Defending the restored church of Christ - I created this blog several years ago to provide an alternative to what I saw at the time as a lot of bad "Mormon blogs" that were floating around the web. Also, it was my goal to collect and share a plethora of positive and useful information about what I steadfastly believe to be Christ's restored church. It has been incredibly enjoyable and I hope you find the information worthwhile.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Book of Mormon origins and the historical record

(by Daniel Peterson 5-26-16)

Few, if any, of those who deploy academic arguments to support or defend the authenticity of the Book of Mormon imagine that there’s any single such argument, or even any collection of such arguments, that will prove it true beyond reasonable doubt. (Given members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ understanding of the purpose of mortal life, including the veil of forgetfulness that Mormons believe to have been drawn over our perfect premortal knowledge of God and his plan, such proof wouldn’t even seem appropriate.)

Instead, advocates of the Book of Mormon attempt to make a cumulative case, one composed of a multitude of arguments that are each relatively limited in scope. While, as a Kenyan proverb observes, a single stick may be easily broken, “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” A single argument might not be conclusive, but an assembly of such arguments can (potentially, at least) make a conclusion very probable, if not altogether beyond dispute.

In an article recently published in “Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture” under the title “‘Idle and Slothful Strange Stories’: Book of Mormon Origins and the Historical Record,” Neal Rappleye provides a helpful summary of the current state of one strand, or bundle of strands, from the cumulative argument. (I am the chairman for the Interpreter Foundation, which publishes “Interpreter.”)

Rappleye’s article doesn’t deal with Mesoamerican archaeology or ancient Semitic languages. Rather, it concentrates on eyewitness accounts corroborating Joseph Smith’s possession of actual physical plates and other artifacts, eyewitness reports about the process by which the English Book of Mormon was produced, and evidence present in the original dictated manuscript.

Discussing not only the 11 official witnesses but also others, Rappleye cites encounters with the golden plates that, he correctly notes, “are so straightforward they cannot be easily dismissed.” They “bring a certain tangibility and physicality to the plates that makes them hard to remove from physical reality.” Some witnesses even saw the stone box that had once contained the plates on the side of the Hill Cumorah. “All of this,” Rappleye writes, “makes notions of co-conspirators or easily duped followers very difficult to square with the historical record. There are too many people with too many stories about interactions with the plates and other artifacts.”

Moreover, Rappleye notes, both eyewitness evidence and the Book of Mormon manuscript itself strongly suggest that while Joseph Smith was dictating from a pre-existing text that wasn’t his, he had no book or manuscript with him during the dictation process. As Martin Harris, who was one of the scribes and also one of the witnesses, put it, “Joseph knew not the contents of the Book of Mormon until it was translated.” This is a vitally important point that I myself have sought to emphasize — for example, in my 2005 essay “Not So Easily Dismissed: 
Some Facts for Which Counterexplanations of the Book of Mormon Will Need to Account.”

Recognizing their difficulty, some critics have tried to assign the credit for writing the Book of Mormon to somebody else — typically Solomon Spalding or Sidney Rigdon. My favorite such proposal came from an Internet critic several years ago. In repeated emails, he insisted that the Book of Mormon was actually written for unknowable reasons at an unknown date and in an undetermined place by a group of unknown size that had left no traces behind of either its activities or its existence. (I labeled them the “Illuminati.”) But there is no serious evidence for other authors. And there’s strong evidence against Joseph Smith’s authorship, as well — including his documented unfamiliarity with the book’s contents prior to its dictation and his inability to pronounce some of its proper names.

There are good reasons for Richard Bushman’s judgment, with regard to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, that “believing historians are more inclined to be true to the basic sources than unbelieving ones” (see “The Recovery of the Book of Mormon,” in Noel B. Reynolds, ed., “Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited,” FARMS, 1997).

If they wish to maintain their disbelief in Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims, unbelievers have little choice other than to reject the primary historical sources and the eyewitness accounts. “Overall,” Rappleye concludes, “the external evidence is consistent with Joseph Smith’s own explanation of events … more than any other.”

This brief column cannot adequately represent Rappleye’s article, of course, so I invite any who might be interested to read it for themselves; it’s accessible online at no cost.
Additionally, for a response to claims by some that the Book of Mormon witnesses never actually saw or “hefted” physically real plates, see Richard Lloyd Anderson’s 2005 article “Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses.”


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Living in a world with many different religious views

(by Daniel Peterson 5-12-16)

One of the most interesting magazines in America, First Things (online at, focuses on religion and public affairs, taking a broadly Christian (often Catholic) stance but also regularly featuring Orthodox, Jewish and other writers.

(The April 2016 issue includes an article, translated by Brigham Young University’s redoubtable Ralph Hancock, by the noted Paris intellectual Pierre Manent. May’s issue includes a piece about Mormonism by the friendly critic Richard J. Mouw, former president of California’s Fuller Theological Seminary, online at June’s features a response to Mouw by Terryl Givens, online at

Among the most interesting contemporary thinkers on religion and society is the Austrian-American sociologist Peter Berger, who published a valuable essay in First Things for April 2016 titled “The Good of Religious Pluralism” (online at, subscription required).

As we’re all acutely aware, we moderns live in a religiously varied world. It’s not merely that there are Christians of various denominations, as well as Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and others. That’s been true for centuries. More than ever before, however, thanks to modern means of communication and travel and because of immigration to and emigration from different countries, the fact of alternative religious beliefs constantly confronts us. The largest Buddhist temple in the Western Hemisphere stands near my parents’ former home in Southern California. There’s a mosque in Pocatello, Idaho. A temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is under construction near Rome.

When he started his career as a sociologist, Berger says, “Like just about everyone in the field, I operated within so-called secularization theory. We thought that modernity invariably means a decline of religion. It took me more than 20 years to conclude that the theory is empirically untenable.” The evidence, he says, is “overwhelming”: “The world today is as religious as it ever was, in places more so than ever. (There are exceptions, notably Western Europe and an international so-called intelligentsia. These have to be, and can be, explained.)”

So what to make of the still-religious and religiously complex world in which we live?

Berger describes four “benefits,” as he sees them, of living on a planet where competing religious (and nonreligious) viewpoints reside in close proximity to one another. I’ll mention them, and briefly comment on them, in his order:

“First benefit: It becomes more difficult to take a religious tradition for granted. Acts of decision become necessary,” according to “The Good of Religious Pluralism.”

We tend to follow the culture in which we were raised, and that includes religion (and irreligion). In the past, this was almost invariably so. A child raised by Catholics in a Catholic society was extremely likely to die a Catholic. So, too, with the child of Hindu parents raised in a Hindu culture. Today, though, alternatives are everywhere, within easy distance, and no longer unthinkable. People change churches and faiths more than ever before.

“Second benefit: Freedom is a great gift, and pluralism opens up new areas of freedom,” according to Berger.

As Lehi understood (see 2 Nephi), real freedom is only possible — and “choices” only meaningful — where options exist to make choices possible. And a vigorously competitive market, in religion as in other goods, confers many benefits.

"To each of you,” says Quran 5:48, God has “appointed a law and a way. If God had willed, he would have made you one people. However, he wanted to test you in what he has given to you. So vie with one another in doing good. All of you will return to God, and then he will inform you about the matters in which you differed.”

“Third benefit: If pluralism is combined with religious freedom, all religious institutions become in fact voluntary associations,” according to “The Good of Religious Pluralism.”

Religious movements cannot compel obedience or membership under such conditions, and this is very much in the spirit of Doctrine and Covenants 134:10: “We do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.”

“Fourth benefit: Pluralism influences individual believers and religious communities to distinguish between the core of their faith and less central elements,” according to “The Good of Religious Pluralism.”

The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia believed that the worst court decisions were the unanimous ones. Why? Because nobody on an opposing side was pointing out errors, flaws, poor assumptions, silly irrelevancies and other shortcomings (see "Concurring Opinion Writing on the U.S. Supreme Court," by Pamela C. Corley).

We become better by interacting with people different from ourselves.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Finding Self-Worth in a Selfie World

(by Henry Unga lds.ord 5-9-16)

I was 11 years old when I realized I had no friends. It was the beginning of 5th grade in a new school, and, besides, everybody probably feels similar when they’re that young anyway. But even if that’s true, it didn’t soften the blow when the Val-O-Grams—those special valentines students purchased and had sent to their best friends—were delivered to all the classrooms and everyone seemed to get ten and I only got one—and it was from my mom.

I was 17 years old when I experimented with the harshest of hair products because the statement I was making with my ripped jeans and worn boots wasn’t getting enough of the attention I wanted from my high school peers. If they weren’t looking at or talking about me, it was as if I didn’t exist.

I was 21 years old when I knew I was the worst missionary in the history of the Church. I wasn’t baptizing as much as others, I wasn’t called to leadership positions when younger missionaries were, and I simply didn’t feel the persistent, all-encompassing glow I once associated with missionary work and righteousness and following the rules.

I was 26 years old when I finally graduated from college and was offered a job I felt I had to accept to feel like a contributing adult. And soon after I took the job, I silently wished that I could go back and start over again. Because, at the time, I wasn’t brave enough to say no to a job I knew wouldn’t fulfill me even though it would pay my bills. Because I wasn’t traveling the world or interning at Universal Studios or playing in the NFL or publishing bestsellers or making the kind of money that would ensure an early and prosperous retirement. I was at a desk. And it appeared everyone else was living their dream.

And I was 28 years old when my wife was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease. And beyond how many friends I had, how good-looking I felt I was, how respected I was by my peers, how glamorous or rich I was or wasn’t, my understanding of self-worth became how I used my new pain and past experiences to acquire the compassion necessary to truly love someone other than myself. And what if that’s the secret? What if pouring yourself—the good and the hidden—into those around and beyond you afforded you the kind of self-worth you can’t get from social media or one of the thousands of self-help books crowding our shelves? What if outward compassion rather than inward reflection is the barometer with which God measures our intended purpose and value? Well, I think it might be. Or at least it’s a strong component. Because I’ve never felt more worthy as a son of God than when I first started washing my wife’s hair because lifting her own arms to shampoo her hair became too much for her lungs to handle. I’ve never felt so purposeful and satisfied than when I made the obvious choice of disappearing into the full-time care and round-the-clock concern of a most precious and delicate daughter of God.

Maybe not having friends in 5th grade meant I wasn’t being a friend to my classmates. Maybe not feeling attractive in high school meant I needed to step away from my mirror and look out my window. Maybe not receiving the leadership roles I felt I needed in order to really make a difference as a missionary meant that I wasn’t fully serving those closest to me—my missionary companions and the families who were looking to us for gospel understanding. Maybe feeling enslaved to a job that wasn’t the coolest or most lucrative meant that I didn’t yet understand that it would be outside the hours of 9 to 5 where my happiest, hardest, and most sacred work would be done. And maybe feeling cheated by 78 “likes” on a posted picture that I thought deserved a million means I’ve swung too far from what I once understood about self-worth and have parlayed my divine identity into an idea of someone I’m not quite and perhaps never will be.

I’m now 29 years old. And maybe that’s too young to know exactly who or what I am. But being 29 is probably old enough to know what I’m not. I know I’m not merely a resume or a cultural demographic or a body type or a tax bracket or a profile picture. And I know I’m not reduced to those arbitrary things because I know I am more than simply myself.

I am what I am to my wife and to my friends and family and to my neighbors and coworkers and fellow freeway drivers. I am what I am to the 54-year-old server who cleans up after me and thanks me for coming in even though I under-tipped. I am what I am to the person who doesn’t like me and especially to the person I’m not too fond of either. I am what I am to those I should be serving more, to those I should be reaching out to more, to those I should be writing to instead of writing this. I am how I love others because that’s one of the few things I can actually control in this life, and it’s possibly the only way I can tangibly measure my true self-worth. But mostly, I am how I love others because that’s all God asks of me—and because that’s all I can give Him. And maybe that’s good enough.


Monday, May 9, 2016

When Jesus purged the temple at Jerusalem

(by Daniel Peterson 5-5-16)

All three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17 and Luke 19:45-46) tell of the Savior’s “cleansing” of the temple at Jerusalem — the Latin term for the event (“purgatio templi”) is much more expressive — as does the gospel of John (John 2:13-17). Some scholars think there were two different cleansings, but, for this column, I’ll set that issue aside.

According to the gospel narratives, the temple court was filled with tables where the Greek and Roman coinage used for ordinary daily transactions had to be exchanged for Jewish coins or, alternatively, coins from Tyre, northward on the Mediterranean coast in what is today Lebanon. (Gentile coins were unacceptable within the temple precincts because, rather like many modern coins, they featured graven images.)

It’s easy to imagine there was a considerable markup in the exchange because the money-changers enjoyed a wonderful monopoly: There was only one temple in Judaism. The newly acquired “temple coins” were then used to purchase animals — the Gospels mention pigeons, sheep and oxen — for sacrifice on the altars of the sanctuary. And, once again, the merchants in the temple courtyard had, and presumably took, every opportunity to ring up a handsome profit at the expense of devout pilgrims who might have made a very arduous journey from distant parts of Palestine (and well beyond it) to worship their God.

We can, I think, learn a great deal from the story of how Jesus reacted to this situation. I will mention three points:

First of all, we plainly see that the Jesus who some have imagined, a man so tolerant and accepting that he would never presume to judge, reject or exclude anybody, is non-biblical. The New Testament Jesus was indeed gentle, kind and loving, and his love is our only hope of salvation. Still, on this occasion, he took the time to calmly make a whip out of cords and then waded in among the money-changers and drove them out, explaining while he did so that whereas the temple had been erected as “a house of prayer” (“for all nations,” adds the account given by the Greek physician Luke), the greedy and exploitative money-changers had turned it into “a den of robbers.” Afterward, recalls John, the disciples who had witnessed the Savior’s action saw in it a fulfillment of Psalm 69:9: “Zeal for thy house will consume me.”

The Jesus of this story can be righteously angry. “A false balance,” says Proverbs 11:1, “is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight.” And although we have no reason to believe Jesus seriously injured — let alone killed — anyone, it’s plain he was willing to take vigorous action to defend what, according to John 2:16, he called “my Father’s house.”

Which brings us to a second point that we can take away from at least John’s recollection: By calling the temple of Jerusalem “my Father’s house,” the Jesus of the fourth Gospel seems quite plainly to be identifying himself as the Son of God. Notice that he doesn’t say “our Father’s house.” He is claiming a unique relationship with the Father.

A third and final point: His zeal for the temple and his description of it as “my Father’s house” — some Greek manuscripts of Matthew 21:12 identify it simply as “the temple,” but others call it “the temple of God” — show that Jesus considers it a holy place that should be treated as sacred. Some Christians have argued that Jesus rejected the temple and that his followers should therefore do the same. But there is no evidence for such rejection during Jesus’ lifetime, and the story of his purging of the temple argues powerfully to the contrary.

Of course, some have asserted that Jesus’ death on the cross eventually did render the temple irrelevant and that, accordingly, Christians should reject it. Once again, though, the biblical evidence contradicts this view. After Christ’s crucifixion, after his resurrection, and even after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (which some mainstream Christians like to view as the real “birth” of the Christian church), the book of Acts tells us where the Savior’s apostles spent their time — very possibly at considerable risk of arrest and certainly of harassment by hostile authorities: They were “continuing daily with one accord in the temple … praising God” (Acts 2:46-47).
Both Jesus and his disciples reverenced the temple, and so should we.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Does the LDS church have a policy about going to bullfights?

El Rejoneo (bullfighting on horseback) Sevilla, Spain

(photo by Maurice Berho, Seville, Spain, April 10, 2016)

I only ask the question because honestly I don't know. I went on my mission to Chile where bullfights are not held so it wasn't an issue.

However in France, Portugal, Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru bullfights are held and are still quite popular especially in Spain, France, and Mexico. So I wondered what the church's policy is, if any, in those countries.

Are the missionaries forbidden from going to a bullfight?

Is it an issue for members in those countries?

If you have any information leave me a comment. I would love to know. (I did a Google search on the subject but came back with nothing.)


Juan del Alamo, plaza de toros Las Ventas, Madrid, May 17th, 2016

Friday, May 6, 2016

KSL's Religion Today for April 2016

April 3rd - Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood

April 10th - More Book of Mormon, Mesoamerica or North America?

April 17th - The First Vision

April 24th - Three compelling near death experiences

KSL's Religion Today for March 2016

March 20th - Was Jesus married?

KSL's Religion Today for February 2016

February 7th - Translation of the Book of Mormon

February 14th - Interview with Professor Harold Bloom

February 21st - Book of Mormon, Mesoamerica or North America?

KSL's Religion Today for January 2016

January 10th - Timeline of the New Testament

January 24th - Near death experience

January 31st - DNA and the Book of Mormon

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Did Jesus teach in this ancient synagogue?

(by William Hamblin and Daniel Peterson 4-15-16)

Driving along the western shore of Lake Kinneret, called “the Sea of Galilee” in the New Testament, it’s virtually impossible to miss a steep cliff called Arbel and a valley below it called either the Wadi Arbel or the Wadi Hammam (“Valley of the Doves”). This area is saturated — literally as well as figuratively — with ancient history.

The Arbel cliff contains roughly a hundred caves, in and around which bloody battles were fought during the Maccabean Revolt in 161 B.C., the Herodian war in 38 B.C. and the First Jewish Revolt against Rome in A.D. 66-70.

Perhaps the most important thing for Christian visitors to know, however, is that the Wadi Hammam is almost certainly the path that Jesus walked between his hometown of Nazareth, in the mountainous Upper Galilee, and his adoptive Lower Galilean home in the village of Capernaum, where the fishermen Peter, Andrew, James and John lived, as well as the tax collector Levi or Matthew. Jesus would have traveled northward from Sepphoris and Nazareth to the town of Cana (John 2:1-11, 4:46, 21:2), descending eastward from there to the Sea of Galilee.

Emerging from the valley onto the lakeshore, he would have found himself facing the town of Magdala, which (as her name indicates) seems to have been the home of Mary Magdalene. One of the most prominent of the early Christian disciples, Mary is actually mentioned more often in the New Testament gospels than most of the apostles, and — much more importantly — she was both an eyewitness of the crucifixion of Jesus and the first witness to his resurrection.

Magdala is in ruins today, but a Palestinian Arab village called al-Majdal existed there until being abandoned just prior to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and a modern Israeli town with essentially the same name, Migdal, was founded directly to the north in 1910. The original Hebrew name of the ancient village was “Magdala Nunayya” — “Magdala of the Fish” or, perhaps, “Fish Tower” — which clearly suggests that its major industry was the drying and export of the fish that are still abundantly taken from the lake (and served to tourists). Positioned as it was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and at the mouth of the valley that ascended to Upper Galilee and, past that, to the ports of the Mediterranean, Magdala was superbly situated for the export of dried freshwater fish to markets throughout the Galilee and even beyond Palestine.

The most exciting recent development at the site has been the discovery, during preparations for the construction of a new hotel at Migdal Beach in 2009, of a first-century synagogue. One of the oldest such structures ever found in Israel, this synagogue appears to have been used from roughly 50 B.C. to the end of the first century A.D. In other words, it was standing during the time of Jesus himself. Did he ever visit it? He almost certainly did. “Jesus went about all Galilee,” reports Matthew 4:23, “teaching in their synagogues.”

Given its location near the Wadi Hammam, the connection between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, and the fact that Magdala is only six miles (10 kilometers) from Capernaum, it seems unlikely that Jesus never visited the building.

In the center of the Magdala synagogue is a rectangular stone that features a carved image representing the menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum that stood in the temple of Jerusalem prior to that sanctuary’s destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70.

Flanked on each side by a column and a two-handled vase or jug, this is the oldest such representation known to exist, and the only image of the temple menorah that was very likely created by a craftsman who had actually seen the original in Jerusalem. While it stood, devout Jews congregated at the temple from all over the land of Israel during the three great annual festivals of Passover (Pesach), Weeks (Shavuot) and Tabernacles (Sukkot).

Discoveries such as the synagogue at Magdala help to take ancient biblical history in general, and the life of Jesus Christ in particular, out of the hazy realm of mythical things that happened, if they happened, “long ago, in a land far away,” and to give the scriptural stories a sense of vivid, concrete reality. This is as it should be for a faith based upon the conviction that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

(For photographs and information about the synagogue and the “Magdala Stone,” see