Resonances

The argument has been (and still is) put forth that any similarities the Book of Mormon bears with other literature is evidence of its falsehood.  If some part of a verse resembles another piece of writing to which Joseph Smith hypothetically had access, then obviously he copied it into his gold bible.  How can it be the most correct book, how can it be more correct than any other book, if it is no more than a conglomeration of other books?  This argument is ignorant of two important factors: the nature of inspired truth and Mormonism’s relationship thereto.

Inspired truth is universal.  As Aristotle said, commenting on the office of poet: “…οἷα ἂν γένοιτο καὶ τὰ δυνατὰ κατὰ τὸ εἰκὸς ἢ τὸ ἀναγκαῖον.”[1] ([It is concerned with] what ought to be, with potentialities in relation to likelihood or necessity.)  Such a characterization effectively summarizes much of Joseph Smith’s prophetic enterprise.  Consider his “translation” of the Bible.  Joseph knew that pure truth as it exists in the eternal realm is always to some extent diluted as soon as it is put to words or paper; just as the eternal nature of the human soul is obscured by the impermanent needs and superficial fixations attendant to mortality.  He was not (only) correcting medieval copyists; he was correcting the Biblical authors themselves.[2]  One’s inspired-ness represents one’s capability to legitimately access the divine mind and participate in the frozen dialogue that is scripture.  This capability is available to minds operating in either the prophetic or poetic mode.[3]  Just as singularly gifted poetic minds are able essentially to interact with, transform, and transmit the work of their great predecessors (think Dante and Virgil) in the socio-cultural idiom of their day, so are similarly gifted prophetic minds able to mingle with their Biblical forerunners (think Joseph Smith and the author of Matthew’s Gospel) and reinterpret them to the rising generation.

Mormonism claims all inspired truth.  This rests upon at least two premises: the teachings of the early leaders of the Church and the Mormonism’s brand of dispensationalism.  Regarding the first premise: numerous are the statements that can be mustered in demonstration of Mormonism’s universal embrace.  In 1843 Joseph Smith taught that, “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.”[4]  That same year he lent this principle considerably more gravitas by identifying its use as a litmus test of sorts for the genuineness of one’s Mormonism: “We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true ‘Mormons.’”[5]  Brigham Young echoed this concept: “Our religion measures, weighs, and circumscribes all the wisdom in the world—all that God has ever revealed to man.”[6]  Lest we think this idea exclusive to matters spiritual, Young specified on another occasion: “’Mormonism’ embraces all truth that is revealed and that is unrevealed, whether religious, political, scientific, or philosophical.”[7]  Over one hundred years later we see the same principle in a statement from the First Presidency: “The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.”[8]  The implication is unmistakable: the fruits of Western (and Eastern) civilization are indispensable to understanding Mormonism.  Far from being antithetical to the message of the Restoration, the intellectual summits of the West give the fullest expression to it.  Regarding the second premise: Mormonism holds that Heaven dispenses systems of salvific truth at sundry times and self-identifies as only the most recent iteration thereof.  Additionally, it posits that the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was dispensed to humankind in its infancy.  From this we may (and must) infer the universal presence of echoes or remnants, varying in their strength, of Christ’s Gospel in all the permutations of human culture.

In Conclusion

Mormonism, in light of the nature of revealed truth and its relationship thereto, must present the broadest resemblance to recognized truth in other mediums.  In order to be the most correct book the Book of Mormon must reflect truth as expressed in the widest array of sources.  Such is its nature, as a universal book.  Therefore, demonstrations of similarities between the Book of Mormon and any other medium of expression reinforces rather than diminishes or calls into question its claim to truth.  These similarities I call resonances; they are ever-present and establish the universality of the Book of Mormon.

 

[1] Aristot. Poet. 1451a.  Translations are my own.

[2] In light of this statement, those medieval copyists ought to be thanked and praised for the role they played in preserving the Biblical texts to the days of Joseph the Prophet.

[3] For more on prophetic vs. poetic inspiration, please see the essay “Nature of Inspiration.”

[4] History of the Church 5.499

[5] History of the Church 5.517

[6] Journal of Discourses 8.162

[7] Journal of Discourses 9.149

[8] From a Statement of the First Presidency Regarding God’s Love for all Mankind, February 15, 1978

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