A Stone of Stumbling

In D&C section 8 the Lord gives a concise definition of “the spirit of revelation”.

Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

I’m sure that there are different interpretations of this verse, but I take it to mean that not only will truth feel true but it can also just make sense. I am a strong believer that a testimony rooted in the heart will always be stronger than one that is rooted in the mind. But for those who already have a testimony in the restored gospel as taught in the LDS church, a little bit of reinforcements from the “logic” side of things certainly can’t hurt.

And this post aims to do just that.

I recently read an article in which the author, John Welch, tells of a graduate seminar he attended at Duke University. This seminar focused its study on a collection of Jewish and Christian writings which dated back to the time of Jesus. Throughout the semester, John (being the only LDS person in attendance) tried unsuccessfully to bring up Book of Mormon accounts to his peers nobody gave John, or the book, much consideration.

Near the end of the semester, the professor introduced a little-known writing called the “Narrative of Zosimus” and after discussing the Narrative with the class he asked the class for their opinion on its origins and meaning.

“The seminar had little to say, and the members of the class were about to conclude that the writing could not be classified since the Narrative was so unlike anything else they had ever seen. By then I could wait no longer…”

So what’s in this writing anyway?

It tells of a man named Zosimus who had an angel visit him and was shown a vision. In this vision, he saw a righteous family who was commanded by God to leave Jerusalem before it was destroyed by Babylon (around 600 B.C.). The family escaped into the wilderness and traveled across the ocean to a land which God had blessed and preserved for them. Oh, and did I mention that this family, and their posterity, kept records on metal plates?

Still in vision, Zosimus had to traverse a great river, travel through impenetrable mists of darkness, through a large field  and eventually to a tree which bore “pure fruit” and had “water [that] came out from the root of the tree [that was] sweeter than honey”.  When he arrived at the tree a man asked him if he came “hither out of the vanity of the world”. Zosimus then looked up into heaven and saw a person who’s face was “the face of an angel” and his “clothing [was] as lightning”.  He says that he was “greatly afraid, thinking that it was the son of God” and because he saw all of this, he “trembled” and “[fell] upon the ground.”

Later in the writing Zosimus says that as he was sitting under the tree and “partaking of food”, people came “out of the vanity of the world” and questioned him. Zosimus then asks the “man of God” who had been helping him to tell the people that he “is not here”.

There are many more parallels, but I think that I’ve made my point. The similarities between the accounts of Lehi and Zosimus are hard to ignore… to put it lightly.But here’s the part I find especially interesting, as far as anyone can tell, the Narrative of Zosimus wasn’t translated into any modern language until the 1870s (and even then it was only translated in Russian on the other side of the world from Joseph). So this narrative didn’t come forth in a modern language until nearly 50 years after the Book of Mormon was published and almost 30 years after the Prophet Joseph died with the testimony of the book’s divine origins fresh on his lips.

For believers, this feels like a slam dunk. “How could anyone possibly deny the authenticity of the Book of Mormon now???”. “Can somebody please explain to me how a farmer in the early 1800’s could just make this up?”

But as any returned missionary will attest, non-believers will always find a way to not believe. Returning to my first story of John Welch, after he described these similarities to the class, he says that “the members of the seminar ultimately concluded that the most convenient solution to their problem might be found in identifying Joseph Smith as a reincarnated Jewish scribe”. That’s right folks, they would sooner introduce the concept of reincarnation to the Christian theology than they would accept the account of Joseph Smith (take a second to let that really soak in).

If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages… then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit. In that sense, the book is what Christ Himself was said to be: “a stone of stumbling, … a rock of offence,” a barrier in the path of one who wishes not to believe in this work…
Jeffery R. Holland

This evidence is not proof nor is it intended to be proof. If God wanted to give us proof that He exists, He could do it.

…and He will do it.

And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?
Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men?…
Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
Moroni 7:35-37
I’ll close with the words of Elder Holland and though they are his words, they represent my testimony and my conviction just as accurately.
I want it absolutely clear when I stand before the judgment bar of God that I declared to the world, in the most straightforward language I could summon, that the Book of Mormon is true, that it came forth the way Joseph said it came forth and was given to bring happiness and hope to the faithful in the travail of the latter days.

 

 


– References –

John W. Welch, “A Book You Can Respect” Ensign, Sep 1977

Jeffrey R. Holland, “Safety for the Soul” General Conference, Oct 2009

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