Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Becoming Gods/Use of sources/Madsen-B.H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon

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Use of sources: Did B.H. Roberts deny Book of Mormon historicity?

A FAIR Analysis of: Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism, a work by author: Richard Abanes

The Claim

Becoming Gods, page 76

The book asserts that FARMS claims that B.H. Roberts was only playing "devils advocate" when he wrote the critical documents now contained in Studies of the Book of Mormon. The book goes on to claim that FARMS has have never provided documentation to support this assertion, and that FARMS only focuses on Roberts' declarations that were made before he reached what the book calls his "final conclusion."

The References

Endnote 143, page 368

  • Truman G. Madsen, "B.H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon," Brigham Young University Studies 19 no. 4 (1979), 427. PDF link
  • [A version also appears in Truman G. Madsen, "B.H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon," in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds and Charles D. Tate (eds.), (Provo, Utah : Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University ; Salt Lake City, Utah : Distributed by Bookcraft, 1996 [1982]),7–27. ISBN 0884944697 GospeLink (requires subscrip.)]

The Problem

#1: Misrepresentation of Madsen's article

Madsen's article nowhere makes the claim for which the author sources it. In contrast, Madsen provides the information below:

Roberts thought it significant that most of these objections [to Book of Mormon historicity] involved a misreading or misrepresentation. Yet he also allowed that his own answers to certain anachronisms in the book were at that time less than satisfactory. That little or no evidence of some of the events or elements of the Book of Mormon could be discovered in 1900-1930 nonscriptural sources is hardly proof that the narrative is mistaken or implausible. In the spirit of a logician, he urged that negative knowledge—that something didn't happen—is much more difficult to prove than what did. Negative theory is less valuable than one trifle of positive evidence, with which the Book of Mormon is replete....

On his being a devil's advocate, Madsen cites Roberts:

Let me say once and for all, so as to avoid what might otherwise call for repeated explanation, that what is herein set forth does not represent any conclusions of mine. This report [is] ... for the information of those who ought to know everything about it pro and con, as well that which has been produced against it as that which may be produced against it. I am taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken but unshakeable in the Book of Mormon, and therefore we can look without fear upon all that can be said against it.

In The Way, The Truth, and the Light Roberts wrote:

I am convinced that when men of intelligence can be brought to the point of being sufficiently humble to read again the Book of Mormon, and to take into account the high purposes for which it was written ... and will stop sneering at such human elements as may be in it, and will examine once more its teachings upon the great theme of salvation through the atonement of the Christ, they can indeed find wisdom and philosophy and truth in its doctrines.

In 1930, Roberts said:

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, for God hath spoken. ... The Record of Joseph in the hands of Ephraim, the Book of Mormon, has been revealed and translated by the power of God, and supplies the world with a new witness for the Christ, and the truth and the fulness of the Gospel.


Roberts said in 1933 that he had concluded Ethan Smith's work View of the Hebrews played no part in the formation of the Book of Mormon.


Finally, the book quotes Madsen's 1979 BYU Studies article as evidence for what FARMS has done as a response. But, BYU Studies is not part of FARMS, nor has FARMS remained silent on the matter since 1979. For extensive further analysis, see:

  • Davis Bitton, "B. H. Roberts and Book of Mormon Scholarship," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): 60–69. off-site wiki
  • Daniel C. Peterson, "Yet More Abuse of B. H. Roberts (Review of The Disappointment of B. H. Roberts: Five Questions That Forced a Mormon General Authority to Abandon the Book of Mormon)," FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997): 69–86. off-site

The book should have at least cited and replied to the most recent material actually produced by FARMS. Or, Madsen's most recent work should be cited:

  • Truman G. Madsen, "B. H. Roberts after Fifty Years: Still Witnessing for the Book of Mormon," Ensign (December 1983), 11. off-site

Further reading

A FAIR Analysis of Critical Works