B. H. Roberts Letter regarding the Book of Mormon in full context
Will you kindly review B.H. Roberts writings and show me where anything in the last 60 years has rendered his conclusions irrelevant?
A Mormon apologist responds:
Been there, done that! The so-called conclusions of his writings were not his own! The idea for them actually came from a critic of the LDS Church who had written to B. H. Roberts previously–the conclusions being those of the critics who were and would be writing. Have you actually read Roberts’ cover letter which he intended to be distributed with copies of his “studies” and other materials??? I didn’t think so!
Here is the verbatim text of the cover letter for you to peruse:
You will perhaps remember that during the hearing on “Problems of the Book of Mormon” reported to your Council January, 1922, I stated in my remarks that there were other problems which I thought should be considered in addition to those submitted in my report. Brother Richard R. Lyman asked if they would help solve the problems already presented, or if they would increase our difficulties. My answer was that they would very greatly increase our difficulties, on which he replied, “Then I do not know why we should consider them.” My answer was, however, that it was my intention to go on with the consideration to the last analysis. Accordingly, since the matter was already so far under my hand, I continued my studies, and submit herewith the record of them. I do not say my conclusions, for they are undrawn.
In writing out this my report to you of those studies, I have written it from the viewpoint of an open mind, investigating the facts of the Book of Mormon origin and authorship. Let me say once for all, so as to avoid what might otherwise call for repeated explanation, that what is herein set forth does not represent any conclusions of mine. This report herewith submitted is what it purports to be, namely a “study of Book of Mormon origins,” for the information of those who ought to know everything about it pro et con, as well as that which has been produced against it, and that which may be produced against it. I am taking the position that our faith is not only unshaken but unshakable in the Book of Mormon, and therefore we can look without fear upon all that can be said against it.
While searching for the answers to the questions of Mr. Couch, submitted through Mr. William E. Riter, I came in contact with the material here used, and concluded that while the subject was fresh in my mind to make it of record for those who should be its students and know on what ground the Book of Mormon may be questioned, as well as that which supports its authenticity and its truth.
If it is impossible for the General Authorities to consider this whole matter together, then, I submit that it might be referred to the committee you appointed to consider with me the answers to be given Mr. Couch, namely, Elders Ivins, Talmadge [sic], and Widtsoe, with a request that they report on the same. I am very sure that you will find the material herewith submitted of intense interest, and it may be of very great importance since it represents what may be used by some opponent in criticism of the Book of Mormon.
It is not necessary for me to suggest that maintenance of the truth of the Book of Mormon is absolutely essential to the integrity of the whole Mormon movement, for it is inconceivable that the Book of Mormon should be untrue in its origin or character and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints be a true Church.
(end of Roberts’ letter)
Much of what Roberts has written has indeed been answered and more will as time permits. Until then, keep reading what Roberts says in context!
to which I responded:
You have pulled Roberts letter completely out of context (just as FARMS did). He did not include this letter with his other writings as you imply. The key questions to ask if you want to put this letter into context are when did he write it, why did he write it, and to whom did he write it to.
He wrote it in 1922 *before* he ever wrote “A Book of Mormon Study” and “A Parallel” (which is probably what the original poster was referring to). The letter was to accompany his response to the questions someone else raised–not to his own later research which is found in “Studies of the Book of Mormon”. For those who haven’t read these two works a few quotes can be found here. He also wrote the letter (long) before he talked to Wesley Lloyd shortly before his death. The orthodox Mormon Lloyd recorded in his journal that Roberts,
“shows that the plates were not objective but subjective with Joseph Smith, that his exceptional imagination qualified him psychologically for the experience which he had in presenting to the world the Book of Mormon and that the plates with the Urim and Thummim were not objective.”
“These are some of the things which has made Bro. Roberts shift his base on the Book of Mormon. Instead of regarding it as the strongest evidence we have of Church Divinity, he regards it as the one which needs the most bolstering.” (Private Journal of Wesley P. Lloyd, August 7, 1933)
The letter was written by Roberts in hopes that he could discuss the matter with the church leaders. After considering that they turned a deaf ear to him (in the January 1922 meeting), he no longer bothered with them. He *never even sent* this letter which the apologists like to parade before the world as B.H. Roberts playing “devils advocate”. He didn’t include it with his later “A Book of Mormon Study” and “A Parallel” either (even though the apologists attempt to twist the facts to make it look as if he did).
He was writing this letter to the church leaders (although as I said before, he never sent it). Do you really think a general authority is going to write such a letter to the church leaders about problems with the Book of Mormon and not make it sound as if he is only playing “devils advocate”? B.H. Roberts could have lost his income, position, family, friends, etc. if he was excommunicated or disfellowshiped by the other church leaders for apostacy in doubting the Book of Mormon (which he obviously did during the last 10+ years of his life). Clearly he was a man with much to lose by questioning the Book of Mormon. He wasn’t in a position to openly question it to the church leaders so he wrote the letter using several disclaimers. He gave up his efforts of getting the other leaders to think critically about the Book of Mormon though, and that is probably why he took his writings private and never sent the letter. Roberts had far too much invested in the church to publicly pursue an honest study of the Book of Mormon.
Now that these questions have been answered, you can read what Roberts said “in context” as the LDS apologist suggested.
All this having been said, does it really matter if B.H. Roberts or (anyone else) believes or disbelieves in the Book of Mormon? Of course not. One person’s belief or disbelief does not make the Book of Mormon (or anything else) any more true or false. Reality is objective. B. H. Roberts’ disbelief does not make the Book of Mormon any less true than it was the day it was published.
Have the problems Roberts studied been put to rest as the above Mormon apologist and the folks at FARMS have concluded for us? Not at all IMO.