“Studies of the Book of Mormon” by B. H. Roberts
“Studies of the Book of Mormon” by B. H. Roberts, Second Edition 1992
(4.5 out of 5 tapirs)
Brigham Henry Roberts (March 13, 1857 – September 27, 1933) was a leader and historian of the LDS church. He served as one of the seven presidents of the First Council of the Seventy, as Assistant Church Historian, and was a prolific writer for the church. B. H. Roberts believed he could use science to show that the Book of Mormon was a historical document, because he fully expected archeology to prove the Nephites and Lamanites were real civilizations. “Studies of the Book of Mormon”, unpublished until 1985, is his three part study of the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
Book of Mormon Difficulties: A Study
In the first part, “Book of Mormon Difficulties: A Study,” B. H. Roberts was asked by President Heber J. Grant to help answer questions from a man who had written to the church. The questions had to do with the current understanding of archeology, zoology, linguistics and anthropology which didn’t appear to line with up what is found in the Book of Mormon. Roberts digs into the different fields of study and he realizes he couldn’t find answers that would vindicate the historicity of the Book of Mormon. For example, if the Book of Mormon were historical, we would expect to find languages related to Hebrew among the natives of North America. Roberts writes: “So far, no evidence has come to hand that would identify a single New World language with Old World stock.” (pg. 73) Roberts often quotes experts in various fields of study to show scientific evidence seemed to contradict the historicity of the Book of Mormon. One example is Mr. Clark Wissler, an expert and a curator of the Museum of Natural History in New York City: “The common domesticated animals (in the New World) were the dog, the llama, and the related alpaca. There were no others.” (pg. 98) But the Book of Mormon speaks of many domesticated animals, including horses, asses, oxen, cows, sheep and swine. None of these animals were found in the Americas during the times of the Book of Mormon. Roberts does a very thorough job pointing out several problems that modern science presents to the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
After Roberts completed his study, he asked to present his findings to the Twelve Apostles. He was hoping for ideas or revelation to help with the questions he couldn’t answer, but instead the apostles stood up one by one and bore testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. George Albert Smith in tears said the questions hadn’t shaken his faith in the Book of Mormon.
A Book of Mormon Study
Unsatisfied, Roberts decided to continue his studies. The result was “A Book of Mormon Study,” the second part of what has now been published as “Studies of the Book of Mormon.” Roberts studied what literature was available to Joseph Smith in the 1820’s when the Book of Mormon was transcribed, to see if there was anything that could have served as source material. He realized “View of the Hebrews” written by Ethan Smith (no relation to Joseph) could have been used as the “ground plan” for the Book of Mormon. The first edition of “View of the Hebrews” was published in 1823 and the second edition in 1825. Joseph Smith started dictating the Book of Mormon to his scribes in 1827. Roberts finds many parallels between the two books:
- Both books tell a story about an emigration of white Israelites to the Americas. The people separate into different tribes, and the barbarous people eventually destroy the civilized people. The barbarous became what are now the Native Americans.
- Both books talk about writings made with Egyptian Hieroglyphics.
- Both books quote chapters from Isaiah in the Old Testament.
- Both books talk about the destruction of Jerusalem.
- Both books talk about the scattering and gathering of Israel.
- Both books condemn polygamy. (Um…)
- Both books talk about the Messiah appearing on the American continent.
- Many others…
Roberts then discusses whether Joseph Smith would have been sufficiently intelligent and imaginative to have authored the Book of Mormon, and Roberts concludes that he was. He also goes through several examples of stories in the Book of Mormon that strain one’s ability to believe the stories could be historical. “In the first place there is a certain lack of perspective in the things the book relates as history that points quite clearly to an undeveloped mind as their origin. The narrative proceeds in characteristic disregard of conditions necessary to its reasonableness, as if it were a tale told by a child, with utter disregard for consistency.” (pg. 251) Roberts discusses how Nephi claimed the Nephites quickly built a temple like Solomon’s. The Old Testament said it took thousands of people and seven years to build Solomon’s temple, but the Nephites with just their few people, built one themselves. “Is it not pertinent to ask, is this a statement from a great historical document, by one who knew Solomon’s temple through all his boyhood and young manhood, or is it the reckless statement of an undeveloped mind that knew not what he was saying–which?” (pg. 261)
Later in the book, it appeared to me Roberts had lost his belief that the Book of Mormon was historical. When describing how the accounts of the different anti-Christs in the Book of Mormon all have similar stories, Roberts writes: “So nearly alike that one mind is the author of them, and that a young and undeveloped, but piously inclined mind. The evidence I sorrowfully submit, points to Joseph Smith as their creator.”
The third part of the book is Roberts’ findings of the parallels between the Book of Mormon and “The View of the Hebrews” in columnar form. This allows for someone to quickly scan the parallels between the two books and the evidence for those parallels.
A true believer, or not?
So did Roberts remain a true believer in the Book of Mormon after he compiled all his information? To me it appeared he no longer believed in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. He seems to at times openly mock it and to say Joseph Smith had to be the creator of some of the stories that just aren’t believable. But in public, he was a fierce defender of the divine origins of the Book of Mormon. These studies weren’t made public until long after his death, so maybe he believed the Book of Mormon was inspired even if it wasn’t historically accurate. We’ll never know for sure, but it’s something interesting to consider.
Dense like a text book
This book is a really dense read. Roberts dives deeply into the science of the time and isn’t afraid to spend lots of time on any single topic or point of argument. I used a highlight pen on my book because there was so much information that I wanted to be able to find later. I would recommend this book if you have the patience to wade into some gnarly and sometimes monotonous science, or if you’re looking for some good quotes from B. H. Roberts.
Amazon: Studies of the Book of Mormon
Amazon: View of the Hebrews
Wikipedia: B. H. Roberts
MormonThink.com: B. H. Roberts
FairMormon.org: Did B. H. Roberts Abandon His Faith in the Book of Mormon?
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