After hearing President Hinckley speak we set up an appointment with Scott, his wife, Elder A and Elder P. It turned out that is was a really good thing that we invested time in getting to know each other on a personal level because our first discussion was not a positive one.
As I had mentioned before, in preparation for meeting with the missionaries I decided it would be a good idea to read the Book of Mormon in its entirety. The missionaries knew I had finished reading it and I think our discussion generally went down hill when they asked me what I thought of it. My impressions of the Book of Mormon were not positive ones. I can’t remember exactly all of the details of how our conversation went but I do remember what I initially thought of the Book of Mormon. So this should give you a flavor for our discussion. (I should also make it clear that the amount of anti-Mormon literature I had read at this point was quite minimal)
I didn’t really encounter anything all that controversial or profoundly new in the Book of Mormon as far as general themes and teachings. It seemed to me to be a generally benign religious tome that didn’t advocate sacrificing babies, drinking goat’s blood or wearing funny underwear. It talked quite a bit about Christ and I’m overall interested in anything anybody has to say about Jesus. There were large portions of Bible repeated word for word throughout. I certainly didn’t mind rereading the Sermon on the Mount in a different context. As I remember the only major things that stood out to me that were practically different from my own faith was that baby baptisms were wrong as well as being a pastor for hire.
I found it to be a terribly difficult book to read. It seemed that some one was trying desperately hard to copy the style of the King James Bible but without any understanding of the grammar that makes it readable and beautiful. I’ve grown up reading just enough of the KJV to know how to understand its lexicon so it wasn’t the genre of the writing that made it difficult as much as how poorly it was executed. The frequent use and misuse of “and it came to pass” seemed like a dead give away that it was someone’s favorite filler that enhanced the Old English feel of the passages. Poor writing is by no means a sin but the Book of Mormon lacked the cohesive readability I’ve come to expect in translations of scripture.
What caught my attention and my objection was that the Book of Mormon claimed to be an actual historical account. Through out the account I came across numerous things that were historically anachronistic for the New World. My wife had been a missionary in Peru and while we were dating I visited her several times. In my travels I began to learn quite a bit about Incan civilization. The Incans were by far the most advanced native people in the New World but according to Book of Mormon the Lamanites and Nephites seemed to have surpassed them by ages. Yet we have no record of them. Their cities and weapons can’t be found nor can we even see their neighboring tribes borrowing their advanced technology from them. (in case anyone wants to clarify it to me, I know that the events of Mormon did not take place in Peru but more than likely in the MesoAmerican area. But comparing the Incans to the Mayans, the Incans were more advanced and the Nephites were more advanced still)
I also found mention of plants and animals that I knew were not part of the American continents until the Spainards arrived. Yet, here they were being actively used by active groups of people only to disappear before the Europeans arrived and leave no historical record behind.
What I believe really sealed my conclusion that the Book of Mormon was in no way a historical account of anything was something Jesus was said to have stated. I read 3rd Nephi 19:4
And it came to pass that on the morrow, when the multitude was gathered together, behold, Nephi and his brother whom he had raised from the dead, whose name was Timothy, and also his son, whose name was Jonas, and also Mathoni, and Mathonihah, his brother, and Kumen, and Kumenonhi, and Jeremiah, and Shemnon, and Jonas, and Zedekiah, and Isaiah—now these were the names of the disciples whom Jesus had chosen—and it came to pass that they went forth and stood in the midst of the multitude.
There was my name, Timothy, in the pages of the Book of Mormon. There’s nothing unusual or novel about me reading my own name in scripture. But of all the names in the Book of Mormon, Timothy, is the one I know something about. The people who came to the New World and were the ancestors of the Lamanites and Nephites were Jewish. Timothy is a Greek name. The Bible takes the time to make sure we know that Timothy was half Jewish and half Greek. Jews who fled Israel before the time of Alexander the Great would not have been naming their children with a Greek name for several hundred years in isolation from Hellenization. They probably wouldn’t have known the name much less used it. I strongly remember stopping and thinking “TIMOTHY! There shouldn’t be any Timothys in this story.”
The other thing that caught me wrong about the Book of Mormon account was the collapse of Christianity. It went against everything I’ve been taught and seen in practice. Whenever Christianity is opposed and persecuted it flourishes. Even today it’s generally agreed that Christianity would not be doing as well as it is in China without Communist oppression. More often than not it flourishes at the center of the place it’s being oppressed. Christians have a remarkable ability to convert their captors. But in the Book of Mormon, the true practicing Christians are rather easily wiped out. That just flies in the face of what I know of Christianity and what God promises (the gates of Hell will NOT prevail against it).
So that summed up a rather contentious discussion. It wasn’t a fight by any means, but it wasn’t a love fest either. I believe we ended the evening all feeling frustrated. I had to walk everyone out of our gated apartment complex. Scott’s wife pretty much disappeared as soon as we opened our front door I’m not sure where she went. As we reached the gate Scott pulled me aside and asked me what was going on. He was so sure that he had seen the Spirit in my wife and I and he couldn’t understand why we seemed to be rejecting their message. I responded that I was interested in investigating any truth claims made by anyone but that I just wasn’t seeing truth here.
Scott said we would talk more but he asked me to take it easy on the missionaries. He said that they were young, didn’t know too much and that I should just let them go through their discussion materials. (I found that ironic given the conversation Scott and I had about people delivering their religious scripts rather than having a conversation). It turned out that the Elder A and Elder P were much more resilient than Scott and would not be easily dissuaded from visiting my home. . . .