Origin of Book of Mormon questioned

B.H. Roberts was the first authority from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to look at-and question-the Book of Mormon.

Roberts’ work-according to Stan Larson, curator of manuscripts in Special Collections at Marriott Library-was, and still is, extremely controversial.

The work includes Roberts’ questioning of the true origin of the book and what kind of “Godhead” was being referred to.

Larson took a three-month sabbatical this spring to study Roberts’ literary work and presented his findings in front of an audience at the library’s Grand Round series Wednesday.

The series was designed to allow library scholars to share their work.

Larson pointed out that Roberts’ work was not published until the 1980s even though he had died in 1933. Larson attributes this to the fact that the information was “on the cutting edge.”

In fact, Roberts’ work was so controversial that even though there were plenty of qualified church historians to edit it, no one was willing to look at it.

In 1985, 52 years after Roberts’ death,now-retired U history professor Brigham Madsen edited Roberts’ Studies of the Book of Mormon, which was then published by the University of Illinois Press.

Larson believes Madsen was willing to do the work because, as a scholar,he was not worried about “staying in good with the church.”

Madsen was unavailable for comment.

According to the church, the book is a collection of records of a civilization, compiled between 600 B.C. and A.D. 400 by a man named Mormon. Mormon’s son Moroni then took the records-etched onto golden plates-and buried them in the ground.

The position of the church is that the plates were entrusted to Joseph Smith by the resurrected Moroni in 1827. Smith later returned the plates to Moroni after translating them.

Roberts’ contention was with the historical accuracy of the book.

Roberts believed the animals and the plants mentioned in Smith’s translation were not part of the culture during the 600 B.C. to A.D. 400 time period.

According to Larson, when Roberts studied the book as a work of literature, he also found discrepancies. Roberts found evidence that the book contained 19th-century theological and cultural ideas rather than fitting the time period during which it was believed to have been recorded.

This led to the theory that Joseph Smith may havebeen the creator of the book rather than the translator.

Roberts also noted that in the first edition of the book, Mary was described as being the mother of God. The second edition indicated she was the mother of the son of God, compelling Roberts to also question what kind of Godhead was being portrayed in the book.

Larson read from Roberts’ work: “Do we have here in the Book of Mormon a great historical document or only a wonder tale told by an undeveloped mind?”

Larson said the church has yet to comment officially on Roberts’ work.

Larson, who has been employed at the U for 18 years, said that he was interested in studying Roberts’ work because of its relevancy today and in future society.

“Fifty years from now, I’ll bet you this book is still being read,” he said.

He also said that many professors at Brigham Young University believe Roberts was merely playing devil’s advocate by bringing the problems to light and allowing people to come up with a solution.

But Larson said there was “no evidence” that Roberts was playing devil’s advocate. His true intentions were unclear.

The Grand Rounds series is coordinated by Katherine Holvoet, international and U.N. documents librarian, and Randy Silverman, preservation librarian.

The series is held once a month.

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