Evidence from B.H. Roberts

© 1997 by T.L. Hubeart Jr.

These are further extracts from the debate quoted on the page "B.H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon." Here I respond to the attempts of another debater, a Mormon, to elevate the Book of Mormon to biblical status by giving him some questions about certain passages in that book, and citing B.H. Roberts on them. Not surprisingly, these questions were never answered in that forum.

Subj: A New Challenge (part 1)
Date: 95-06-14 22:38:13 EDT
From: BasFawlty

J-------: Look forward to a more difficult challenge.

BasFawlty: How about this one? The Bible specifically states that "the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." (Acts 11:26) Since Christ had just been crucified and resurrected, it is only logical that the "Christian" designation for His followers should begin after He had already been manifested; hence one never finds the name "Christian" showing up in the Bible before this verse.

How does this square with the Book of Mormon's uses of "Christian" and even "Christ" (allegedly) centuries before the coming of Jesus Christ? How is it that a series of "anti-Christs" appears among the Nephites centuries before the coming of Christ: Sherem in Jacob ch. 7, Nehor in Alma ch. 1, and Korihor in Alma ch. 30? (I borrow the term "anti-Christs" from the work Studies of the Book of Mormon by B.H. Roberts, 2nd edition, Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992, pp. 264ff.. Roberts [1857-1933], a leading Mormon writer and apologist, and a member of the First Council of the Seventy of the LDS Church, can hardly be considered an "anti-Mormon" source on the subject at hand, and I intend to cite his work again in a moment.)

In the confrontation between Sherem and Jacob in the Book of Mormon, we read (Jacob is the speaker):

JACOB 7:9-11 And I said unto him: Deniest thou the Christ who shall come? And he said: If there should be a Christ, I would not deny him; but I know that there is no Christ, neither has been, nor ever will be. And I said unto him: Believest thou the scriptures? And he said, Yea. And I said unto him: Then ye do not understand them; for they truly testify of Christ. . . .

[BTW, this seems to me an attempt at forging an anticipation of John 5:39 ("Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.").]

The odd thing is, why are all these confrontations supposedly going on about the name of Christ halfway around the world in the Americas, long before His birth, while in the land that is to receive the Christ, the coming Messiah is never referred to by name, according to the Old Testament? Doesn't this seem more than a little odd? Or is the obvious explanation that Joseph Smith invented all these stories of confrontations over Christ in the Americas, without fully accounting for this grave logical inconsistency?

Even B.H. Roberts admits that there is something very surprising about all this:

This fact of the coming of Christ in the flesh to redeem the world was very plainly revealed to the Nephites, and their prophecies dwelt upon it with very great emphasis, and with startling clearness; whereas in the Old Testament prophecies, as we know them, the matter of the coming of the Christ and the purpose of his mission are somewhat veiled, and without the aid of the interpretation afforded by the New Testament, it would scarcely be discerned that the mission of Christ was revealed in the Old Testament. (op. cit., p. 264)

But apparently we are to believe that God's people, the Jews, were singularly blind concerning something that would happen in their midst, while half a world away (so Joseph Smith would have us believe) the details of Christ's life and death stood out in bold relief:

ALMA 22:13-14 And Aaron did expound unto him the scriptures from the creation of Adam, laying the fall of man before him, and their carnal state and also the plan of redemption, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, through Christ, for all whosoever would believe on his name. And since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance, and so forth; and that he breaketh the bands of death, that the grave shall have no victory, and that the sting of death should be swallowed up in the hopes of glory; and Aaron did expound all these things unto the king.

Subj: A New Challenge (part 2)
Date: 95-06-14 22:47:30 EDT
From: BasFawlty

Aaron makes quite an interesting use of 1 Cor. 15:55-56 well before Paul penned it, although the citation is a little garbled by the mixing of the metaphors ("sting of death . . . swallowed up in the hopes of glory"). The obvious inference from this and like passages seems to me to be that we are looking at Joseph Smith's attempt to read history backwards and insert references to Christ before His advent.

Nor is this surprising, for one of the leading Bible commentators of his day, Thomas Scott, confidently asserts that "An enlightened student of the Old Testament before the coming of Christ, must have expected exactly such events" as these surrounding His appearance on earth, and that "the sole reason why the Jews in general, and the apostles in particular, for a time, did not expect such events and changes, is this: 'their understandings were not open to understand the Scriptures.'" ("Introduction" to the New Testament, in Scott's Bible, Vol. 3, New York: Collins & Hannay, 1832, p.3.) Joseph Smith obviously assumes the kind of interpretation Scott gives to be true, and makes his narrative fall into line with it, although the words of B.H. Roberts cited above ("without the aid of the interpretation afforded by the New Testament, it would scarcely be discerned that the mission of Christ was revealed in the Old Testament") are obviously closer to the mark in light of the Bible.

The Old Testament prophecies are often extremely obscure, their full meaning not being revealed until after the Lord fulfilled them during His earthly life. Can it make sense to any fair-minded person, if obscure prophecies were being given to the Old Testament prophets, whose descendants would actually have the Messiah born among them, that Book of Mormon people on the other side of the world were naming Christ, and talking as familiarly about His life as John Wesley and Billy Graham? Where is the credibility here? It makes no sense as actual history; but as the work of "a young and undeveloped, but piously inclined mind" (Roberts, p. 271) it appears very credible.

One more example:

ALMA 46:12-16 And it came to pass that he [Moroni] rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it--In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children--and he fastened it upon the end of a pole. . .and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land-- For thus were all the true believers of Christ, who belonged to the church of God, called by those who did not belong to the church. . . .

[Compare this explanation with that in Acts 11:26, the verse cited at the beginning of my present discussion. The two accounts of the name "Christian" don't harmonize very well, do they?]

. . . And those who did belong to the church were faithful; yea, all those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come. And therefore, at this time, Moroni prayed that the cause of the Christians, and the freedom of the land might be favored.

"This, it should be remembered," comments Roberts, "was in 73 or 70 B.C.," and he understates the matter when he notes that some "will think the phrases of the passage too closely akin to New Testament phraseology about 'Christ' and 'Christians' to be used in far off America about 70 B.C.." (p. 276) Let it be remembered that these are the comments of a leader of the LDS church--not citations from anything Mormons could construe as "anti-Mormon."

If even a member of the LDS' leadership concedes the Book of Mormon's weakness on this matter, what kind of an explanation can anyone produce that will credibly bolster the claim of Joseph Smith, that it is indeed "another testament of Jesus Christ," rather than a religious and literary imposture?

Subj: Matthew vs. 3rd Nephi (part 1)
Date: 95-06-16 23:39:57 EDT
From: BasFawlty

Matthew 27:45, 50-54: Now from the sixth hour, there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. . . . Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.

These few sentences from Matthew (bearing in mind the duplicate accounts of these events in Mark and Luke) represent all the gospels have to say about miraculous signs attending the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let the reader note the restraint of the gospel record, then turn to the Book of Mormon's alleged account of what was happening in the Americas at the time of Christ's death. The Book of Mormon passage is to be found at 3 Nephi 8:5ff.. It is far too lengthy to quote in its entirety, so I will give a summary of it from Mormon leader B.H. Roberts' Studies of the Book of Mormon (2nd ed., Salt Lake City:Signature Books, 1992, p. 237-8):

These events in the Book of Mormon are described as being attended with great terrors--with storm and tempest, and three hours of tremendous earthquakes which caused mountains to rise from plains, and mountains to sink to valleys; which buried cities beneath new raised mountains, and sank others beneath tidal waves of the sea. Other cities were destroyed by fire, and the whole face of the land was changed by tremendous upheavals of the land. There followed intense darkness through three days while the Christ was entombed. . . . Absolute blackness brooded over the land, and meanwhile, throughout the land the penetrating voice of God was heard, proclaiming the extent of the destruction which had befallen the great and notable cities which had fallen; and the cause of this awful judgment which had come upon the land was announced--the sins of the people!

My question is, why? Why do we only find relatively limited phenomena around the actual site of Christ's death, while half a world away there are cities swallowed up, tidal waves, raging fires, and thousands of casualties? The latter circumstance seems about as logical as finding that points a mile from the epicenter of a tremendous earthquake had only been slighly damaged, while cities twenty miles away had been turned to rubble. Does it make sense that the death of the Son of God caused widespread destruction in America but not in Palestine, where that death was actually taking place?

The B.H. Roberts synopsis I cited above really does not do justice to the effect--in my opinion, the extremely ludicrous effect--of the narrative found in these chapters of 3rd Nephi. Reading the gospel accounts, then immediately turning to these Book of Mormon chapters, is something like tasting a delicately-flavored sirloin steak, then biting into a salty, over-seasoned hamburger. (The analogy is apt, as the Book of Mormon account seems to be a "ground-up" version of the gospel narratives; as Roberts points out, Joseph Smith's expanding the latter into the former via his own imagination "need not be regarded as an unthinkable procedure and achievement" [op. cit., p. 238].)

Subj: Matthew vs. 3rd Nephi (part 2)
Date: 95-06-16 23:43:03 EDT
From: BasFawlty

Some of the voice of God portion needs to be quoted to be fully appreciated:

3RD NEPHI 9:1-4 And it came to pass that there was a voice heard among all the inhabitants of the earth, upon all the face of this land, crying: Woe, woe, woe unto this people; woe unto the inhabitants of the whole earth except they shall repent; for the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice, because of the slain of the fair sons and daughters of my people; and it is because of their iniquity and abominations that they are fallen! Behold, that great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof. And behold, that great city Moroni have I caused to be sunk in the depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof to be drowned. . . .

And the list of destroyed cities continues, with "God" sounding like a heavenly version of Peter Jennings giving the day's death toll. Moronihah is "covered with earth." Same with Gilgal, Onihah, Mocum, etc., etc.--and in other news, O.J. finally tries on the bloody gloves! But first this word from our sponsor:

3RD NEPHI 9:14-15 Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me. Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name.

Logical problem: Jesus Christ was half a world away suffering the pains of death at the time of the alleged incident. This being so, it cannot be Jesus who is speaking here. So who or what is uttering the extremely lengthy speech of 3rd Nephi chapters 9-10? (The oration is of such length that it brings to mind a famous remark of Mozart's: "If the speech of the Ghost in Hamlet were not so long, it would be far more effective." [Alfred Einstein, Mozart, London: Oxford UP, 1945, p. 98.] If Mozart even found fault with Shakespeare, what would he have said to this extended soliloquy "translated" by Joseph Smith???)

From B.H. Roberts again (p. 238):

The items of the Book of Mormon story are practically all here [in the gospels]; the darkness, the earthquake, the renting [rending] of the rocks, the fear of men impressed with these things--with all this in hand, it becomes a matter of expanding the several items to the required limits of the Book of Mormon story.

Notice the use of the word "expanding," and what it implies: that we have here not a literal account, but the work of what Roberts in another place terms "a young and undeveloped, but piously-inclined mind" (p. 271).

Subj: Matthew vs. 3rd Nephi (part 3)
Date: 95-06-16 23:50:11 EDT
From: BasFawlty

This "expanding" is clear enough by a comparison of a quotation of Jesus in the Bible with its elaboration by the alleged voice from heaven. Compare Matthew 23:37--

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

--with the following:

3RD NEPHI 10:4-6 O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you. And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not. O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart.

The latter quotation is obviously nothing but a wordier (145 words, compared with 39 for the verse from Matthew) version of the same thought given in the former. What could be clearer than that someone is trying to repeat the familiar phrases of the King James Version of the Bible in order to sound like the One he is imitating? It's the same technique an impressionist such as Rich Little uses: for example, repeating "I am not a crook!" in an imitation of Nixon, or "Ju-dy, Ju-dy, Ju-dy!!!" in trying to catch the manner of Cary Grant.

I close by asserting that here again we find proof of the fictitiousness of the Book of Mormon, which details incidents that outdo the ones recorded in the Bible--and, in so doing, the Book of Mormon demolishes its own credibility. I maintain that we are dealing with nothing more than Joseph Smith embellishing the gospel narrative with matter that "a young and undeveloped, but piously-inclined mind" thinks will impress the reader. I await any arguments by LDS faithful defending the Book of Mormon from this present expression of strong suspicion that it is a spurious "testament of Jesus Christ" rather than an authentic one.

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