Reviewed by Bill McKeever
Located in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building directly east of Temple Square, the LDS Church is currently showing The Testaments: Of One Fold and One Shepherd. The film is a fictional story meant to give the Book of Mormon, the nineteenth century book “translated” by LDS Church founder Joseph Smith, a sense of historicity.
The film’s script, which was approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is intended to bolster the LDS claim that there was a group of people living in the western hemisphere who were anxiously awaiting the birth of Jesus the Messiah in the east. The film jumps back and forth between actual events in Palestine during Jesus’ mortal ministry and those thought to have possibly taken place simultaneously in the western hemisphere. Most of the film deals with fictional characters who are supposed to be descendants of Lehi, a prophet who traveled with his family across the ocean to escape the destruction of Jerusalem in 600 B.C. According to the narrative in the Book of Mormon, the descendants of Lehi eventually became known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. These titles are taken from two of Lehi’s sons, Nephi and Laman.
Based on a faulty interpretation of John
The title of the film is taken from John 10:16, which says, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” Concurring with leaders both before and after his time as president, Joseph Fielding Smith has insisted that this passage is a “reference to the people dwelling in America in early times” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:214). Such a conclusion overlooks the overwhelming evidence that demonstrates how God had all along planned to engraft the Gentiles into His plan of salvation.
The fact that no archaeological evidence has been found to support the notion that a great population of Nephites and Lamanites existed also compels us to discount the conclusion that John 10:16 speaks of the people in the Book of Mormon. The LDS Church has been trying to find tangible evidence to concur with Smith’s book for much of its history. To this date, no New World locations have ever been found, and no Nephite artifacts grace the LDS museum of history across the street from Temple Square.
A caption at the beginning of the film tells viewers that this story takes place “somewhere in the Americas“; however, grand scenes depicting Mayan-styled temples make it clear that the producers of the film wanted to give the impression that these events took place in Central America. The LDS Church took an active role in making sure the exact location remained vague. In the March 25, 2000 issue of the Salt Lake Tribune, filmmaker Keith Merrill is quoted as saying that the First Presidency told him “to be careful you don’t nail it in one place.” Given the fact that Mormon leaders have contradicted themselves numerous times in the past as to where the alleged Nephites and Lamanites actually lived, this is not at all surprising.
Many Mormon viewers would probably be very surprised to know that the Central American theory depicted in the film was sharply denounced by tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith who insisted that the geographical description in the Book of Mormon “fits perfectly the land of Cumorah in New York, as it has been shown since the visitation of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith, for the hill is in the proximity of the Great Lakes and also in the land of many rivers and fountains. Moreover, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon” (Doctrines of Salvation 3:234). Smith notes in the same book that LDS leaders such as Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, and David Whitmer also believed that the area described in the Book of Mormon was in North America, specifically in the United States.
Mormon Apostle James Talmage wrote,
“At that time America was inhabited by two great peoples, the Nephites and the Lamanites, each named after an early leader, and both originally of one family stock” (The Vitality of Mormonism, p. 199). Thirteenth President Ezra Taft Benson stated, “Consider how fortunate to be living in this land of America…This was the place of three former civilizations: that of Adam, that of the Jaredites, and that of the Nephites” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, pp.587-588).
Despite the above claims, Merrill chose to follow the predominant theory of the day. Most Mormon scholars have long abandoned the North America theory, even though the LDS Church has a sign just a few miles north of Gallatin, Missouri telling visitors that a Nephite tower was once located in the area Joseph Smith called Adam-ondi-Ahman. Smith taught that the Garden of Eden, the home to Adam and Eve, was located in Missouri.
Merrill used a book by former BYU professor John Sorenson as his template. However, Sorenson’s “limited Tehuantepec theory” (a view that places the Book of Mormon lands in southern Mexico) has its own set of flaws. Alma 22:27 in the Book of Mormon mentions a “narrow strip of wilderness” that divided a sea to the east and a sea to the west. The problem is southern Mexico has no such shoreline. Instead, the water masses in this area really lie north and south. Undaunted, Sorenson merely turns his map sideways and declares that the Nephites used a different method for determining directions. In this case a “Nephite north” is employed. Thus, what appears to be a “sea north” becomes the sea east and the southern water mass becomes “sea west.”
Historical anomalies concealed
The Book of Mormon is fraught with historical incongruity. The Nephites and Lamanites in the Book of Mormon are credited with having the wheel and are said to have used animals such as the horse and oxen as beasts of burden. Ether 9:19 also claims that elephants existed in the western hemisphere. No doubt Merrill knew that some viewers might grow suspicious should his characters ride in chariots or on horses (Alma 18:9-12; 3 Nephi 3:22) or even on the backs of elephants. To solve this problem, no such animals are used and no wheels are seen.
On numerous occasions throughout the Book of Mormon the use of steel weapons such as swords is mentioned; yet, never are steel weapons shown in the film. Instead, in one of the film’s scenes, assassins carry weapons similar to the wooded macuahuitl. This Aztec weapon was shaped much like a club and had sharp stones fitted into it, thus enabling a person to both bludgeon and severely cut his opponent.
First Nephi 1:2 states that Nephi made his “record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.” However, throughout the film there are no characters similar to what Mormons call “Reformed Egyptian.” Instead Mayan-like glyphs are used.
For most of its history the Mormon Church taught that skin color had much to say about the spirituality of a people group. For instance, those of African heritage, known in Mormonism as the seed of Cain, were actually banned from holding any priesthood position in the church until 1978. This spiritual restriction was imposed on them for being “less valiant” in what Mormons call the pre-existent “war in heaven” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966 ed., p.527). Blacks could be members of the LDS Church, but because they were denied the priesthood, they were not allowed to enter any Mormon temples like other LDS members.
The Book of Mormon mentions in 2 Nephi 5:21 how God had “cursed” some of Lehi’s descendants who had hardened their hearts. Whereas once their skin was “white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome,” God caused “a skin of blackness to come upon them.” In order to draw viewers away from this unique Book of Mormon teaching, all characters have dark skin with the exception of those who are shown in the scenes taking place in the Holy land. It is interesting to note that the character portraying Jesus has bright blue eyes, although his looks “are not meant as a church statement about Christ’s appearance” (Salt Lake Tribune, 3/25/00).
One of the more troubling aspects of the film is how the good guys, the “believers,” are portrayed as being monotheists. On two occasions the wicked “Ko-hor” mocks those who believe in “one true God” while he unabashedly proclaims to believe in the existence of many gods. This becomes troubling because a person who knows nothing of LDS doctrine will readily assume that Mormonism is a monotheistic religion. Nothing could be further from the truth. Though the Book of Mormon does declare that there exists only one true and living God (Alma 5:13; 7:6; 11:25, 26; 43:10; Mormon 9:28), history shows that Joseph Smith began to abandon that idea as early as 1835. In 1844 he declared, “I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.370). There is no denying that Mormonism espouses polytheism.
Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt taught, “If we should take a million of worlds like this and number their particles, we should find that there are more Gods than there are particles of matter in those worlds” (Journal of Discourses 2:345). Brigham Young taught, “How many Gods there are, I do not know. But there never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds….” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.22.)
Mormonism outright denies the existence of only one true God and holds to a view of the godhead that is known as tri-theism (three separate Gods). This being the case, the only way a Mormon could maintain a belief in one true God is to concede that two of the three Gods in the Mormon Godhead are false Gods.
Mormonism exalts the ideas that not only are there many millions of Gods but that Mormon males have the potential of becoming Gods as well. Given the fact that there is millions of Mormon males in the LDS Church, we can safely say there is currently the potential for millions of Gods! Today Mormons claim to worship only one God while believing in the existence of many. This is better known as henotheism, not monotheism.
Faith in Jesus alone?
The film also gives the impression that a person can experience the joy of salvation by merely trusting in Jesus as the Messiah. Christians have been finding such a peace for centuries. However, Mormon leaders have forcefully declared that a mere faith in Christ is not enough to be truly saved. Twelfth LDS President Spencer Kimball wrote, “One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.70).
Joseph Fielding Smith taught that there is “no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith” (Doctrines of Salvation 1:189). Brigham Young went so far as to say that Joseph Smith will have a part in deciding who achieves the best Mormonism has to offer. “From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are–I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent” (Journal of Discourses 7:289). In his book The Millennial Messiah, Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie claimed that the idea of salvation by grace alone was the “second greatest heresy” next to the belief that “God is a spirit” (p. 77).
A major concern for us at MRM is that most people viewing this film will have no idea the reality that this fictional account obscures.