Monday, October 14, 2019

Paradigm shifts

Everyone loves and hates paradigm shifts, depending on whether they like or dislike the new paradigm. Everyone who promotes a new paradigm cites Thomas Kuhn and his Copernicus example, or another famous historical shift in understanding and perception. They don't cite the numerous attempts at creating a new paradigm that don't catch on because they are nonsense or because they are merely revivals of long-discredited ideas.

People continue to ask about the stone-in-a-hat issue. As I anticipated, thousands of people left Education Week in Provo last August believing that (i) Joseph dictated the Book of Mormon by reading words that appeared on a metaphysical teleprompter (the peep stone in a hat) and (ii) Joseph didn't translate the plates but instead the words were provided by an unknown intermediary translator.

The purveyors of this narrative have tried to frame it as a "paradigm shift" because that sounds smart, cool, progressive, and informed.

This peep-stone-in-a-hat narrative was revived a few years ago by a group of LDS historians. They claim it is a "new paradigm" but they forgot to mention a key fact.

This is not a "new paradigm" at all. It's a zombie version of an old narrative that was killed years ago by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

I discussed this here:

In that post, I observed this:

We can understand the chronology of the alternative theories through a simple chiasmus:

Joseph produced the Book of Mormon by reading words off a stone-in-a-hat (critics) [1834]
     Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim (alternative account) [1834]
     Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim (taught for decades by LDS leaders) [1834-2015]
Joseph produced the Book of Mormon by reading words off a stone-in-a-hat (revisionist historians) [2015 to present] 

The "paradigm shift" was presented to BYU educators in this article that comes complete with the inevitable Kuhn/Copernicus reference:

Alert educators could tell something was up. The article is basically an ad for the book, From Darkness unto Light. Worse, the article pretends that the peep stone narrative is new, and that everyone in the Church needs to adjust to this "paradigm shift."

Nowhere does From Darkness unto Light quote or discuss the peep stone theory as it was introduced in 1834 in the book Mormonism Unvailed. I included the relevant passage in the link above, but here it is again:

On page 18, which you can read hereMormonism Unvailed acknowledges two alternative explanations of the translation. The first involved the seer stone (which the book calls a "peep stone") that Joseph put in a hat to read off the words that appeared. Setting aside the sarcasm of this passage, we can see that the first paragraph below is what our revisionist Church historians are teaching today (although they claim Joseph saw a group of words instead of a single word at a time).

The translation finally commenced. They were found to contain a language not now known upon the earth, which they termed "reformed Egyptian characters." The plates, therefore, which had been so much talked of, were found to be of no manner of use. After all, the Lord showed and communicated to him [Joseph] every word and letter of the Book. Instead of looking at the characters inscribed upon the plates, the prophet was obliged to resort to the old ''peep stone," which he formerly used in money-digging. This he placed in a hat, or box, into which he also thrust his face. Through the stone he could then discover a single word at a time, which he repeated aloud to his amanuensis, who committed it to paper, when another word would immediately appear, and thus the performance continued to the end of the book.

South Park depiction of the
stone-in-a-hat theory
This version of the translation was been infamously portrayed in an episode of South Park, as well as on many web pages critical of the Church.

Now, this stone-in-a-hat theory has been embraced in Church publications, as mentioned above.

Mormonism Unvailed acknowledged an alternative explanation of the translation. This is the explanation that Joseph and Oliver always gave, albeit not exactly the way it is explained in Mormonism Unvailed.

Another account they give of the transaction, is, that it was performed with the big spectacles before mentioned, and which were in fact, the identical Urim and Thumim mentioned in Exodus 28 — 30, and were brought away from Jerusalem by the heroes of the book, handed down from one generation to another, and finally buried up in Ontario county, some fifteen centuries since, to enable Smith to translate the plates without looking at them ! 

Mormonism Unvailed is not noted for accuracy in its presentation about the Book of Mormon. Here, the authors missed the points that (i) the Urim and Thummim that Joseph received was not brought from Jerusalem by Lehi but instead had been used by the Jaredites in America, and (ii) Joseph actually looked at the plates with the spectacles.

However, the passage quoted above makes a clear delineation between the stone-in-a-hat theory and the Urim and Thummim narrative. (Elsewhere in the book the authors distinguish between the peep stone and the spectacles.) Everyone who read Mormonism Unvailed understood these were two competing explanations of the translation of the Book of Mormon. There was no suggestion that Joseph, Oliver, or anyone else referred to the "seer stone" as the Urim and Thummim. All contemporary accounts referred to the interpreters Moroni put in the stone box as the Urim and Thummim.

The peep stone theory is having the same effect today that Mr. Hurlbut hoped for when he published it in Mormonism Unvailed. The theory makes the plates themselves superfluous.

If an unknown "intermediary translator" could generate words that appeared on the metaphysical teleprompter (the peep stone in a hat), why did Mormon go to all the trouble of abridging the Nephite records? Why would the Nephites bother keeping records at all? Why would Moroni risk his life to preserve and add to the abridgment? Why bother with the plates of Nephi to replace the lost 116 pages?

Maybe we can replace the "paradigm shift" with another paradigm shift back to what the prophets have taught. 

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