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I know, I’ve fallen way off the boat with my “Why I Believe” posts, I’ll fill in more someday. I was asked to speak in church on Sunday about the Book of Mormon. At first I thought I’d end up just reading what I wrote in this blog post… but as I wrote my talk this came out instead. It turned out to be part of the series that I hadn’t gotten to writing yet. I guess sometimes I just need a little encouragement – thanks Bishop!
Our bishop gave us Elder Holland’s talk “Safety for the Soul” for a topic. I sort of feel like being given a talk from Elder Holland to speak on is like throwing down a gauntlet – here take this amazing talk and find something you can add to it, I dare you. Seriously, Elder Holland’s talk is amazing and I would definitely invite you to stop reading my post and re-listen to his talk So a little known fact about me – although my career has been in computers I actually majored in Linguistics in college. If you’re not familiar with what linguistics is – basically it’s the study of language – not any particular language but the study of the mechanics, building blocks, and psychology of language. So when I heard about this linguistic study that was done on the Book of Mormon I thought was intriguing.
So linguists have found that every person has a unique “wordprint” – basically a fingerprint of their particular writing style. Every person has subconscious patterns of usage for non-contextual words – words like that and, the and, and and, to – they’re words that we use without really thinking and it’s nearly impossible to break those habits. They’ve found that even people who are very conscientious about trying to imitate another person’s style still actually maintain their own wordprint.
The Book of Mormon presents an interesting case because it’s a book that has 100 individual speakers if it was translated and should therefore have 100 different wordprints. So they took a sampling of texts from 24 Book of Mormon speakers and 9 texts from other speakers, including people like Joseph Smith who would be supposed alternate authors for the Book of Mormon. Sure enough, they found unique wordprints for each of these different authors. This is fascinating as it would be nearly impossible for a single person to really write in that many voices without their own wordprint bleeding through.
(Sidenote: there were some other fascinating discoveries in that study so if you have some time I’d highly recommend reading it)
After reading about this study I have been more attentive to seeing these stylistic differences between authors and it is interesting to me to see that each speaker in the Book of Mormon truly has their own unique style and personality similar to the modern Apostles in their conference talks. You start to get a feel for each of the individual Book of Mormon prophets as you separate out their writings and it’s fascinating to me to get to know them in this way.
I think this is such a blessing, even if you might not connect with what Nephi has to say, you might find that you really love the words of Alma or maybe King Benjamin. I was thinking recently in a sacrament meeting what a blessing it is that we have a church where we get to hear different people speak each week and get a different perspective on the gospel rather than having a single pastor. While I’m sure Bishop Peters could give us an excellent sermon every week I love that every person here has their own experiences with the gospel and different things that stick out to them and that we get to hear those perspectives. I think this helps the gospel to be richer for all of us as we gain different insights through the eyes of different members of the ward each week. It’s awesome that the Book of Mormon has this same plethora of perspectives to share with us rather than just one person’s interpretation of the gospel.
Every person you meet will have a different take on the gospel. One of my best friends in college once put together a notebook for me that she filled with some of her very favorite quotes. It was one of the sweetest gifts that someone has given me. But when I got it I noticed something interesting – the quotes that spoke to her didn’t speak to me in the same way. She had selected a lot of quotes that were lovely – they talked about things like you’re loved and beautiful and special – which is great. However the quotes that I tend to take note of are really bold quotes – “the standard of truth has been erected, no unhallowed hand shall stop the work” type quotes. Even though this was one of my very best friends the things that spoke to her and the things that spoke to me were very different. When you read through the Book of Mormon you find so many different styles and messages. Just like it would be hard for Elder Holland to write an Elder Scott talk, I have a hard time believing that one person was able to come up with so many different spins on the gospel and craft such a detailed work.
Another interesting note is the geography of the Book of Mormon. A few years back my mom read a book called Mormon’s Map which focused entirely on the geographical clues of the Book of Mormon. As you read the Book of Mormon there are lots of references to different places and how people travelled between the places etc. In making up a story it’s difficult to keep all the different places in the same places on a map consistently – honestly I’m very directionally challenged and I have a hard time keeping straight where real places are, let alone fictitious places. My parents joked when I started driving that they couldn’t send me to drive up to BYU on my own because they’d get a call from me saying, “Mom, why are all these people speaking French? I don’t remember having to cross the border to Canada to get to Utah?” They were only halfway joking, I’m really that bad with directions.
Anyways, if you read the Book of Mormon and find all of the contextual clues for distances and locations you can actually plot out all of the locations on a map with some accuracy and it stays consistent. So if from Zarahemla to Bountiful is a day’s journey for a Nephite, it stays that distance through other comparisons. If Sidon is east of Zarahemla it stays east throughout the entire book. When they use the terms up and down to refer to elevation then the one city stays up and the other city stays down.
This sort of consistency would be nearly impossible to do consistently unless the places actually exist and in writing you don’t have to remember an invention but you’re just referencing where things are. It’s natural to say something like “I went down to Provo” or “up to Salt Lake” because we know where those places are. But if you were working off of places that you weren’t familiar with or were invented you would probably be less inclined to use those sorts of terms and would instead say something more like “I went to Bora Bora” which would still sound natural but you wouldn’t have to think through the details.
My mom decided after reading this book to try doing the study for herself – she found that there were SO many geographical tidbits woven into the story that she tried to keep up with them in a Google Document but found she couldn’t keep up through the whole book. To have that many little details AND keep them consistent is pretty remarkable.
Elder Bednar shared an experience in a religion symposium at BYU Idaho. He told about how as part of his work as a business professor he wrote books. One particular book that he wrote was written with the help of a colleague. He and his colleague were both highly educated and put tons of research into the book. It was 650 pages long and between the two of them took 2 years to write. He said this about that experience –
“With eight years of university training, with two years of very dedicated work, with an editorial staff, with personal computers, with spell checkers and thesauruses on-line, with the Internet and the other resources that are so readily available, when I picked up the book that I had written and opened it up, I still found mistakes….
Brothers and sisters, you could take a team of the brightest people on the earth, as large a team as you might want, with all of the support staff, all of the computer technology, and all of the assistance that you can imagine, and such a team could not produce one page of a Book of Mormon.”
I haven’t done any writing in my time that could anywhere near rival writing a book, however I love writing in my blog. I know that for every post that I write I write it, and then I go through and I rewrite it a dozen times before I’m happy enough with it to publish it. I consider my personal experience with writing to be just a glimpse of what it would take to write a book like the Book of Mormon. Then consider Emma Smith’s personal testimony of the Book of Mormon –
“I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, [Joseph] would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.”
To keep all the details of a book as complex as the Book of Mormon straight in your head, as well as to be able to remember exactly where you left off in telling it aloud would be impossible. To do all that without having to go back and revise things is a pretty strong testimony of the veracity of the Book of Mormon. As you read the Book of Mormon and notice all of the intricacies of the text and consider the ways it fits in with the Bible and other styles and histories – it’s pretty remarkable. In April conference of 1996 Elder Dallin H. Oaks said –
“Overarching the Prophet Joseph’s entire ministry were his comparative youth, his superficial formal education, and his incredibly rapid acquisition of knowledge and maturity. He was 14 at the First Vision and 17 at the first visit from the angel Moroni. He was 21 when he received the golden plates and just 23 when he finished translating the Book of Mormon (in less than 60 working days).”
I’ve tried at times to really reason through the Book of Mormon and see if I can come up with any theory that adequately explains it – and even with vast conspiracies or anything else I’ve come up with – the only answer that makes sense is that Joseph Smith received the book in the manner he says he did. As Joseph himself said of the book, it is the keystone of our religion. If The Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet and every other aspect of the gospel falls into line as being true. If it’s not true, then nothing else in the gospel holds up and the entire work crumbles.
Elder George Q. Cannon said of the Book of Mormon, “No wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.” I love this quote because it accurately describes how I feel about the Book of Mormon too. I don’t know how to explain a book that claims to be of divine origin, a book that contains so much truth and changes lives for the better – without it actually being of that divine origin.
It’s similar to how I feel about those who say Jesus was just a good wise man, but not the Son of God. You cannot accept Christ’s ministry without accepting his divinity. If He was not indeed the very Son of God, then he was a deranged and very confused man for saying so and neither good nor wise, but evil for trying to deceive people. If the Book of Mormon is a good book then it has to be of good origins.
As Christ himself said both to the Israelites and the Nephites, “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth for evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-18)
What fruits has living by the Book of Mormon brought forth in your life? Have you tried the experiment on the word? Have you tried Alma’s challenge of “mourning with those that mourn” and “comforting those who stand in need of comfort”? Have you stood up in seemingly impossible situations like the Sons of Helaman and found yourself protected? Have you prayed to the Lord for direction in your life like the Brother of Jared and received an answer? What results have you seen from living by the teachings in the Book of Mormon? The wisdom of the Book of Mormon is not simply philosophies of men wrapped up in stories and fables. The Book of Mormon is true, and it came forth the way Joseph claimed. The result of living by its teachings is peace, direction and light, and results like that can only come from truth.
I want to share this excerpt from Elder Holland’s talk. He shared the scripture that Hyrum Smith marked from the Book of Mormon as the last thing he read to his brother Joseph before their martyrdom. Then followed up with this declaration –
“As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?
Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, friendless and homeless” and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands. Failed theories about its origins have been born and parroted and have died—from Ethan Smith to Solomon Spaulding to deranged paranoid to cunning genius. None of these frankly pathetic answers for this book has ever withstood examination because there is no other answer than the one Joseph gave as its young unlearned translator.”
Seriously, passages like that are why we love Elder Holland. 🙂 I like Elder Holland’s note that this is “one of a thousand elements of [his] own testimony.” The research and studies and reasonings that I’ve shared with you are not my testimony of the Book of Mormon, they are simply small facets of my testimony. In order to have a testimony you can’t stake your whole belief on one small aspect of the gospel, you have to dive in so that you have a thousand different pieces that make your faith immovable.
I went to high school in Southern California, where obviously Latter-day Saints are not the majority. One day I was talking to one of my friends about some aspect of the gospel (I couldn’t even tell you what it was now) and afterwards I was thinking about what I’d just told her and I thought, “are you telling her things that are really true, or are you just mindlessly repeating things that other people have told you are true?” The thought gave me serious pause. I take my integrity very seriously – I didn’t want to be spouting off things that I didn’t know were true. Almost immediately I realized – of course it is true. I’d read the Book of Mormon, gone to church, studied the gospel and tried to live it – I could see how much happiness, peace, direction, and joy the gospel gave me and those who lived it, and how much of the opposite came from not living it. I had tried the ‘experiment upon the word’ and I could see that it brings forth good fruit.
Like Elder Holland these are some of the thousand elements of my testimony – I know that the Book of Mormon is true. Beyond academic analysis I know the Book is true because I’ve read it, I’ve tried to live it. I’ve asked, as it says at the end of the book, if the words were true, and I have felt that witness for myself. I know that as Joseph Smith said we “can get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book.” As I live the things I’ve learned in the Book of Mormon my life is enriched and I’m better for it. The blessings of the gospel are not coincidental. If you haven’t read the Book of Mormon and taken Mormon’s challenge yet – then do it. Start today and get through the book. The testimony and strength that you will gain from it will be priceless to you.
If you’re struggling with your testimony I would encourage you to go back to the Book of Mormon – re-read it. Pick one thing that you want to add as a part of your testimony and study that. As your testimony of the Book of Mormon is strengthened your testimony of other parts of the gospel will be strengthened. Even if you don’t get the answers to the questions that you might be directly seeking, as you understand the gospel better as a whole you can let your worries wait until you’re able to get the answers you’re looking for. for. When I’ve had questions I’ve stopped and taken a step back and looked at the big picture of the gospel rather than focusing on whatever thing might be troubling me. As I’ve started from an overall position that our Heavenly Father loves us and wants us to be happy, and re-examine the plan of salvation and work my way down to the problem I generally find that things fall into place. And if they don’t, I at least feel like I’m starting on solid ground and I can be patient and wait for those things to fall in place.
I bear testimony that Joseph Smith is a true prophet that the Lord sent to open this last dispensation and that through him the Book of Mormon has been delivered to us. I know the Book of Mormon is true. Take the challenge today, read the book and let it bless your life.