The Book of Mormon is a messianic text. As messianic, it means to interrupt and overwrite our normal experience of time. When this overwriting occurs at the level of the individual, it’s called repentance. When this overwriting occurs collectively, it’s called gathering. Both kinds of overwriting implicate the other.
One basic question to ask about this messianicity is its relationship to historicity.
Some people want to make the Book of Mormon’s messianicity a function of its historicity. “If it is historical, then it can be messianic.”
Secular critics of the Book of Mormon take this position. They say, “the Book of Mormon can only be messianic if it is historical.” Then they can dismiss the book’s messianicity on the basis of its thin historicity.
Assuming that messianicity is a function of historicity is, in many ways, the secular move par excellence.
I don’t recommend doing this. It seems like a bad idea. And it seems to miss the messianic point. If messianicity were a function of historicity then it wouldn’t be messianic!
I’m not saying that the Book of Mormon isn’t historical, but I’m happy to say that it’s not historical in any ordinary way. Why? Because I’m willing to go to the mat for the claim that the Book of Mormon is a messianic text and things that are messianic are never historical in an ordinary way.
The following seems to me to be the case: that the Book of Mormon’s historicity is, rather, a function of its messianicity.
Not vice versa.
Again, the Book of Mormon’s historicity (and it certainly has a variety of irreducible historical vectors of various strengths in play) is a function of its messianicity.
Still, it’s true, I think, that you never get the messianic apart from the historical. But this isn’t because the messianic is something that comes out of the historical (if so, it would be a function of the historical).
Rather, the messianic can’t be thought apart from the historical because the messianic is, by definition, that which is working its way into the historical—interrupting it, questioning it, overwriting it, reshaping it. More, the messianic is that which gives historicity itself. Our normal experience of time and history is a subset of messianic time.
With respect to the material of history, there is a messianic in-working on display. The Book of Mormon isn’t a product of history. It’s not something that comes out of history. The Book of Mormon, as a messianic text, is something that’s working its way into history.
This is the thing to be investigated and accounted for.