B.H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon

© 1997 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

The following posts originally appeared on America Online's "Christianity Online" Message Boards under the "Mormonism" topic. They deal with Studies of the Book of Mormon by B.H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), a posthumously-published work by one of the most remarkable past leaders of the Mormon church. Roberts' work, oddly enough considering his position in the church, goes a long way toward discrediting the very Book of Mormon that the LDS Church considers to be inspired by God.

In my responses below, one can see the route of the conversations: another individual brought up Roberts, after which a Mormon attempted to give reasons why the book should not be taken at face value.

Further responses can be found in "Evidence from B.H. Roberts."

Subj: Re: B.H. Roberts (part 1)
Date: 95-07-20 22:09:29 EDT
From: BasFawlty

G----------: Some of the evidence proving the Book of Mormon is a fraud is written by Mormonism's most famous historian B. H. Roberts. It's called Studies of the Book of Mormon. Yes, that's right this church had a famous leader who thought the Book of Mormon was a work of fiction from the mind of Joseph Smith's and several other books. He started out just like people on this B.B. He thought it was true at first and then he did his own research and found out he was wrong and he left his testimony so others would not fall for this lie.

W-------: What the writer here fails to mention is that B.H. Roberts wrote other books post-dating "Studies of the Book of Mormon". . . . Contrary to "leaving his testimony so others would not fall for this lie", Roberts' final testimony speaks of his faith in the mission of the prophet Joseph Smith, witnesses that the Book of Mormon was indeed divinely inspired and proclaims his conviction of the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

BasFawlty: What W------ fails to mention is the whole story of B.H. Roberts' writing of Studies of the Book of Mormon. This leads one to wonder if indeed he has ever read this work of Roberts and hence calls into question his ability to speak knowledgably on the subject at all.

Studies happens to have a very informative "Biographical Essay" by Sterling M. McMurrin and an "Introduction" by its editor, Brigham D. Madsen, which clearly outline the course of Roberts' life and thought. Especially relevant is Madsen's account of the chain of events that led to the writing of the Roberts documents contained in this volume. I refer the interested reader to pp. 20-27 of this "Introduction," which records that the initial impetus came from a series of questions challenging the Book of Mormon from a non-Mormon, one Mr. Couch of Washington, D.C., forwarded by William Riter to Apostle James Talmage, and passed by Talmage to Roberts. Roberts was unable to answer the questions in a way that conformed to his own sense of internal logic and intellectual honesty. He sought for help from the church authorities, but no help was forthcoming except that "they merely one by one stood up and bore testimony to the Book of Mormon" ("Personal Journal of Wesley P. Lloyd," qtd. on p. 23 of Studies). In fact, the First Presidency apparently disliked the questions even being asked, for they almost immediately after this sent Roberts away to New York City as head of the Eastern States Mission (p. 24).

W------: In 1933, Roberts' final testimony was borne to the world during his last address in a general conference of the church.

BasFawlty: As the "Introduction" by Madsen cited above and the "Correspondence Related to the Book of Mormon Essays" in the same volume (pp. 35-60) make abundantly clear, Roberts' private and public "testimonies" were at strong variance during his later life. What W------ has cited are the public utterances to bolster the faith of Mormons, but the private pronouncements are a different matter. Nor is such a bifurcation between a man's public and private selves
unknown to history. One thinks of the sixth-century historian Procopius, who served the Emperor Justinian and wrote fawningly and obsequiously of the Emperor and his wife the Empress Theodora in his public works, but left a volume entitled The Secret History to be published long after his death, full of the shocking and scandalous behavior of the royal pair which was too dangerous to make public while the Emperor reigned.

Subj: Re: B.H. Roberts (part 2)
Date: 95-07-20 22:10:36 EDT
From: BasFawlty

To Wesley P. Lloyd on August 7, 1933, less than two months before his death, Roberts told the entire story of his unsatisfactory meeting with the church hierarchy on the Book of Mormon's difficulties, and confided the existence of his own private study of the issue: "It's an article far too strong for the average Church member but for the intellectual group he considers it a contribution to assist in explaining Mormonism . . . . [C]ertain literary difficulties in the book . . . are some of the things which has [sic] made Bro. Roberts shift his base of the Book of Mormon. Instead of regarding it as the strongest evidence we have of Church Divinity, he regards it as the one which needs the most bolstering . . . ." (pp. 23-4; emphasis mine).

Yes, sir, that's some "final testimony" to the truth of the Book of Mormon!

I must give W------ some credit for citing references and dates on B.H. Roberts, which shows that he has made himself familiar with at least the public part of Roberts' legacy. This is more than many of his fellow LDS members have done. But his explanation of Roberts fails to account for the existence of Studies at all. If Roberts ended his life fully convinced by the Book of Mormon, why did he hang on to his writings questioning it, knowing the damage they could cause the "average Church member" if they became public? If, however, as I believe the evidence shows, Roberts hoped that one day he would have the last word on a topic considered untouchable by his church's leaders, it makes perfect sense for him to have retained his private writings.

Subj: Re:Last Take on B. H. Roberts
Date: 95-07-22 00:21:40 EDT
From: BasFawlty

W-----: Personally, I choose to believe that if Elder Roberts had really lost faith in the Book of Mormon, his honesty and integrity would have demanded that he request a release from his position as a general authority and then sound a public voice of warning rather than continue to live with his doubts and questions.

BasFawlty: So this is what it comes down to: "I choose to believe . . . It is enormously significant for me . . . witness enough for me . . . . " This is your privilege, but one should note that it's no less possible to draw the conclusion that Elder Roberts at his advanced age did not have the stamina to fight something like this and sever all ties with his Mormon family and friends in the process, as well as admit publicly that everything he had stood for all his life had been a complete fraud. There may have been elements of pride or fear or despair in his resolution to leave Studies as a legacy to later generations rather than battle for its conclusions during his lifetime. "To me" this seems a more convincing reading of Roberts' statements, including those to Wesley P. Lloyd, than maintaining that the wide divergence between his public and private statements represents consistency!

Regarding the quotation from the letter to President Grant: allow me to cite the entire paragraph--

In writing out this my report to you of those studies, I have written it from the viewpoint of an open mind, investigating the facts of the Book of Mormon origin and authorship. 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 herewith submitted is what it purports to be, namely a "study of Book of Mormon origins," for the information of those who ought to know everything about it pro et con, as well that which has been produced against it, and that which may be produced against it. I am taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken but unshakable in the Book of Mormon, and therefore we can look without fear upon all that can be said against it. (B.H. Roberts to President Heber J. Grant, Council, and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dated March 15, 1923 [actually, 1922]. Studies, pp. 57-8.)

In context, this sounds like a reassurance to highly-placed brethren who would probably not like the conclusions drawn by the manuscript, rather than Roberts' own sentiments. He says he is "taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken but unshakable in the Book of Mormon," but this is not the attitude he assumes in his actual writings on the subject, in which he makes many concessions about the BofM, such as in commenting on the "'raw'ness" of the confrontation between Jacob and Sherem (p. 266), and in conceding that the story of Korihor looks very much like "the work of a pious youth dealing with the very common place stock arguments clumsily put together for the existence of God . . . . The evidence, I sorrowfully submit, points to Joseph Smith as their creator" (p. 271). Does this sound like an "unshaken" position to anyone but W-----?

I suggest that anyone who still has questions about the Roberts Studies should read it for himself or herself and come to an independent decision based on its evidence. The facts clearly, resoundingly speak for themselves.

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