50 years ago today - Feb 4, 1974-Monday

[Leonard Arrington]

Sometime in the course of his [Dr. Heber C. Snell's] Ph.D. training [having to do with biblical studies], however, he had come to have some reservations about some aspects about Mormonism. After his graduation and his teaching in the Institutes, he came to measure Mormonism by his view of the Judeo-Christian ethic and Biblical scriptures. This caused him to believe that the Book of Mormon was neither a historic account nor an inspired scripture. Since he was assigned to teach Old Testament, New Testament, the ancient prophets and so on, this was not a problem for him. However, as he continued to teach Institute classes at Logan, he became more and more open in expressing his misgivings about the Book of Mormon. Students would raise questions in class about the relation of the Book of Mormon, and he would make statements like "Let's not go into the Book of Mormon-it is not in the same category as the Bible anyway; let's not talk about the Book of Mormon-I am not sure I believe it;
let's not talk about the Book of Mormon-it is not inspired scripture;" and so on.

A couple of students-returned missionaries-finally wrote to a General Authority in Salt Lake City complaining that he lacked a testimony of the Book of Mormon. The General Authority asked Logan people for their comments about him. Dr. W. W. Richards, who was director of the Institute in Logan, defended Dr. Snell as being a great student of the Bible and a fine religious person. President Alma Sonne, a member of the Board of Trustees of the university, also defended Dr. Snell as being a fine teacher, a stimulating class leader, basically a believer, and an authority on the Bible. This took care of the problem for a temporary period, but Dr. Snell did not heed the advice of Dr. Richards to keep quiet about the Book of Mormon and some students continued to complain. Finally Brother Joseph Fielding Smith, either on his own initiative or as an assignment of the Twelve, undertook to test the orthodoxy of Dr. Snell. He had a conference with him and then drew up a long list of
doctrinal beliefs and asked him to indicate in each case whether he believed this or not. The list which I saw[,] only briefly[,] included several pages. Dr. Snell filled it out honestly and indicated certain things he did not believe and certain things he did. He was then called in by Joseph Fielding Smith for an oral confirmation of these beliefs and Dr. Snell quite honestly indicated his lack of belief in the Book of Mormon as well as in other doctrines of the Church. On the basis of Elder Smith's report, Dr. Snell, who had already reached retirement age was retired. Normally, if he had not muddied the waters by his indiscreet statements about the Book of Mormon, he would have been kept on at least part time for perhaps four or five years. ... Let me say that I knew Dr. Snell quite well-that I myself defended him as a person that was needed in the Institute system. Of all persons in the system, he knew most about the Bible. He was a Bible scholar of national reputation. ... One
of the unfortunate results of the dismissal of Dr. Snell was that they made it very difficult for Institute teachers to use Ancient Israel as a text in Bible classes. This is unfortunate because the book was interesting, well written, accurate, and inspiring. By defending Dr. Snell in some public appearances with some rather strong criticism of the Church, Sterling McMurrin also made it more difficult for those of us who defended Dr. Snell-those of us who believed in working within the system.

Dr. Snell was never excommunicated nor disfellowshipped and continued to attend more or less regularly meetings of the Fourth Ward [Logan] in which he lived. I don't know how often he attended, but I do know that he attended on occasion and was on good terms with members of the ward. So far as I am aware, there was never any intention on the part of the bishop or stake president or Church authorities to have a trial for his membership. This, I think, is to the credit of the Church.

[Confessions of a Mormon historian : the diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971-1997, Gary James Bergera, editor, Signature Books, 2018]

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