Just How Important Are the Details?

Posted on June 7, 2012 by


Douglas C. Pizac/Associated Press writes in the New York Times:

“Smith said an angel revealed to him the location of a set of golden tablets containing scriptures that he then translated into the Book of Mormon. The scriptures he translated described how a group of Jews came to the Americas. After Jesus was crucified and resurrected, Mormons believe, he came to preach to the group and a church developed, only to fall into apostasy until Smith restored it.”

The Book of Mormon largely follows a narrative of Lehi and his descendants.  Lehi was of the tribe of Manasseh, and should correctly be considered an “Israelite”, but as Jews are descendants of the tribe of Judah Lehi is not exactly a Jew.  That said, the descendants of Lehi do later meet up with and join with some other Israelite refugees, descendants of King Zedekiah, called Mulekites, who were descendants of the tribe of Judah.  However, as the Book of Mormon doesn’t chronicle how the Mulekites came to the Americas, Mr. Pizac is incorrect in attributing the narrative to “a group of Jews”.

Furthermore, it’s quite an over-simplification to reduce the whole of the Book of Mormon to “how a group of Israelites came to the Americas.”  The narrative of that journey consists of several chapters at the outset of the book, leaving the vast majority of the rest of the book to writings of ancient-American prophets from that time (600 B.C. to sometime after 400 A.D.)  One notable exception is that of the Book of Ether contained within the Book of Mormon that chronicles a group of people called the Jaredites at the time of the Tower of Babel on their journey to America and their subsequent wars and ultimate self-destruction before the Mulekites stumbled upon the last Jaredite survivor.

Mr. Pizac is also slightly inaccurate in his portrayal of the ancient-American church and the latter-day restoration.  Mormons believe that Christ deliberately formed a church in ancient America just as he had done in Palestine and that both churches were His church.  Both bodies of His church fell into complete apostasy, that this “great apostasy” lasted more than 1000 years, and Christ then restored His church through revelation to Joseph Smith.  Note that the differences are significant… Christ formed His church; the church did not simply “develop” itself.  Christ restored His church, not Joseph Smith, and the restored church is the same Church as the ones both in ancient America and in Palestine.

“Still, according to the nationwide survey of 1,019 Mormons, 62 percent say the American people as a whole are uninformed about Mormonism.”

And Mr. Pizac’s article is an example of why Momons feel this way.  Mormons generally care about the details of how a portrayal is given.  So even if the portrayal is not particularly slanderous or negative, if the details of a portrayal are inaccurate then Mormons will feel that the portrayal was uninformed.