The following guest post comes from Mike Parker, a long-time Bloggernacle commenter.
A small percentage of Latter-day Saints are aware that the historicity of the Book of Mormon has its detractors. Among those who are aware of the issues, there has been some discussion on this topic.
Actually, “discussion” is probably too polite a term.
The claim in question, briefly, is that the Book of Mormon represents an actual history of actual people and civilizations. Is the narrative of the Book of Mormon based on actual events, or is it a fictional—if still inspired—tale that came from the mind of Joseph Smith and/or persons close to him?
BYU’s Maxwell Institute (formerly known as FARMS) has been the best-known champion of Book of Mormon historicity, defending it in its publications and periodicals. For example, in 1993 Robert L. Millet argued, “…[I]t matters very much whether there is an actual event, an objective occurrence toward which we look and upon which we build our faith. One cannot exercise saving faith in something untrue (Alma 32:21) or that did not happen, no matter how sweet the story, how sincere the originator or author, or how committed the followers” (“The Book of Mormon, Historicity, and Faith,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2, 9). BYU’s Religious Studies Center also published an entire book on the subject in 2001, with contributions by nine scholars and two general authorities.
Among the detractors of the Book of Mormon’s claim to be a historical record have been several publications from Signature Books, most notably the 1990 volume The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture, edited by Dan Vogel, and 1993’s New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, edited by Brent Metcalfe.
My personal belief is that the Book of Mormon is historical, as it claims to be, and that Joseph Smith miraculously translated it from actual ancient records. Having said that, I don’t personally have a problem with someone believing in the “historical fiction” theory and remaining an active, faithful Latter-day Saint. I think the Mormon tent is big enough to accommodate both beliefs.
However, I do question the “historical fiction” theory in that I don’t believe it’s coherent. And my biggest obstacle is Moroni.
Joseph Smith made very direct and specific claims to having been visited by Moroni, a resurrected being who was the final editor of the plates Joseph translated. How does one deal with Moroni if the Book of Mormon is fiction? I can only see three options:
1) Joseph lied. He was not visited by an angelic being, and did not have any plates (or had plates he made himself to fool the Witnesses). Perhaps he had good intentions, but he still deceived his followers into thinking the Book of Mormon was historical and that he had been visited by Moroni.
2) Joseph was insane. He believed he saw an angelic being who called himself Moroni, but he really didn’t.
3) Moroni deceived Joseph. There really was a supernatural being who visited Joseph Smith, but he didn’t tell the truth about his identity. Either God directed him to lie, or he was actually a demonic being.
I have been told several times by believers in a fictional Book of Mormon that there are other options that I’m missing. I’ve asked them what those options are, but I’ve never received a response.
So I’d like to ask—sincerely, without argument—if the Book of Mormon is “inspired fiction,” how do you deal with Moroni’s appearance to Joseph in a way that’s plausible, logical, and maintains the inspiration of an historical book that claims to be historical?