BoM V: Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Part 2

After an asterisked break, Smith’s testimony continues:

Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed. While he was conversing with me about the plates, the vision was opened to my mind that I could see the place where the plates were deposited, and that so clearly and distinctly that I knew the place again when I visited it.

I must be missing something. We just read the Testimony of the Three, followed by the Testimony of the Eight — both reported seeing the plates. yet here we have Moroni saying, “Don’t show them to anyone.” Of course, I haven’t finished Smith’s testimony, so perhaps Moroni changes his mind.

That in itself would be problematic. Is Moroni speaking for himself, or for God? Certainly for God. No angel would presume to make a decision that would alter the course of human history — at least to some degree — without first consulting the Boss. Would he?

Either way, we have a problem.

If he’s speaking for God, then this is a discrepancy with one of Christianity’s most basic tenants about God: he changes not. In this scenario, God says, “Moroni, go tell Smith not to show anyone those plates” and then later, “Oh, on second though, he might get a lot of flack about the plates. Better let him show people”?

The other option is equally unappealing: Moroni is acting on his own accord. Wasn’t that what Lucifer was doing?

There are two more options, though: Smith could have just disregard it all. Or — and this is the most damning of all — Smith could have invented the Book of Mormon and simply noticed the discrepancy.

Continuing, Smith testifies:

After this communication, I saw the light in the room begin to gather immediately around the person of him who had been speaking to me, and it continued to do so, until the room was again left dark, except just around him, when instantly I saw, as it were, a conduit open right up into heaven, and he ascended until he entirely disappeared, and the room was left as it had been before this heavenly light had made its appearance.

I lay musing on the singularity of the scene, and marveling greatly at what had been told to me by this extraordinary messenger; when, in the midst of my meditation, I suddenly discovered that my room was again beginning to get lighted, and in an instant, as it were, the same heavenly messenger was again by my bedside.

Well, maybe Moroni has changed his mind. He certainly seems fairly indecisive here. It brings to mind the Clash classic.

“Should I stay or should I go?”

He commenced, and again related the very same things which he had done at his first visit, without the least variation; which having done, he informed me of great judgments which were coming upon the earth, with great desolations by famine, sword, and pestilence; and that these grievous judgments would come on the earth in this generation. Having related these things, he again ascended as he had done before.

Why the repetition? Why come back and simply repeat the same information, only to add a bit at the end about the awful things that will happen? Who cares, because there’s a bigger issue here: Moroni says that these things will happen “in this generation.” Humans get end-of-the-world prophecies wrong all the time, but angels, with their unfettered access to omniscient God?

There is a precedent for this, though. Jesus said, in the Olivet Discourse, Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matt. 24:34). There are ways to theologize around this, but Jesus’ words are fairly simple, as are Moroni’s: this generation. And in both cases “this generation” is now “that generation”, several generations removed.

At any rate, Smith continues:

By this time, so deep were the impressions made on my mind, that sleep had fled from my eyes, and I lay overwhelmed in astonishment at what I had both seen and heard. But what was my surprise when again I beheld the same messenger at my bedside, and heard him rehearse or repeat over again to me the same things as before; and added a caution to me, telling me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building His kingdom; otherwise I could not get them.

Three visits. There must be some significance to this.

Smith here seems to be countering twentieth century critics who would say, “You’re just making this up to get rich.” Of course that’s an anachronistic reading, but Smith does seem to be trying to head off certain objections before they arise. “Why, if I had plates like that, I’d get myself rich off them,” might have been the common logic he feared, as some sort of argument against the authenticity of his story. It’s about God, not mammon, in other words.

Will there be a fourth? I’ll wager no, in parallel with Jesus’ three days in the grave.

After this third visit, he again ascended into heaven as before, and I was again left to ponder on the strangeness of what I had just experienced; when almost immediately after the heavenly messenger had ascended from me the third time, the cock crowed, and I found that day was approaching, so that our interviews must have occupied the whole of that night.

I shortly after arose from my bed, and, as usual, went to the necessary labors of the day; but, in attempting to work as at other times, I found my strength so exhausted as to render me entirely unable. My father, who was laboring along with me, discovered something to be wrong with me, and told me to go home. I started with the intention of going to the house; but, in attempting to cross the fence out of the field where we were, my strength entirely failed me, and I fell helpless on the ground, and for a time was quite unconscious of anything.

This could be a clue.

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