Category:Book of Mormon/Out of place in 19th century/Intellectual world

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Intellectual world

Parent page: Book of Mormon/Out of place in 19th century

Book of Mormon describes Christopher Columbus in terms not known in Joseph's day

Daniel C. Peterson,

One of the best-known prophecies in the Book of Mormon has generally been understood to predict the career of Christopher Columbus, who is usually reckoned the effective European "discoverer" of the New World. Accordingly, Columbus emerges from the very pages of scripture itself as an important and foreordained actor in the divine plan:

And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.

Skeptical readers of the Book of Mormon, however, have tended to dismiss this passage as a cheap and easy instance of prophecy after the fact, composed centuries after Columbus's death—but postdated, as it were, in order to create a seemingly impressive and self-validating prediction by an ancient prophetic writer. At the very most, some have observed, a "prophecy" of Columbus hardly constitutes evidence for the antiquity or inspiration of the Book of Mormon.

On a surface level, such critics seem to be right. It would have taken little talent in the late 1820s for someone to prophesy the discovery of America nearly three and a half centuries earlier. But the description of Columbus provided by 1 Nephi 13:12 nonetheless remains a remarkable demonstration of the revelatory accuracy of the Book of Mormon. It is only with the growth of Columbus scholarship in recent years, and particularly with the translation and publication of Columbus's Libro de las profecías in 1991, that English-speaking readers have been fully able to see how remarkably the admiral's own self-understanding parallels the portrait of him given in the Book of Mormon. The Columbus revealed in very recent scholarship is quite different from the gold-driven secular adventurer celebrated in the textbooks and holidays most of us grew up with.26

We now understand, for example, that the primary motivation for Columbus's explorations was not financial gain but the spread of Christianity. He was zealously committed to the cause of taking the gospel, as he understood it, to all the world. He felt himself guided by the Holy Spirit, and a good case can indeed be made that his first transoceanic voyage, in particular, was miraculously well executed....[1]—(Click here to continue)

Book of Mormon intellectual concerns differ from nineteenth century?

The official Judaism is the work of "intellectuals" who are not, however, what they say they are, namely seekers after truth, but rather ambitious men eager to gain influence and followers. The Book of Mormon presents a searching study of these people and their ways. There is the devout Sherem, loudly proclaiming his loyalty to the Church and his desire to save it from those who believe without intellectual proof. There is Alma, who represents the rebellion of youth against the teachings of the fathers. There is Nehor, the Great Liberal, proclaiming that the Church should be popular and democratic, but insisting that he as an intellectual be given special respect and remuneration. There is Amlici, whose motive was power and whose tool was intellectual appeal. There is Korihor, the typical Sophist. There is Gadianton, whose criminal ambitions were masked by intellectual respectability. For the Old World an exceedingly enlightening tract on the ways of the intellectuals is Justin Martyr's debate with Trypho, which is also an interesting commentary on the Book of Mormon intellectuals whose origin is traced directly back to the "Jews at Jerusalem."...

How does it come about that the most devout and disciplined segment of the believers in every age always appear as a despised and persecuted minority, regarded by the society as a whole as religious renegades and at best as a lunatic fringe? For one thing, those believers themselves have always fully appreciated their uncomfortable position, which can readily be explained by any number of scriptural declarations. The world's ways are NOT God's ways; they do not get along well together, for each is a standing rebuke to the other—"in the world ye shall have tribulation" (John 16:33).

In this conflict between two different views of religion, the opposition and overwhelming majority is as unchanging in its methods and attitudes as the saints themselves. It is hard to believe that the Book of Mormon was published more than a century ago when one reads its account of the smart, sophisticated, and scientific arguments put forward by those who would cast discredit on the whole Plan of Salvation. It is as modern as today's newspaper; the situations it describes are those characteristic of our own generation, and quite different from those of Joseph Smith's day, when one could still be a fundamentalist Christian and an intellectual.[2]

Notes

  1. Daniel C. Peterson, "Not Joseph's, and Not Modern," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 2, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  2. Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd edition, (Vol. 6 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), Chapter 25, references silently removed—consult original for citations.