BOWbutton

This button is a resource to link those desiring baptism with those having authority to baptize. More information can be found here.

Daymon Smith’s Cultural History of the Book of Mormon

I have written reviews of the first three volumes of Daymon Smith’s planned five volume set titled “A Cultural History of the Book of Mormon.”  It is available on Amazon.com for those who are interested. It is not easy to navigate your way through the first volume, but it gets easier in the two which follow. I enjoyed all of them, but some will find the writing style difficult.

Daymon’s work is not without its weaknesses. But this is a valuable ground-breaking attempt to account for early Mormon history as an explanation for how the Book of Mormon has been sadly neglected or, to the extent it has been used at all, misused.

Below are the reviews I have put onto Amazon for each of the first three volumes:

Review of Volume 1(Setting, a Foundation of Stones to Stumble Over):

When someone you love is terribly ill, but unwilling to accept treatment, what is the solution? Is fiction about their condition an adequate substitute for dealing with their illness? Can you lie your way out of such difficulties? What if the necessary treatment will be unpleasant? Even painful? Does your love of her justify causing her pain? And so it is that Daymon Smith ventures into treatment of his beloved faith in Mormonism. I don’t think she’s going to appreciate it (or at least her management won’t).

Here is an effort to search into the origins of the mythical and tradition-ridden retelling of the origins of Mormonism in a substantial and candid way. The resulting exposure of events, measured against the contemporary source material (which made no effort to conceal what happened by adopting later interpretations and reinterpretations), requires a new lens to be accepted.

For some this new lens will be disorienting, even confusing. This retelling makes no allowance for the fictions created to support the traditions which encumber Mormonism. Some will reject this outright because it disagrees with their lifelong understanding of events. But in the end it is fiction, not truth, which really threatens our world.

If we are viewing Mormonism from within (as the author and this reviewer does) or from without, it deserves the respect of as honest an assessment of its origins and meaning as we can give the topic. This book is a delightful search into, and then an honest of a retelling of the events that those living it might have understood and agreed with it. Some of them would be shocked at the face of both modern corporate Mormonism and the stories it tells about Mormon origins. They might not recognize themselves in the corporate accounts, but likely would see themselves in this book.

The influence of Parley Pratt and Sidney Rigdon upon the original trajectory of Mormonism is parsed and shown to be considerable. Much like the foreign occupiers of Egypt anciently who claimed to conquer Egypt, only to find themselves conquered by it (Pharaoh Alexander, for example)so too Mormonism’s triumph in the first Mission to the Lamanites failed to convert any of the targeted audience, instead bringing aboard the Campbellite community at Kirtland, Ohio. This missionary success became an instant burden on Joseph Smith’s original path, bringing into the “church” what would be a body of beliefs which entwined themselves into Mormonism and begin immediately to dominate the faith.

In this book Smith tracks these cultural and religious influences to demonstrate how the hallmarks of the “restoration” through Joseph Smith grew to include much of the zeitgeist of the Scotts, through Thomas and then Alexander Campbell, then Rigdon to Pratt and into Mormonism. The “Old Independents” and John Glas were among those who set in motion a stone rolling downhill, and Smith searches for the many historical antecedents which Mormonism acquired as it first rolled forth.

This history tells the “context” in which the Book of Mormon appeared to emerge into the foreground. That “context” then substituted pretext for text, metatext for reading meaning INTO the Book of Mormon rather than allowing meaning to come FROM the text itself.

I found this book hard to put down. But some readers will have a difficult time with this author. He should be read for substance and not necessarily for style. His anthropological bent and graduate school vocabulary will leave some readers wondering what he’s getting at. As I read it I came away fearing this would not be wideread or well understood except for a very few. Hence the four instead of five stars. I’d encourage everyone intersted in Mormonism to make the try.

At the book’s end Smith quotes from Michel Foucault this line: “How can we reduce the great peril, the great danger with which fiction threatens our world?” Inspired by the question Smith has undertaken a work to value truth above fiction with a result I found delightful and entertaining at the same time.

 

Volume 2A (Voicing, Being, Power):

The second volume of Daymon Smith’s Cultural History of the Book of Mormon is better than the first. It is more accessible and less technical in writing style, but every bit as important in content. Like the first, I found the book hard to put down.

Daymon Smith’s retelling of Mormonism’s neglect, abuse and misunderstanding of the Book of Mormon is gripping and tragic. From the opening moments of the book’s appearance, it was overwhelmed by an artificial forced interpretation which rendered it merely a secondary support for the Bible. When read for its own content, the Book of Mormon roundly condemns the Bible as a corrupted text which has had important covenants removed by men.

The Book of Mormon voices Jesus Christ’s message. That message is not aligned with Biblical traditions. But the faith which claims The Book of Mormon as its foundational scripture has never actually allowed the text to inform the faith claims.

As Daymon Smith acknowledges, it is not as linear as “Campbell begot Rigdon, who begot Pratt, who begot Mormonism” however all of these operated together to make The Book of Mormon into a Bible meta-text. The effort underway in this series of books tracks the beginning of Mormonism using the archival material generated at the time, and permits the reader to see how the religion that emerged was not well informed by The Book of Mormon itself. Instead The Book of Mormon has been required to fit into another, prior tradition.

The second volume is a bit more reader friendly, but you will need to have read the first beforehand. The story continues here, but you need to be familiar with the material that precedes it to appreciate the evolution of Mormonism. Because it is more readable, I give this volume more stars than the first. But they are equally valuable.

 

Volume 2B (Follies, Epic and Novel):

This volume in Daymon Smith’s series continues the account of how Mormonism’s descent into a wilderness was physical, cultural and spiritual. Heedless that the possible cause could have been God’s ire with the Latter-day Saints, Mormon leadership blamed their followers for insufficient fidelity to the leaders. It was unthinkable to even consider the leaders were themselves pursuing a course unapproved by God.

The Mormon Reformation only intensified the notion that Mormonism could advance only at the cost of submission to the leaders, because God’s disapproval was evident. The cause could not have been the follies, epic and novel, of the direction leaders had taken the work begun by Joseph Smith.

In this volume the story begun in the earlier volumes continues, with chilling accounts of the depths to which the early Mormon followers fell in search of pleasing their leaders, if not God.

Particularly interesting in this volume is the account of how “keys and power” were claimed to have been continued through a replacement hierarchy, then a replacement “prophet” which descended thereafter to the leaders who followed. The foundation of sand is recast into stone by rhetoric originating in an affidavit from Orson Hyde between September 1844 and March 1845 which none of the other apostles would sign. Daymon Smith reflects on the document as reading “like an obsequious boosting of apostolic ambitions to take collectively the powers of the church, by copying the image of the Prophet onto their countenance.” (P. 50.)

Enjoyable and `tough love’ throughout, this is an unrelenting stare into the eyes of the foundation of the beast which now claims to be the Restoration through Joseph Smith. If you have an appetite for candor and a willingness to go on an adventure in humanity’s insufficient best-efforts, then you will find this a great read. This is Mormonism stripped of varnish and left naked, completely unaided by soft lighting and an unfocused lens. The truth requires something as important as the Restoration through Joseph Smith to be allowed to define itself, not to have pretensions and presumptions act as substitute.

It is the failure of Mormons to allow The Book of Mormon to ever have spoken which drives this series. Daymon Smith is hoping to allow that to at last begin. But first an honest seeker must overcome the opposition now to be found in the institution which has made its fortune by selling a different version.

Centerville Transcript – Covenants

Blogger links are broken right now. Here is the Scribd link to the Centerville talk.

UPDATE: Blogger links are fixed. The transcriptions of all the talks are now linked in the sidebar on the blog.

Logan Transcript – Repentance

Here is a link to the Logan lecture on Repentance. I will link it to the blog soon.

Yet Another Review of PTHG

Here is another link to a review done by The Association of Mormon Letters of Passing the Heavenly Gift.

Enjoy.

Another Review of PtHG

Another review of Passing the Heavenly Gift.

Enjoy.

[My wife noticed this and put it up yesterday. I’ve now skimmed the review. Wasn’t worth really reading. Doesn’t look like the reviewer actually read the book. Seems like he collected comments from others and put a patchwork together as a response. Committees always tend to bungle things. Maybe he’ll read the book sometime and look back with embarrassment at this poorly done review.]

I Will Not Start A Church

Apparently the reason the church is now interviewing and discouraging some of those attending the talks I have given is driven by the false expectation that I intend to start a church. Let me be clear: I will not start a church. Period. Won’t. Not now. Not later. Never.

There is nothing about starting a church that appeals in the least to me. To the extent one is needed, we already have one.

Any organization formed in this world must comply with laws of man. Tax issues, regulatory issues, and potential legislative intrusions are always part of the life of an institution. Pressure from political and economic interests abound. Before long, no matter how noble in origin, this world erodes and later controls the institutions here.

A “strong man” model is the opposite of Zion. A controlling hierarchy where some are over, and others under control perverts the essential equality that must prevail in order for Zion to exist with one heart, one mind, and all things in common. From the moment Brigham Young began to envision the church as a platform to support his kingly ambitions until today, the church has been a temptation to practice priestcraft.

The church can dismiss any thought I have that ambition. I don’t.

When religion is reduced to a market and business interests drive programs, I find it repugnant. The idea that you identify under served areas and build temples to drive larger temple recommend participation to produce a cash stream may excite business leaders, but it repels me. That the church now recaptures the cost of building a new temple in two to three years after building one is little more than priestcraft. The Jews used their temple as a place of commerce. The Latter-day Saints have turned the temples themselves into merchandise. That is NOT my ambition. It causes me to mourn, not to become excited that I might join in the feeding frenzy upon the sheep.

I am just not like you. Not at all. I will not become like you. You keep the Mormon religion as your product line and never give another thought to me trying to “poach” your paying members. I WILL NOT lead another church. Ever. Period.

The break off movements led by the carnal and ambitious polygamists are even more repugnant to me. They oppress their women and have descended into child sexual exploitation with disappointing regularity. The idea I want to follow in that distasteful abomination is even more offensive than thinking I want to be an LDS leader.

Read what I’ve written. Listen to my talks. You needn’t think there is a hidden agenda. There isn’t and won’t be one. I am so transparent that even the church court information has been made public.

Priesthood Talk

The next topic will be priesthood. This will be November 2nd. I will not take time to give all the background information from the scriptures and history to lay out the many problems we have in the traditions taught by the mainstream LDS culture. I will simply assume you are already well enough informed to know about these topics:

Claims of priesthood were rewritten into our history later than the actual recorded events.

The first church offices, Elder, Priest, Deacon, etc. were elected positions.

David Whitmer thought the addition of High Priests was as a result of Sidney Rigdon persuading Joseph Smith. David Whitmer thought it was wrong.

High Priest and High Priesthood are not the same thing.

In the Old and New Testament there was only one High Priest at a time. He was of the Levitical order, presided over the Levitical priests and was essentially the ancient equivalent of the Presiding Bishop.

There is no account of the visit of Peter, James and John conferring Melchizedek Priesthood, but only passing mention of the event added later into Section 27. It was not there when first recorded. Joseph also mentions them in Section 128.

If I were to say to you that I own the keys to a Dodge pick-up, does that make you the owner of the same truck? Joseph wrote in Section 128 that Peter, James and John “declared themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fullness of times.” You should ponder those words.

Joseph and Oliver were the first and second “Elders of the church” before the Melchizedek Priesthood was conferred upon them. Church offices include Elder, Priest, Teacher, etc. and do not require priesthood to possess.

President Grant changed church practice to ordain men to church offices, and to no longer confirm priesthood, a practice which lasted for over two decades.

If “all priesthood is Melchizedek” as Joseph Smith put it, “but there are different degrees or portions of it” then why did the Nauvoo Temple need to be completed to return the fullness? D&C 124: 28.

Joseph spoke of three priesthoods. We claim to have two.  D&C 107: 2

Even the idea of priesthood is not well explained in the many historic accounts of the restoration.

These are topics, not an explanation of the topics. I will not even mention these topics in the talk. I intend to clarify the overall subject of priesthood, and therefore cannot take time to address these other side-issues. But the more acquainted you are with these topics the more the clarity you will see in the next talk. The more you know beforehand the more you will get from the talk. But everyone will get something if they listen. Those who are only acquainted with the traditions will not get as much out of it.

A Friend’s Comment

I got an email from a close friend in Tennessee that said:

“I think if we live our life and don’t change our views over time, hopefully toward more correct, we are waisting our life. I suppose even if we become more incorrect, while trying to become more correct, then that is still better than not even trying to find out the truth.
Its hard though because the tendency is to search for proof of what we already think instead of just looking for the truth. 
I like that saying, ‘whatever there be that truth can destroy, it should.'”


I replied:

Well put.
Isn’t it curious how we adopt ideas like they are part of our anatomy and then refuse to give them up.  It’s like the ideas are more painful to change than cutting off a finger.  That’s quite strange when you think about it.  Ideas should be welcome when they come and welcome when they are replaced by something better.
Imagine if nature didn’t respond to changing demands.  Imagine if after a forest fire the birds refused to look somewhere else for seeds.  Everything adapts, except for the human mind in many people once we get past about 25 years old.  Then we think we know enough to keep holding onto the same tired ideas, even when they fail us in life.  We remain “devout” to the errors.

Questions

Four talks are finished. Two transcripts are up. I am working to complete the other transcripts.

The fifth talk will be on November 2nd in Utah County. If you are planning to attend and would like to submit a question, please bring it with you in writing and I will collect them before beginning. Questions will be difficult to incorporate into the recording of the talks unless I can read them as part of the discussion and then answer.

It would be good if questions did not change the subject, but related to the topics discussed this far. If a question is already part of what is coming in future talks, then it will get covered in the ordinary course of the material, rather than taking it out of context.

The next subject covered in Utah County will be the priesthood. I’m going to try to be there a little early to gather written questions beforehand from those who come. If you can’t attend, you can still send a question to me by commenting on this post and I will receive it.