And I, Jacob, saw that I must soon go down to my grave; wherefore…I make an end of my writing upon these plates, which writing has been; and to the reader I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren, adieu. (Jacob 7:27)
Recently, as I was surfing the internet, I came across a page on mormoncurtain.com dedicated to the ridiculing of FARMS (the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies), or the Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship. The Mormon Curtain is an ex-Mormon community site, and the page on FARMS is rife with inaccuracies as various ex-Mormon writers spew their obviously hate-filled diatribes all over.
One cannot help but chuckle at the irony displayed as several writers scoff at FARMS’s peer review process when it is evident that the page in question lacks any form of peer review (or any other process equally effective in refereeing or screening the content and checking its accuracy). Further irony is displayed as they gripe about supposed ad hominem attacks from FARMS while they write all sorts of derogatory and slanderous things about FARMS in general, or quite often Daniel C. Peterson specifically.
The Mormon Curtain Perspective on FARMS
Up at the top of the page, the creators, or editors/monitors to the Mormon Curtain explain that FARMS is “funded by the LDS Church with an estimated budget of over $20 million dollars a year,” and that its sole purpose is to “to contradict, counteract, suppress, withhold and dismiss any claims made by persons outside the LDS Church (read: Anti-Mormon).”
Now, since they provide no source, I have no way of checking the “estimated budget” numbers, but the second claim here is absolutely false. This is a common perception of FARMS among ex-Mormons and other critics, but those who genuinely know anything about FARMS, know this is a misconception.
The annual publication by FARMS that is most related to apologetics is the FARMS Review, where books critical of Mormonism are often reviewed. The Review, however, does not only review critical works, but also many publications written by faithful Mormons – and even FARMS contributors – are often reviewed, and even critiqued. In fact, in my reading of articles in the Review I have found many essays equally critical of LDS publications as they are “anti-Mormon” publications. A curious practice, to say the least, of an organization whose “sole purpose” is supposedly to “contradict, counteract, and suppress” anything by “persons outside the LDS Church.” On the contrary, I would suggest that, based on the fact that both LDS and non-LDS publications are critically reviewed by FARMS, their purpose (in publishing the Review) is simply what they have stated it is: to hold those who publish studies on Mormonism accountable to high standards of scholarship. Just how successful they have been in this endeavor I leave to the individual reader to decide.
Aside from the Review, FARMS publishes the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (now the Journal of the Book of Mormon and Restoration Scripture, hereafter JBMS or JBMRS). While the studies published in the JBMS/JBMRS are often used in apologetic arguments, the vast majority of them are not written in an apologetic or defensive manner. Rather, they are written to an already believing LDS audience, for the purpose of helping them gain new insights into the Book of Mormon.
What is especially problematic for the claim that apologetics is the “sole purpose” of FARMS is two of the major departments of the Maxwell Institute: the Center of Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART), and the Middle Eastern Text Initiative (METI). These departments tend to be lesser known among Mormons and their critics, but are well known among the international community of ancient history and biblical scholars. I will not delve into the purposes of these two departments (I have already gone on longer than planned on this issue), but the reader is invited to read about CPART and METI and decide for themselves where the bulk of the supposed $20 million budget goes – to projects like CPART and METI, or to the annual publication of a couple periodicals and books which are somewhat apologetic?
Infymous, the “Critical Thinking” Ex-Mormon
My real intent here is not to critique the Mormon Curtain, but rather to address one particular article which appears on its page. The article is titled “FARMS And the Book of Mormon Word, ‘Adieu’,” by someone using the pseudonym Infymous. It purports to be responding to the following argument (made in a FARMS article):
“The French term adieu, meaning ‘good-bye’ (literally, ‘to God’), was borrowed by English, the language into which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. Though we no longer use it in our language, it is included in Webster’s 1828 dictionary, which reflects American English of Joseph Smith's day.”
Precisely where they got this quote, I am not sure. Infymous provides a link to FARMS, but the article linked to says absolutely nothing about “adieu.” In searching the word “adieu” on the FARMS website, one turns up an awful lot of results, and I am not about to spend my time digging through all of them to find this particular quote. One ought not be surprised, however, if most of these results had arguments along the lines of the above statement.
This is fluff from FARMS to further put the matter to rest for non-critical thinking Mormons. Just because a word existed at the time that Joseph was writing the Book Of Mormon does not mean it was appropriate for a man using reformed Egyptian in around 500 BC to use the term.
After going over the etymology of “adieu,” he (I know I assuming a gender for Infymous here) further explains:
Interesting that a word that first appeared somewhere in the 12th to 13th century was spoken by a Mormon Prophet in around 500 BC (or whatever century Mormonism claims it was in). Perhaps while Lehi and his people were wandering in the wilderness, they wandered right over into France, and then back down again, picking up some good French words.
He then be-labors the point of the translation process, insisting that Joseph Smith – according to eyewitness accounts – was actually reading the words that came to him, not “translating” – a point that seems, well, pointless, as I will explain.
My reaction to Infymous’s diatribe? Let me paraphrase:
This is fluff from Infymous to further put the matter to rest for non-critical thinking ex-Mormons.
Before we get to some critical thinking, let’s go over the original criticism, and the apologetic argument regarding “adieu” to provide a little context. The attack is that (a) the word “adieu” appears in the Book of Mormon, (b) the word adieu is from the French language (and was not around in 500 BC), (c) therefore it is evidence that the BoM is not a genuine translation of an ancient Egyptian/Hebrew text. The apologetic argument responds that (a) “adieu” is a French word which was also commonly used in English in the 1820s, (b) what we have in the BoM is an English translation of an ancient text, (c) therefore, it is not problematic to have the word “adieu” appear in that translation.
Now that we have that laid out, let’s think critically about Infymous’s argument. Does it actually dismantle the apologetic defense? Does it respond to this point? No. In fact, all Infymous does is make the original argument over again, dismissing the response as “FARMS fluff.”
Nothing in the apologetic argument suggests that “adieu” was “appropriate for a man using reformed Egyptian in around 500 BC to use.” Rather the argument simply states that it is appropriate for a man translating reformed Egyptian into English in the late 1820s to use the term “adieu” to convey some original word which meant “goodbye.” By Infymous’s reasoning, it wouldn’t matter if it had been translated as “goodbye,” “farewell,” “so long,” or “see ya later,” since none of those terms would appropriate for a reformed Egyptian/Hebrew author of 500 BC. In fact, this reasoning could be used on any word in all of Jacob 7:27 – why do we have the word “grave”? What about the word “brethren”? Or “plates”? Or “small”? I believe we can be relatively certain that none of these words were available in Jacob’s time or language. No need to stop with this one verse either – pick any word from any verse in the whole Book of Mormon (expect for proper names), and you’ll quickly find that none of them could have been used in between 600 BC – 421 AD, regardless of what language one spoke.
The problem with this method, of course, is that we are picking at a bunch of words that appear in the translation, not the original. So, the only question that matters is if a particular word was appropriately used in the language it was being translated into, and in the case of “adieu,” the obvious answer is that it was.
As for the fuss Infymous makes over the translation process, it is irrelevant. Whether Joseph Smith actually had to discern the meaning of the words and then express it in his own way, or whether God simply revealed the words to him does not affect whether “adieu” is an appropriate English word. Why would it be okay for Joseph Smith to use “adieu” in an English translation, but not okay for God to use the word “adieu” for that same English translation? Remember, it is the LDS belief that God reveals things to prophets “after the manner of their language.” (D&C 1:24) If “adieu” is an appropriate word in English, then both God and Joseph Smith have the right to use it in that language.
Amidst all of this, Infymous suggests that the apologetic argument “assumes of course that Joseph Smith actually translated the Book of Mormon.” Once again, however, this is not the case. The issue can be framed as a hypothetical: “If Joseph Smith translated (or simply read God’s translation of) the Book of Mormon into English in the late 1820s, would it be correct for the word “adieu” to appear in the text?” The answer, again, is yes – because “adieu” was a commonly used in English at the time.
Unfortunately for the ex-Mormon community, Infymous and the Mormon Curtain are not exceptions, but the rule on the internet. To be sure, if one is willing to sift through the large amounts of non-sense found on the Mormon Curtain and other like pages, one is likely to find some real intellectual challenges, and probably some good criticisms of FARMS (no organization or individual is perfect, FARMS and its contributors not excluded); but by-and-large, time spent on such sites is a profound waste of time. Certainly there are some good intellectual criticisms of Mormons being made by some rational voices in the ex-Mormon community. For those interested in engaging such criticisms, I recommend the USU SHAFT Blog. As for Infymous and the Mormon Curtain (and other like sites on the web), I suggest we all (Mormon, non-Mormon, ex-Mormon, or anti-Mormon) bid them “adieu.”
1. 1. I have recently responded to attacks on the credibility of FARMS and LDS scholars in: “Are LDS Scholars and Apologists Credible/Reputable?”(October 20, 2010)
3. 3. For examples of reviews which are critical of LDS publications, see John E. Clark, “A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies,” FARMS Review, Vol. 1, Iss. 1 (1989), pg. 20-70; Clark, “The Final Battle for Cumorah,” FARMS Review, Vol. 6, Iss. 2 (1994), pg. 79-113; Clark, “Evaluating the Case for a Limited Great Lakes Setting,” FARMS Review, Vol. 14, Iss. 1 (2002), pg. 9-78; Clark, “Searching for Book of Mormon Lands in Middle America,” FARMS Review, Vol. 16, Iss. 2 (2004), pg. 1-54; Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “The Wrong Place for Lehi’s Trail and the Valley of Lemuel,” FARMS Review, Vol. 17, Iss. 2 (2005), pg. 197-215; Donald W. Perry, “The Book of Isaiah: A New Translation with Interpretive Keys from the Book of Mormon,” FARMS Review, Vol. 4, Iss. 1 (1992), pg. 52-62; Gregory L. Smith, “Often in Error, Seldom in Doubt: Rod Meldrum and Book of Mormon DNA,” FARMS Review, Vol. 22, Iss. 1 (2010), pg. 17-161; Matthew Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” FARMS Review, Vol. 22, Iss. 2 (2010), pg. 15-85; Roper, “Losing the Remnant: The New Exclusivist ‘Movement’ and the Book of Mormon,” FARMS Review 22:2, pg. 87-124. These examples are only a few of many. Quite often, more pages of an issue of the Review will be dedicated to reviewing LDS publications than non-LDS publications. Also noteworthy, of my examples above, the reviews by Chadwick and Perry are critical of authors who have contributed to FARMS. See George Potter, “A New Candidate in Arabia for the ‘Valley of Lemuel’,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, Iss. 1 (1999), pg. 54-63; Potter and Richard Wellington, “Lehi’s Trail: From the Valley of Lemuel to Nephi’s Harbor,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 15, Iss. 2 (2006), pg. 26-43; Avraham Gileadi, “Twelve Diatribes of Modern Israel,” in By Study and Also By Faith: Volume 2, John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds. (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1990); Gileadi, “Isaiah – Key to the Book of Mormon,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne, eds. (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1991)
4. 4. For an explanation of the intended purpose of the FARMS Review, see Daniel C. Peterson, “Introduction,” FARMS Review, Vol. 1, Iss. 1 (1989), pg. v-x
5. 5. For more information on CPART, go to “Neal A. Maxwell Institute >> History >> CPART,” also Daniel C. Peterson, “Other Voices From the Dust” (FARMS Transcript, 1999), also search the Maxwell Institute, keyword “CPART.” For METI, go to “Neal A. Maxwell Institute >> History >> METI,” also search the Maxwell Institute, keyword “METI.” One can learn about additional projects completely unrelated to the tasks of apologetics on the Maxwell Institute website, particularly in reading the history, and going through the news and upcoming events.
6. 6. All quotes info, unless otherwise noted, will be from Infymous, “FARMS And the Book of Mormon Word, ‘Adieu’,” on the webpage, “FARMS/Neal A. Maxwell Institute,” The Mormon Curtain, accessed January 27, 2011
7. 7. Search the Maxwell Institute, keyword “adieu.”
8. 8. One comment Infymous makes in his diatribe about the translation is that “FARMS will blow this off because the official version of the translation is that Joseph wore special translating glasses (urim thummin), which helped him read the text. In the official version there is NO hat, there is NO peep stone and Joseph himself translated it and used an appropriate word, that word being adieu, which corresponded to what the prophet in the BOM was actually saying.” This, I believe betrays this particular ex-Mormon’s blatant ignorance to most of what FARMS has published. Infymous would no doubt be surprised to know that most of the contributors at FARMS accept most of the details given about translation in the various eyewitness accounts (i.e. the hat, the seer stone, etc.). For discussions regarding the manner of translation which have been published by FARMS, see Stephen D. Ricks, “Translation of the Book of Mormon: Interpreting the Evidence,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 2, Iss. 2 (1993), pg. 201-206; Ricks, “The Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon,” (FARMS Transcript, 1994); Royal Skousen, “Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Book of Mormon: Evidence for Tight Control of the Text,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 7, Iss. 1 (1998), pg. 22-31; Skousen, “Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, Noel R. Reynolds, ed. (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1996); Daniel C. Peterson, “Editor’s Introduction – Not So Easily Dismissed: Some Facts for Which Counterexplanations of the Book of Mormon Will Need to Account,” FARMS Review, Vol. 17, Iss. 2 (2005), pg. xi-xlix
9. 9. Daniel C. Peterson has commented frequently on the embarrassingly irrational comments made by anonymous ex-Mormons on the internet. For some great examples see Peterson, “Editors Introduction: Where Ideas Won’t Face Serious Challenge,” FARMS Review, Vol. 21, Iss. 1 (2009), pg. xi-xxi. The title is a perfect description of the Mormon Curtain: a place where ideas won’t face serious challenge (or even any sort of challenge at all, really). For additional examples which are closely related to the criticisms of FARMS found on the Mormon Curtain, see Peterson, “Editor’s Introduction – The Witchcraft Paradigm: On Claims to ‘Second Sight’ by People Who Say it Doesn’t Exist,” FARMS Review, Vol. 18, Iss. 2 (2006), pg. ix-lxiv
10 10. SHAFT is an acronym for Secular Humanists, Atheists, and Free Thinkers. Strickly speaking, SHAFT is not an ex-Mormon community, but being based in Utah, many of its members are former Mormons, and they frequently discuss challenging issues within Mormonism. Here, it should be clear that my endorsement is not an endorsement of their conclusions, arguments, or positions, but solely the fair and rational approach – one that frequently applies (and requires of the faithful LDS reader) genuine critical thinking. As a faithful Mormon, I disagree with most everything (but not quite everything) discussed on the blog. Further, my praise extends only to the official SHAFT articles and postings. I make no endorsement of every supporting comment made by visitors to the blog, which have a tendency to stoop to the same lows found on the Mormon Curtain.