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Mormonism: The Control Group For Christianity? [Sep. 24th, 2012|03:30 am]
Scott
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One common apologetics tactic is the argument from the historicity of Christ and the Apostles. That is, the Apostles said they saw the Resurrection of Christ, and it would take quite a conspiracy to make twelve different people lie - not to mention to make them stick to the lie even after Christianity became unpopular and it became clear they would be persecuted or even die for their faith. If the Apostles had been making the story of the Resurrection up, there were ample opportunities for them to say so. Yet either they never did, or it never made it into the tradition.

A common atheist argument is to deny the authenticity of the tradition entirely. That is, not only is the legend of the Resurrection made up, but the legend that the Apostles testified to the Resurrection is made up, and if there are any stories of people testifying they heard the Apostles testify to the Resurrection, those stories are made up too.

I find this argument sort of okay but disappointingly lacking in curiosity. There cannot be an infinite regress; after all the made-up legends there has to be a real person or conspiracy of real people making them up. And the idea of a huge Early Church conspiracy to make up the legend of the Resurrection and the legends of the Apostles testifying to the Resurrection and the legends of the Church Fathers testifying to the existence of the Apostles testifying to the Resurrection and so on is even less plausible than the Apostles just making up the legend of the Resurrection in the first place. Something must be going on.

Well okay, this is not necessarily true; if there were a possible bottleneck in which the official church narrative passed through one person, that might provide a way out. I've been toying with the idea that St. Paul could be such a bottleneck if the Apostles never really left Palestine to confirm or deny what he told the Greek world, but I no longer think that's very plausible. So although I would welcome further speculation on St. Paul, from an atheist point of view it would be nice to have a good refutation of the original argument that the Apostolic testimony provides good evidence for Jesus.

And to repeat, that argument is that if twelve people say they saw something miraculous and refused to recant despite persecution and strong self-interested reasons to do so - then we can trust them.

One way to knock down this argument is to find a case of twelve people who said they saw something miraculous, didn't recant despite persecution and strong self-interested reasons to do so - and yet everyone, atheist and orthodox Christian alike, agree they were wrong. Ever since I left Utah I've been slowly making my way through The Mormon People, and I was very excited to find a case of exactly that.

If you're not familiar with Mormonism, it was founded in the 1820s by an American prophet named Joseph Smith, who claimed that an angel led him to a series of golden tablets written in hieroglyphics which, when translated by means of a magic stone, contained various revelations. He attracted various followers despite persecution and today there are over ten million Mormons who believe the insights he took from these tablets and various other angelic encounters form a new testament of the Bible called The Book of Mormon.

During Smith's lifetime, there was obviously a lot of curiosity over whether his story about angels and golden tablets and hieroglyphics was true. This was compounded by his insistence that he had given the golden tablets back to the angel when he was done translating them and so couldn't produce the originals for scholarly review anymore.

However, Smith was able to produce eleven witnesses (besides himself, for a total of twelve) for his story. Three witnesses claimed to have seen the angel holding the plates and heard the Voice of God tell them Smith's story was true:
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, his brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seeen [sic] the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shewn unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvellous [sic] in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

Eight others saw the plates later, and although they did not encounter God or any angels, they confirmed that there were a set of mysterious golden tablets with hieroglyphics on them:
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shewn unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shewn unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.


All eleven signed official legal statements swearing their testimony, which were later incorporated into printed editions of the Book of Mormon.

What are we to make of this?

One obvious possibility is that Smith made some fake tablets and showed them off to few enough people for a brief enough time that the fake couldn't be investigated closely. I don't like this explanation for two reasons. The first is that it would be really hard for a dirt-poor farmer to construct a book seemingly constructed of gold tablets inscribed with hieroglyphics. He would need the cooperation of a couple of professionals, and he would have to rely on them keeping quiet. Even moving the tablets - they were said to have weighed several hundred pounds - would have been a production. No goldsmith or wealthy backer has ever come forward claiming a part in it, nor have any likely candidates been proposed. And second of all, this is less parsimonious than most alternative hypotheses. It would require Smith to be pushing two totally different plots at the same time - whatever plot got the first group to testify to angels and divine voices, and the plot to fake a golden book for the second group.

A second possibility is that Smith found a bunch of people who were willing to lie for him. But this suffers from the same problem that the "the Apostles lied" theory does. Several of the witnesses later had very public fallings-out with Joseph Smith and the incipient Mormon Church. Oliver Cowdery, one of the three who saw the angel, got into a fight with Joseph Smith over polygamy and some money matters and got excommunicated from Mormonism. He ended up moving to Ohio, becoming a Methodist, and declaring that he was "ashamed of his connection with Mormonism". However, he always stuck to his story about seeing the angel and the Golden Plates, even when, according to Wikipedia, "that confession cost him the editorship of a newspaper".

David Whitmer, another of the three witnesses to the angel, also got in a spat with Joseph Smith and was part of a coup attempt in the Mormon church to expel Joseph Smith as leader and replace him with himself. Smith excommunicated him and then sent a militia to harass him and his family; eventually he was forced to leave the state. Although he denounced Smith for the rest of his life, he continued to swear that he had seen the angel and the golden plates.

Further, the Mormons were getting persecuted ad nauseum by this point. On three different occasions, Mormon towns were burnt, the Mormons lost their land, and a bunch of Mormons were killed or jailed. Joseph Smith himself was killed by an angry mob. Eventually the Mormons got so sick and afraid that they all packed up and fled to Utah, which as anyone who's seen Utah knows requires a special level of desperation.

This presents a serious problem for the Christian apologists, at least if they're not Mormon. Their argument is that there's no way twelve people would simultaneously hallucinate a mystical experience, and although twelve people might agree to lie about the mystical experience there's no way they would all keep that lie throughout decades of church politics and terrible persecution. But now they're faced with a dilemma. Either they have to throw out the argument that a dozen people testifying to something and holding to it means it definitely happened, or they all have to convert to Mormonism.

So what did happen with all those witnesses to Mormonism? Well, there are a few helpful hints. All of them were strongly predisposed in Smith's favor to begin with. Some were his family members. All had a background in the sort of folk mysticism that was common in America at the time.

(notice none of this differentiates it from the Jesus case; those who saw the resurrected Jesus were his disciples, some were members of his family such as his brother James, and they were all steeped in the folk mysticism that was common in Palestine at the time. But I digress)

A number of the Mormon witnesses sort of change their stories in weird ways. One, Martin Harris, supposedly admitted later he saw the plate not with his earthly eyes but with his "eyes of faith", and a neighbor said he "never claimed to have seen the plates with his natural eyes, only spiritual vision". Then Harris totally denied ever saying this and said they were definitely literally real in every possible way. Another witness is supposedly on the record as saying the angel had "no form or shape" and was more of a "vague impression", although again he's also on the much more official record as totally denying this and saying it was all definitely really real. Apparently in contradiction to these, there is a record of one witness insisting he hefted the (quite heavy) plates and held them on his knees and felt the weight and so on.

The Jesus story also has some weird incongruities. In many cases, the disciples originally thought they were talking to someone else (a gardener, a traveler on the road), and later "realize" it is Jesus. Jesus tells Mary not to touch him, suggesting some kind of belief he might be a vision or apparition, but then Thomas very specifically does touch him, suggesting an attempt to dispel this belief. Although the Christ story admittedly does not have the sort of guarded-then-retracted attempts by the witnesses to say maybe it was really spiritual after all, we also have only about a thousandth as much material in the Jesus case as in the Joseph Smith case, and we totally lack any independent testimony from the Apostles involved let alone any evidence that they were ever questioned harshly by skeptics or had things they mentioned to their neighbors come back to haunt them.

Overall I think the Mormon experience proves (if you're not Mormon!) that the sort of psychological forces surrounding mystical experiences can be more complicated than we naively expect. We wouldn't expect twelve witnesses to swear up and down that they saw angels and magical golden plates and so on, and then stick to the story despite a host of opportunities to profit by denying it - and yet if we are to continue denying Mormonism we must admit exactly that. And coming to that conclusion should make us update our probabilities in the case of the Apostles as well.
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-09-24 12:35 pm (UTC)
Interesting thought about Paul.

Maybe I'm forgetting something, but why did twelve apostles need to lie? There are only the 4 gospels purported to be written by "witnesses", and it is commonly surmised that several of those accounts share a common predecessor document or oral story. So, technically, at most those 4 would need to lie, probably fewer.

Personally, I think there are enough myths and legends with fuzzy origins which are or were believed by many, and they don't require big conspiracies to explain: they're just stories and traditions that are not strongly related to reality.

For the Bible, if those 4 gospels are not really personal accounts (which I don't see how they could be), then there's no big "conspiracy" needed, any more than a conspiracy is needed for the Egyptian, Greek, or any other stories.
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[User Picture]From: marycatelli
2012-09-24 06:22 pm (UTC)
You mean four people had to lie and then get the entire Church to accept their lies? Especially since the Gospels are not the oldest part of the Old Testament.
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-09-24 01:50 pm (UTC)
The conspiracy/group hallucination/truth trichotomy about the Apostles, or other witnesses, looks like the group version of the classic liar/madman/god trichotomy about Jesus, or other religious figures. (I think neither of them deserves to be taken seriously.)
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[User Picture]From: mme_n_b
2012-09-24 02:48 pm (UTC)
" We wouldn't expect twelve witnesses to swear up and down that they saw angels and magical golden plates and so on, and then stick to the story despite a host of opportunities to profit by denying it"
Actually, yes, we would. Publicly admitting that one is a liar, destroying a persona of years' duration, and loosing thereby respect and society of every member of one's reference group is incredibly difficult. So difficult, that it might be easier to endure persecution and even death,
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From: arshazan
2012-09-24 03:55 pm (UTC)
Eh, back in the 1800s (and today) you're often regarded as liberated or enlightened if you come out of "delusional" Mormonism into the light of "rational" Christianity or atheism. When your "persona of years' duration" is already considered by virtually everyone to have been the persona of a fraud, charlatan, and liar, fessing up to one's misdeeds saves face. Sticking by the story of the reception of the Book of Mormon wouldn't have gained anyone respect, save from Mormons - who nearly everyone despised at the time!

I suppose you've left unclear who would be the "reference group" whose "respect and society" the Book of Mormon witnesses would lose were they to admit they were "liars." If Mormons, they lost it already by leaving the Church (though Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris both were rebaptized later). If Americans, as I've said, everyone already thought them to be liars, so renouncing the lie would have redeemed them somewhat.
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From: arshazan
2012-09-24 04:14 pm (UTC)
Huh, I've never really heard the contention that twelve people couldn't consistently lie, but to me, it's not very convincing. Untrue things don't require conspiracies to propagate!

Moreover, the Gospel writers *don't* keep the story straight - something that's overlooked via tidied-up New Testament chronological concordances. And even when they keep the story straight, it appears to be the result of copying from previous sources (i.e. nearly all of Mark is used by Matthew) and there are small (but important) distinctions.

That said, as a Mormon myself, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to actually read a scholarly work on Mormons (Matthew Bowman is awesome, though I haven't read the book yet). It's rare that we receive that sort of treatment from anyone, Christians or atheists. The latter seem to see Mormonism as representative of all religions in its obvious absurdity, and Christians often write it off as not even deserving consideration, though as you point out there is more in common from an outsider perspective than many Christians would realize.

Edited at 2012-09-24 04:32 pm (UTC)
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-09-24 04:22 pm (UTC)
" No goldsmith or wealthy backer "

You assume that they would really have been made of gold.
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[User Picture]From: nancylebov
2012-09-24 05:12 pm (UTC)
How much would a sufficient amount of gold leaf have cost?
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[User Picture]From: eyelessgame
2012-09-24 04:27 pm (UTC)
One thing that has amused me, somewhat, about the people who keep asserting that four gospel writers, or twelve apostles, could not possibly have lied and kept a story straight is that the same people (many of them) inform me that tens of thousands of evolutionary biologists and climate scientists are all participating in a grand conspiracy to lie to the world about what their studies show, and those tens of thousands of people keep their stories straight.

(it's not universal among Christians to disbelieve those, of course - but the Venn diagrams overlap a whole lot.)
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-09-24 06:15 pm (UTC)
They aren't keeping their story straight. Hence the whole email scandal.
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-09-24 04:33 pm (UTC)

Some Preliminary Thoughts

This is quite interesting. I've been reading up on Mormon folklore off and on for the past several months. I think I've mostly gotten interested because of Mitt Romney's candidacy.

As a Christian/Catholic, I am not a rationalist. I expect life to lead to unanswerable paradoxes. But I expect to be able to reason my way up to the paradox, if that makes any sense.

For that reason, I applied what I uncharitably call "the Mormon test" to mystical experiences or pious beliefs that I run across in the Christian world. Before I even begin to assess whether I find an experience or belief legitimate, I ask myself: "If this assertion came from a Mormon backdrop, would I take it seriously?" It comes in handy.

So I was surprised and delighted to find the Mormon test turned back on my own beliefs! I like the methodology Scott uses here, mostly because I use it too and I'm as arrogant as the next guy.

However, I disagree with the conclusion. My reasons aren't entirely fleshed out so here are a few thoughts. I'll probably blog more fully on it later, but I wanted to share them here to work out any kinks with my premises before I go further.

1. In Mormonism and traditional (may I call it orthodox?) Christianity, there are two different things being witnessed. One is a lot easier to fake than the other. I think Scott undercounts the possibility that Joseph Smith was a charlatan who faked the plates. In other words, I can easily see how uneducated, mystical folks would be fooled or have to convince themselves by handling fake golden plates they want to believe in. I have a harder time seeing how uneducated, mystical folks would be fooled or have to convince themselves by a fake resuscitated corpse. Regardless of when people lived, even the uneducated and the mystical knew that people don't die and then come back to eat dinner with you.

2. The fact that many of the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses wound up in non-Mormon communities lends weight to the possibility that they really did see or experience something. It's probably impossible to prove what they saw or experienced, or what the source was, but I don't think the idea than an experience occurred should be discounted in either the Mormon or the early Christian cases.

3. Both the early Christians and the early Mormons made falsifiable claims of Divine Revelation. That is, while you cannot prove they did happen, you can prove they did not. Pilate or the Jewish could have proven that the Resurrection of Jesus never took place by producing his body. That never happened. (Of course, it doesn't prove anything and it remains unlikely since people do not generally come back from death.)

Likewise, the Mormons made the claim that Joseph Smith translated doctrinal works given him by an angel. While we do not have the golden plates, we do have the papyri from which he supposedly translated the Book of Abraham. What these papyri actually say bears no relation to the Book of Abraham as translated. Various explanations have been attempted, but the one Wikipedia lists first is that the Book wasn't a translation at all, but rather a revelation made through the papyri. In other words, the claims surrounding Joseph Smith's revelation have been falsified (at least in part) and Mormons are reduced the spiritualizing the text. This seems to me equivalent to someone definitively finding the grave of Jesus with a very old skeleton in it. This would seem to make the Mormon claims even less likely than the early Christian claims.
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-09-24 04:34 pm (UTC)

Re: Some Preliminary Thoughts


4. (in possible contradiction to point 2) In historical Jesus studies, most scholars use the criterion of multiple attestation to determine (or divine!) how likely it is that Jesus really said or did something. While we may not have separate testimonies of 12 apostles, we do have the testimonies of the Markan, Matthean, Lukan, Johannine, Pauline, and maybe the Jacobite and Q communities (which did always agree with each other!) that eyewitnesses saw Jesus rise from the dead. I'm curious how future scholars will assess the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses using the criterion of multiple attestation. Since they came from the same community and belonged to the same two or three families, would that count and single or multiple attestation? And what does that say for the likelihood of the event?

Sorry these kind of came out as a jumble. As I said, these thoughts are still in formation. But again, I really appreciate Scott for applying the Mormon test to my own Christian beliefs.

Charles Beard
(Ras Charles...would that ring a bell for anyone, or is everyone non-micronationalist?)
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[User Picture]From: nancylebov
2012-09-24 05:15 pm (UTC)
How much of that sort of thing do we need before we start increasing the plausibility of simulation/aliens/elves explanations?

Is the reported weight and size of the plates consistent with them being solid gold?
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[User Picture]From: dudley_doright
2012-09-24 05:43 pm (UTC)
My somewhat cynical guess is that if Joseph Smith feeds his friends enough mushrooms and has a high enough Char stat, he can guide them through whatever experience he wants to.
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From: arshazan
2012-09-24 06:11 pm (UTC)
Heh, I've heard this said about the Lucan story of the Nativity ;)
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[User Picture]From: marycatelli
2012-09-24 06:23 pm (UTC)
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From: arshazan
2012-09-24 07:02 pm (UTC)
Interesting, but misleading analogically and in its historical details. Jesus DID go around claiming to be the Son of God (and trinitarians would say, thus God Himself) - does the fact that he never wrote it down (or, if he did, that the writing didn't survive) make much difference? Does this mean that if a book written by Jesus were to have survived somehow and made it into the Bible, that blogger would think less of Jesus? Further, the blogger ignores or writes off the fact that the eleven witnesses never recanted their sight of the Golden Plates, focusing exclusively on Joseph Smith - a poor analog to the early apostles.

Armand Mauss is coming out with a book about considering religious founders' biographies as scripture, and it seems like the author of this blog post would be benefited by reading it. Or by reading "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling" as a (still faithful) contrast to the admittedly hagiographic official LDS presentations of Joseph Smith's story, the cleanness of which would probably surprise Joseph Smith himself. (The blogger should note that the revelations in the D&C often chastise Joseph Smith for something or other, too.)
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[User Picture]From: hentaikid
2012-09-24 07:32 pm (UTC)
Smith wins in that he's a demonstrable historical figure, we know he existed, because he was around recently, while JC is not quite so easy to grasp, AFAIK there are no primary sources giving evidence for the historical Jesus at all.
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From: swimmy
2012-09-24 08:09 pm (UTC)
This is one of the first niggling doubts I started having about my Christianity. I looked up the Mormon story and found, contrary to the contentions of many, that it's simply not true no one else ever saw the plates. (Or rather, it's not true that Mormons believe no one else ever saw them.) Moreover, unlike gospel accounts that throw out numbers like 500 witnesses to a resurrected Jesus (which I have seen some apologists claim we should take very seriously), we actually have full names and personal testimonies for the Mormon witnesses. It's much, much better evidence in favor of their narrative.

All the better support for Dennett's proposal of mandatory world religion classes in public schools. Many Christians don't know this stuff about Mormons, and that's sad, considering all the mockery that takes place.
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[User Picture]From: mindstalk
2012-09-24 09:33 pm (UTC)
I remember reading some article online making a big deal out of Paul being the oldest written material about Christ, and that his experience of 'seeing' was spiritual (or a light, or something), not of a physical person. I think the article was arguing that Christianity started as totally spiritual/allegorical, with stories about Jesus-in-Heaven getting taken as literally true by later people.

(An interesting mechanism; I've seen it proposed for myths too: "stories that were simply mnemonics for astronomical data turned into myths when social disruption meant survivors remembered stories but didn't know the coding or inner meaning." I don't know if there's any evidence for this happening anywhere ever... except Christian fundamentalism is often described as an insistence on the literal truth of stories earlier Christians and Jews supposedly knew were stories. I dunno.)

Sort of apropos, _Fooling Houdini_, on magicians, had a line from a magician about how their greatest advantage was laypeople's disbelief in what great lengths a magician would go to just to fool someone.
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-09-24 10:00 pm (UTC)
Warning: crackpot theory about psychiatry.

I think current theories far underestimate the ease of inducing hallucinations in many subjects. If there are studies of suggesting them to people with a history of hallucinating (the way we can suggest memories or opinions), I haven't found them. I have a lot of anecdotes about hallucinating specific objects, sometimes in lots of detail, especially in religious contexts. And someone with a firm belief in wishful thinking (that's most people) is likely to take even vague hallucinations seriously, if not to have more vivid ones.

This would also help explain mass probably-hallucinations like religious apparitions.
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[User Picture]From: marycatelli
2012-09-24 10:15 pm (UTC)
Actually current theories about "mass hallucinations" seem to run on the premise that you can attribute anything you want to explain away as a mass hallucination.
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[User Picture]From: lastconformer
2012-09-25 12:07 am (UTC)
[Disclosure: Not what LWers might call my true acceptance, but something I spent some thought on because I have a Mormon non-conversion story.]

I think the analogy is less clear than that.

First, the early Christian martyrs were mostly killed by Romans. And we know that the Romans were trying to make apostates rather than martyrs. Their standard procedure was to let the accused off if they would do some things Christians wouldn't do. Basically it was a real and immediate question of dying for the faith. This doesn't apply to all of the twelve (John died of natural causes, some of the others's precise martyrdom stories I wouldn't bet much on and some got killed by non-Roman folk), but it does to some of them and very likely to some witnesses other than the twelve. On the other hand early Mormon martyrs were basically lynched for social aspects of Mormonism and not so much because of doctrine or allegedly witnessed miracles.

Second, again because Mormonism was hated more socially than doctrinally, the Mormon witnesses could distance themselves from Mormonism without renouncing their visions. There was no marginal benefit to get from also admitting to solemn perjury, which was kind of a big deal in their culture. And of course renouncing the testimony would be counterproductive on the harassing done by Mormons.

Third, the story came up in a different situation. Basically, Joseph Smith was around to guide them into seeing what he wanted them to see. The movement was going strong and the witnesses had hopes for their place in it, even if those were mostly in vain. And then we have Joseph Smith creating basically Asch-conformity like situations where it would be really hard not to "see" what they were supposed to see. And even then one of the witnesses couldn't see the plates at first and was sent out to pray until he could. But if the resurrection is supposed to be made up, Jesus wasn't around pretty much by definition. And then the legend would have been made up in a situation that was pretty much the social gold standard for a movement being finished.

And finally, the BOM talks about long past events the witnesses weren't involved in. The Apostles on the other hand left a tradition that makes their pre-resurecction behavior look petty and stupid. If they had been making the main part of the story up, they would have sanitized their own part too.

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[User Picture]From: squid314
2012-09-28 11:06 pm (UTC)
The era we're most interested in here is from the Crucifixion to just before the first Gospels - that is, the time when the Apostles might have been around and active and necessary to vouch for the Resurrection. This period is probably from about 30-60. I don't think we have great evidence that the Romans (as opposed to Jews, and the occasional Roman official who got convinced by the Jewish community) were actively persecuting Christians at all during that time, and certainly it's very speculative to apply what we know about much later Roman persecutions (the apostates rather than martyrs thing). It also sets up the false dichotomy between "Totally believed Christianity" and "Totally made it up", whereas I think other possibilities like "Believed in the vague outline, but tacked on some miracles and a resurrection" are also plausible. I doubt the ROmans were subtle enough to say "If you just admit maybe you might have been dreaming those resurrected appearances, we'll let you go and keep worshipping Jesus".

I agree Joseph Smith had a strong role in enforcing conformity / "inducing hallucinations", but if we accept that a single person who believes strongly can induce hallucinations in others, that's actually still a very important data point. It means that if even one of the Apostles decided that Christ had been resurrected (because of a very vivid dream or something), that could start a chain reaction where everyone else starts to believe it too.

I agree that Christianity was in a much worse position than Mormonism because of Christ's recent death. On the other hand, there's some really interesting atheist scholarship around "cognitive dissonance" and the idea that movements get more powerful just at the point one would have expected them to consider themselves disproven and move on. The Great Disappointment of 1844 and the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1914 are two of the more salient examples.

I've made a new post to discuss the "would have sanitized their own part" objection in more detail.
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