If you missed the General Conference talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the Twelve Apostles and the former President of Brigham Young University, you really should see it. He makes an important point about the last hours of Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, as they were in prison and about to be killed. They faced the likelihood of death from a hate-filled mob, stirred up and led by religious zealots. For comfort and strength, they turned to the ancient writings of Moroni in Ether, chapter 12, in the Book of Mormon. Hyrum read some of that text to Joseph, including these verses:
37. And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore, thy garments shall be made clean. And because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.
38. And now I, Moroni, bid farewell unto the Gentiles, yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood.
Hyrum dog-eared that page in his Book of Mormon, marking the spot that they had turned to for comfort. Elder Holland held that very copy of the Book of Mormon in his hand as he spoke of this, and then made an excellent point. If this book were a fraud, why would these two men in their final hours turn to it for spiritual comfort? Why would they blaspheme God in their final moments by reading from fake scripture that they had composed to deceive others? Their final moments only add to the magnitude of their witness and the witness of many others that the Book of Mormon is for real, that it is an ancient and divine text, not the clumsy work of an unschooled fraud. Elder Holland goes on to explain that the pathetic attempts by our critics to explain away the Book of Mormon and offer alternate explanations for its origins have failed and failed miserably. The challenge remains unmet and the witnesses for authenticity (including physical and other evidence for plausibility) of that ancient record are greater than ever. It has withstood decades of assaults and, in my opinion, is “truer than ever” as we learn more about it and the ancient world.
Here are Youtube videos of his talk, split into two ten-minute segments. If you’re in a hurry, go to the second video, which begins just after he explains how Hyrum while in Carthage jail had read from the book he holds in his hands.
Elder Holland’s words are powerful, moving, and wise. As Elder Holland’s own great grandfather said, “No wicked man could write such a book as this, and no good man would write it–unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.”
Update, July 2012: Some critics have howled about the horrific, cynical dishonesty of Elder Holland in holding up a book that they think is not the real book. The confusion is understandable since it appears that the Church owns two similar books, one that is the original and one that is a similar edition that had the same page dog-eared like the book that Hyrum had. This was made clear in a Deseret News story on the talk and the book. The vitriol and name calling in this case says much about some of our critics. Such anger, such anxiousness to criticize, such unwillingness to even wonder if it was just a mistake. But the mistake appears to have been an earlier Church news story that showed the copy, not the original that Elder Holland was holding. I think it’s fair to grant that Elder Holland asked for the original to be brought to him, and whether it was the original or not, I think it’s fair to accept that he was not knowingly lying about the book. The story is true and the point he makes about Hyrum and Joseph turning to it in their final moments still adds to their witness of the Book of Mormon, regardless of which of the two similar books Elder Holland had on the pulpit with him.