History is an attempt to weave into one comprehendable story the complex interaction of an almost infinite number of moving parts. It involves not just one life in isolation, but how all lives interrelate. In a very real sense, all history is theory; merely a fiction helping our understanding of the infinitely complex.
The Book of Mormon is not history. The writers repeatedly tell us it is not a full history:
-“[T]hese plates… are not the plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people[.]” (1 Ne. 9: 2.)
-“[I]f all the things which I saw are not written, the things which I have written are true.” (1 Ne. 14: 30.)
-“And if my people desire to know the more particular part of the history of my people they must search mine other plates.” (2 Ne. 5: 33.)
-“And a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, which now began to be numerous, cannot be written upon these plates.” (Jacob 3: 13.)
-“I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people.” (Words of Mormon 1: 5.)
Helaman, son of Helaman:
-:”But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, …cannot be contained in this work.” (Hel. 3: 14.)
Nephi, son of Helaman:
-“[H]e did teach them many things which are not written, and also many things which are written.” (Hel. 5: 13.)
Nephi (son of Nephi, son of Helaman)
-“And there had many things transpired which, in the eyes of some, would be great and marvelous; nevertheless, they cannot all be written in this book; yea, this book cannot contain even a hundredth part of what was done among so many people in the space of twenty and five years[.]” (3 Ne. 5: 8.)
-“And now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people[.]” (3 Ne. 26: 6.)
-(Writing of the account of the Jaredites he abridged in the Book of Ether:) “[A]nd the hundredth part I have not written[.]” (Ether 15: 33.)
It was not a full history because telling everything is not necessary in order to establish the truth of the proceedings among the Nephites. Their record was true, even if incomplete. A more complete history might even have been misleading. For example, preserving all the arguments Laman and Lemuel used against Nephi would not contribute to understanding. It would only detract from the account we have.
Likewise, the priests of Noah were not ignorant. They were qualified as priests, held positions of authority, were trusted by the king, and used the scriptures in their counsel to Noah. They quoted from Lehi and Nephi when they argued Abinadi was a false prophet. (See Mosiah 12: 15. This was based on the revelation to Nephi found in 1 Ne. 2: 20. Lehi reiterated this in counsel to his children found in 2 Ne. 4: 4.) The full arguments of the priests of Noah are not preserved
Which introduces the topic about my own retelling of history. Like those who have written about God’s dealings with past generations, I do not believe it is either necessary or advisable to include all information in order to tell the truth. Taking second-hand accounts from highly partisan “defenders of the faith” is a dubious practice. As a lawyer I’ve encountered such witnesses. They are usually not qualified to give evidence. Their statements are mere hearsay, and if an objection is made, the Court will not permit such evidence to be considered.
Apart from my own education and profession, however, the church itself has a standard which precludes a lot of the information used to attempt to support a “more faithful history.” Lorenzo Snow’s son and granddaughter, for example, are not qualified under the church’s standards to proclaim a revelation for the church. Yet they are the only sources for a purported meeting between Lorenzo Snow and Christ on the staircase of the Salt Lake Temple. Apart from this failing, however, there is the other most obvious problem: Why did not President Snow discuss or mention or testify about this to the church? One of the most obvious reasons would be because it isn’t true. Or, alternatively, it is greatly embellished, but was actually uneventful. Or, alternatively, he did not think it mattered.
I’ve been criticized because I fail to mention this second-hand account from a granddaughter of a church president who claimed to have heard a story from her grandfather a few decades before she retold it which supports a different narrative than the one I tell in my account of the Lord’s dealings with the Latter-day Saints. Well I admit I ignore it. I consider it insubstantial.
The priority for finding the truth begins with searching the scriptures. They tell us in prophecy about what the latter-day gentiles will do when the Book of Mormon comes forward. I let that prophetic framework construct the outline. Then, trusting the Book of Mormon as “the most correct book,” I followed the prophetic outline into well documented historical events. The result was a “hand-in-glove” fit between what has transpired and what was foretold.
I do not blame anyone for thinking I am in error. After all, there have been hundreds of written accounts that can be marshaled to support the existing narrative. These favorable, flattering histories have been told and retold. Entire libraries exist which support the church’s claims. I acknowledge they exist. I also acknowledge I ignore a great deal of the material precisely because I consider it incompetent.
When the disputes began between the sons of Joseph Smith (and Emma) and the “Reorganized” church movement on the one hand, and the LDS church on the other, emotions ran high. There were several critical issues at the bedrock of the conflict. Perhaps the most obvious (then and now) was plural marriage. Emma artfully denied it, and her sons (Joseph III and David) disbelieved it even happened. When their cousin, Joseph F. Smith, tried to prove them wrong, he gathered evidence from surviving witnesses. These included a number of women who claimed to have been married to Joseph in Nauvoo. These affidavits were gathered many years after the events, in a highly charged atmosphere wherein:
-there was a pending dispute with the US Government over plural marriage
-there was a threat to the survival of the church mounted by an upstart rival church
-the dispute made Brigham Young and Emma rivals
-loyalty to defending both the church and its hierarchy were at stake
-some of the women were remarried in plural relationships, including some with Brigham Young.
In this setting the affidavits that were gathered were affected by the circumstances. In the courtroom, sometimes witnesses are not only discounted, but ignored, once the self-interest of the witness is brought to light. A jury needn’t believe anything they hear as testimony from a biased witness. They get to consider the statements, but are not bound to accept them as true or reliable.
I offer what I believe to be true. It shouldn’t be very difficult to muster together another assortment of statements, claims, and records to the contrary. When it comes to the truth, however, you are not required to agree or accept any and/or all statements made in favor of a particular party, issue or view. If that were the case, then the Book of Mormon would not have ignored Laman and Lemuel’s views. Nor would Abinadi have been counted as a true prophet delivering a true message to a fallen and corrupt society desperately in need of reconnecting with God.
What could be more “faithful history” than one which accepts the words of Book of Mormon prophets as the guide?