A recurring issue among some critics of the Restoration is inaccuracy in Mormon artwork. For example, “Joseph Smith Translating the Book of Mormon,” by Del Parson; “Translation of the Plates,” by Earl Jones; and “By the Gift and Power of God,” by Simon Dewey, depict the Prophet reading directly from the golden plates, without the Urim or Thummim and without a seer stone.
The church, say these critics, is lying about its history.
But artists aren’t historians. A stroll through almost any large art museum will show that religious art often gets the details of biblical stories wrong.
Search online, for example, for paintings of “the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.” Their actual route would have taken Joseph, Mary and Jesus either along the dry Mediterranean coast of Palestine or through the Negev Desert. But innumerable paintings take them through northern European forests or perhaps the Rhine River Valley, sometimes escorted by winged angels and little cherubs.
Similarly, in the classic 1959 film “Ben-Hur,” after the hero’s arrest in Jerusalem and his sentencing as a galley slave, he doesn’t pass from Palestine’s central hill country down to its fertile Mediterranean coast, but somehow, instead, through northern Africa’s Sahara Desert — or, perhaps, Asia’s Gobi Desert.
In Pieter Bruegel’s 16th-century “Procession to Calvary,” everybody but Christ is dressed in contemporary Flemish clothing, and the two soon-to-be-crucified thieves clutch crucifixes and confess to Catholic priests
Pietro Perugino’s 15th-century illustration of Matthew 16:13-20 (“Delivery of the Keys”), located in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, shows Christ handing actual physical keys to the apostle Peter in a large Italian Renaissance plaza with two Roman-style triumphal arches in the background that flank an octagonal building resembling the baptistry of Florence more than the intended temple of Jerusalem. Biblically, the story is set in the region of Caesarea Philippi — today’s “Banias” — a lush but wild spring-fed place at the foot of Mount Hermon.
Sandro Botticelli’s 15th-century “Temptations of Christ,” also located in the Sistine Chapel, locates the events of Matthew 4:1-11 — which actually occurred in the barren hill country of Judea — in Renaissance Italy. Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” has Jesus and the apostles seated at a table, not leaning on their left elbows as they would have done.
Paintings of “the…