What's in the Book?
Here's a brief summary of what you'll find in the book:

Chapter 1 – Why We Must Know the Facts on Jesus and Joseph: Precisely who Jesus is, is absolutely central to the faith of the universal Church. Following Joseph is central to whether a person joins the true Church of Jesus Christ.  In neither case can we rely on feelings or imagination to know who we can trust. This book will apply the “criteria of authenticity” used by Jesus scholars, which do not require religious faith, as a tool to sort out the reliable facts about both Jesus and Joseph.

Chapter 2 – Historical Bedrock in the Life of Jesus: Events such as the baptism of Jesus by John, and Jesus’ cleansing of theTemple, fulfill numerous criteria of authenticity; they are unlikely to have been recorded if the evidence had not compelled the Gospel writers to do so. The fact that Jesus did miracles passes all 5 tests of historicity.  The evidence shows that the historical Jesus taught both a sky-high morality (with his words) and a scandalous love for sinners (with his actions). To preach a permissive Jesus contradicts historical reality.

Chapter 3 – Uncertainties in the Life of Jesus: Did Jesus really advise his followers to buy a sword to defend themselves after he leaves? Also, Jesus’ words “Father, forgive them” are found in very few early manuscripts; imagine if these words of Jesus had been lost! But even these words are easier to confirm than sayings of Jesus from outside the Gospels.  When we apply the criteria of authenticity to these sayings, a few of them might appear to be historical, but they add little to what we already know about Jesus. And when we see the legends that the Gospels leave out, our confidence in the Gospels is strengthened.

Chapter 4 – Examining the Wildest Claims About Jesus: The Virgin Birth of Jesus is a truly astounding claim. The hostile claims of the pagan writer Celsus that Jesus was fathered by a Roman soldier are easily debunked. Matthew and Luke are compelled to report that Jesus was born without human father because the facts leave them no alternative. Likewise, Jesus’ claims to be divine are easily shown to be an unavoidable fact that played a major role in his trial and crucifixion. And the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection proves to be stronger than for any other key event from ancient times.

Chapter 5 – Who Can Tell Us the Truth About Joseph?  There are all sorts of both friendly and hostile witnesses to events in the life of Joseph. Claims of Joseph’s enemies require skepticism, but often they are corroborated by friends and even by his own words. Which sources are most reliable? And how do we weigh what Joseph says about himself? The criteria of authenticity, including the criteria of embarrassment and coherence, are useful tools to sort this out.

Chapter 6 – Joseph’s Approach to Alcohol, Tobacco, and “Hot Drinks”:  It is surprising how often Joseph and his followers failed to keep this command, according to their own words. Another surprise is how long it took for the Word of Wisdom to become mandatory for those who wish to enter LDS temples, and how wine in the LDS sacrament (explicitly permitted in the Word of Wisdom) was replaced by water in 1906.

Chapter 7 – Joseph’s Approach to Marriage: Did Joseph follow the Book of Mormon and his later revelation on marriage?  In the cases of women who were married to other men at the time, were these marriages only spiritual? How much deception of his wife Emma and of his followers did these marriages involve? How do we explain all this, if we would follow Joseph? And has the LDS God rescinded polygamy? Joseph’s followers taught that both Jesus and God are polygamists. How can today’s Latter-day Saints disregard the teachings of their professed prophets on this subject?

Chapter 8 – Joseph’s Views on Race: How do Joseph's views on race compare to those of Abraham Lincoln?  Some of Joseph's early teachings may appear to be racist. Compare this with Joseph’s equalitarian views in his Presidential campaign brochure in 1844. Which view represents Joseph’s heart? The race issue may have been rendered moot by the 1978 revelation that gave the priesthood to Africans, but it does not remove the question why this teaching that black skin was a curse was given in the first place.

Chapter 9 – Joseph’s Evolving Views on God: Joseph’s theology changed over the course of his career, from the hyper-Trinitarian theology found in Book of Mormon, to a God who is an exalted human, to the eternal progression and polytheism that Joseph proclaims in his final sermon. Which theology should Joseph’s followers believe? And what are we to think of a God who is constantly changing? Is this the God in whom followers of Jesus are to believe?

Chapter 10 – Joseph’s Far Reaching Claims: 1. Joseph claims that humans all start out as spirit-children in a Pre-existence before we were born.  What does the Bible say?  2. Joseph claims that after the Garden of Eden, Adam spent the rest of his life in Missouri.  3. Joseph claims that the original church founded by Jesus ceased to exist after the first century AD, a claim easily refuted by hard evidence. In all of these claims, Joseph sets himself against Scripture. A review of the evidence for Biblical reliability should answer the claim of whether “plain and precious things” have been removed from God’s word.

Chapter 11 – Joseph as a Translator of Scripture: Could an uneducated man like Joseph have composed the Book of Mormon? We have no original text against which to test Joseph’s translation, but we can examine his attempts to re-translate the Bible. We also have the Book of Abraham, where we do have an original Egyptian text. The evidence shows that Joseph’s translation bears virtually no resemblance to the Egyptian original. Regardless of what one may choose to call it, it is not a translation.

Chapter 12 – Did Joseph Die a Martyr’s Death? Did Joseph die defending the truth of what he preached? Or did he end up in the prison where he was lynched, for the crime of destroying an opponent’s printing press to cover up his practice of plural marriage? According to faithful LDS on the scene, he did not go to his death “like a lamb to the slaughter,” but defended himself with a six-shooter smuggled into the jail. And according to the same LDS sources, the wine they drank that night was not for sacramental purposes.  It is martyrdom to die for what one believes; is it martyrdom to die covering up one's sin, or covering up what one truly believes?

Chapter 13 – By Their Fruits Shall Ye Know Them? If we conclude that Joseph was not a prophet of God, or that he was in fact a deceiver, then how do we explain all the good in a church that considers Joseph to be their quintessential prophet? Can people find the Jesus of historic Christianity in a church where his living water is mixed with toxic elements?  The danger is that if one follows a false prophet, one may end up going where that prophet goes.

Chapter 14 – Who Is Most Worthy of Our Trust? The historical Jesus found in the Gospels is not a wishful invention or a whitewash job, but is real and is worthy of our trust. The historical Joseph raises difficulties that are tough to resolve, even on the evidence of his own words. And Joseph's way loads us with a burden of perfection that no one can carry.  How can we be saved from the burden of our guilt?  Jesus offers us a way to know that we have been made "holy and blameless and irreproachable in God's sight" in the here and now.

 

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