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Bennett tests his faith in the Book of Mormon

Bob Bennett
Bob Bennett

When Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, was public relations director for the late billionaire Howard Hughes and his corporation, he was tasked to prove that both an autobiography and a will attributed to Hughes were forgeries.

What he learned about forgers has led him to write a new book, "Leap of Faith," published by the LDS Church's Deseret Book, looking at whether the Book of Mormon may have been written by someone other than ancient prophets, as the church says.

Of course, it also allows him to show the world that he is a faithful Mormon at a time when several conservatives in his own party are challenging him for his seat. He says the timing of the book was coincidental, and that the book was actually designed to come out now before he expected his race would be challenged.

Still, "I'm not going to complain if it convinces some of the (state Republican convention) delegates that I'm not in league with the devil," he conceded this week.

Bennett said work on the book started in 2001, when press coverage leading up to the 2002 Olympics in Utah sometimes disparaged the Book of Mormon, in his words, "as a fabrication, one whose claims and history were so bizarre that no one with any common sense could believe it be authentic."

Bennett said he writes for relaxation — while waiting for Senate votes and during travel — so he started writing a response to the criticism. It became more and more involved as questions arose, and he did more research. Over a few years, it turned into a book.

Its framework uses what he learned looking into the Hughes forgeries, and what he said are signs that signal a forgery.

That includes looking at whether a work is consistent with itself or has any loose ends; if there is external evidence to back what the book claims, or if it contains anachronisms; what motive someone would have to make a forgery; and the relevance of the message by the supposed authors.

Bennett said, for example, that by using such evaluations, he knew "within 30 minutes" that a supposedly handwritten will by Hughes giving much of his fortune to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a forgery.

"A forger always reflects the time in which he is writing," and Bennett said the fake will reflected stories about Hughes in newspapers when he died. For example, it made longtime Hughes chief executive Noah Dietrich the will's executor, and gave the "Spruce Goose" airplane to the city of Long Beach.

But "Hughes fired Dietrich in a bitter, bitter fight — hated him. Dietrich is the last person Hughes would have named as executor of his will," Bennett said.

Also, "You could get fired in the Hughes organization if you referred to the flying boat as 'the Spruce Goose,'" he said. "Hughes hated the name, and he always referred to it … as the flying boat."

Earlier, writer Clifford Irving claimed to have helped Hughes write an autobiography. Bennett said Irving must have assumed that Hughes would continue his withdrawal from public life rather than emerge to denounce. Hughes hadn't appeared in public in 20 years.

Bennett also said Irving didn't expect anyone to look into whether Hughes actually received money Irving was supposedly passing along to him.

But Hughes had a teleconference to proclaim he had no part in the book. Also, Swiss bankers disclosed that payments Irving passed to an "H.R. Hughes," actually went to a woman — part of a scheme for Irving to keep the money himself. Irving was later convicted of fraud.

So Bennett said he put the Book of Mormon to such tests, including whether it was written in different voices of different prophets it says wrote it anciently, which Joseph Smith said he translated by the power of God.

"The only conclusion you can come to with respect to the Book of Mormon beyond a reasonable doubt is that Joseph Smith didn't write it by himself," he said.

"So the question is: Who helped him? Was it a forger in the background, or did he get his help from God. Those are your two choices," Bennett said.

He explores who a forger could have been, if one existed, such as perhaps a college professor with access to a library.

"The bottom line of the book is whatever conclusion you come to with respect to the authorship of the Book of Mormon requires a leap of faith," he said.

"If you decide it's a forgery, you have to make a huge leap of faith over all of the evidence that is to the contrary. If you decide it is authentic, you have to make a huge leap of faith over the angels and the unresolved problems that are still there." Of course, he said he believes it is authentic.

But he says he tried to be as objective as possible, including pointing out problems he sees that could signal a forgery.

"My wife, when she started reading it the first time, said, 'I don't like this because you are pointing out problems. I don't like to hear that there are problems with the Book of Mormon.' I said, 'Yes, there are, and you've got to be honest about it,' " he said.

Bennett said a non-LDS publisher was sought for the book. But when none was interested, Deseret Book agreed to publish it. He said the chain plans its publication schedule a year or more in advance, and gave him a choice of having the book appear in 2009 or 2010. He said he chose 2009, thinking it would be before his race heated up.

"I said I prefer it be done as quickly as possible because if it were done in 2010 (the year of his next election), it would appear that it is blatantly political. That was before I knew I was going to have a primary opponent, (or) I was going to have a convention challenge," he said.

e-mail: lee@desnews.com