The Testaments

Author’s Note: I was going to just put a short note at the end of my Sister Missionaries: the Beliefs post, but then I realized as I actually watched the film, that there was no way my “note” would be anything close to short. So here’s another post specifically about The Testaments: Of One Fold and One Shepherd.

A note on The Testaments (wiki)—the first part of which you can watch here… It’s pretty clear to me that something is amiss when, in the official LDS media, the following disclaimer is applied: “While the exact location of the events in the Americas is unknown and some of the characters there have been fictionalized, the appearance of the Savior and His ministry actually took place” (emphasis mine). Seriously?

And what is it with—not even five minutes in—the American natives somehow knowing about the birth of Jesus by a book that a prophet gave to them? (I presume that’s the Book of Mormon.) Obviously, the man who wrote the Book of Mormon knew nothing about the native peoples of the Americas. Even I know pitifully little about them, but I’m pretty sure I’d have heard about it if there was historical evidence that they had known of the Christ’s birth during the time is occurred.

I’m not convinced. I might be able to get into it, if it wasn’t presented as Something That Actually Happened™ (something I admit I’ve had trouble with before). The main character, Jacob, has a crush on another character, and what does he do? Not go and ask her out, and not do whatever it is that the native culture expects for him to be able to court her… No, he throws rocks at her while she’s in the river picking waterlilies. That… is not impressive. The story of Jacob, as portrayed by The Testaments, portrays something that echoes Joseph Smith’s own life (or perhaps the missionaries would say that Smith’s life seems to echo Jacob’s)—and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Good fiction writers often use what they know to make their stories more believable for their readers.

The narrative skips between the Americas and the Middle East. In the Middle East, Jesus performs his miracles, which we learn about in the New Testament of the Bible. I admit I looked more kindly upon these sequences, but I think that’s because they were introduced to me at a much younger age than the Mormon parts were, not because they’re actually any more believable. The TestamentsThey might, in fact, be less believable because the Bible is so much older and has had more time to be corrupted (which Joseph Smith said it had been, which necessitated the need for the “restored gospel”)—if not for the complete lack of historical evidence relating to Jesus in the Americas accounted in the Book of Mormon.

That is to say, I’m more inclined to believe the Bible because it’s backed up by secular, historical documents—even some documents that try to discredit Jesus as the Son of God—while the Book of Mormon is backed up by… testimony. There isn’t even such a thing as “reformed Egyptian“. If the original Book of Mormon existed (Joseph Smith said that the golden plates were taken up by an angel after translation), we’d be able to see what it said for ourselves, and the people who disbelieve reformed Egyptian and other Mormon nonsense (including myself) would have a lot more to deal with—Mormons would have more than faith and testimony to stand on, and nonbelievers might actually believe.

And if Kohor really did have his life engraved in stone (see here), he would have been rich enough to have it written down somewhere else, too, and we’d have a copy or two by this time, don’t you think? (Actually, Jacob, who Kohor hires to engrave this great masterpiece, chooses to cut out of stone an image of what he says is wisdom. “It’s you, Kohor,” he says. So it is, presumably, possible to have seen such engravings from ancient America and then have the Mormons claim that they are what the Book of Mormon is talking about, whether they’re sure of it or not.) But really, if there really was a House of Holy Records anywhere in the ancient Americas, why haven’t we found any historical evidence of it at all? I mean, seriously.

The primary love interest gives this speech to her mother (after the mother stereotypically puts all women into the ‘feminine wiles’ category by saying, “A woman’s instinct is wiser than reason”) about how no one can come to God (and yes, she did mean the one God of the Jews and Christians) except through the Messiah, and without the Messiah—“They call him the Lamb of God, the Savior of the World,” she says in the fourth part—no one can be saved. It made me think about what we need saving from. If I lived in a war-torn country where my life was threatened and I was unsafe even in my own house, I would surely cry out for a savior, too. And maybe, if I was saved, I would worship my savior. I don’t know, though, since I’ve (thankfully) never been in such a position.

Kohor reminds me of the primary antagonist in Immanuel’s Veins; he could be so complicated and interesting and even good (despite being an antagonist—yes, it is possible), but no. He’s painted as completely predictably against whatever the protagonist’s viewpoint happens to be. “By this secret pledge,” he says with a sneer to group of his followers in the fifth part, “we shall combine against the believers and swear as one TO DESTROY THEM!” It was practically eye-roll inducing.

Hearing all the “thee”s and “thou”s of the King James Version as if they were how people actually spoke to one another was really off-putting, and I have to admit: hearing Jesus talk about himself as the Way, the Truth, the Resurrection, and the Life really bothered me. (It’s one thing to hear someone else talk about him that way; it’s completely another to hear him say such things about himself. It made me wonder if [1] he had such a god complex that he thought he could say that the only way to heaven was through him and get away with it, and [2] the people listening to him were delusional.)

Also, it’s implied that the natives are reading about all the cool things Jesus did during his time on Earth; when they open a scroll or book of scripture, it flashes to another part of the world where Jesus is performing miracles or speaking out against the Pharisees or whatever. That is, it’s as though they’re reading the New Testament before it was even written. These two stories (one in the Americas and one in the Middle East) are supposed to be happening simultaneously, so how do the natives in the Americas know anything about what’s happening in the Middle East? They might have prophecies—that’s something I could get behind—but even if they did, no doubt the believers would argue about whether any given prophecy was being fulfilled or not. That’s exactly the schism between Jews and Christians, after all.

The Testaments assumes that there were Christians in the Americas before Christ even got there—and that’s assuming he even went there after his Ascension in the first place. (See also the review, especially the paragraph near the end that begins with “Probably the biggest problem I have…”) There’s no evidence for such a thing outside the Book of Mormon, and that tells me that said book is fiction (which is fine) that is being presented as fact (which is most definitely not fine).

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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