Why I Am Not a Mormon or How I was Saved from Arrogant Complacency
In the late 1930s, while still in high school, I read a number of “forbidden books” in order to form an opinion about their validity. Darwin’s Origen of Species came in first and The Book of Mormon last. When I got to the part of the Book of Mormon where the angel demanded return of the two golden tablets from which Joseph Smith had obtained the text, I stopped reading. The dimensions of the solid gold tablets were mentioned from which I calculated that the tablets weighed about twelve hundred pounds each. No mention had been made of problems in transporting them or needing a magnifying glass to read the text. The book utterly ceased to be credible to me. (As a double check on my six decades old estimate, I got 2x24x36 inches as possible dimensions of a twelve hundred pound slab of gold---water weighs 62.4 pounds per cubic foot and gold is 19.3 times heavier than water.)
After writing the above on September 25, 2012, I obtained a copy of the Book of Mormon from the public library. This edition was copyrighted 1981 & was "printed in United States of America 1920. At the end of the introduction was the following brief paragraph.
"About this edition: Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with the prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith."
This modern copy of the Book of Mormon contains a 250 page concordance (labeled Index) which I searched thoroughly without finding the dimensions of the tablets. I despaired of tracking down an edition of 60 or more years ago to obtain the dimensions actually recorded there. Now for my arrogant complacency, when I showed the quoted paragraph to the librarian and told her that I stood by my recollection of the dimensions and my memory of the calculation of 1200 pounds per tablet, she virtually, and virtuously, insisted on obtaining a copy of the Book of Mormon of appropriate age. She found a copy copyrighted 1920 with some difficulty. Unfortunately the actual book contained the additional statement, copyright renewed 1948 (after the 1920). This 1948(?) edition states that the golden plates were 6x8 inches and the thickness of common tin with no mention of the number of them. Am I in danger of a second episode of arrogant complacency? Stay tuned for the next (so far nonexistent) paragraph describing new findings from an older edition yet to be obtained. We are left with 1) my recollection from about 1938 when I was age 15, 2) a 1961 edition of the Book of Mormon containing no mention of the dimensions, 3) the miniscule dimensions mentioned in the 1948 edition which mention “common tin”, quite likely not Joseph Smith’s very words---tin cans were not available for food preservation until long after 1830.
These episodes represent to me a recapitulation of motivations for changes in other important sacred documents by scribes in the early centuries of the common era---of interest to interpretation of such documents in general and not just the Book of Mormon.
Francis Bacon said, “Truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion.” It is not entirely clear which we are dealing with here. However, intentional error certainly introduces confusion; and truth did not emerge readily.
John Frantz, October 12, 2012, revised March 17, 2013