For more than a thousand years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ it was assumed that a great deluge of water destroyed almost all life on Earth. The story in the Bible of a destructive punishment against a violent people, with only a handful of survivors, was looked on as part of history. Noah and his family were considered real people who built a real boat and safely rested on the top of a Mountain top. The children of this great prophet who believed to have had children and repopulated the world with people and animals. Religious believers looked around at the world around them and saw evidence in the rocks and the landscape. They would point to massive boulders, for instance, and explain that only a great rush of water could move them to where they now rested. No one at first questioned these conclusions.
Religious investigators continued to study geology with the hope of understanding the Great Flood until the mid-19th Century a new concept became popular. A number of influential researchers developed the theory of uniformity. They believed that whatever happened in the past can only be understood by applying modern observations. In order for geological evidence to make sense the processes of nature must have taken many millions of years at a very slow pace. From this came the key to the theory of Evolution and the rejection of any worldwide deluge evidence. The very idea of a violent catastrophe that changed the Earth’s history was unacceptable. Changes in the Earth and its life was slow, gradual, and easy to observe.
A generation later the idea of uniformity is still accepted, but with very abrupt disruptions. Modern geologists talk of at least five extinctions that can only happen because of major catastrophes. Some even argue that humans themselves are causing a sixth extinction, although with varied theories on when it will be fully realized. The most famous life destroying catastrophe is a meteor that destroyed the dinosaurs. Like all theories it was at first rejected, but eventually enough evidence was found to be accepted by most scientists. There is even a crater off the coast of Mexico that is considered the exact place the celestial object hit that did the damage. A geological layer of clay containing high levels of the metal iridium is believed to represent the exact time of impact. Even the Great Flood is, to a degree, getting a second look.
For over a century and a half critics of the Bible have pointed to the book of Genesis as a main argument against its historical truth. Many of the minor arguments against it in other books, including the existence of King David and some long vanished civilizations, are slowly falling away. Over the last 50 years archaeology has uncovered some remarkable evidence of Bible history. Although minimalists still exist, a growing acceptance of accuracy among academics has shifted. That doesn’t mean they have become religious believers. Instead, they acknowledge that it gets much of history correct, no matter if a blatant bias and religious context. Much of the book of Genesis hasn’t received the same re-evaluation and continues to be rejected and mocked. There are too many world transforming miracles that the scientists and historians don’t see as scientifically sustainable.
Other than the Garden of Eden and the Fall, none have come under such critical ridicule as The Great Flood. It is the story of a world gone morally depraved to the point that God decides to do a reset. He warns the people that if they don’t repent then they will be destroyed. Only a single prophet named Noah and his friends repent and remain righteous. Noah is given the divine command and instructions to build a large boat. The people mock him as deranged. Once the boat is made the world is covered in a massive deluge of water that apparently kills every person and living creature. The only survivors are seven individuals and the animals Noah brings onto his protective ship. After months floating on the water, a bird sent out finds a mountain top that Noah lands his ship. The waters dry up and the world is started over again. Scientists and historians don’t believe there is any evidence for such a tale and dismiss it as laughable. Much like those in the story who eventually drowned.
Easy as it would be to agree that the Biblical writes came up with an astounding whopper of a whale story, that isn’t the only place the story exists. In fact, the myth of a Great flood come from all over the world on every continent that can sustain a civilization. This includes not only Europe and Asia, but both North and South America. Wide ranging as the differences might be, there are some basic similarities. The myths virtually always include a wicked people, the covering of the world by a form of water, and survivors who restart or recreate the world. Very slowly the idea a flood could devastate a large population of people enough to be remembered is gaining acceptance.
The founding of Brigham Young University was a long process. Although the official date is considered 1875, it wasn’t a full university and accredited until after the turn of the century. It started out as an LDS high school before receiving the designation as a higher education academy. A few years in and a fire destroyed the original main building. Presidents of the school came and went as some wanted to improve their professional opportunities. Benjamin Cluff Jr. was the president possibly most responsible for BYU becoming the university it is today, splitting the high school from the college students and implementing updated college curriculum. During his time the LDS Church formally took over the institution and it became a full university in name and purpose. Later presidents of the university would build on these changes and continue expanding its place in higher education.
Not only was the process for BYU long, but it had early controversies. When university President Benjamin Cluff Jr. introduced athletics to the school, they were rejected by those who made final decisions and cancelled. Some who were concerned about making it a university instead of remain an academy, including Elder Anthon H. Lund, didn’t think it would be successful. A huge argument about allowing the teaching of evolution ended with, at least for a time, a rejection of the subject in the school. Concerns were expressed that land bought from Provo for the school would be used for other purposes. It wasn’t until the 1920s that any accreditation organizations recognized it as an acceptable university. From almost the start the academic and spiritual mission of the school seemed to be at odds, or seriously questioned.
At a founding day event on October 16, 1891, the presiding BYU President Karl G. Maeser said about the reason the school existed and its mission:
A glance over the conditions of mankind in this our day with its misery, discontent, and corruption, and disintegration of the social, religious, and philosophic fabrics, shows that this generation has been put into the balance and has been found wanting. A following, therefore, in the old grooves, would simply lead to the same results, and that is what the Lord has designed shall be avoided in Zion. President Brigham Young felt it in his heart that an educational system ought to be inaugurated in Zion in which, as he put it in his terse way of saying things, neither the alphabet nor the multiplication table should be taught without the Spirit of God.
More than ever the dual purpose of education and spiritual development at BYU has become challenged. Those who should be the stewards have largely become offenders. It would be preferable if the spiritual side of an LDS owned university overshadowed the academic, but that isn’t the case. Too much of the world has overtaken to the point that the spiritual is often ignored and even mocked. The secular false gospel of “woke” has displaced the saving truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unless changes are quickly made, BYU will become fully nothing more than just another secular educational institution hostile to its original religious purpose.
From the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, writing and collecting history has been considered a sacred duty. The founding document of scripture, The Book of Mormon, claims to be an historical document of the ancient Americas. Letters and revelations very early on formed foundational material for spreading the Gospel of the Restoration. Soon after the organization of the LDS Church the position of Church Historian was given as a formal calling. General Authorities were assigned the calling for over a hundred years. Two of the most well known Church Historians would be the prolific B.H. Roberts of the Seventy and Joseph Fielding Smith who would serve for over 40 years in the position before becoming Prophet. These two among others spent years collecting, protecting, and writing historical and doctrinal documents. Some of their works have become classics of great importance, although falling out of favor among academics.
Decades ago a new approach to history was introduced to the LDS Church, but with at best questionable results. For an unknown reason a professional historian, Leonard J. Arrington, was assigned as LDS Church Historian instead of the usual General Authority. There is even a question if he was called or hired, or both. Either way, his approach was far less about defending the LDS Church and spreading the Gospel than conforming to worldly standards. Along with those worldly standards of historical academics came a de-emphasis on miracles and truth claims. Instead it was about economic and social forces, with “objective” consideration of source documents. Almost ten years after the appointment, he was quietly fired and placed as a BYU teacher. Unfortunately the damage was already done and continued with acceleration in the halls of the school. Academia entrenched itself into LDS Church culture, publications, and manuals.
Perhaps the academic and the spiritual narratives of history could co-exist, but the differences became too stark. The academic side wanted desperately to take over. They sought, and in many ways succeeded after a thirty year program, to banish the traditional historians. Among those who were once respected for their work, but now hardly mentioned include B.H. Roberts, George Q. Cannon, Preston Nibley, Bruce R. McConkie, Joseph Fielding Smith, Hugh Nibley, and Gordon B. Hinkley. Replacing them is a large group of academics seeking to “re-educate” the members of the LDS Church by purging the traditional understanding of historical events and doctrines. Those who challenge the new history and doctrine gatekeepers are denounced as without “mature faith,” simple minded ignoramuses, and stuck in the past.
The history behind The Book of Mormon translation is based on written records. Who writes the history and what they have to say has a strong impact on how the events are understood. It is assumed that history comes fully formed in a textbook or what was written by an author who did the studies. For the modern historian, no history exists unless it is written down and somehow explained. Some physical evidence can be used to corroborate or refute the written record, but only words explain human thoughts and experience. People can only write from their perspective, and sometimes they lie or remember incorrectly. The Urim and Thummim found with the gold plates has a lot of evidence, while the stone in a hat a few strong statements. What can be known about the translation of the Book of Mormon depends on who and what to believe.
Remember that no one other than Joseph Smith was allowed to see, save perhaps Oliver Cowdery, the gold plates or Urim and Thummim before the translation was finished. The Lord had warned that anyone who saw them before given explicit permission would be destroyed. A warning of destruction applied to Joseph Smith if he showed them to anyone. To protect against this he always had the items covered or placed in a safe place, unless in use. After the translation the Lord gave permission to show the holy items to a select few. When the Book of Mormon was published, it contained the testimony of Three Witnesses that an angel showed them the gold plates. It also contained the testimony of eight other witnesses that they handled the plates. All official copies of the Book of Mormon through to the most recent contain the witness signed declarations. None of them ever denied the printed testimonies. On the contrary, the Three Witnesses later testified independently they saw the gold plates, the Interpreters, and other items.
How the translation was accomplished is a complete mystery known only to God, Joseph Smith, and possibly Oliver Cowdery when he was once given permission by revelation to try. Any statements about what Joseph Smith did or saw to translate the gold plates come second hand. None of them claim to be direct quotes from the Prophet, although they sometimes say that is where they got the information. Almost all of the descriptions are of a rigid reading. Mistakes found in the original manuscript pages that have survived refute such exact renderings; except for proper names and places. Whenever Joseph Smith does explain the translation in his own words, it is in the vaguest of terms. He does make it clear that the translation was from the plates using the Urim and Thummim that came with them by the Power of God. This implies having both together was essential to the translation work. Either he is absolutely truthful in his descriptions or he deliberately left out the stone in a hat portion of the process.