Hey guys, so Latter-day Saints believe that the Book of Mormon, as translated by the prophet Joseph Smith, is sacred scripture. But Joseph’s story involves visions and angels and revelation—the kind of stuff that might have happened thousands of years ago but is a bit hard for some people to accept closer to our era. Thus, for nearly 200 years now people have been trying to figure out how Joseph Smith, if not with God’s help, could have produced the Book of Mormon himself.
Now, those familiar with the dictation process claimed that Joseph primarily translated by sticking his face into a hat while looking at a revelatory tool called a seer stone. The evidence does not support the idea that these witnesses were co-conspirators, and these descriptions of the translation come from both believers and nonbelievers, so we’re going to assume that they were telling the truth about what they saw.
Thus, if we’re playing devil’s advocate but attempting to accommodate for witness testimony, we’re assuming that with no prior authorship experience Joseph rapidly dictated this 531-page book without significant revisions, on his first try, from memory. So in this episode, we’re actually going to dive into the text he dictated to see a few examples of what his memory was apparently able to handle. Buckle up.
The Book of Mormon contains over 500 references to geography, which Joseph manages to keep consistent throughout the text. Cities and landmarks all remarkably stay where they are supposed to be in relation to each other, to the point where scholars have been able to recreate a map based on that internal geographic consistency.
Joseph also manages to keep multiple timelines from three different major migrations consistent, accurately balancing dates with the ages of characters, including timelines based on 3 different points of reference, and including multiple flashbacks that are also consistently interconnected with each other and the main storyline. He balances hundreds of different characters and their respective roles, many of whose names are totally unique.
The first chapter of the Book of Ether contains a long genealogical list of 30 different kings. You may not have realized it, but the rest of the Book of Ether works through this same list of kings in reverse chronological order, again mentioning all 30 of those kings in reverse order up to Ether, the author of the Book of Ether. Surely an incredibly difficult thing to do from memory.
On countless occasions, Book of Mormon prophets made promises or mentioned details that find fulfillment or are consistently referenced later in the text. They’re small details that you’ve probably never noticed, but each one is important, because the smaller the details, the easier it would have been for Joseph’s memory to slip up. For example: In Alma 35:13 Mormon wrote, “and thus commenced a war betwixt the Lamanites and the Nephites, in the eighteenth year of the reign of the judges; and an account shall be given of their wars hereafter.” He goes off on another subject but about 15 pages later, Mormon writes, “And now I return to an account of the wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites, in the eighteenth year of the reign of the judges.”
Mosiah 11:12 describes a tower built near a temple that overlooked the land of Shemlon. 19 pages later we get another reference to the tower. And guess what? It’s still near the temple, overlooking Shemlon, just as it should be.
In Mosiah 3:8, Mosiah prophesies about the future life of “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning … ” about 250 pages later, Samuel the Lamanite quotes Mosiah, using this same exact title, as he prophesies about the coming of Christ.
Another example: The Book of Mormon consistently places Zarahemla north of Nephi, but travelers are consistently described as going north, down to Zarahemla, and up to Nephi, suggesting that topographically, Zarahemla was lower than Nephi. So not only is this directionally consistent, but topographically consistent, and counterintuitive to how Joseph would have thought about directions. In modern times, going north means going up, not down.
Now, perhaps one or two, or even several of these examples could be explained away and attributed to Joseph’s memory. But these kinds of things are happening over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, hundreds of times in a variety of ways, while Joseph dictates with his face in a hat.
Of course, this information does not prove the Book of Mormon is true and it shouldn’t be the foundation of anyone’s testimony. But it is data, among much else, that should be realistically accounted for in any theories of fraud. And having read the Book of Mormon and scratched the surface of its intricate complexity, shrugging it off as a product of Joseph’s memory just doesn’t do it for me. I see no reason in the historic record to believe his brain was capable of this. He wasn’t stupid, but even his own wife described him as “ignorant and unlearned.” I tend to agree with Daniel Peterson’s analysis, that,
“The intricate structure and detailed complexity of the Book of Mormon seem far better explained as the work of several ancient writers using various written sources over the space of centuries than exploding suddenly from the mind of a barely educated manual laborer on the American frontier.”
And God certainly does have a habit of using small and simple things to bring to pass great things.” But as always, I encourage you to sincerely and prayerfully read the book and come to your own conclusions. Shoot us a message on our social channels or check out the resources in the YouTube description for more info, and have a great day.
- “Book of Mormon Geographical References: Internal Consistency Taken to a New Level,” by Tyler Griffin: http://bit.ly/2Lh3VKB
- “Geographical Names Listed by Scripture Reference,” By John Welch and Greg Welch: http://bit.ly/2MSKvfg
- “Why Does the Book of Ether Begin with Such a Long Genealogy?” by Book of Mormon Central: http://bit.ly/3pMbMPi
- “Mormon’s Editorial Promises,” by John Sorenson and Melvin Thorne: http://bit.ly/3oMR1l2
- “Complexity, Consistency, Ignorance, and Probabilities,” by Melvin J. Thorne: http://bit.ly/3jqLP5D
- “Flashbacks in the Book of Alma,” by John Welch and Greg Welch: http://bit.ly/3cTALN9
- “Book of Mormon’s consistency, complexity still amaze,” by Daniel C. Peterson: http://bit.ly/3ji3PyQ
- Video on the complexity of the Book of Mormon, by Book of Mormon Central: http://bit.ly/3q65ni4