Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Book of Mormon and the Bible: resolving an impasse with ancient manuscripts

Why I am not a Mormon, Part 2: The ancient manuscripts

Last time I mentioned one of the controversies about the Book of Mormon: does it mention "coins", and is that a problem for claiming it is a product of the ancient New World? And I mentioned that the defenders of the Book of Mormon counter-claim that "coin" was not part of the original text. One claim; one counterclaim. Do we have an impasse?

Here's the thing: if this discussion were occurring about a passage in the Bible instead of the Book of Mormon, the discussion wouldn't end there. It wouldn't automatically be an impasse. The next step would be to go back to the manuscripts of the documents and research further in the original languages. We would look at any of the hundreds (or thousands) of copies of the documents that still exist in the original languages spanning various nations and centuries, and we would check the translation.

Problem: with the Book of Mormon, there are no ancient manuscripts. It's not that there are only a few manuscripts, or that they are in poor condition, but there are none at all. There is no way to check the completeness of the translation, or the accuracy of the translation. People have to take it on faith not only that the translation is correct, but even that there ever was an original document that was translated. That's vastly different from the Bible, in which so many copies remain and are a matter of study for papyrologists, archaeologists, historical linguists, and in short a host of scholars with various specialties who have actual, real ancient documents to study.

When the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit was in town, I went to see the ancient manuscripts at the museum. There is no museum to visit to see an ancient copy of the Book of Mormon in the original languages.


Martin LaBar said...

It will be interesting to see where you are going with this.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Martin

I've probably telegraphed my direction enough that it won't be a huge shock ... but when I started thinking through "what if the question had been about the Bible instead of the Book of Mormon" in was interesting to see how deep the differences went.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF