250-251: Grant & Heather Hardy – Book of Mormon Scholarship

In this 2-part discussion, KC Kern (BookofMormonOnline.Net) speaks with Dr. Grant Hardy and his wife Heather Hardy.  Grant Hardy is Professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He has a B.A. in Ancient Greek from Brigham Young University and  Ph.D. in Chinese Language and Literature from Yale. He has authored Worlds of Bronze and Bamboo: Sima Qian’s Conquest of HistoryThe Establishment of the Han Empire and Imperial China; and Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, as well as the Introduction for Royal Skousen’s recent Yale edition of the Book of Mormon. He has also edited The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s EditionEnduring Ties: Poems of Family Relationships; and the Oxford History of Historical Writing. Vol. 1. His 36-lecture DVD/CD course for The Teaching Company entitled “Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition” will be released this summer.

Heather Hardy has a BS and an MBA from Brigham Young University (she says the latter seemed like a good idea when Grant was studying Greek; someone was going to have to support the family someday). She worked in university finances at Yale and then as the scholarship coordinator at BYU for a couple of years. She has published articles in Dialogue and the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, but is mostly a full-time reader masquerading as a stay-at-home mother. Grant and Heather have been married for 28 years and have been talking to each other non-stop the whole time.

This interview is broken in two parts:
  • Part 1:  Introductions, early personal, academic, and scholarly experiences, and approaching the Book of Mormon as world scripture and literature.
  • Part 2:  Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, thoughts on narrative structures, phraseology, historicity, evidences, anachronisms, Book of Mormon usage in the LDS Church, and on balancing faith and reason.
Some of the publications mentioned are:


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Mormonstories

    Be warned — No hater comments welcome on this post. Faithful scholars are VERY hard to get onto Mormon Stories….so I want them treated well. Please keep all comments respectful.

  2. I think I tend to have a binary view of the Book of Mormon that diminishes my appreciation of the good parts. I know that the more realistic view is that every book on earth has good parts and bad parts, and as Moroni says, Don’t condemn the good parts just because there are bad parts. But I’m sure I still have residual disappointment left over from when I first saw the bad parts (eg. beheading of Laban, exalting of Captain Moroni, favor of war) in the Book of Mormon for what they were. And I’m still influenced by the binary position of people who quote Joseph Smiths blustery, boostery “I told the brethren that the BofM was the most correct book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and that a man would get nearer to God by reading it than any other book.” Hearing the view of the Hardy’s was somewhat helpful, though I couldn’t help but wonder in the end what was the net benefit of the Book of Mormon, and whether the remainder of my life would be better off with or without cracking it open again.

  3. I’m very interesting in listening to this episode. I’ll leave more meaningful comments afterwards :)

  4. Thank you John. I can’t wait to listen. As one who once found great meaning in the BOM, I’m hoping interviews like this can help restore some interest.

  5. These two know how to get one excited about the BOM! I’m convinced they could sell snow to a Eskimo and I’m in line! What delightful, brilliant people! I think I’ll re read the BOM this month! Thank you for introducing them to us, those are my kind of Mormons!

    1. I was thinking the Hardys should release an audio book of the BoM. They could fit it all on one 50 min disc..

  6. The Reader’s Edition is a wonderful. publication. It is indeed much more readable than the “blue book.” I bought a copy for my son as he was preparing for his mission, and he found it very useful.

  7. I love the idea of the readers edition. I first read the book of mormon when I was 10. I think it was a five volume set written for a younger crowd but was done in story or reader type without the verse by verse of the regular book. I loved it because I could understand it. At that age the actual book of mormon made no sense. I wish I could remember what those books were called as they have been lost sometime over the past 30 years. (maybe someone out there remembers them). I would love to reconnect with that early reader edition. I have since read the book of mormon probably 20 times but that first experience was the best.
    I believe that if we continue to see the book of mormon as a historical scripture, that Nephi, Lehi, Zarahemla actually existed somewhere in north, central, or south america, more and more people will be disillusioned as they come face to face with the realities of the historical scientific record. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, the best selling book that traces the cultural evolution of all societies across all continents including the book of mormon lands of north and central america, quickly dispels any notion that the people, culture, and events portrayed in the book or mormon could possibly be historical. Actually, Diamond doesn’t have anything to say about the book of momon or even religion. But the rise of societies, culture, technology, language, agriculture, plant and animal domestication over the past 10,000 years are well known and the book of mormon cannot be reconciled to the historical record.
    Thus, I wholeheartedly concur with the Hardy’s, lets enjoy the text of the book of mormon and lets get past the historical issues. I’m still trying to figure out what the book of mormon is but I know as long as we as a church are caught up in the literal historical accuracy of the people, places, and things of it we will continue to miss the richness of that book.
    The Book of Mormon Reader edition is a great start. Thanks, Grant and Heather.

  8. Wow! I absolutely loved this episode. I thought it was very insightful, and it makes me want to go read the Book of Mormon. Thank you for creating a place where people like the Hardy’s can be interviewed and give an example of faithful members who are great examples to those who struggle, but who want to remain faithful. Thanks for the amazing podcast.

  9. I really enjoyed this podcast. I can related to the desire to be Hugh Nibley; unfortunately for me, I did not deviate from studying dead languages early enough. I think if things had played out differently, I might have been Grant. Maybe I still can be, but it will require some hard work: it is hard to stay active and engaged in a community where you cannot find a voice (in part at least because leaders only notice you to point out that you are wrong and/or wicked). Thanks to Grant and Heather for trying to give us a rhetorical space where true believers and free thinkers can just be Mormons together without passing judgment on one another’s beliefs regarding doctrine and history. I hope their approach becomes more normal throughout the church.

    1. Also, I have yet to find a better bare-bones map for politics than the battle between Coriantumr and Shiz: there is a visceral level on which this myth does ring true, over and over again (unfortunately).

  10. Hermes I cannot tell you how much I can relate to what you said about your leaders fortunately things have changed a lot since I came back to the church and they turned out for the best on my side of the world.
    Heather and Grant will you adopt me? I am just a tiny bit too old to be your child but if you had me as a teen it could work.
    Think of all the benefits: already raised and grown up child. RM. I also have a cute accent and I cook very well.
    The down side is that you’ll have to spend a lot to visit me but you’ll get to go To France everytime you’ll want to see your new daughter.

    Back to being serious. I can’t read the Bible or the BoM without looking for the evidence that man mingled with the inspired writings. Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking for evidences that all religious matter is a scam. I am looking for understanding of what God could not give us in first place and that he wants us to understand. I am aware of all the proofs against the BoM and I love to confront my testimony to it. It makes it a riddle to solve.
    This is why I can relate so well to what Heather said about the BOM being a tool to come unto Christ. I am sorry to sound “weird” with this analogy but I practice Aïkido. If you see a show of Aïkido and if you read comments on youtube about it you’ll frequently read “this is staged”. The thing is that people DO throw themselves on the floor in a very spectacular way for two reasons: this is the only way to fall safely and if they don’t throw themselves they will get hurt really bad.
    Now when people have been convinced that Aïkido works they face two stumbling blocks. The first one is that, unlike karate for example, you won’t get to the point where you can show off a little something before at least ten years. So you have to learn patience and humility.
    The second stumbling block is that you have to listen and obey. When the teacher tells you that if your body is just one centimeter too far on the left you won’t be doing good Aïkido you have to listen, believe and obey.
    The problem is that VERY often people use their strength, they are brutal and because they get seemingly to the same result they think they have mastered this armlock or throw and therefore they know Aïkido. But they absolutely miss the point.
    To me this whole plan of salvation thing is just like Aïkido and the BoM is just an Irimi-Nage or a Sankyo and those are just two technics with multiple ways of being done and there are numerous technics.
    Is what I say clear enough or do I just sound really, really weird?
    Oh and for those who don’t know what Aïkido is and how much it can look staged:


    I have loved to listen to this pod cast and I will come back to it because there are things I need to ponder about.
    Thank you so much for this interview

    1. Whenever someone talks about obedience I become very cynical. I understand the need for it, but in my opinion, in a religious context, it has become somewhat negative, and often used for purposes that do not always benefit the obedient.

      1. Don’t worry, I am not talking about the kind of obedience that makes anyone cringe. In my ward I am the lunatic rebel who doesn’t want to follow the path that is obviously the good one :) This is why I use this allegory.
        I am not saying that I understand better than them either. I am just saying that I deeply believe that the purpose of it all gets twisted by man because it needs to be shaped in a more acceptable way so people can have the feeling to grasp it.
        And therefore also feel they are smarter than those who reject the gospel (I heard this no later than the week before GC! by someone who was not from my ward fortunately)
        My belief is that we need to either stop trying to understand the concept of obedience (for example) or just apply it but the right way. Not obey to the mormon culture or the mormon interpretation. And I am using the word “mormon” on purpose I make a difference between being a mormon and being LDS.

        1. You are the first lds person I have ever seen make a distinction between being a mormon and a latter day saint. I have been writing as a postmormon for six years. I have in fact become somewhat weary of it. I hope you will always keep an eye out to help those you think might be hurt by the faith. I wish you the very best. If the leaders only knew how much they need you and those like you.

          1. WOW 2533 you need to meet my younger sister then. There are at least two of us (I suspect there are more)
            My understanding of the difference probably comes from the fact that:
            a) I have been taught the right way to have a personal relationship with whoever is really in charge up there.
            b) I have been excommunicated and I am back but not out of fear of losing anything I was raised to believe is the reward for the “faithful ones”. Although I admit I like what I have been taught. I just think that it is just an incentive and not the full purpose but hey this is the gospel according to Saint-Gwennaëlle so I need to stop now before my grammar gets so twisted that what I write really does not make any sense.
            c) Last but not least: I am not American. Believe it or not it makes a difference. Sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worse.

          2. Interesting. I agree with the non american perspective. You have to remember we still think we are the greatest country ever. :(

    2. Hi Gwennaelle,
      As tempting as your offer is (you’re already through college, right?), we already have two adopted children who roll their eyes when we start talking about the Book of Mormon. Three might just be too much. But do let us know if you’re ever planning a trip to North Carolina. We’d love to have you join us for dinner sometime.

  11. All I could think of while listening to this is that, “Yep! These are the typical Mormons I remember.” Not that it is a bad thing either. It was a nice refresher to get to hear some of the nice, insightful, and very faithful Latter-day Saints that you have a tendency to forget about when struggling with Mormon issues. I was also glad that these two were well read, even read Origins of the Hebrews. Also, I especially appreciated them tackling some of the more problem ridden apologetics that has been used to defend the Book of Mormon. There are so many different types of people in Mormonism, but I feel every ward needs a Grant and Heather Hardy.

  12. Another classic episode. For my part, I really like listening to the faithful scholars like the Hardy’s and the Bushman’s. After listening to this I went right out and bought the reader’s edition. I have read Hardy’s “Understanding the Book of Mormon” and found it very insightful. I’d say anyone interesting in Book of Mormon scholarship I’d recommend both of Hardy’s books along with Terryl Givens’ “By the Hand of Mormon”. I like to see this kind of serious scholarship centered around the Book of Mormon. Thanks for putting this podcast together. And thanks to the Hardy’s for being willing to be interviewed.

  13. Dr. Grant Hardy, Heather Hardy, and KC Kern:

    Thank you. Seriously, thank you so much for this interview. Again, thank you.

    This interview is timely. I was looking at your book, The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition, less than a month ago (at Amazon). I didn’t purchase it at the time, but I bookmarked it. You sold me with this interview. I purchased it today, and I look forward to reading it. That said, I am not a paperback person. I prefer Kindle eBooks or hardcovers. I didn’t purchase it originally because I was holding out for the Kindle version (or a 2nd Edition of the hardcover).

    So may I ask, is a Kindle version coming? I know there may be some challenges with screen size. Nonetheless, Kindle eBooks provide a phenomenal reading experience. So this version is needed. Also, has your publisher considered a second print of the hardcover? The hardcover was fairly expensive when it was originally published. Now that it is out-of-print, the book is ridiculously pricey. So a reprint of the hardcover would be nice.

    Dr. Hardy, you speculated that The Church would probably eventually adopt the paragraph style. Has anyone from The Church contacted you about printing your book? Would your current contract with U of IL Press allow this?

    Now onto several serious questions… I ask these questions with sincerity. If I come off as antagonistic, I apologize (in advance).

    May I please ask how have you kept your faith after learning about The Churches’ historical problems? Especially when you realized that The Church is not forthcoming with these issues/topics? Most people lose all faith/trust in the institution. And from there… well that is it!

    So how did you both avoid this spiritual collapse?

    And my last question… Have you looked at the Community of Christ or The Church of Jesus Christ (in PA)? It sounds as though you (probably) have? Their succession claims seem compelling. And they don’t seem to have all of the baggage that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has. So what conclusion did you both come to?

    Thanks for considering (and hopefully answering) these questions.

    Warm Regards,


    1. Joe,

      I’m hoping that a Kindle version of the Reader’s Edition will be out by the end of the year. The hold-up wasn’t screen size, but rather permissions to reproduce some of the copyrighted photos and charts electronically. Way back in 2003, electronic rights were not part of standard permission forms. I’ve recently gathered those permissions and sent them on to the University of Illinois. So some sort of e-book version should be in the works.

      The Church has never contacted me about paragraphing but it wouldn’t be that hard to do. In fact, I was hoping that they would go that route with the Doubleday Edition. Royal Skousen did his own paragraphing in the Yale Edition and the Church could compare both our efforts and come up with their own paragraphs. There wouldn’t be a copyright problem at all.

      As for historical difficulties, I’ve found that a little skepticism, some understanding of historiography, and a lot of humility go a long way towards making intellectual concerns less of a crisis of faith. It tends to be very rigid belief structures that are most threatened when things turn out to be more complicated and more ambiguous than we originally supposed. The Church has not always been forthcoming about embarrassing events from the past, but they are getting much better. The easy availability of information (i.e., the Internet) changes things, as does more confidence in our own story and beliefs, and we’re still a pretty young religion. It also helps to put yourself in positions where you can enjoy regular positive spiritual experiences to balance intellectual inquiry (though I’m not convinced that “spiritual” and “intellectual” are mutually exclusive categories).

      I have looked at the Community of Christ and though I’m quite content as a Latter-day Saint, there is nevertheless a lot to admire in some of the other branches of the Restoration, and particularly in the Community of Christ. It’s always a delight to visit their visitor’s center in Nauvoo.


      P.S. You can email me directly with your other questions, if you want.

  14. BTW, my “serious questions” started out as ten paragraphs worth of questions. I loved this interview! Dr. Grant and Heather: I wish I could pick your brain and discuss many of these topics in-depth.

    Again, I want to thank all you all for your time.

  15. Two words: delightful, delightful! Not only from the perspective of understanding the Book of Mormon, but from the standpoint of what seems to be a happy and spontaneous communication between spouses in a whirlwind of apparent love and respect. Thanks so much for this podcast.

    A couple of questions and comments:

    Poor KC, as he hardly got a word in edgewise. At home do Heather and Grant talk as much and are there any times of silence in their household? ;-)

    I can relate to the comment that minority Mormons are different than majority Mormons. I served a mission in Ireland. In Dublin, a city two of more than 2 million who were mostly Catholic, the active Mormons, who numbered less than 20, were some of the most loving people and really looked out for each other more so than most any other organization of people whom I have had the pleasure of knowing. When I returned home from my mission I went to Ricks (Now BYU – Idaho) and one day, being frustrated with a unchristian and dogmatic attitude I found there, I went down to the local Catholic church to meditate. My companion and I did so in Ireland to inspire us to get out and convert these people who were blindly following Catholicism. In Ireland the Catholic Chapels were open 24 hours a day, and so I thought that would be the case in Rexburg. When I arrived the Chapel was open and I went in to mediate. While doing someone approached me and invited me to attend a social they were having in other room. I did so and the same spirit of warmth and commitment that I had experienced with Mormons in Dublin, I experienced there. They were the minority in a majority sea. I don’t think it is so much the religion as it is the majority vs minority difference and forces one to live their religion more faithfully or not at all. A flashlight stands out in a darken room more so than in a well lit room.

    Heather and Grant, as believers, you mentioned how you approach the Book of Mormon, both spiritually and intellectually. I would be curious how you view some of the differences between what it teaches verses what the Church teaches today specifically in regard in to the text “God Himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son—“. It teaches the trinity as taught in most mainstream Christian Churches today. Also what do you think about the things that it doesn’t mention, that is temple ordinances, baptisms for the dead, Adam-God, Mother in Heaven, the everlasting covenant of polygamist marriage in heaven, etc. There is more “Christianity” in the Book of Mormon than most mainstream protestant Christians give it credit, and also there is less Mormonism (the Church kind) in it than most Mormons think. I know of at least one person converted to Christ through it without believing in the Church. Grant, I appreciated learning about “Book of Mormon, the Readers Edition” and will have to get it especially after Heather’s great sales job! Until she mentioned the proceeds from it going to charity, I thought she was still working on being the bread winner in the family! ;-)

    It was refreshing to hear people who have read and appreciates all forms of writings held to be sacred. I have listened to the Koran both in English and Arabic many times, and see very few places where I thought it not inspired. When one listens to the Koran in Arabic you sense its poetic nature even if you don’t know what it means without the English translation. But then I am sure the Psalms are as poetic in their native Hebrew. Poetry loses something in translation. However interesting as the Book of Mormon is from a scholar’s point of view, how would you approach it if you knew that it was not what it purports to be? Would you still hold it in the same regard? I liked KC’s question. What would it take to show the scholars that it is a real historical record? That brings up another question. There are some scholars that view the New Testament as not written by any of the authors which it purports to have written it. Have you, from believing but scholarly, skeptical viewpoint, approached that, if so, how? With that same scholarly hat, what would it take to show that the New Testament is a real historical record?

    Grant, Heather and KC thanks again,


    1. Thanks for your note, Glen. Here are some quick responses to your questions.

      Actually, we were pretty embarrassed that we virtually ignored KC and just talked on and on.. After the taping was over, Heather had to run an errand and I stayed on the line with him for another hour, asking about his life and ambitions. We are usually more attentive to guests in our home (and for any of you single sisters out here, KC sounds like a great guy!)

      I am currently working on a project on Book of Mormon theology, and you’re absolutely right–what we read in the Book of Mormon is more akin to traditional Christian thought than to current Mormon doctrine. I’m still trying to figure out the details, but I don’t know that that this is a cause for gave concern. We believe in continuing revelation, and much of what makes Mormonism distinctive came during the Nauvoo period. At the same time, close readings suggest that the Nephites were themselves trying to deal with innovative doctrines that came through prophets and revelation. Perhaps the Book of Mormon is not just a repository of religious principles (in the LDS sense of the word), but also a model for coming to grips with new revelation.

      If I wasn’t LDS myself, I think I might read the Book of Mormon much as I read the Confucian Analects or the Daodejing–as a source of wisdom and insight, as well as an intriguing examples of the varieties of religious experience.


  16. Thanks! I liked this interview, and I ordered the readers’s edition of the Book of Mormon. I’m very excited, as my last read-through of it was less inspiring than normal, and I can sympathize with Heather when she said that she became so frustrated with it that Grant decided to do the new editing. I thought that was a very touching moment in the interview, and I am so glad that the two of you are so open in your conversation and studies that the results could be a paragraph form of the BoM. I’m so excited! I get it tomorrow:) That being said, I still have lots of questions about historicity, but for now I am just comforted that others have those questions as well. Thanks for sharing part of your spiritual/intellectual journey with us!

  17. While I acknowledge that the BoM actually contains some valuable and admirable principles (King Benjamin’s speach about the importance of compassion for and service to our fellow beings comes most prominently to mind), I find zero justification for concluding that it is any less the work of fallible humans or more likely to to be divinely inspired than anything else that has ever been written. I take issue with Heather’s claim that it is free of nonsense. How anyone can read the Book of Ether, for example, and not see how much nonsense is contained therein is completely beyond me. Likewise the story of Nephi beheading Laban and managing successfully impersonate Laban while wearing his miraculously un-bloody clothes. Given the inconsistencies, anachronisms and complete lack of confirmatory archaeological and historical evidence that is even slightly compelling, by far the simplest and most reasonable conclusion that requires the fewest unwarranted assumptions is that the BoM is entirely fictional.

    I can see some utility in faith, but I cannot accept that faith alone is ever valid justification for claiming to know the truth of anything, no matter what, or that faith trumps evidence and reason when they conflict with it. I agree with Einstein when he said that reason without faith is lame, but that faith without reason is blind. I may not have achieved the optimum balance between reason and faith, and may never achieve it, but I know that given the two extremes (reason without faith or faith without reason), I would rather choose to be lame than blind. There are numerous, mutually contradictory religions whose devout adherents (including Muslim terrorists) all claim to have arrived at what they sincerely believe to be divinely revealed truth by asking God in prayer, like Moroni asks us to do. This simple, undeniable fact is the strongest evidence I can possibly imagine of the inherent unreliability of that approach to discerning any kind of truth, whether religious or secular.

    It is blazingly obvious to me that no precept or belief system is more deservedly suspect than one that can ONLY be supported by invoking the claim of divine authority for it–no matter who or what claims such authority.

    Church leaders are fond of admonishing us to “beware of the teachings of men”, which is actually good advice, because there have always been people who are either honestly mistaken, fools, or charlatans (the worst of which claim that their teachings are God’s rather than their own), but it is very far from established beyond any reasonable doubt that there are ANY teachings available to us that are NOT of men.

    Admittedly, even the diligent application of evidence and reason to discern what is true is not invariably infallible, but history has repeatedly shown that approach to be far more reliable than appeals to subjective faith. The thousands of mutually contradictory religiouss belief systems that exist are incontestable proof of that!

  18. Utterly charming! (And Heather, I worked as Kent Brown’s teaching assistant, so I graded a lot of those papers you were talking about, although not the year you took the course.)

  19. My wife and I listened to this podcast. It has been a great place to find common ground on the BofM. We also have the Dr. Hardy’s books on order and look forward to reading them together. Thanks to the Hardy’s and Mormon Stories!

  20. I agree with so much already said–the Hardys are simply delightful, charming, lovely people. Thank you, for a great interview. And I, too, was hoping for a Kindle edition!

  21. Grant and Heather, I loved the podcast. I had been considering getting the Doubleday version of the BoM, but now I would like your work. I thought the Doubleday version was in paragraph style, but I gather that it is not. Can you fill me in on the differences between the Doubleday version and your version?

    1. Martha, to compare the DoubleDay edition to the “Reader’s Edition,” i would invite you to see the previews on Google Books and Amazon:


      The DoubleDay edition is really not much different from the official blue book. It does differ in that has a more elegant typeface, greater line spacing, fewer annotations/footnotes, and minor textual differences in the headings and introduction. Other than that, it follows the book-chapter-verse presentation just like the official version, with no paragraph breaks or headings that you will find in the “Reader’s Edition.”

  22. As others have said, this was delightful! What wonderful people the Hardys are. I just loved hearing them bounce back and forth in their storytelling and explanations, and even asking each other questions as they went. What a great example of a healthy intellectual marriage. I almost got more out of this display of their relationship than the Book of Mormon discussion. This was a great podcast and I’m grateful to everyone involved for making it happen.

  23. Pingback: I’m drawn to Mormonism, but I have questions about the literal historicity of the Book of Mormon. Help? | Ask Mormon Girl

  24. I appreciate the generous spirit and candor that Grant and Heather (G&H) brought to their interview. I hope to honor this in my response, notwithstanding the differences in our perspectives.

    G&H gave us a valuable clarification of the 2nd Isaiah anachronism. I was impressed with their unambiguous argument and respect for Biblical scholarship. Their position powerfully supported what I heard to be their main message – a plea to move beyond biased apologetics and rancorous criticism.

    G&H did offer faith-promoting explanations for 2nd Isaiah, which they appropriately presented in personal terms. Grant speculated that, “someone on the other side [perhaps Nephi in a ‘post-mortem’ state] provided the anachronistic Isaiah material.” He added: “Once you allow for the possibility of gold plates and angels … there are all sorts of possibilities to accommodate the evidence that’s there.”

    Heather reiterated Grant’s ideas by suggesting Jesus intentionally communicated the Isaiah anachronisms to Mormon and Moroni. She posited that Jesus intended these as stumbling blocks that would serve “simultaneously to judge and save people.”

    These rationalizations (not intended in a pejorative sense) struck me with a jolt of recognition. I entertained similar working beliefs in the course of my study of Mormon history and doctrine in the years following my teenage conversion.

    Today, my best attempts at self-insight understand that these arguments were born of my anxious need to preserve a faith first innocently and earnestly offered to God but soon straining under the weight of new information. Betrayal hurts more than discordant facts. Trust was the part of faith I wanted to preserve – much more than the story.

    I’m not unique. How many of us have felt jerked to and fro by a divided self shocked by facts come to light with their frightening implications? One self asks: What if I’m wrong? What if these problems are meant as my ultimate test?” The other self asks, “What if I’m just doubling up on mistakes? How can I live a life of virtual delusion? Why would God do this?”

    I called Grant’s extrapolation from angels and gold bibles the “method of miracle leveraging.” I called Jesus’ intentional injection of Book of Mormon anachronisms (or any implausibility) “the doctrine of “faith-testing-by-designed-implausibility.”

    Well, my miracle lever broke bit by bit against the problems it tried to lift. Ten years of gradual degradation. That persistence was not a mark of pridefulness, but of a mourning that finally ran its course. The “faith-testing” doctrine was my final anti-apologetic apologetic – a shield against both overreaching apologists and opportunistic anti-Mormons. At first this doctrine felt like the “high road” of faith. Eventually it felt like a circular argument that disrespected God.

    The feeling of disrespecting God might be more terrible than a divided self. It meant exchanging a relationship with God-as-loving-parent for a God-as-pious-fraud. Doesn’t the normal course of life provide enough stumbling blocks? What would such a construal of God be salvaging?

    In an earlier Mormon Stories interview Richard Bushman referred to Terryl Givens statement about belief in Mormonism being a moral choice. Though I suspect few of our choices are determined by the reasons we say, I’ll go ahead and claim that leaving the Church can be a moral choice. It is moral not to hold on to implausible claims when they support a problematical construal of God. By this I don’t just mean the “pious fraud” god, but the god of 3 Nephi 9, D&C 132, Abraham 1, and of all the institutional bits that clung to these, no matter how many have been abraded by the expediencies of growth and survival.

    I do not begrudge any faithful Mormon his or her desire to preserve faith by focusing on the good bits. If God exists, perhaps He will forgive my stitching together models of goodness from “this-worldly” expressions untethered to extraordinary Mormon claims. This stance seems to avoid conflating “the good” with “the true” while leaving one open to both. I ordered Grant’s two books. G&H convinced me that the Book of Mormon is worth another look. I saw goodness their invitation to approach it from either side of faith.



    1. I am reading the Book of Mormon using Grant’s “Reader’s Edition.”  It is helpful for all the reasons he mentioned.  However, it continues to force the moral issue of its acceptance.  I have just reached Alma 14, verse 10 and 11.

  25. JT,

    What a thoughtful and generous response. Thank you. If your travels ever take you through North Carolina, please give us a call. We would love to have you over for dinner.

    The Second Isaiah issue is, for me, one of the strongest arguments against the historicity of the Book of Mormon. The archeological absences and contradictions might be ascribed to very small populations or digging in the wrong places, but the presence of Second Isaiah is right there in the book, in the wrong historical context. And as I tried to show in Understanding the Book of Mormon, it can’t simply be written off as a quirk of the translator (i.e., when Joseph Smith came upon Isaiah material in the plates, he just used the King James Version), because the rendition of Isaiah 48-49 in 2 Ne. 20-21 is modified in ways that are integral to the narrative. It has to be Nephi actively interacting with the anachronistic Isaiah text (just as Heb. 11 is integral to Ether 12).

    I’m familiar with the phenomena of “miracle leveraging” and “faith testing” (I like your terms) because I use them in my own life to reject implausible beliefs. For instance, some defend Creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence for natural selection by appealing to miracle upon miracle or suggesting that God created fossils as fossils as a test of faith. That seems like nonsense to me, and if rejection of evolution was a requirement of membership in the LDS Church, I would be out.

    So why is Second Isaiah any different? If Joseph Smith had produced metal plates, or even a single plate, which included excerpts from the Masoretic text of Isaiah (even if transcribed into phonetic Egyptian), that alone would be sufficient evidence that the artifact was a fraud. But what we have instead is a translation (or at least that is the claim), and indeed a translation ascribed to supernatural means. That should set off alarm bells for anyone, but I am open to the idea of religious miracles and I find much about the Book of Mormon compelling—not just its message, but also the story of its origins. The manuscripts and eyewitness testimonies are strong evidence that the book was dictated, one time through, and I find the coherence, consistency, and complexity of the text remarkable. I also don’t think that Joseph Smith knew the book very well—it seems, in some ways, like something external to himself. Though of course these observations don’t rise to the level of conclusive proof.

    Then what about Second Isaiah? Professions of faith are often admissions of ignorance, and I’m not exactly sure what constitutes an “inspired translation.” It seems like something sui generis; I don’t know of any other examples to compare it with. (The JST did not come through the same means and, to my mind, is not nearly as impressive as the Book of Mormon—it seems like the sort of thing someone like Joseph might have done in harmonizing and revising biblical passages). It’s a similar case with the resurrection—I have never seen a resurrection body, I don’t know anyone who has seen such a body, I have no idea of its physiological properties, and the whole concept seems suspiciously too good to be true. Yet belief an ultimate resurrection is central to my faith. And so I wonder if there aren’t possibilities in an inspired translation that might accommodate the clear fact that our English-language, nineteenth-century Book of Mormon is obviously in dialogue with Second Isaiah, not only in the final form of the Masoretic text but in the exact language of the KJV.

    Is it the result of posthumous revisions? An extreme example of dynamic-equivalence translation by which glosses to the KJV may represent Nephi’s own glosses on an early version of Isaiah? God’s delight in literary patterns and puzzles? Perhaps even a transcription of what Nephi would have said, had he had our version of Isaiah? I don’t claim to have the answers, though I’m still open to the possibilities.

    Yet there are some limits to how far my faith will stretch. I would have a hard time believing in a Joseph Smith who created the Book of Mormon as a deliberate fraud. I would find a sincere but subconsciously produced Book of Mormon to be less compelling (though I think that such a belief would be perfectly acceptable for full fellowship in the Church; there are comparable examples of these sorts of texts in other religions and I find them spiritually valuable). And I would be a bit put off to discover that the Book of Mormon is a fiction written by God, which he revealed to Joseph through a seer stone, though I suppose that’s a possibility too. (Who am I to pass judgment on God? Or at least that appears to be the lesson of some of the more reflective parts of the Hebrew Bible.)

    Faith, for me, requires constant renegotiations. I get a bit queasy at fideism or the notion that “I believe because it is absurd.” There are many elements of Mormon scripture, history, and culture that I find troubling and problematic, yet there is enough that seems right and good to me (both intellectually and spiritually), that it is worth continuing to grapple with such issues. Of course, others have experienced different mixtures of good and bad, or have different levels of tolerance for certain kinds of dissonances. I don’t have a problem with that, and I understand how my own attitude can be construed as rationalization. Perhaps I should be more bothered by what seem to many to be intellectual betrayals (usually having to do with the less respectable parts of Mormon history) or the possibility that, in the end, it will all turn out to be a delusion. But I’m not shocked by evidence of human error or poor judgment in religious contexts, and I don’t think that giving my life over to a worthy though somewhat flawed cause represents a existential threat to my integrity (hooray for Democracy! and Academia!). I am a sincere believer, but I also think that Mormonism has been a net good in my life, regardless of its ultimate validity.

    Heather and I have talked for decades about the dangers of overly-rigid faith, of painting oneself into theological corners, yet at the same time a faith that is impervious to evidence, that never tries to accommodate new data and perspectives, hardly seems like a faith worth having. I believe in a God who respects honest doubt as well as skeptical faith, and who is less patient with dogmatism. So even though I’ve chosen differently from you (and that choice has, to be honest, a great deal to do with my upbringing, my marriage, and my experiences in church service), I too believe that leaving the Church can be a moral decision. God alone can weigh intentions and reasonableness against experience and background.

    In my profession, I spend a lot of time with world history and non-Western religions and philosophies. (In fact, I have a Teaching Company Course coming out next month titled “Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition.”) With that background, I have to believe that at the final judgment, God will care more about how we have treated others and what we have done with our gifts than which particular theological propositions we have subscribed to. Given the right sort of evidence, it is easier to change one’s mind than to change one’s character. I suspect that everyone will be surprised in the next life (and if there is no next life, that will come as a surprise to many as well). So thanks, JT, for your honesty and openness. The God I believe in and worship—from my own limited perspective—values those qualities.

    All the best,


    1. First, JT thanks for continuing the dialogue so gracefully.

      Grant, you are one of the most interesting believers that I’ve ever encountered. The last 30 mins of the podcast and this response have been amazing contrasts to the power of the BOM, which you clearly demonstrate in the first 90 mins through you and your wife’s unparalleled enthusiastic style.

      There is a mountain of evidence against the historicity of the book, most members don’t know 95% of it. The small number of members and non-leaders of the church that do get through all on the historicity problems and continue to believe in it seem to be so few. And in my view those experience some amount of cog dis and/or throw up their hands and say something like, “the book is powerful so it must be of God and I know longer consider the mountain of evidence important.” This is a reasonable position, but it is not satisfying for those of us that both know and care about the mountain AND approach and especially have be taught to approach mormonism from a God’s-only-true-church perspective.

      I love your approach because you acknowledge the mountain of evidence. Very uniquely, you’re not afraid of it. Your not dismissive of it, and yet you believe. For me that puts you in a very small and select group that I want to understand better.

      Thank you.

    2. Grant,

      I can’t tell you how grateful I am (and many others are) for your engagement
      here, and for your unique, candid approach.

      Bless you and Heather.

      If the church has a healthy future with thoughtful people, I believe that it
      will depend largely on an approach similar to yours.

      Thx for your willingness to share.

      John Dehlin

    3. Thank you very much Grant. I’ve been thinking about this and will continue … as I gear up to read the the Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon with your guide on the side…They both arrived last Thursday.

      Thanks again Heather.

      And thank you John Dehlin for all of these programs. By the way, Dr. David Christian’s presentation was remarkable.

      Best wishes,


    4. “or have different levels of tolerance for certain kinds of dissonances” … I think Grant may have diagnosed what, as an agnostic but still active Mormon, I continue to see as my main affliction — the inability to believe. I just can’t seem to get my brain to do it. (Just like I can’t get my arms to lift 500 lbs of deadweight). Nevertheless, despite my inability to do what he does, I could read Grant (and TJ for that matter) all day long. (And in fact, I am — his two books just arrived from Amazon last week.) :)

      1. ” I believe in a God who respects honest doubt as well as skeptical faith, and who is less patient with dogmatism.” Amen!

        I got both of Grant’s books as well, and am re-energized to read the Book of Mormon again.

        Thanks to Grant and Heather for sharing your faith and thoughts. I loved the podcast!

  26. Steller podcast, folks. Thanks.
    To Heather and Grant – I really appreciate your willingness and candidness in the podcast. Your up-frontness about the limitations of your own arguments was refreshing. The LDS church needs more people like you.

    Be well in your journey.


  27.  Grant, Heather, and KC. That you so very much for doing this podcast. The approach of “whether this is history or fiction, it is a compelling and important text either way” resonates deeply with me. I find it tremendously useful and think it is the most resilient and productive way to move forward as a spiritual people into the 21st century. My wife and I are so excited to read the Reader’s Edition! people into the 21st century. My wife and I are so excited to read the Reader’s Edition!

  28. Grant and Heather are the cutest couple ever.  Thank you for your excitement for the Book of Mormon.  It is what keeps me in the church.  I love it when Mormon Stories has podcast interviews with believing Mormons.  Wish there were more.  Thanks!

  29. The best part about this podcast is seeing the relationship of Grant and Heather (very cute couple). When are you two going to write a book on marriage? It’s amazing to see how well these two get along after 28 years of marriage. Very cool.

  30. I truly loved this podcast. As an unorthodox thinking, faithful Latter-Day Saint who was only converted when young because of a very powerful experience with the Book of Mormon, I felt that this was meant for me. I have struggled for years with the culture of the church, and the fact that saints here have seemed to irrevocably weld that culture to their religion. I could go on and on with my frustrations with the culture, at least here in Utah, and how disturbed I continue to be with it’s embracing of political ideals which to me are so blatantly anti-Christ in it’s very unloving and uncompassionate rhetoric, but I will stop. I just wanted to illustrate how much I have always, and still love the Book of Mormon, because without it I would have disassociated myself with the church long ago. For me it doesn’t just invite me to come unto Christ, but I feel justifies all of my liberal ideals to the tee.

  31. I’m enjoying the Reader’s Edition. It is the first time I will have read the Book of Mormon straight through (though I have to admit to skimming though some of the Isaiah chapters). I mostly knew the Book of Mormon from just turning tom passages referenced in Sunday School lessons and such. It’s been interesting to “hear” the different voices as the Hardy’s described.

    One can notice a lot of things when reading something straight through … And notice things that aren’t there. I’d like to share a bit of my experience of this by way of a poem – though just reaching i3 Nephi today I’m taking the chance of being a bit premature – as I may find out from alert reader responses.

    The title of my poem is “It’s Not in the Book”

    It’s Not In The Book

    By JT

    No fishes for eating,
    No tables for seating.

    No teachers or schools,
    No rulers for beating.

    No Butchers, no Bakers,
    No candles or their makers.

    No barns for the flocks,
    of chickens or ducks.

    No eggs – there’re no birds!
    Nor no fences for herds.

    And there’s not a one doctor,
    So please knock off a  lawyer.

    No mines with their miners
    For the senuns of silver,
    Which is an a-senine way
    Or portraying ten dollar.

    You’d think these would be there,
    In the times that they prosper,
    But that just can’t happen 
    Without a bad stirrer upper.

    Which is a matter of course,
    For a god of great mercy,
    Who seems to enjoy,
    Being angry and cursey.

    The End

    1. Yeah! A candle turned up in 3 Nephi 8:21. Just in time for Jesus’ beatitude in 3 Nephi 12:14. Ignore, that line please.

    2. JT, is your concern that relevant items should be mentioned but are not?

      I suppose you must be unsatisfied with the author of 3 Nephi’s admission that “…this book cannot contain even a hundredth part of what was done…” (3Ne 5:8)When taken in context of the Book of Mormon’s internal universe, your poem could have been written by Mormon himself.

      1. Oh, I was just decompressing, and having a little fun.  I am sure there are strong apologetic responses for these items that one might superficially claim “ought” to be found in the Book of Mormon if it were true, but is not there.  And you provide an excellent one.

        Michael Coe provided a pretty good one that is better than any I came up with.  Chocolate/Cocoa beans used as currency.  And also corn (?).  And very little gold was mined and used until post-Moroni (?)

  32. Got the Reader’s edition for Christmas and just got through 1 Nephi. I find myself looking at it and wanting to read it, but I stop myself because of all the other books I need to read. Great work, I wish he would have changed the chapters to make more sense too. I just use his section headers to decide where to leave off instead of the chapter headers.

    I’m downloading this podcast again. Love it!

  33. I really enjoyed listening to this discussion.  Just listening to two people who are so enthusiastic about something is very exciting.  I am definitely considering getting a copy of the reader’s edition.  One thing that didn’t sit well with me was when Heather said she thinks Jesus wanted anachronisms in the Book of Mormon as a stumbling block.  I just don’t like the idea of God trying to trick us.  It is already hard enough to believe so why does he have to make it even more difficult?  It reminds me of the idea that God brought together pieces of other planets with dinosaur bones, what appear to be human ancestors, etc to test our faith and see if we would still believe in Adam and Eve and that there was no death before the fall.  I just can’t accept that kind of explanation.

Scroll to Top