Plan A for the Book of Mormon

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Gadianton
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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

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So in addition to creating plates, he would need to create all these other artifacts? Why would he believe this would even be possible? Did he know someone who had done something similar?
FARMS refuted:

"...supporters of Billy Meier still point to the very clear photos of Pleiadian beam ships flying over his farm. They argue that for the photos to be fakes, we have to believe that a one-armed man who had no knowledge of Photoshop or other digital photography programs could have made such realistic photos and films..." -- D. R. Prothero

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

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Gadianton wrote:
Sun Jul 19, 2020 12:31 am
So in addition to creating plates, he would need to create all these other artifacts? Why would he believe this would even be possible? Did he know someone who had done something similar?
I don't know about that, Dean Robbers. He may have only ever planned to produce the plates in order to get the project off the ground. He probably stopped short of doing the rest when he found it very difficult with his meager resources to produce the plates prop.
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“He says he has eyes to see things that are not . . . and that the angel of the Lord . . . has put him in possession of great wealth, gold, silver, precious stones.” ~ Jesse Smith

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

Post by Physics Guy »

I think this is an interesting hypothesis because it shows how Smith does not have to have been either a genuine prophet or else an uneducated farm hand who somehow had the chutzpah to deliberately plan an elaborate religious hoax. This hypothesis shows how Smith might have worked his way into an elaborate religious con after starting out with a simpler and easier scheme.

It was always a little bit eyebrow raising, if skeptics are honest, to suggest that uneducated farm hand Joseph Smith just took it into his head to set up as a Judeo-Christian prophet in the Old Testament mold. I mean, even if Smith didn't have such delusions of grandeur that he really thought he was such a prophet, for a guy like him to think he could pull off a prophet con on any significant scale would still be pretty delusional, normally. Sure, people with delusions like that aren't so rare, but usually they're also too incompetent to live up to their delusions of expert con-artistry (let alone actual prophethood). Successful con artists have to be shrewd and cunning. They need to be good at coldly assessing how real people think and decide, and hard-nosed people who are good at that don't usually invest lots of effort in unrealistic fantasies. Daydreaming wannabes are the marks, not the con men.

A scheme to just start a Masonic lodge in an upstate town, on the other hand, would be chicanery on an easily plausible scale for an uneducated but ambitious farmhand with a fascination for mystery and ritual. Once young Smith got the taste of picturing himself as a Worshipful Master knowing all the great Masonic secrets and respected by all his small-town neighbors, then it's not so hard to imagine him gradually raising his bids, like the old woman in the folktale about the wish-granting fish, until being a successful fake prophet began to seem like an achievable goal.

I think it's perfectly consistent with hard-nosed con artistry to recognize when a scam might have legs and to be willing, once costs have been sunk anyway and there are fall-backs prepared, to think big and take it to the next level. The somewhat implausible thing about Smith hatching a scheme to go from farmhand to prophet is only the idea of the whole scheme being conceived in one big step. Once you can see how the scheme could have evolved in stages from smaller schemes then it all makes easy sense.

For that matter Smith might have come to dream of being a real prophet, since as I've said before it seems to me that Smith's notion of prophethood inherently blurred the line between genuine revelation and deliberate fraud. Sincerely believing that you are the sole channel of divine revelation on Earth is such an egotistical belief that I don't think it qualifies for the benefits of doubt that we usually accord to sincerity. Sincere belief that you are The Prophet is a degenerate limit of sincerity that does not really count.

Anyway the fraud theory was always easier for most people to swallow than the prophet theory, but this hypothesis makes the fraud theory considerably easier to swallow still.
Last edited by Physics Guy on Mon Jul 20, 2020 3:44 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

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Whoops, double post.

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

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Physics Guy wrote:
Sun Jul 19, 2020 12:57 pm
A scheme to just start a Masonic lodge in an upstate town, on the other hand, would be chicanery on an easily plausible scale for an uneducated but ambitious farmhand with a fascination for mystery and ritual. Once young Smith got the taste of picturing himself as a Worshipful Master knowing all the great Masonic secrets and respected by all his small-town neighbors, then it's not so hard to imagine him gradually raising his bids, like the old woman in the folktale about the wish-granting fish, until being a successful fake prophet began to seem like an achievable goal.

I think it's perfectly consistent with hard-nosed con artistry to recognize when a scam might have legs and to be willing, once costs have been sunk anyway and there are fall-backs prepared, to think big and take it to the next level. The somewhat implausible thing about Smith hatching a scheme to go from farmhand to prophet is only the idea of the whole scheme being conceived in one big step. Once you can see how the scheme could have evolved in stages from smaller schemes then it all makes easy sense.
Moreover, I think that such a Masonic scheme should be viewed as not simply Joseph Smith's alone, or perhaps even his in the first place; the topic should be pursued with the hypothesis that it was a group project. We tend to look at Joseph Smith as he wanted us to do--as the towering genius who was at the center of it all. There are, however, plenty of indications that early on this was not the case. Joseph was part of a group. His family was a part of a group. Many members of this group were involved in the treasure digs. Who decided what to look for? Was it always the treasure seer? What do we make of Abner Cole's parody, when it puts a mysterious book in the hands of Luman Walter? Why were Smith family hopes initially invested in Alvin? Why was Joseph Smith not originally thought to be the person who would translate the book? Why did Joseph himself at one time say that his son would translate it? Why did the other treasure diggers try to get the plates from Joseph? Because they were part of the Gold Bible Company and felt cheated by their partner?
Abner Cole in 1830 wrote: 2. Now Walters, the Magician, was a man unseemly to look upon, and to profound ignorance added the most consummate imprudence, -- the summons of the idle and slothful, and produced an old book in an unknown tongue, (Cicero's Orations in latin,) from whence he read in the presence of the Idle and Slothful strange stories of hidden treasures and of the spirit who had custody thereof.
3. And the Idle and Slothful paid tribute unto the Magician, and besought him saying, Oh! thou who art wise above all men, and can interpret the book that no man understandeth, and can discover hidden things by the power of thy enchantments, lead us, we pray thee to the place where the Nephites buried their treasure, and give us power over "the spirit," and we will be thy servants forever.
Henry Harris wrote:Joseph Smith, Jr., Martin Harris and others, used to meet together in private, a while before the gold plates were found, and were familiarly known by the name of the "Gold Bible Company." They were regarded by the community in which they lived, as a lying and indolent set of men and no confidence could be placed in them.
Parley Chase wrote:In regard to their Gold Bible speculation, they scarcely ever told two stories alike.
From Volume II No. 1 of the Centennial Memorial Edition, "Naked Truths About Mormonism" of December 1888:
Oliver Cowdery was then [1828] a part-time coppersmith who possessed a considerable skill in preparing copper engraving plates for the old-fashioned hand printing presses of that period.

He had most recently found some employment in this line of work and related tasks at Canandaigua, but, following the untimely death of his employer, young Cowdery lodged first with his brother and then with his cousins (the Joe Smith family of Manchester) and there became a sometime participant in the infamous "Gold Bible Company."
Last edited by Kishkumen on Mon Jul 20, 2020 10:32 am, edited 1 time in total.
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“He says he has eyes to see things that are not . . . and that the angel of the Lord . . . has put him in possession of great wealth, gold, silver, precious stones.” ~ Jesse Smith

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

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Lucy Mack Smith's brother, Stephen Mack, the founder of Pontiac, MI., was raised earlier as an example of the sort of enterprising and successful person Joseph sought to become. He was also very close to the story of the "Detroit Manuscript," which was found by Col. Abraham Edwards of Detroit, an associate of Stephen Mack, in the final days of February in 1823. The Detroit Manuscript, as it came to be called, was an old book of some 3-400 pages, which was written mostly in characters that locals did not recognize. When more learned men examined the text, it was concluded to be a Catholic document in Irish and Latin. As in the case of the Anthon transcript, the Detroit Manuscript was first sent to Dr. Mitchell of New York for examination.

http://www.olivercowdery.com/smithhome/ ... 01RBSt.htm

In the same year as the discovery, and this is to show you what kind of standing Abraham Edwards had:
In 1823 this was accomplished by the passage of law which permitted the election of 18 men from whom the President of the United States was to select nine persons to form the legislative council.

FIRST ELECTION OF LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL WAS IN 1823

At the first election held under this law in 1823, Abraham Edwards [of the Detroit Manuscript], Solomon Sibley [business partner of Stephen Mack], Louis Beaufait, Ebenezer Reed, William Brown, Wolcott Lawrence, Hubert Lacroix, Laurent Derocher, Benjamin F. Stickney, Francis Navarre, Harry Conant [business partner of Stephen Mack], Stephen Mack, Roger Sprague, Joseph Miller, John Stockton, Zephaniah W. Bunce, William H. Puthuff and Robert Irvin, Jr., were elected and their names sent to the president.

Out of this number the president appointed the following nine persons to constitute the first legislative council of Michigan: Abraham Edwards, Stephen Mack, William H. Puthuff, Wolcott Lawrence, John Stockton, Roger Sprague, Zepheniah W. Bunce. Hubert Lacroix and Robert Irvin, Jr.

Of the body so constituted, Abraham Edwards was chosen president and was elected to the same office by the succeeding councils for eight years. He also held the office of Indian agent for the Indians of Northern Indiana and St. Joseph County, Mich., and was appointed register of the land office for the western district of Michigan.
The point of this is to show you that the man who produced the Detroit Manuscript was not just some schmo; he was one of the most prominent men of early Michigan, and he was an associate of Stephen Mack.

Taken from p. 1446-7 of The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, Vol. 2.
Last edited by Kishkumen on Mon Jul 20, 2020 10:32 am, edited 1 time in total.
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“He says he has eyes to see things that are not . . . and that the angel of the Lord . . . has put him in possession of great wealth, gold, silver, precious stones.” ~ Jesse Smith

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

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If the Masonic scheme were not originally Smith's alone then that makes his step to get into it even smaller and thus still more easily plausible. He might have started out as a mere gofer going along for the ride with ostensibly older and wiser co-conspirators, and then begun to realize that he was smarter than they were and didn't actually need them.

I think that this theory does raise the question raised by all theories in which Smith had help: how did Smith keep his helpers under his thumb when the money began to roll in? If they were there in the beginning when he was just a small fry, why didn't they do more to contest his primacy later on?

The question is hardly a show-stopper. The most plausible answers to me do seem, however, to involve Smith having some kind of big advantage which the others all recognized, at least eventually, such that they all figured they were going to do better by riding Smith's coattails than by trying to supplant him. I suspect his edge was just that he was smarter than they were, and enough so that they couldn't help recognizing it. That doesn't entail supposing that Smith was a towering genius. I think his confederates were not very bright.

Or maybe they were just more cautious than he was, and were happy to let him take the main risks by being the front man. It was Smith who ended up getting lynched, after all. But maybe again this is too much reconstructing things from hindsight. Either way, though, the confidence to get things done instead of dreaming and dithering has its risks but is an important asset in a lot of enterprises. If that's what Smith brought to the gang, and not only intelligence, then that's also something that would have put him at the top.

Anyway, the fact that Smith did eventually emerge as the kingpin suggests to me that if he had help, or even if he started out as only a cabin boy on the pirate ship, Smith himself still played a predominant role from fairly early on in the scheme.

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

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Not smarter. More charismatic.

There is plenty of evidence in the early writings, some of which made it into the D&C, that showed tension between Smith and Cowdery among others. It's not an accident that the Church split into two bodies less than two years after forming with Smith and Rigdon in Kirtland, and Cowdery and the Whitmers in Jackson County, Missouri. The three witnesses were a power sharing scheme that kept getting eroded away but you can see that Smith was the charismatic face while Cowdery appeared to be the more refined mind. John Whitmer seemed pragmatic while David was scheming. Martin Harris seems to have been used as much as he tried to use others...

With the arrival of Rigdon in the fall 1830 the power already shifted, the use of the three witnesses to call the first twelve apostles was another act of power sharing that ultimately undermined them. John Bennett's rise and fall from prominence, and ultimately Smith being lynched with only some members of his family remaining loyal of the original group all are evolutions in a story not unlike so many others who climbed and schemed their way into power to be brought down by it because they couldn't stop gulping down more.

A real, honest historical presentation of Smith's life would rival a show like the Sopranos.
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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

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One cannot forget that Smith was large in stature and a good looking guy. The ladies loved him and guys are attracted to those who do well with the ladies. He was also athletic, not afraid to fist fight and could supposedly out-wrestle his dupes. I picture him as kind of a rock star athelete that used that status to his advantage.
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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

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Physics Guy wrote:
Mon Jul 20, 2020 9:09 am
I think that this theory does raise the question raised by all theories in which Smith had help: how did Smith keep his helpers under his thumb when the money began to roll in? If they were there in the beginning when he was just a small fry, why didn't they do more to contest his primacy later on?
If we are talking about the Masonic scheme, and not subsequent versions that include the Book of Mormon, then I my educated guess is that the dynamic of the whole thing necessarily changed radically after the Morgan Affair of 1826. Smith claimed to have first learned of the plates from the angel in 1822/23. He did not actually claim to have retrieved the plates until late September 1827. Since Masonry was in a state of chaos, the scheme could no longer be a Masonic hoax, and anyone who had been interested in it for Masonic purposes would, at the very least, not have continued to pursue the scheme on that basis. Furthermore, if his Masonic confederates knew it was a Masonic hoax, they would not have been after the plates on the assumption that there was actually an ancient gold artifact in Smith's possession.

By the time the Masonic angle fell apart, other people (probably not in on the original hoax) had come to believe in the existence of these plates. This meant that a group could continue to look for them and perhaps make some modest money off of the endeavor. It was Joseph who had the idea of actually "retrieving" the plates (faking to have done it for real). Soon he realized that he would have to be the one to "translate" them. Anyone who felt cheated by Joseph going it alone at this point was probably in the treasure group. They did try to steal the plates from Joseph, but apparently they did so because they believed the plates were either real or the only way to prove that Smith was a fraud. The next attempt to frustrate Smith's plans was when the first manuscript was stolen. Here the obvious goal was to prove that Smith was a fraud.

So, it is not entirely clear that some people were not aware that this was some kind of hoax or fraud. This may have been the motivation to wrest the plates from him and then, later, steal the manuscript. What was not at all clear at the beginning was that Smith could either pull it off or make it profitable in any way. The most profitable thing he did up to the point of the Church's organization was to snooker Martin Harris. He even failed at selling the copyright in Canada. By this time Smith's scheme had gone so far beyond its original scope and purpose that one would have been hard pressed to find a reputable Mason willing to disturb him or even take notice. It was probably not all that popular even to raise the topic of Masonry.
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“He says he has eyes to see things that are not . . . and that the angel of the Lord . . . has put him in possession of great wealth, gold, silver, precious stones.” ~ Jesse Smith

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

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honorentheos wrote:
Mon Jul 20, 2020 9:22 am
Not smarter. More charismatic.

There is plenty of evidence in the early writings, some of which made it into the D&C, that showed tension between Smith and Cowdery among others. It's not an accident that the Church split into two bodies less than two years after forming with Smith and Rigdon in Kirtland, and Cowdery and the Whitmers in Jackson County, Missouri. The three witnesses were a power sharing scheme that kept getting eroded away but you can see that Smith was the charismatic face while Cowdery appeared to be the more refined mind. John Whitmer seemed pragmatic while David was scheming. Martin Harris seems to have been used as much as he tried to use others...

With the arrival of Rigdon in the fall 1830 the power already shifted, the use of the three witnesses to call the first twelve apostles was another act of power sharing that ultimately undermined them. John Bennett's rise and fall from prominence, and ultimately Smith being lynched with only some members of his family remaining loyal of the original group all are evolutions in a story not unlike so many others who climbed and schemed their way into power to be brought down by it because they couldn't stop gulping down more.

A real, honest historical presentation of Smith's life would rival a show like the Sopranos.
Thank you for sharing these astute observations, honor. I believe this is the way to make progress in our understanding of early Mormonism.
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“He says he has eyes to see things that are not . . . and that the angel of the Lord . . . has put him in possession of great wealth, gold, silver, precious stones.” ~ Jesse Smith

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

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Like the Sopranos in some ways, I bet, yes indeed. But one big difference it seems to me is the novelty. Tony Soprano was following the well-worn track of the mafioso, wasn't he? I didn't actually watch the series, just read about it. Didn't everyone in the show kind of know how the game was played?

With the Restoration, though, it seems to me that all the main characters must have been totally winging it, not knowing any precedent for what they were doing. On the one hand that must have been a huge ego trip but on the other hand it must have left everyone wondering whether everything was about to pulled out from under them at any moment. The endless vertigo of being unprecedented rockstars whose every step might set off some hidden mine would be something to capture as part of the story, it seems to me.

Did Joseph Smith ever say anything about Napoleon? In Smith's day Bonaparte must have been the outstanding example in a lot of minds of someone coming from nowhere to make it bigger than anyone ever had. But at that point everyone would also have known that in the end Napoleon slipped up.

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

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Kishkumen wrote:My hypothesis for his motivation is that it was less religious than it was mercenary. Joseph Smith was seeking to create a tourist destination for travelers taking trips down the Erie Canal. One of the primary goals of this hoax, which would have been an obvious hoax to this target audience, was to draw the interest of Freemasons. It could be that Smith was originally making a bid to make Palmyra the western center of New York Freemasonry. Unfortunately, however, by the time his plan came to fruition, he had to abandon his original Masonic project and replace it with a church project. The kidnapping of Morgan and the subsequent anti-Masonic hysteria scotched the original plan.

So, the hoax was no longer a hoax with winking approval from Freemasons. Now it was something else entirely. And yet I think something of the original plan survived in the insistence on the hard materiality of the plates themselves. At some point, however, Joseph decided he would not be able to use his fabricated plates in the way he hoped, and so he had to get rid of them. No two bits a gander after all. That would have to wait until Joseph's young church purchased the mummies and papyri. Then people actually were charged two bits a gander to see the artifacts. I see no reason to think that the Book of Mormon wasn't originally intended to be a similar thing.
There is a touch of brilliance here, Reverend, in the suggestion of Mormonism starting out as a tourist venture. I have learned from your posts over the years to think of Mormonism as, among other things, a mechanism by which the Smith family gained respectability and social prestige, at least from their followers. That is a persuasive line of thinking because it fits a general pattern that we can connect to evidence. I find the suggestion here persuasive for the same reason: it fits a pattern that constructed from the evidence (one thinks, for example, of the tourist attraction made out of the mummies in Kirtland). I truly hope this becomes a book someday. I am a bit surprised that more hasn't been made of the Masonic influence (I first heard about it in a multi-episode podcast on Mormon Expression about ten years ago).

One area where I am skeptical is the use of the language of "hoax" and "fraud." You obviously know the source material far better than I ever will and have thought about these problems more deeply than I have, so I can only apologize for finding this an incomplete and distracting way to think about it. I have no problem charging Joseph Smith with this sort of thing on one level, but on another I feel it is insufficient as a way to understand what's going on. Partly there is the issue raised by MG, though I understand the rationale for seeing that as a secondary development and thus postponing it; but also I think it isolates into categories features of a kind of thinking that can't really be broken into categories, or perhaps shouldn't be if we want to understand our subject's thinking as much as possible. When I think of fraud and hoax, I think of someone who both knows while concealing the truth and at the same time does not believe what they say and does all this for purely utilitarian reasons, whereas Joseph Smith always strikes me as someone who believes what he is saying and committed to something far bigger than a series of cons. I've always found it hard to doubt his sincerity, though I don't think sincerity is useful gauge for determining whether or not something happened. Ultimately, my hesitation with this kind of language is connected to a hesitation about epistemological assumptions we make about other people, particular people in pre-modern societies or social environments where old and new ways of thinking and knowing are in tension (as the early 19th century frontier was). There is an assumption about knowledge when talking about hoaxes and fraud that relies on an accepted public meaning of the word and a publicly accepted method for acquiring or discovering or constructing (whichever you prefer) that knowledge. Joseph Smith strikes me, like many believers I have known, as someone who had great confidence in a private understanding of knowledge that is not accessible through the means that are publicly accepted.

This is how I think of someone like Hugh Nibley, and I use him as an example of what I mean: the important fact is that he has the truth, and his job is to promote it, so if he slightly misquotes this or that Church father or fragmentary Coptic text in a way that distorts the meaning of the original text, it is immaterial so long as the aim of confirming the truth is achieved. That is why he was a sloppy scholar but a brilliant thinker; a man with Kolob on his mind doesn't care about a petty ant game like footnote accuracy. A lot of the deceptive actions of the Church make sense to me in these terms (the ethics are another issue for another discussion): Joseph Fielding Smith knew that he was a prophet of God or whatever, so while there might have been this or that detail that made Joseph Smith look bad according to the publicly accepted understanding of acquiring and processing knowledge, such an understanding resides at an inferior level of understanding to the private knowledge that a small group of elect Mormons possess, and it is therefore justified to hide the Niebaur account (which was given to him by Hugh Nibley). Knowing the truth is secondary to having it.

That is how I have always seen Joseph Smith: he knows and believes all kind of lore connecting the indigenous people to ancient Israel, but what distinguishes him is that he believes himself to have access to another layer of knowledge through a private source, and some people around him also believed that, not only about him but about themselves; as an intra-group epistemology, it was knowledge acquired in private way (just as subgroups and subcultures will have their own private language with private meaning sometimes at variance with public meanings and thus unintelligible to outsiders). Now, if that private source tells him that this pile of stones in Missouri is the altar of Adam, why should he think otherwise no matter how absurd it is? If he is convinced that there are gold plates with records about Nephites—if he knows through this private form of knowing that it is true—then there is nothing wrong with forging a secondary imitation of the unfound plates for the purposes of promulgating the truth that he alone possesses. Such forged object would have a function of confirming, not persuading. Now, Physics Guy will rightly come in and ask about the objective fact pattern: no plates, so he makes up some object, hides it under a cloth, and lies to everyone that they are the plates. Isn't that a hoax? I would say no, because that would depend not only on motive but also on mind. Emphasizing that we are interested in how something like Mormonism came into being and not in trying to prove something about Momonism's claims, someone who does this solely to extract money from other people is different from someone who does in service to a grander vision that attracts others. The one is very easy to understand and thus easier to detect; the second is harder, more complex, and harder to explain. Joseph Smith has always been in that second group.

I think is why the magic angle was so helpful, at least for me, in understanding Joseph Smith and early Mormonism, especially the earliest Mormonism. It also explains the very polar reactions to Joseph Smith: the kinds of people who were a part of that subculture, with its group-internal epistemology (that is, an essentially private way of knowing shared only by the members of the group and at odds with the wider public epistemology) were the kind of people who joined up with the new Church (the Whitmers and so on). Those people saw nothing wrong with Joseph Smith, and David Whitmer's lifelong belief in his project, despite breaking with the Church, is best explained by understanding him as someone who shared an epistemological outlook similar to Joseph Smith's. The trouble is that the wider culture of the 19th century had long moved towards an objective or empiricist epistemological mode as the only valid means of knowing; from that perspective, Joseph Smith is an obvious fraudster engaged in a gigantic hoax, and the reactions from this angle are predictable in their contemptuous dismissal. I think that is right on one level, but for me I need the evidence that Joseph Smith was knowingly engaged in hoax, not inferences based on circumstantial evidence or witness testimony, which is as useless to me as the Whitmers as far as that goes. Absent that, an overly empiricist understanding of Joseph Smith, which is what a hoax/fraud model implies, answers this by saying, basically, that he was just an extremely effective an imposter as evidenced by the fact that he left no evidence of his being a knowing imposter. That is basically circular. I think he really believed his own story.

I have long thought and said many times that Mormonism is premodern in its theological claims and in much else, and I suspect you and others here would agree. I also think it is premodern in its epistemology in some sense. The materiality of the plates was not to establish the hard reality of his claims, in the sense that they were meant as instruments of persuasion: they did not convince the Whitmers but confirmed, just like a crying testimony or stories about three Nephites or lost keys confirm what believers already think but are pretty meaningless and bizarre to outsiders. There is a lot more that could be argued and discussed about that distinction, but suffice it to say that Joseph Smith had expectations of what these objects would do that were rooted in the essentially private epistemology of frontier people who believed in spirits and magic. His met frustration when he presented them to a wider culture that used objects as epistemological devices in a totally different way.

I say Joseph Smith's was premodern because I think this tourist scheme using objects was supposed to work as it did for people who found Lichas's discovery of Orestes's bones believable. Any bones that fit the the expectation would do. The same sort of thinking underlies the omphalos at Delphi, the Black Stone in the Kaabah at Mecca, the Stone of Scone, or any number of medieval reliquaries. We thus complete our circumambulation of your magnificent thesis here and invoke again the notion of pattern-fitting, I think this notion that Joseph Smith originally saw the tourism opportunity here to be a brilliant insight, but I see this less as a deliberate hoax and more the product of the kind of thinking that has long been feature of religious shrines, from Delphi to Mecca to Temple Square. The tourism gambit failed, but the epistemological assumptions that that set the project in motion in the first placed continued to direct Joseph into something more recognizable as religion.
"As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them."

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

Post by Kishkumen »

Ah, carissime consule.

This is another one of those incredibly rich and thought-provoking posts that you so regularly bless this little corner of cyberspace with. The entire thing is so dead on on every level that it is frankly spooky.

Let me explain a couple of things briefly. Before I do, hopefully it will suffice to say that my thinking on these topics is very close to what you are saying, but, once again, I doubt that I have the ability to elucidate it in the way you have.

First, I chose the word hoax here for a couple of reasons. First of all, I want to see the Book of Mormon plates set alongside other similar North American phenomena in the 19th-early 20th centuries. You know, things like the Bat Creek Stone and America's Stonehenge. My motivation for doing so is not immediately obvious to those who simply accept the idea of hoaxing or frauds as those terms are popularly used. What I want to do is strip away some of the barriers that make it difficult for Mormons to contextualize the plates. The LDS Church wants the Book of Mormon to be this onetime miraculous historical event. That does nothing to help a historian grapple with the phenomenon, and I am including LDS, or LDS-influenced historians in my consideration here.

For example, Richard Bushman has a terrible time dealing with Joseph Smith and folk magic. This is because of the theological blinders he wears regarding both magic and Mormonism. This forces him to see an evolution of Joseph Smith from magician to prophet. I would argue that such a distinction is bogus. Joseph Smith was always a seer, be it a seer for treasure or a seer for his church. The difference that arises is not that he ceases to dabble in magic. No, the difference is that he monopolizes the authority to perform magic authoritatively for the church. See the Hiram Page incident.

When it comes to these hoaxes, I think the problem is parallel to the problem with magic, the latter of which is really an issue of a modern Weltanshauung being polemically deployed against a pre-modern phenomenon, as you so ably put it. In the light of modern archaeology, the practices that lead to the production of the Bat Creek Stone, America's Stonehenge, and other similar artifacts must be deligitimized in order to perform boundary maintenance for the emerging modern, scientific discipline. Of course, this gesture occludes an entire tradition for relating to a sense of place, negotiating identity, etc., through interactions with the "past." And here we can slot in Smith's plates. The examples you refer to in your final paragraph are precisely the kind of thing I have in mind from earlier centuries. Joseph Smith is in that tradition, and the irony is that the dominance of a modern, scientific discourse is exactly what has made people forget what it was he was doing.

What is happening in Mormonism now with regard to Smith's engagement with antiquity already happened in Freemasonry first. It took some time for Masons to come to grips with the late origins of the legends of the Craft. A lot of them once thought the story of Hiram Abiff was a real thing. Now the vast majority do not. I think Joseph Smith's understanding of the concept of the ancient comes out of the Western esoteric stream of culture and worldview. Through folk magic and Freemasonry he simply has a different understanding of what it means to engage with the past than the mainstream Protestant religion and scholarly thought of his time. For him the ancient is more a mode of engaging with the world that someone actively lives out than it is a point on an abstract timeline. Even if Joseph was not a Freemason until Nauvoo, this is a perspective he will have picked up from his father and other men around him--treasure diggers and Freemasons. The two groups overlap.

So, there is also a tradition of Masonic hoaxes. For example, there were chain letters circulating in the early 20th century. One was the "Ancient Prayer Chain Letter," which contained a prayer that claimed to have been sent by all Masons in the deep past and promised blessings to those who sent it along and curses to those that did not. Another, the "McKinley Chain Letter" called upon Masons to donate 10 cents for a McKinley Monument, when the monument in question had already been constructed year prior to the circulation of the chain letter. The one that I am most interested in when it comes to comparison with the plates, however, is the Oak Island treasure dig. In this case, however, people have argued that the Masonic associations were imposed years after the initial treasure dig. Still, it is interesting to note that a treasure dig naturally attracted the interest of Freemasons to the point that they freely chose to connect themselves to the legend of a treasure that was already in existence.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak_Island_mystery

Why Masons should be attracted to a treasure dig is pretty obvious: their legends already contain narratives about hunting for the body of Hiram Abiff, searching for the Grand Key Word, finding the gold plate of Enoch in a subterranean temple built by the ante-diluvian patriarch below the Temple Mount. So, in both the cases of Joseph Smith and the gold plates, and the Oak Island mystery, that Masonic references should become attached to both at different times and places is really not mysterious at all. The two activities--treasure digging and Masonry--complement each other pretty well. A nice example from the Hurlbut affidavits is a reference from one of the participants in the Smith treasure digs referring to one member of the group playing the part of "warden."

Once again, however, my motivation for using the term hoax is not to apply it pejoratively but instead to associate the plates with similar phenomena.
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“He says he has eyes to see things that are not . . . and that the angel of the Lord . . . has put him in possession of great wealth, gold, silver, precious stones.” ~ Jesse Smith

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Kishkumen
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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

Post by Kishkumen »

Another interesting thing to check out in this general cultural confluence would be the novel Etidorhpa by the pharmacist John Uri Lloyd. The novel begins with the protagonist meets a mysterious figure who recounts his adventures to the protagonist, Drury, over many meetings. The events I-Am-The-Man recounts take place 30 years earlier and seem to suggest a connection between this figure and William Morgan. I-Am-The-Man is taken by his three kidnappers who belong to a "secret society" to a cave in Kentucky where a long underground journey commences. The novel has alchemical and Masonic elements.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etidorhpa

Etidorhpa was published in 1895, so it could not be considered an influence on the Book of Mormon. Rather, I would consider a kind of cultural cousin of the Book of Mormon.
Last edited by Kishkumen on Wed Jul 29, 2020 9:50 am, edited 2 times in total.
“God came to me in a dream last night and showed me the future. He took me to heaven and I saw Donald Trump seated at the right hand of our Lord.” ~ Pat Robertson
“He says he has eyes to see things that are not . . . and that the angel of the Lord . . . has put him in possession of great wealth, gold, silver, precious stones.” ~ Jesse Smith

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

Post by Kishkumen »

Even more apposite to the Book of Mormon, however, is the legendary silver mines of Jonathan Swift (merchant of Alexandria, Virginia and associate of George Washington) in Kentucky. In one version of a pseudepigraphic journal of Swift, he claims to have traveled to Kentucky before Daniel Bone and there found silver.

Evidently the Swift's journal (a forgery) is chock full of Masonic references and symbols. From the research of Joe Nickell:
Swift says he marked a tree with "the
symbols of a compass (some versions read compasses), trowel and square." (32) These
symbols are meaningless in any but a single context: A combined compass (a drawing
compass, or 'pair of compasses ) and square compose the emblem of the 'secret society,
Freemasonry. The trowel is the symbol of the Freeman s craft.
Freemasonry, or Masonry, is a benevolent society. It is not, Masons state, a
'secret society but a 'society with secrets . First carried to America in the early 18th
century, it has been defined as 'a peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and
illustrated by symbols." (33) Swift says he marked various trees and rocks with symbols which he referred to as "curious marks" and again as "peculiar marks." He identified one location of buried
treasure with "a symbol of a triangle." Not just a triangle, but a symbol - one important in
masonry. Another Masonic symbol is the "Broad Arrow," also represented in the
Journal; and there are many others.(34)In the Masonic ritual of the Entered
Apprentice, or First Degree, is the statement that there is "nothing more fervent than heated
charcoal, it will melt the most obduratemetals." (35) Similarly, in the Journal Swift
states, "We were able to make charcoal in large quantities, for our use in smelting the ore." (36)
The Journal continues in this vein (no pun intended): As part of the allegory, Swift
claims that - when he left the "richest mine"for the last time - he "walled it up with
masonry form." (37) Otherwise an unlikely expression, we need only capitalize "masonry"
to see that this says, in effect, that the meaning has been concealed or 'veiled in Masonic
fashion. It may b read with a knowing wink. Now, among the essential elements of
any true Masonic group are these: "a legend or allegory relating to the building of King
Solomon s Temple" and "symbolism based on the stonemason s trade." (38) Masonry
incorporates many legends of King Solomon, his masons, and the building of the temple.
Indeed, the Masonic Lodge is held to represent some part of Solomon s Temple. (39) The
lodge is oriented east and west, with east regarded as the most sacred of the cardinal
points.(40) Thus it is that our allegorist, "Swift," places his furnace in a "rockhouse that faces
the east." From the rock house, he says, "facing the east you can see two monument
rocks" (two tall rock pillars). (41) These are coincident with the Masonic/Solomonic "two
great pillars" symbolizing Strength and Establishment. (42) The remote and fabled mines, the fleet
of ships (which supposedly bore Swift s silver to the "trade of the seas"), even the corral for
horses - all tally with Solomon, his fabled mines (in "Ophir"), his great fleet, trade, and
stables. Just as Swift refers to his "occupation as a silver-smith," Masons extol Solomon s
Master Mason (whom they called Hiram Abif) - a smith, a craftsman in precious metals. And,
like Swift who supposedly found so much silver he could not transport all of it, Solomon
"made silver to be in Jerusalem as stone..." (43)
The Swift story admirably teaches its moral about the futility of 'laying up
treasures." It is not a true story but a parable in the form of a legend "veiled in allegory." In
the Journal, Swift states the story s moral in a philosophical monologue: He says, in part, that
"the works of man are always unfinished and unsatisfactory: and that "the life of man should
be at some period turned about for reflection on God..."(44)
Let us unveil a bit more. When Swift allegedly returned, years later, his blindness
prevented him from re-locating his treasure. This is the punch-line of the allegory. In
Masonry - which has been called the "Great Light" - light symbolizes enlightenment. (Swift
says that from the "richest mine" you could "see a hole through the cliff and see the sky
beyond." He called this formation "The Lighthouse." (45) In contrast, applicants for
the Degrees of Masonry are first required to enter the lodge - like Swift - in complete
blindness. (46) The "all-seeing" eye (depicted, for example, on the back of a dollar bill) is a
prime Masonic symbol. (47) Not only Swift s furnace but his "richest mine" was in a cave. He and his men
camped in another. And he had rich stores of silver (walled up with "masonry form")
"hidden in the great cavern...which fact was known to no one living soul beyond our
company." (48) (Like Masons, the members of Swift s "company" were "sworn to secrecy.")
To this end, we should note that caves of "Clefts of the Rocks" figure prominently in
Masonic symbolism. Too, there is the Masonic legend of the "Secret Vault," Solomon s
subterranean depository of certain great secrets. (49)
The Masonic rites of the Third Degree feature a quest after such vague secrets
(specifically "that which is lost") which, I the end, remain lost. (50) That, precisely, is the
simple plot of the Swift legend. A "sea captain" figures in that Degree; and it will
come as no surprise to learn that Swift states, "I became captain of a ship."
The parallels go on and on. Swift s landmarks include a "Lookout Rock,"
"Hanging Rock," "Remarkable Rocks," etc., including the two pillars or "Monument Rocks" previously noted. In Masonry, "Landmarks" -originally stone pillars for boundaries - are symbols distinguishing
Masons from others. (51) Various directions from the furnace are given in distances of "three miles." (For
example, "We carried the ore three miles to the furnace."; Furnace Creek forks "about three
miles below the furnace"; again, "North of the furnace about three miles is a large hill..."). In
Masonry, three miles represents a "Cable Tow s Length" which is "symbolic of the
scope of a man s reasonable ability." (52) Numerous times Swift employs the number
three - a number with definite significance in Freemasonry.
The preceding only begins the possibilities. Such Masonic terms as "The
Conclusion of the Whole Matter," "The Camp," "The Contention Among Brethren,"
"The Left Hand," "The Right Hand," "Treasure Room," "Royal Arch," "Cardinal
Points" (of the Compass), "The Broken Column," "Degrees," "The Winding Stairs,"
"Covenant of Masonry," "Darkness to Light," "Circumambulation," "Weary Sojourners,"
"Foreign Country," "The Lost Word," "Distressed Worthy Brother," "the Rejected
Stone," etc., etc., all seem to have definite counterparts in the allegorical Swift Journal.
So do such symbols as the crescent moon, grapevine, laurel, crown, and others. (53)
There are historically dubious points in the Journal which are probably directly
attributable to allegory. Arthur Edward Waite points out that "the significance is in the
allegory and not in any point of history which may lie behind it." (54)
Those interested in this book, see https://books.google.com/books?id=1V-BI ... navlinks_s

Nickell concludes that the author of the Swift hoax was the famous Kentuckian John Filson, who produced the first map of Kentucky and its first history, which was published in 1784.
First, there are Masonic symbols and allusions in the text of Filson s land record;
but we cannot be certain they are not purely coincidental. For example, "Cardinal Points of
the Compass" is a definite Masonic term, while on the other hand nothing precludes a non-
Mason s innocent use of the expression in a deed. Too, the "Square" may just be meant
literally. In Masonry it can refer either to the four-sided figure which symbolizes morality
(or duty), or to the trying square, which, with the compass, composes the Masonic emblem.
(The serious student may wish to look up in Masonic texts and glossaries the following:
"North-East Corner," "Working Tools," "Legend," "The Lost Word," "Quest,"
"Alchemy," and even "Circumambulation,") But I belabor my point; presently we shall look
at Filson s Masonic ties; first, let us consider other evidence.
IN 1788 (the year in which the Journal was probably created, or at least
finished), Filson was actually living in the home of a prominent Mason, Colonel Robert
Patterson (75) - soon to be a Filson partner in founding "Losantiville." It was in this
significant year of 1788, on November 17, that the "first lodge west of the Alleghenies,"
Masonic Lodge No. 25 at Lexington, was issued a charter. (76) The date of the
application for the charter is unknown, but surely it was some time (weeks or even
months) before. (Prior to that time, Kentucky s Freemasons had to make the difficult,
dangerous trip to the Grand Lodge in Richmond, VA.) Unfortunately, the names of
the charter members of Lodge No. 25 are irretrievably lost; (77) but it does seem that
while plans were being made to establish the lodge, Filson - living in Patterson s home - was
close at hand. And it is very likely that, with his extraordinary curiosity and his admiration
for Masons, he sought membership in the society.
“God came to me in a dream last night and showed me the future. He took me to heaven and I saw Donald Trump seated at the right hand of our Lord.” ~ Pat Robertson
“He says he has eyes to see things that are not . . . and that the angel of the Lord . . . has put him in possession of great wealth, gold, silver, precious stones.” ~ Jesse Smith

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

Post by Gadianton »

The Rev wrote:Once again, however, my motivation for using the term hoax is not to apply it pejoratively but instead to associate the plates with similar phenomena.
That was quite an explanation. Perhaps one day, members will rise from the pews and affirm at the pulpit that they know without a shadow of a doubt, that Joseph Smith's Gold Plates hoax was true.

Hoaxes are also compatible with the Inspired Fiction Theory.
FARMS refuted:

"...supporters of Billy Meier still point to the very clear photos of Pleiadian beam ships flying over his farm. They argue that for the photos to be fakes, we have to believe that a one-armed man who had no knowledge of Photoshop or other digital photography programs could have made such realistic photos and films..." -- D. R. Prothero

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

Post by Dr Exiled »

Gadianton wrote:
Wed Jul 22, 2020 9:36 pm
The Rev wrote:Once again, however, my motivation for using the term hoax is not to apply it pejoratively but instead to associate the plates with similar phenomena.
That was quite an explanation. Perhaps one day, members will rise from the pews and affirm at the pulpit that they know without a shadow of a doubt, that Joseph Smith's Gold Plates hoax was true.

Hoaxes are also compatible with the Inspired Fiction Theory.
I just lost it with this comment :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

Whatever for the cause ... I know the Fund is true.
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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

Post by Physics Guy »

I like Symmachus's idea of alternative epistemologies but I think we have to be careful about labeling the main alternatives "Modern" and "Pre-Modern". One kind of epistemology has gained prominence in the past few centuries but I'm pretty sure that both have always been with us and always will be.

To me the essential issue was identified by Blaise Pascal in connection with his infamous wager. There are lots of ways to define belief and knowledge but a sense of "belief" that is routinely useful is that you believe something to the extent that you occupy your mind with thoughts that are based on that something as an assumption. Belief in this sense is a mental action, a strategy you apply when you distribute your mental resources. And so, Pascal suggested, we should consider epistemology as a branch of game theory. What are the costs and benefits of allowing one assumption to dominate one's thoughts rather than another one?

That's all I'm trying to take from Pascal's wager: the idea that what you believe is not only about how likely something is to be true. Deciding what to believe, in the sense of deciding what assumptions you take for granted in most of your thoughts, is a more general problem in which other kinds of cost and benefit may also apply.

Sometimes, to be sure, the likelihood of being true is the overwhelmingly decisive issue. If there are substantial practical implications, like whether the prize behind the door is a lady or a tiger, or the stairway leads to an exit from the burning building or only to a dead end and a fatal delay, then you really want to be right. Even if the stakes are high like that, though, truth alone is only a decisive issue in belief if evidence that will help you decide upon truth is accessible. If there is just no objective way to tell what's behind the door or down the stairway then you will have to decide using other criteria than probable truth.

Sometimes you are not forced to choose, of course, but can simply conclude that the truth is unknown. From the Pascalian game theory viewpoint, however, that kind of agnostic conclusion is simply another move you can make. I am not trying to adopt from Pascal any assumption that there are always exactly two choices, one of which must be taken. Agnosticism is a mental choice with its own set of costs and benefits. Sometimes it will be a terrible choice, for example in the burning building scenario, where simply standing still not choosing any route is guaranteed to be fatal. Often, of course, it's wise to keep all your options open by mentally preparing for multiple scenarios, or simply to ignore an issue and devote more mental effort to other tasks that offer better rewards for mental effort.

My proposition is that truth is a decisive issue in determining belief when two conditions obtain: 1) knowing the truth will be of foreseeable practical advantage and 2) acquiring clear evidence in favor of the truth will not be too hard. Whenever these conditions don't hold, however, other issues besides truth can be much more important, even to the point where people really don't care at all about whether or not something is actually true because it's just a moot point—the truth isn't knowable and does not matter anyway.

I'm pretty sure that even prehistoric humans were good at carefully reasoning from evidence whenever those conditions held. I bet that even the most superstitious prehistoric savages would have been pretty shrewd about trying to track down exactly who stole their food or their tools. I don't think humans would have survived otherwise. And conversely even today there are plenty of issues that interest people strongly, for one reason or another, but which are hard to investigate rigorously and for which the negative consequences of being wrong, or rewards for being right, are not going to appear in the immediate future. In cases like that I think we all still tend to believe what we want to believe, whatever our reasons for wanting may be.

Even if we don't declare a firm opinion on such undecidable issues I think we usually vote with our mental feet, so to speak, in that we spend more time considering one option rather than the other. We might not say that we believe things without decisive evidence but I think that in practical terms we still do believe lots of things on irrational grounds.

The change within the past few centuries has been that a lot of things which used to be undecidable have become much more easily testable, and a lot of right conclusions that were previously useless have become practically useful. It's not just that a collective epistemological conversion from wishful thinking to rigor has brought us science and technology as the righteous reward for our obedience to the one true faith of empiricism. The growth of science and technology, and our increased faith in scientific investigation, have occurred together by reinforcing each other. For questions to which the true answer offers no clear pay-off and which are very hard to investigate objectively, that virtuous circle has never worked and still doesn't work now.

So, to come back to Joseph Smith. Suppose he made some fake plates in an effort to get people to believe in his Mormonism. If he and everyone else was thinking strictly in terms of reasoning from evidence to objective truth, then he was deliberately mounting a hoax, consciously running a con. What if instead he and everyone else involved was thinking differently, though?

There was a classic Simpsons episode in which Lisa gets a birthday song written for her personally by "Michael Jackson", for the case in which "Michael Jackson" is actually an overweight white guy who lives in a mental institution, though he speaks in a convincing imitation of Michael Jackson's voice (being voiced by Michael Jackson). At a decisive point "Michael Jackson" explains to Lisa that she can simply choose between two scenarios. In one of them she gets a song written for her by Michael Jackson, and in the other she's only interacting with a crazy person. Which scenario is better? Lisa decides to go along with believing in "Michael Jackson" for the duration of his song, after which he reverts to his deeper natural voice, reveals his real name, and leaves the institution, at which he was only staying voluntarily. He's not really delusional; he just really likes pretending to be Michael Jackson.

If you're a poor farmhand or struggling shopkeeper in rural New England in the 1830s, the scenario in which a prophet has received ancient plates from an angel is a heck of a lot more exciting than the one in which one of your fellow rural rubes has cooked up a crude hoax. Really investigating all these claims is going to be hard. Anybody here read hieroglyphics? And what would careful investigation bring you, anyway? Best case, it leads you to the same positive conclusion that you want to reach anyway, just after a lot more work. Worst case, it ruins the most excitement these parts have seen for generations.

So maybe it wasn't really a hoax after all. Maybe it was more like making a movie or an advertisement, inviting people to play along, and making it more fun and easy to get into the game. I wonder now how many early Mormons weren't exactly convinced that everything Smith said was true, but were simply convinced to play along in a cool game.

I wonder how many Mormons are still doing that now.

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Re: Plan A for the Book of Mormon

Post by Kishkumen »

So, to come back to Joseph Smith. Suppose he made some fake plates in an effort to get people to believe in his Mormonism. If he and everyone else was thinking strictly in terms of reasoning from evidence to objective truth, then he was deliberately mounting a hoax, consciously running a con. What if instead he and everyone else involved was thinking differently, though?

There was a classic Simpsons episode in which Lisa gets a birthday song written for her personally by "Michael Jackson", for the case in which "Michael Jackson" is actually an overweight white guy who lives in a mental institution, though he speaks in a convincing imitation of Michael Jackson's voice (being voiced by Michael Jackson). At a decisive point "Michael Jackson" explains to Lisa that she can simply choose between two scenarios. In one of them she gets a song written for her by Michael Jackson, and in the other she's only interacting with a crazy person. Which scenario is better? Lisa decides to go along with believing in "Michael Jackson" for the duration of his song, after which he reverts to his deeper natural voice, reveals his real name, and leaves the institution, at which he was only staying voluntarily. He's not really delusional; he just really likes pretending to be Michael Jackson.

If you're a poor farmhand or struggling shopkeeper in rural New England in the 1830s, the scenario in which a prophet has received ancient plates from an angel is a heck of a lot more exciting than the one in which one of your fellow rural rubes has cooked up a crude hoax. Really investigating all these claims is going to be hard. Anybody here read hieroglyphics? And what would careful investigation bring you, anyway? Best case, it leads you to the same positive conclusion that you want to reach anyway, just after a lot more work. Worst case, it ruins the most excitement these parts have seen for generations.

So maybe it wasn't really a hoax after all. Maybe it was more like making a movie or an advertisement, inviting people to play along, and making it more fun and easy to get into the game. I wonder now how many early Mormons weren't exactly convinced that everything Smith said was true, but were simply convinced to play along in a cool game.
Very interesting and productive ideas, PG. So, my response to some of this is that I am only using the term "hoax" as the outsider's term for what we are looking at here. Here the "hoax" is a winking message to insiders. It is a way of passing out a calling card to identify the "hoaxer" and his efforts with a certain tradition. It is difficult to tell how sincere or insincere this person is in their actions. So I tend to set that issue aside. In these situations, it is difficult to pigeonhole what we are looking at. Observers can't help but try to place what they are seeing in comfortable categories. We seek resolution.

I understand that, and I understand the general demographic on MormonDiscussions.com. It is easier for us to talk about hoaxes because it seems to satisfy the desire of many to identify clearly who Joseph Smith was in a deflated or negative way. Honestly, I don't think there is anything insignificant about hoaxing, and I don't think it is necessary to see it in a negative way. Hoaxing deliberately occupies a zone of ambiguity that gives people room to enter into a different narrative. Whether Joseph Smith had ancient gold plates or not, the tradition of legitimizing knowledge through finding a buried or lost book in the earth is very ancient, and arguably constitutes a kind of ritual scenario in its own right.

If we go back to the discovery of the Books of Numa in 181 BCE, we see a nice parallel to the plates in the ambiguity of deception versus real sacred object. The Books of Numa had the advantage of occurring at a time when it was much more difficult to identify a forgery. Noteworthy is the fact that Roman authorities destroyed the books through a sacrificial process, leaving the ambiguity intact and preserving interest in the books for thousands of years. The figure of Numa received indirect support from interest in his books. To get a sense of the kind of interest he generated one can read Plutarch's Life of Numa. The forged Books of Numa, as objects of incredible significance that could not be submitted to careful examination, continued to inspire questions about Numa and make him seem all the more intriguing.

The Book of Mormon exists in a similar zone of ambiguity. It invites some to invest in its spiritual power. It invites others to discredit it. The fact that it does both so well says something about the skill of the person who constructed the entire thing from the belief in its existence, to the efforts to recover it, and the translation of the plates. Some of Smith's most literal or maybe canny imitators have realized that finding an ancient record and translating it is at the heart of Mormon ritual and narrative practice. In the LDS Church, the lure of that process was preserved in the "sealed plates"--the promise that some future LDS leader would do exactly what Joseph Smith did with the part of the plates Smith did not translate. Some enterprising souls have taken it upon themselves to circumvent the Church and go straight after their own claim to have done so.
“God came to me in a dream last night and showed me the future. He took me to heaven and I saw Donald Trump seated at the right hand of our Lord.” ~ Pat Robertson
“He says he has eyes to see things that are not . . . and that the angel of the Lord . . . has put him in possession of great wealth, gold, silver, precious stones.” ~ Jesse Smith

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