17.50 for the entire run of the Reading Project. The Abridging Works, in particular, I believe is an excellent way to begin re-reading the Book of Mormon from a different perspective. It’s where I started, anyway.


  1. Daymon this is so very generous of you. And so timely! I’ve been trying to get off reading the celebrity gossip blogs and replace that habit with something else. And since Ive just about given up on ever understanding the BoM, I’m hoping this will help me see the light.

  2. Excellent, now all someone has to do is to write a book titled “Understanding the book:The Cultural History of the Book of Mormon” hahaha, all jokes aside I’m excited to dig in!

    1. The first ~150 pages of Vol 1 are (imo) pretty hard to get through. Keep going, it is worth and gets easier.

      1. I’m on page 23 of the book, 35 of the document (going slow because I have other things going on in my life), and I am find it easier to get through than The Book of Mammon. I am finding it fascinating reading. Again, Daymon, thank you for your generosity in sharing this. I am learning things I did not previously know.

    1. Good call, Kevin with the email reminder idea. One can also receive email notifications by pressing the “Follow” button found on this blog (to the right).

  3. My own comments and questions from the first PDF of the reading project, directed to the author:

    Children engage in dialectics over dead things like plastic army men and Legos. They weave fantastic meta-what-have-yous, but not to convince their playmates that the toys really are alive. That usually isn’t the point of these arguments over made-up stuff, in which all sides appear equally invested in the make-believe. Perhaps the difference between children and adults is that one can settle the arguments between children by reminding them that they were, after all, just pretending. What is it about the Book of Mormon that makes you want to play this game, to make it live and participate in a dialectic of tradition and restoration?

    In this first selection from the Cultural History, you presume to separate Mormon tradition from Book of Mormon text, possibly creating a more faithful reading (metatext) based on what the words may actually say. It is more than cultural history when you provide analysis of the Book of Mormon’s relationship with the Bible, its use of “restoration,” problems with commonly accepted interpretations, etc. You find the Mormon tradition unsatisfactory and unjustified by the text of its Book of Mormon, providing your own “unorthodox” version in its place: There is still more to come; great things over the horizon.

    Critics of the Book of Mormon would perhaps find some of these same arguments to be compelling for their own conclusions. Could it be that the traditional and easy Mormon assessment of its own scripture is the one that was more-or-less intended and that the incongruities you have identified are evidence of another problem altogether? Have you considered a rather more mundane possibility that the whole thing is just so much clever nonsense? That seems the easier answer.

    As for cultural history, I gather from the reading that Joseph Smith Jr. once pulled a book out of the earth (or somewhere), and the book didn’t matter much. Instead, the stories and rumors about the book and its progenitor resulted in a whole new discourse with the Christian Bible and a restored, primitive church in the guise of corporate franchise religion.

    So, if not “a racket, a cult, or a corporation” (in Eric Hoffer’s words), what is it the Book of Mormon really means to convey? And by whom? Sixty-nine pages into volume one, and I have a feeling that “cultural history” is just the expansive footnote to these books of yours. Metatexts created Mormon culture, one which you are going to set against some other possibility.

    Jacques Lacan had a term, “The Real.” I suppose that is what we try to convey with language, which is what the Book of Mormon is full of. You never know with full certainty when it has been truly conveyed or received, because there is no concrete measure for this. Maybe the business of linguistic anthropologists is to find out how people (mis)use language to construct realities to inhabit (something entirely distinct from The Real), but I expect, through further reading, to get a glimpse into The Real of the Book of Mormon as *you* see it.

    1. Ok, Peter. Great set of insights and questions.
      What about the BoM makes me want to play the game of making it live?

      It seems to me that the book is less like a dead Lego or He-Man toy, which anyone can animate to make it serve his purposes, and more like a deity, who is long-suffering, attempts to speak our language, but generally fails to appreciate just how easily we will misconstrue his words. It does seem to resist in interesting ways. I went looking a few years ago for the origins of a few misreadings, starting with the puzzle about the Great and Abominable Church, and the Book of the Lamb, and found that I had to go all the way to 1829, to begin reconstructing Mormon readings. The book had interpretations before it was even published. The more I reconstructed, the more I realized how much had been imposed on the Book of Mormon, on terms like “restoration” and “God” and so on. And that now I needed to see if the book really said what I always thought it said. As I’d turn to the book, I’d find it saying something slightly different from what I remember thinking it said, and realize that now I had to reconsider some related passage or notion. It is more alive than we realize, and I think has a voice that must be heard. that voice, however, created the history of the Mormons (alongside other voices, of course), and yet that history can be used to return to another reading of the BoM, perhaps one closer to “the Real.”

      For that reason, I would say I don’t agree with critics that the simplest explanation is that the BoM is clever nonsense; clever, yes, but not nonsense. It has an internal integrity in which I’ve not been able to find a flaw, and as long as you stay inside the text, it seems to grow in complexity, but not in nonsense (say, as a Gen Conf talk might).

      The incongruities I point out over the cultural history are offered as a contrast between the tradition (metatextual) and the text, so that readers can see why I’m even bothering with such a long history, and that there may be something to the book after all.

      I’ve heard many objections to the BoM which are responding to metatextual traditions, having nothing to do with the BoM itself. For example, the Tower of Babel is not in the BoM, neither is a justification for racism, nor the Indians being Lamanites. These are easily shown to be imposed on the text, but more important traditions regarding atonement, restoration, gentiles, churches, the bible, and future books require far more elaborate deconstruction and rereading. The cultural history is an attempt, as you recognize, to show what has been built, how it was done, and with what consequences (on people, the BoM, Mormon history).

      And it is a different sort of work, to reconstruct the cultural history of interpretation of a text, and to offer my own interpretation.

      In the 5th volume, I will offer a more coherent statement of my interpretation, one drawing from scattered interpretations found in the other four volumes, and also from my own imagination generated by this new reading. Rather than a commentary, or attempt to say mine is what the book is really saying, I’d call my 5th volume a “fantasia,” something like a fantasy built out of the book. It is not different from what I re- and de-construct in the cultural history, except that I am reading with a historical consciousness the earlier Mormons lacked, and with an understanding of the errors they made. A slight but significant difference. Rather than argue over which reading is “really” in the text, I think in the end we must look to the fruits of the interpretations thereof. Of course, I also think that the most fruitful reading will be the one most closely following the text; and yet it takes a huge effort to come to that point of both original and historically aware interpretation.

      1. Thanks for the reply, Daymon. It gives me some things to think about.

        Curiously enough, shortly after I wrote my the above comment I went to see a movie in which the little Lego people really do come alive, including a hippie prophet who utters a prophecy said to be “true because it rhymes.” It’s true because it rhymes! This got me thinking about plausibility structures, of which complexity and consistency are but two.

        Another plausibility structure is tradition, which has the effect of taming the outrageous; and it strikes me that you are up against that structure right now, trying to point out the insanity of an upside-down world to people who, perhaps, have grown up thinking that up really is down.

        Plus, I can’t get another fellow out of my mind: John Allegro. He once presumed to do something akin to what you are doing with your Cultural History. He had been trained in the use of language and even provided his services on the Dead Sea Scrolls project. He also wrote a book about the origins of Christianity, attempting to trace things back through Sumerian linguistic roots to the old fertility cults. What he tried to show was that the development of Christianity into what we have now was just a cock-up by people who didn’t really understand the Essenes at all. Christianity is a misreading, something imposed on a text that had an entirely different meaning. See, according to Allegro, if you read it right, it turns out that the original sect incorporated certain psychotropic mushrooms into their worship, and Christianity was a cover for it. The man even found a 10th century Christian fresco depicting a snake temping Eve with a healthy stand of *Amanita Muscaria*. Eat this, and you’ll experience anamnesis. Eat this, and you’ll know what God knows. *Fear not, brah! Just belieeeeeve, man!*

        John Allegro is a laughing stock, mostly. It’s easier for most people to believe in a virgin birth by a woman who probably doesn’t even have nipples than it is to consider that maybe some people might have consumed psychedelic mushrooms, and then they wrote about Jesus.

        Facts are found, and truth is made. The only problem is that we can’t seem to distinguish one from the other. What do you expect will be the outcome of the Cultural History of the Book of Mormon, for yourself as well as for the culture?

      2. It seems to me that the book is like pretty much every other thing we run into in this world, eliciting interpretation is some way. We see apples fall to the ground and read that as having discovered something called “gravity,” or watch the sun rise and fall every day and claim to have seen “time” pass. With that imagined up (and one can wonder how such a thing is even thinkable) we watch two trains coming at us, having departed from two different stations at the same time, with the one passing us before the other and claim to be able to speak to velocities, momentums, yea even energy! We watch certain behaviors in people, and call that “psychology”, or wonder at “motivation,” or experience something that seems to come from “outside” of “us” and offer up “spiritual” or “medical” explanations. Your (and my) sense of self, angels, demons, insanity, ADHD, hell, physics, chemistry, evolution…all guesses, you see, and based on other guesses dressed in the labels of “postulate” or “law”; different ways (words) of speaking of the same thing. Some guesses are better than others, with even the commonly recognized best guesses failing us at some ultimate point (transistors not operated in their liner regions, Newtonian physics at high speeds, relativity of time and space, oxymoronically-named sub-atomic particles, etc.), leading some great minds to ultimately doubt things like our notions of “time” (physicists as well as anthropologists and philosophers), with other lesser minds fooled into thinking they have The Real truth. So why be surprised that such a thing as imaginative guessing be required of something like a book, or anything different be required of someone’s reading of a text, especially one given by someone claiming to be making just such fantastical guesses? Which is to say, there is no way to know how Real any reading really is, only how well it works within certain bounds–boundaries: those fuzzy things that suddenly materialize where ever our guesses (some would call them models) fail to give certain results, which boundaries create alternate spaces for other guessed at angels and demons to grow and develop, and possibly thrive. Erroneous guesses are easily pointed out, but correctness can only be provisional given its current lack of error, I suppose (error meaning internal consistency only, one of those things we also “get” to define, btw). It is easy to imagine the amount of on-going effort required in taking on any task of interpretation, especially when reading texts, what with the history of certain words’ usages, tradition, language, culture, etc. that seem to find their ways into our guesses. And so I doubt that those who seriously engage the text of the Book of Mormon would, with a straight face, claim to have a definitive reading of it for now and forever. At least that is my hope.

      3. Yeah, there’s no way to talk about a definitive reading of the BoM, timeless and for everyone. The book seems written so that we might ponder on what it talks about, and come to “the truth” in some degree; but that truth is what we’ve pondered, not what is “true” about the text itself, which as you say, is there to generate imagination

      4. Hi Chuck,

        I remember in my reading of Hobbes that he spent some time on the topic of definitions. I think there is a good deal of consent involved in the authority of definitions, but materialists like the ones Daymon discussed briefly in 1.2, posted yesterday, wanted a reliable epistemology where the authority arose from something like Adam Smith’s hypothetical “Impartial Spectator.” It’s a universal, said to be experienced reliably, but the problem is that it still has to be experienced and interpreted. But that’s what the scientific method is based on, reliabilism, and impartial spectators, mostly mechanical.

        If one could push the subjectivity of religion into that framework, it would generate a good deal of plausibility. I imagine that, to do it, one would have to devise a way of measuring experience as authentic or not. It’s too hard to know what it is that one receives from language that is used in an organic, personal way, so it must be, in the first place, made deterministic, official, and impersonal. It is therefore standardized, like a computer language that can only mean one thing. People then become automata, running scripts. Upon successful execution, evidenced by being able to check the proper boxes on a worthiness form, it is known that truth has been received.

        And this is “religion as job,” as I like to think of it, as opposed to “religion as vocation.” Someone else hears your calling. When the bishop recently stood in combined priesthood/Relief Society meeting, he reminded us of our duty to the checklist, including that of attending all meetings regularly. Why? Because we must remember: We bowed our heads and said yes. There is the covenant that Daymon is talking about in 1.2: the agreement of employment. Yes, bishop; that is just the speech I would have made to my employees.

        Like the Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, it’s all based on a claimed universal, surrogate authority, poorly vetted. How would it be if a man in plainclothes approached you with a citation for breaking the law? Upon requesting credentials, he can produce no clear signs, other than: You can find out for yourself! He then gives you the cryptic formula to do so–so much question-begging. So I’m curious to see what Daymon has to say about priesthood, which he has already mentioned a couple of times in 1.2 so far. I have a question for him about it, which I must remember to post on the new topic if I get a chance later on.

      5. thanks again Peter, for providing important background about the questions I am working through. Regarding the push of religion out of the subjective, and the use of measures of authenticity, I would say we already have many attempts to do this. What else is ‘the spirit’ when spoken of in LDS circles, except such a would-be measure? It is inherently subjective, from one perspective, of course. But from the “native” Mormon perspective, it is external, and comes from a universal spectator, as you realize. The standardization of discourse that seems to interest you, as you point out, plays an important role in making that trick–of confusing internal for objective and external–work across many people. Just as in a dictionary, as you say. When it works in a specific space, like Sunday School or a chapel, and others speak of an ‘internal’ thing using the same words we’d use, we are apt to be confused and misled. We know this is true, as observers; because discourse on “open questions” in such spaces is regarded as taboo, and called “the mysteries.” Why mysteries? Probably because it would expose the non-objective, non-standardized nature of most of Mormonism. Is it all rooted in the internal and subjective? That is no more “real” than the external; it seems to be rooted in language, and in speaking. In my experience, in a room of elders you’ll find every notion and interpretation of scripture; if you ask, and don’t led them to promote the usual replies. Rather than systematic ideas spread through a culture, under Correlation we have the pretense of homogeneity, at the cost of conversation and dialogue rooted in our own voices. Indeed, what would “our own voices” really say? What does such a phrase even mean, at this time in history?

        What is “the church” except a way of saying how one is supposed to respond to what one is saying? “Is that official doctrine” is the same meaning as “Did the church say that”. Yet, it can be shown to the natives that their mystical being, the church, does not exist at all in the ways they imagine. They speak it into existence, when their voices are used to speak for this imagined thing.
        The linguistic anthropologist’s framing of “the church” and “own voices” can be difficult for Mormons to understand or believe, because so many of their sentences in these controlled spaces begin with a personal narrative, “the other day I…” or “I feel…” But what seems to be going on in such sharing of biographies and psychologies, is a coordination of one’s narration of one’s own identity and life according to a standard genre: the sunday school lesson, let’s call it.

  4. Great probing questions, Peter, thoughtful questions. May I ask what The Book of Mormon means to you?

    1. Hi Kevin,

      I’m a believer in vocational religion, and I’m always listening for those voices that call to me personally.

      The pragmatist, William James, found Stevenson to be instructive in this:

      “There is one fable that touches very near the quick of life,–the fable of the monk who passed into the woods, heard a bird break into song, hearkened for a trill or two, and found himself at his return a stranger at his convent gates; for he had been absent fifty years, and of all his comrades there survived but one to recognize him. It is not only in the woods that this enchanter carols, though perhaps he is native there. He sings in the most doleful places. The miser hears him and chuckles, and his days are moments… All life that is not merely mechanical is spun out of two strands,–seeking for that bird and hearing him. And it is just this that makes life so hard to value, and the delight of each so incommunicable.”

      The Book of Mormon is a songbird. There is no authority or orthodoxy that can ever touch it, because those things represent the “merely mechanical.” Either the Book of Mormon sings to me and my days are moments, or it does not. That is all that matters.

      1. A delightful parable of the songbird, Peter. It’s going in my clip file. The premise that the Book of Mormon was written for us is provocative. That we struggle to apply it to ourselves is cause for humility. I’m very much looking forward to Damon’s series to see how my perceptions of the songbird change.

      2. Kevin,
        We do struggle to “apply it to ourselves,” but perhaps not in the way one would think. Like the Bible, we have used the B of M as our daily dose of inspiration, chicken soup for the soul, and Deep Thoughts by Alma the Younger. In this sense, we have the whole “liken unto us” thing down solid. Even so, we do not see the fruits of such a practice manifested “in our daily lives.” I haven’t witnessed too many interpretation of tongues, miracles, healings, raisings from the dead and other gifts of the Spirit “in my daily life.”

        I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason it is a struggle to apply the Book of Mormon to ourselves is because we are trying to jam the wrong key in a locked door. Nephi likened the scriptures to himself because he was of the House of Israel (or Manasseh or Joseph) and the scriptures he possessed were specifically written for him and about his “righteous branch.” And while there are specific things addressed to the “Gentiles” (considering myself to be one) in the Book of Mormon, they are not always the same things as for Israel.

        Indeed, the book is singing a song and calling to us, but are we hearing the right tune? My hope and belief is that once we hone in on what was meant for us, God can join in the chorus and bring our aligned dreams and imaginations into this world.

  5. THANK YOU! (Yes, I’m hollering!) I greatly appreciate this offer and your countless hours in preparing these books, Bro. Smith. This is truly like winning the lottery or unearthing the Mother Lode, to me! Wahooo!!

    I had found the cost & time to explore your works daunting; happily now I have no excuse for not joining “the most important conversation happening in the church”, as Rock Waterman states.

    What conversation is that? Precisely what a previous commentor asks: is the Book of Mormon really anything other than a bunch of nonsense? Is there really a saving, redeeming, exalting, Zion-creating, remnant-convincing, Second-Comforter-inviting message that we have been muddying and missing, almost from the beginning?

    My question, without having read any of your works, yet, Bro. Smith, is this: did “we” EVER understand the true message of the Book of Mormon? Did anyone other than Joseph ever get it? Are we today in a position to try to “go back” to the original understanding, or was it never understood at all?

    I’m not sure which level of condemnation is worse, but in any case, we have much work to do to unravel the Gordian Knot in which we find ourselves, as Denver Snuffer states.

    I’m eager to start unraveling and renovating (or demolishing & reconstructing, as the case may be).

    Thank you for your help in this most important effort we could possibly be making: truly understanding Christ through the Book of Mormon.

  6. I’ve been enthusiastic about this series from the get-go, Angelina, but your passion is infectious!

  7. Thank you, Daymon, for your offer. Heard about this on Rock’s site.

    Is there a new offering today? If so, what is its URL?

    Thanks, Steve

  8. So I am interested in what you have to say but the way you say it is confusing, not even the Spirit could enlighten me.

    1. sorry. what are you confused about, and what do you feel not-confused about? If we can establish some baseline of understanding, maybe I can help with the confusion.

    1. I didn’t realize that, and am not sure how you could know that either. It doesn’t matter to me if they come from Denver, Los Angeles, Hell or Havana, you know. Thanks for the award, but I must decline, as NCAA rules and Congressional regulations forbid the acceptance of gifts, honoraria, or other awards. I like the notion of someone wanting to see me be brave, and the song has a resonance, for sure. Thanks

  9. Can I just start off by saying that for all we know, “day2mon” does not exist, and is a splinter of a troll or homonculus sitting at the heart of a web of plots and projects. That, indeed, there is only one author of blog and all comments, and he is weaving a complex meta-narrative about personhood and integrity? Were it not to give a buffoon too much credit, could this blog even be the private prank of a mid-level bureaucrat in the Morg? Anyway, those are the sorts of thoughts that creep through my brain every time I crack open the comments section here.

    Several years ago I myself decided that most (all?) church leaders since the martyrdom haven’t really known what they were talking about when it came to doctrine (and I do not claim that I do, merely that my bullshit detector starts to click starting on about the first page of the Journal of Discourses and rising in emphatic pitch until the latest issue of the Friend (in the On Bullshit sense of allegedly authoritative statements made under moral hazard)). Reading this forced me to update a cached belief that someone, somewhere, understood these prophecies in the Book of Mormon and developed the justification for our current popular understandings.

    That’s what I get for assuming theology is like mathematics, I suppose.

    Okay, on to my notes and questions from the reading. I’ll break them up for easier comment threading.

    • What did a frontier newspaperman perceive his role to be in 1828? (To sell newspapers, of course, but was it as a public defender, a wise mentor, a puckish gadfly, or all of the above?)

    1. I can’t say for sure about the newspapermen, although it seems like all of the above, at least for the papers I’ve read. They seemed concerned that editors of other papers didn’t mock the things happening on their turf, and so there seems (this is just impression) to be a sort of self-censorship on matters of religion, spirit, and so on. Secularism became the default, unless one edited a “religious” paper, of course. But it looks like space (geography) was secular, while religion became something read inside secular geographies, by pockets of devoted followers and the like.


    • “Ancient things restored can be found nearly anywhere, if one merely knows how to look: not too closely. Look to words, names, titles: these are easy to restore, as well” (p. 31). Which is what happened to Hugh Nibley, of course. Have you read Stuart Parker’s dissertation, “History through Seer Stones”? It reconstructs the distinctive features of several major LDS figures’ theologies.

    • Robert L. Millet once lectured and mentioned “let[ting] [y]our language be that of the scriptures”, which is an interesting prefiguring of archaicisms “performing social roles similarly lifted from the pages of the Holy Bible” (p. 33).

    • You also harp on the difficulty of nailing down meaning for words like “atonement” and “sin” (pp. 33–34). There is an element of anti-creedalism here: a strategic advantage in having an illegibility close to the heart of a movement. This allows for differences of interpretation to exist without schism (which is way almost all Christians are trinitarian, a murky and incomprehensible doctrine, but the iron-clad iota sundered the Orthodox from the Catholic).

    • “That new book spoke of disciples, restoration, baptism, and the like. Surely it meant the same thing as what the Bible meant, when it said those words, right?” But (assuming a divine origin) would God have made so colossal an error as to not check the dictionary before blitting the words onto the peepstone? I don’t know if I’m convinced that your answer elsewhere that metatext utterly overwhelms denotation is completely compatible with the fact that God chooses to communicate with us in language. A fractured, broken, inadequate tongue, to be sure, but if we can’t rely on some congruities then why bother with a Book of Mormon at all?

    • It is interesting that there is a continual cognitive dissonance you note in scholars like Givens and Bushman, where their cultural metatext encounters the written text and recoils in confusion. Confusion (per Less Wrong) is a flag that something is wrong and should be an actionable state.

    1. thanks Ascentury for excellent questions and for adding to the discussion in the book.

      Nibley is addressed in Vol.4A. I’ve not read the dissertation, though, I hope to.

      Matthews’s declaration about archaic language would be, if put into practice, too easy for anyone to ape, and it would seem to lose its “spiritual” marking. Just as you point out with the strategic advantage of anti-creedalism, one can perform “spiritual” social roles when there are only implicit measures, set by authorities, but never too definitely. GAs seem to pepper their speak with sloganeered archaicisms, wresting the text while relieving themselves of the burden of interpreting it “inside” the book.

      You point out an issue about metatext-text relations, and one overwhelming the other, which I address in later volumes. Here I will say that the best we can hope for is to use text to generate metatext more closely dependent on text, and less presupposing of BoM-external traditions. That at least can be a starting point for reading, although it takes many volumes for me to approximate that starting point.

      I think about the cog-diss with Mormon scholars, that they are confused about text-metatext, because as Mormons the text seems to say what they always read it saying (quasi-fundamentalist readings are one sign we are dealing with a Mormon, in any case, who does not see the potential for unorthodox readings as also being legitimately derived from the text of the BoM).
      Their confusion was a good warning to me to distinguish my own interpretations from what is on the page, and to reflect on the sources of my interpretations.

      1. By quasi-fundamentalist do you mean Joseph Fielding Smith/Bruce McConkie-style orthodoxy or the text-based gnosticism of a Nibley or early FARMS? Or something else altogether?


    • Why choose the 1981 version, rather than the original edition? Access? Habit? A closet “testimony that the church is true”?

    • Similarly, what does this do to the New Translation of the Bible, a project Joseph Smith clearly tied to the publication of the Book of Mormon—he wished to publish the Book of Mormon and the New Testament in a single volume?

    • Again, what do we do with the Doctrine and Covenants then? The D&C clearly ties into a Biblical metatextual worldview—and its references are far too explicit to push into plausible deniability, like the brother of Jared’s tower and the Tower of Babel not being the same thing. But if Joseph Smith presented the Book of Mormon and was forthcoming about its forthcoming, then how do you really explain the fact that he was overwhelmed by Rigdonite Campbellitism?

    I may be anticipating some issues you address down the line. I appreciate your candor, labor, and insights on the subject.

    1. I used the 1981 edition because it’s a good starting point, and I didn’t want to pretend that the 1830 was somehow more “pure,” and to slip from “more pure” (which may be correct) into “pure”. And it might seem cheating to use the 1830, unless the passage from that edition was relevant to the sermon under discussion. Vol.2A gives an example of this, where “son of” was added to “God” in Nephi’s Vision of the birth of Christ. Ironically, the Mormon elder in the Mormon newspaper argues for a Trinitarian theology, of sorts, by relying on the 1830. By 1840, though, those sorts of arguments are not made by Mormon elders; which is to say, to make a Trinitarian reading of the BoM is to perform the role of not-being-a-Mormon-elder, according to other Mormon elders.

      The NT translation was, according to a letter from JS to WWPhelps, not supposed to leave his hand while he was alive. Phelps was pressing him for the translation, and when he proceeded with the NT and BoM combo, his printing press burned down before he could set his hand to this work.

      The D&C problem is considerable, as I’ll address in the third and fourth installments of volume 1.

      We don’t have many reliable documents (that is, from pre-Rigdonite days), and everything is misdated, even in the JS Papers. Some text is dated May 1829, for example, when the only existing document they are dating comes from 1832 or later, for example. These revelations were constantly re-written, and as I show in this history, not everything came from JS’s voice, although D&C makes it appear this is so.

      Joseph Smith was overwhelmed by the Campbellites, I suppose, because that is just how his sort of priesthood operates. They are longsuffering and patient and full of love, presumably because they must endure the foolishness and vanity of the people they labor with. Joseph’s reading of Ezekiel 14 makes it difficult to determine what is “authentic” Joseph Smith, and what is him speaking through an idol, to the people of his day.

      These issues, historical and metaphysical, are addressed in greater detail near the end of Vol.1, and in Vol.2, also. Thanks.

      1. So do the (mis)dates come from the 1850s-era redaction or are they contemporary to the 1830s? It seems that this issue arises again and again—consider Bushman’s dating of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood to summer 1830 (although he’s hardly alone in that). Obviously there is a vested narrative now which needs certain dates to be coherent, but did the ambiguity arise from carelessness or strategy?

  12. What of the Melchizedek Priesthood? What is the evidence that it was restored?

      1. Oh, come on! I’ve been waiting for a whole day…for that?!

        I asked Denver Snuffer the same question (more or less), not knowing the history or research as well as he did (or you do). He didn’t answer (either). I know the myth. What are the facts? Are there any? Your book was largely silent. Any documents we can trust? Any contemporaneous testimonies? What have you learned?

      2. No real contemporaneous testimonies, what we have comes several years after the purported event; the documents all come several years after the purported event. It is important to see that whatever happened, it was narrated according to the concerns of those in Kirtland seeking “the power,” which would eventually be called Melchizedek priesthood. Volume One builds in this background, but doesn’t explicitly take a stance on the reality of the “restoration” because I can’t decide one way or the other. I think something happened, because I don’t see Cowdery and Smith as just making stuff up; but it probably wasn’t exactly like the myth has it, today.

  13. Came here from pure mormonism (Waterman); appreciate what you have to say about ‘tent cities’; that ‘movement’ was/is scary.
    I’m an ‘ordinary mormon’ with only a bachelor’s degree and a few graduate credits, and I only took one anthropology class; my husband and I are reading your books on pdf. He took one or two more graduate classes than I and no anthropology.
    It goes WAY over our heads, but it is really gratifying to read. We feel our minds getting out of the fog.
    Both of us began to read the Book of Mormon years ago ‘without’ the Bible. Just something that happened; we barely even talked to each other about it. And we both became really passionate about the Book of Mormon, as we began to lose our feelings of connection with ‘leaders’/corporate church, though we remain ‘in’ (whatever that means).
    All the discussion about whether Joseph wrote or plagarized or “translated” (and what that means) becomes unimportant to us, because the book ‘speaks’ to us on its own terms and level.
    You have no idea how refreshing it is for us, uneducated as we are in all of these historical and anthropological matters, to read about others who have the same ‘feeling’ for the Book of Mormon.
    It speaks to us. Yes, we see *our* apostasy, our foolishness, even the foolishness of past and present leaders, etc. All of that. And we need that and yearn for that as we continue to try to ‘get’ the book, on its own terms, pushing aside all the baggage.
    Thank you again.

    1. thank you for such an honest and revealing comment. I hope the history and the interpretation I provide is of some use to you.

    2. I appreciate your comments, LDSDPer. I have less formal schooling than you and your husband, but like you, I claim the right and responsibility to figure things out for myself with whatever tools come my way. We’re ever so fortunate that Damon has chosen to share the wealth of insights from his research. If we have access to the Book of Mormon and the inclination to study it and try out the teachings found there, surely God will guide us to spiritual growth and sanctification. I believe it is his will that we connect with his purposes for the book. To good connections!

  14. I am grateful for the introduction into the real world. At first I wouldn’t let myself get immersed in “something so negative” and yet, for , well, I don’t want to say brain-washed, but culturally steeped in Mormon lore, it really takes a bit of a shock to get you out of the box thinking. At least for me. THANK YOU.

    There’s some help I need, though. While studying through this kind of thing I found where The Church established their own bank. Strange, though I thought I saved the reference, I cannot find it. Was it you, or would you happen to have an idea where I can look?
    Diane Henry

    1. Hi Diane,
      The Church was for most of its history at least a bank, taking deposits, making loans, issuing money. An investment bank of sorts was begun as early as Kirtland, which failed in ’38, resulting in the flight of church leaders to Missouri. Zions Bank was started by the LDS Church in 1873, apparently, and was owned as a church entity, with its president the bank’s president, until 1960. Of course, church leaders continue to serve on boards of various banks, commercial and investment, and with the recent Ensign Peak Advisors, we enter a new phase of what some might call priestcraft.

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