The Challenge 05/07
By Alan C. Miner
The Ancient American Foundation (AAF) is pleased to present AAF Notes: a series of research articles by scholars of Book of Mormon culture and history and reviewed by AAF editors. Visit their website at www.ancientamerica.org. This article comes from Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon by Alan C. Miner with excerpts from Hugh Nibley
Hugh Nibley used to offer a most interesting challenge to his students at Brigham Young University (BYU):
Since Joseph Smith was younger than most of you and not nearly so experienced or well educated at the time he copyrighted the Book of Mormon, it should not be too much to ask you to hand in by the end of the semester (which will give you more time than he had) a paper of, say, five to six hundred pages in length. Call it a sacred book if you will, and give it the form of a history.
Tell of a community of wandering Jews in ancient times; have all sorts of characters in your story, and involve them in all sorts of public and private vicissitudes [daily activities]; give them names — hundreds of them — pretending that they are real Hebrew and Egyptian names of circa 600 B.C.
Be lavish with cultural and technical details — manners and customs, arts and industries, political and religious institutions, rites, and traditions, include long and complicated military and economic histories; have your narrative cover a thousand years.
Keep a number of interrelated local histories going at once; feel free to introduce religious controversy and philosophical discussion, but always in a plausible setting; observe the appropriate literary conventions and explain the derivation and transmission of your varied historical materials.
Above all, do not ever contradict yourself! For now we come to the really hard part of this little assignment. You and I know that you are making this all up — we have our little joke — but just the same you are going to be required to have your paper published when you finish it, not as fiction or romance, but as a true history! After you have handed it in you may make no changes in it … What is more, you are to invite any and all scholars to read and criticize your work freely, explaining to them that it is a sacred book on a par with the Bible. If they seem over-skeptical, you might tell them that you translated the book from original records by the aid of the Urim and Thummim — they will love that!
Further, to allay their misgivings, you might tell them that the original manuscript was on golden plates, and that you got the plates from an angel. Now go to work and good luck! [The Prophetic Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., 221-222]
To this I would like to add some additional challenges, though it shouldn’t be hard, living as we do in the computer world of the internet:
Because your story is supposed to be a religious record, include in your paper more than 500 different descriptive titles for deity, all within a proper religious context that will not only explain these titles in relation to what we have in the Bible, but give added meaning and understanding.
Because this is supposedly an ancient Hebrew record, give numerous and multiple examples of ancient Parallelistic Hebrew literary forms. Have whole pages, even chapters and larger sections written in Parallelistic (chiastic) patterns.
Weave in an underlying theme of covenants with the Lord, both culturally and scripturally. In fact, it would be a good idea to make every part of your narrative not only covenant-related, but Christ-related as well.
Dictate your story to a scribe. Confirm spelling of proper names so they correctly reflect the language found in the ancient setting of your story. Leave your script as you dictate it, and never ask your scribe to tell you where you left off after lunch or the end of a day.
On his own, your scribe can adjust capitalization, punctuation, the spelling of traditional words, and some simple grammar, but that is all.
Dictate parts of your story in non-chronological order. Be sure to credit these parts of your story to different writers, varying your manner of using words and phrases so that a distinct separation of language style can be detected by modern word print analysis.
These requirements demonstrate that Joseph Smith was quoting from a previously written script (the Gold Plates) rather than making it up as he went along. Add twelve witnesses who verified that in the case of Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon, all the above requirements were met.
The Book of Mormon has withstood 174 years of intense scrutiny, both pro and con, and stands as a tangible witness that it is exactly as it has been purported to be —-a divine book written and translated by the gift and power of God.
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