Friday, July 15, 2016

“The Dominant Narrative is Not True”: Some Thoughts on Recent Remarks by Richard Bushman

Richard Lyman Bushman
The following is making its rounds on Facebook (from this video):
Questioner: In your view do you see room in Mormonism for several narratives of a religious experience or do you think that in order for the Church to remain strong they would have to hold to that dominant narrative?
Richard Bushman: I think that for the Church to remain strong it has to reconstruct its narrative. The dominant narrative is not true; it can’t be sustained. The Church has to absorb all this new information or it will be on very shaky grounds and that's what it is trying to do and it will be a strain for a lot of people, older people especially. But I think it has to change.
As I have seen this quote flash across my Facebook news feed and thought about how to make sense of it, I have been reminded of the short essay response questions I would often have on tests or assignments in college or even high school. It would not be uncommon for these questions to be built around a quote from an important scholar or historical figure, with the essay prompt asking something along the lines of (a) what do you think this means, and (b) do you agree or disagree, why or why not?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

KnoWhy’s By the Numbers: The First 6 Months

Book of Mormon Central Staff,  February 2016
Last Friday, Book of Mormon Central closed out its sixth month of KnoWhy publication, cranking out 133 KnoWhys (each between 2–3 pages long) in that time. Each KnoWhy explores a specific detail in the Book of Mormon, drawing on the vast body of scholarship already available on the Book of Mormon, as well as scholarship on the Bible, the ancient Near East, and pre-Columbian America, etc., to shed light on the text in various ways.

Altogether, in the first six months, Book of Mormon Central drew from 657 different publications from 398 different authors, 141 of whom are non-Mormons (that is 35% of all authors cited, slightly more than one-third). That comes out to an average of about 5 (4.94) sources used per KnoWhy, from almost 3 (2.99) different authors each, including at least 1 (1.06) non-Mormon each time. The number of different publications per author cited is less than two (1.65).

Of those nearly 400 authors, only 13 (including 1 non-Mormon) have been cited in at least 10 KnoWhys, and of those, only 4 have been cited in more than 20. The two most frequently cited authors show up in 58 and 38 different KnoWhys, and no one else appears in more than 21.

I find these numbers interesting because, to me, they indicate an impressive diversity of sources from which insights into the Book of Mormon have been drawn. Far from being a small, academically incestuous group Mormon scholars, Book of Mormon Central has drawn from over 650 different sources, by nearly 400 different authors and scholars, of which slightly more than one-third are not Latter-day Saints. Even those who are more frequently cited are still not excessively leaned on, with most (all but two) being cited in less than 16% of all KnoWhys, and even the most frequently cited author appearing in less than half of all KnoWhys.


Book of Mormon Central has already produced enough material to keep the diligent student of the scriptures busy for years (should they choose to probe the content of each KnoWhy further beyond a mere reading of it). Yet, there is much, much more in the pipeline, which will continue to draw from an ever wider array of both Mormon and non-Mormon sources in an effort to shed more and more light on this most-sacred, keystone text. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Unpublished Book by John L. Sorenson Now Available Online

Whether critics of the LDS faith know it or not, John L. Sorenson’s work on transoceanic voyaging in pre-Columbian times has garnered considerable respect among at least some non-LDS scholars. His publications on the subject span across six decades, and appear in a variety of peer-reviewed and academic publications, such as El México Antigo, New England Antiquities Research Association Newsletter, Man Across the Sea: Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts (published by the University of Texas Press), Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World (published by the University of Hawai’i), and Sino-Platonic Papers (published by the University of Pennsylvania).

He has co-published a 2-volume annotated bibliography of the literature on pre-Columbian contacts, which received some positive reviews. He also co-wrote (with a non-Mormon scholar) World Trade and Biological Exchange before 1492, detailing all the biological evidence for transoceanic contact before Columbus. In a letter thanking Sorenson for a copy of this work, Michael D. Coe declared, “So much of this evidence, I think, is irrefutable.”

With the above in mind, I thought it was worthwhile to point out that a heretofore unpublished book by Sorenson, called Transoceanic Voyaging: How Ancient America Became Civilized (2013) is available in Book of Mormon Central’s archive. Here, Sorenson attempts to use the evidence he has compiled in his previous work (namely, World Trade and Biological Exchange before 1492) to reconstruct a history of transoceanic contacts between the Old and New Worlds.

The conclusions reached are bound to be controversial, and I am not necessarily endorsing all of Sorenson’s views. But given Sorenson’s status as one of the leading scholars on pre-Columbian contacts, it is bound to contribute to the conversation in some important ways. I thus thought it worth drawing attention to this little known item in the Book of Mormon Central archive. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ward FHE Presentation: “Put Away Childish Things”—Changing How the World Sees the Book of Mormon

This last Monday, I gave a presentation at my YSA Family Home Evening on evidence for the Book of Mormon. Though I have spoken to my friends in the ward several times about my work with Book of Mormon Central, I took the opportunity to introduce Book of Mormon Central to them as resource, and specifically explained what KnoWhys are, since I was going to be drawing extensively from the KnoWhys for my presentation.

As you can tell by my title, I focused on using research to change the way we see and read the Book of Mormon. I used the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:11 as a paradigm:
When I was child, I spake as child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
My reason for using this passage was because in my experience, many who experience a faith crisis over archaeology and the Book of Mormon never developed mature ways of reading the text. While they don’t do this consciously, they tend to read the book like a fairytale or fantasy novel. Now there is nothing wrong with fairytales and fantasy novels, except when they shape your perceptions of history and expectations of archaeology. When you believe the Book of Mormon is history but read it like fantasy, you set yourself up for a faith crisis.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Some Lessons in Assimilation, Archaeology, and Texts

While doing some reading on the events of the 8th and 7th centuries BC in Israel and Judah, for research on a writing project I am working on, I came across some interesting gems talking about the relationship of some biblical accounts and the archaeological record.