Friday, July 10, 2015

Dueling Perspectives on the Book of Mormon, History, Method, and Interpretation

In his first blog post on the Book of Mormon, Philip Jenkins declared without hesitancy, “If I look at the Book of Mormon as a historical text, as opposed to a spiritual document, it is simply not factually correct in any particular.” He goes on:
“In some controversial exchanges, I have been surprised to find how many clearly educated and literate Mormons think that the work can be defended as a work of history and archaeology. It can’t. The reason mainstream historians and scholars do not point out that fact more often is either that they are unaware of the book’s claims, or that they simply see no need to waste time on something so blatantly fictitious. This really is not debatable.”
In contrast, in a recent interview Brant Gardner remarked, “This is a very interesting time for Book of Mormon studies. … We are seeing more and better correlations between the text and the ever-increasing amount of information coming from archaeology and history, both in the Old and New Worlds. The future should see a continued expansion of and refinement of all of these fields.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ancient Book of Mormon Studies: A Selected Bibliography

In his back and forth with William J. Hamblin, Phillip Jenkins has flat out denied that there is any legitimate study of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text. Why? Because, he says, such work is never published in mainstream journals, academic (non-Mormon) presses, or presented at professional (non-Mormon) conferences. And, to boot, non-LDS scholars largely ignore it.

It is therefore for his benefit that I provide the following bibliography. It includes:

(1) works by LDS authors on the Book of Mormon published or presented in non-LDS venues;
(2) works by non-LDS authors on the Book of Mormon published or presented in non-LDS venues; and
(3) works by non-LDS authors on the Book of Mormon published or presented in LDS venues. Note that the only material included here published by an LDS press or journal will be material from non-LDS scholars.

I stress that the criteria is not agreement with the LDS position on the Book of Mormon, but engagement with it. The non-Mormon scholars may not agree that the Book of Mormon is ancient, but their willingness to engage the idea—and the LDS scholarship on the topic—certainly suggest that there is or at least can be legitimate study of the Book of Mormon as ancient, and most of these non-LDS scholars were impressed by LDS scholarship on the matter.

Some of these works are not directly on the antiquity of the Book of Mormon or even the Book of Mormon at all, such as the biographies of Joseph Smith by Richard Bushman, but nonetheless include engagement with (and even defenses of) ancient Book of Mormon studies.

As a final caveat, I note that this is not comprehensive. This merely represents what I was able to dig up in a fairly short time (aided, I must confess, by a brainstorming session with my friend Stephen Smoot). Still this should be enough to illustrate that ancient Book of Mormon studies is something that has been, published on and engaged with by both LDS and non-LDS in mainstream academia.

The Goose and the Gander

Scripture and “Western Liberal Orthodoxies”

James K. Hoffmeier is the leading advocate for a historical Exodus and the general reliability of the biblical text in reporting that event. His books on the subject were published by Oxford University Press, and he is a well-respected Egyptologist. In a paper published in 2012, Hoffmeier advanced the view “that the exodus and wilderness narratives are central to O[ld ]T[estament ]T[heology], and that without them, the tapestry of Israel’s faith and the foundational fabric of Christianity unravels.” (“‘These Things Happened’: Why a Historical Exodus is Essential for Theology,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?, ed. James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary [Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012], 106.) Hoffmeier marshals a number of passages throughout the Old Testament he feels illustrate the centrality of the Exodus to the faith of ancient Israel. Again and again, Hoffmeier notes, Israel was called to trust in the Lord because he lead them out of Egypt. The Exodus was thus foundational, and if it did not actually happen, then the primary grounds for trusting the Lord was a falsehood.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tzimins are not Really Tzimins (They’re Horses)

A Tzimin
In his Letter to a CES Director, Jeremy Runnells marvels that, according to “unofficial apologists” (what is with the need to implicitly discredit anything not “official” anyway?), “horses aren’t really horses (they’re tapirs)” in the Book of Mormon. Kevin Christensen has already pointed out that this assertion actually flattens the nuance found in the essay Runnells uses to make this claim, including the tentative evidence for horses in America. In the past, I have reviewed the work of Dr. Wade Miller, a geologist and paleontologist who has tested several pre-Columbian horse specimens which appear place horses in the New World around Book of Mormon times. This evidence is inconclusive, but demonstrates the kind of openness that remains part of the horses/Book of Mormon discussion which gets glossed over by Runnells and many others. No apologist is half as rigid as any ex-Mormon about horses being tapirs. The ex-Mormons talk about it incessantly. It is all just a big joke to them.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Nahom/Nihm: What are the Chances?

Most involved in online debates about the historicity of the Book of Mormon are familiar with Nahom, mentioned in 1 Nephi 16:34, though the average Mormon probably couldn’t even tell you that Nahom is in the Book of Mormon. It becomes important in online debates because scholars believe they have found the name and place attested to in archaeology. Reactions from skeptics have ranged from denying there is any plausible connection to brushing it off as a coincidence.  Both sides talk in terms of probabilities that have never been demonstrated. “The odds that a place by that name would be exactly where the Book of Mormon says it is are astronomical!” says the believer. “There are so many names in the Book of Mormon and so many names in the ancient Near East, Joseph Smith was bound to get one lucky guess!” declares the critic. Both of these statements need to be tethered in by the data, of course.