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Book of Mormon Authenticity and the “Burden of Proof”

From time to time on the Internet, a critic will make the assertion that the Book of Mormon is not ancient in any way, shape, or form, without providing any arguments, evidences, or sources to back-up the claim. When challenged to provide such support, they will at times refuse, insisting that the “burden of proof” is not theirs, but the believer’s. This is because, allegedly, the burden of proof only falls on the one making a positive claim, and their claim is negative. It is the responsibility of the believer, they will say, to prove (or, at least, provide evidence for) the claim that the book is ancient. If they cannot do that, then we should not accept the book as ancient. I would suggest that this reflects a somewhat simplistic notion of the burden of proof.

The Church of the Lamb and the Church of the Devil

In his sweeping vision of human history (or, from Nephi’s perspective, human future), Nephi divides all people into “save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil” (1 Nephi 14:10). Such a dichotomy is a common theme in the Book of Mormon, and is an indispensible aspect of early Judeo-Christian literature, dating back to Lehi’s time (see Jeremiah 21:8).[1] This can be easily misunderstood to insinuate that anyone who is not a Latter-day Saint is of the church of the devil, and therefore evil. Here, I would note the interpretation of these two symbols by several scholars, which suggests that the picture is much more complex.

REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 4 (1992)

Overview
This issue has a great editorial introduction which discusses the then-current controversies involving FARMS and Signature Books, a fascinating chapter in Mormon apologetics and even just Mormon studies more broadly. After this introduction, however, the issue starts slowly, and never really fully picks up steam. Of the first 12 reviews, only one engages a volume critical of Mormons, and even that review is relatively short. There are also a couple more interesting reviews of faithful books, but nothing particularly noteworthy. Of the remaining 18 reviews, only 6 of them engage critical material, and most of it is standard sectarian anti-Mormonism, which only 4 volumes in is already getting boring. (I can only imagine what it was like for those who had to keep reviewing these books.) I nonetheless recommend these reviews because they tend to have potentially useful material on the Book of Mormon, and for the sake of some who may not have already gotten over the standard hurdle…

Book of Mormon Archaeology and Agenda-Driven Narratives

Websites critical of the Church love to tell the story of one Thomas Stuart Ferguson, an archaeologist who spent years trying to prove the Book of Mormon was true only to be ultimately disappointed, reaching the conclusion that the Book of Mormon could not possibly be true history. Or, so the story goes, in a nutshell. There are a lot of problems with the way the critics like to tell the story. For one, it should be born in mind that Ferguson was not a professional archaeologist, and that he did not have advanced training in the matter. He was at best an amateur archaeologist with enough passion and enthusiasm to establish the New World Archaeological Foundation. Also, while there can be little doubt that he did lose his faith at one point, stories from close family and friends suggest that toward the end of his life he may have regained his faith. But I’m not really going to make a fuss about that right now. I am more interested in talking about why critics tell the story in the fir…

Creating a List of “Standard Works” on Book of Mormon Authenticity

In a recent blog post for Interpreter, Stephen O. Smoot remarks, “If the work of Mormon scholars in the past 50 years has proven anything, it is that a rigorous defense of the Book of Mormon’s historicity can and has been made in such a compelling manner that one must confront this body of scholarship and adequately account for it before one can propose any Inspired Fiction reading.” In light of this remark, a mutual friend of ours approached Smoot about a proposed “canon” on Book of Mormon historicity. Smoot brought me into the loop, and we bashed our heads together and came up with this list.

A Hypothesis Regarding Book of Mormon Directions

A key criticism of John L. Sorenson’s geographic model has been that the directions seem to be off. Sorenson has consistently maintained that directions are cultural, that no given direction system is “obvious” and that we ought not assume that the directional system of the Nephites was identical to that of our own culture. Some have not found this explanation satisfactory, but Brant Gardner has built on that work, showing how certain aspects of Mesoamerican directional systems may help explain at least some of the apparent anomalies.

Apostles and Apologetics: Doers of the Word

The following is my report on Elder D. Todd Christofferson's BYU-I devotional address from September 24, 2013. Originally posted on the FairMormon Blog, October 2, 2013. It seemed like an appropriate post just before General Conference.
-------------------------------------------------------------------- Back in April, I did a blog post on some of the apologetically relevant statements from General Conference, including the instruction, from Elder Robert D. Hales, to “protect and defend the kingdom of God.” Well, as with most things our leaders teach us to do, they are also doers of the word who practice what they preach.

Welcome to (the American) Jerusalem, I Hope You Like to Swim!: The Geography of Mormon’s Codex

As I anticipated, John L. Sorenson spends precious little time dwelling on geography in his massive tome, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book. He has spent probably more time than he wanted to laying out the comprehensive details of “Mormon’s map,” and I doubt that he is interested in rehashing everything on the topic now, at his age. Figuring out the geography merely for geographies sake is a pointless exercise. I suspect Dr. Sorenson would very much agree with Brant Gardner, who recently wrote, The value of any geography should be its productivity for explaining the Book of Mormon, not for proving it… Geography is productive when the geography itself explains the events of the text. Geography is productive with an examination of the known history and culture of the peoples living in that area during Book of Mormon times elucidates why people acted in the ways that they did.

Welcome to Orientation: Mormon’s Codex, Part 1

The first rule of historical criticism in dealing with the Book of Mormon or any other historical text is, never oversimplify. For all its simple and straightforward narrative style, this history is packed as few others are with a staggering wealth of detail that completely escapes the casual reader.  —Hugh Nibley[1]
Some books are just a little over 100 pages, while other books spill that much ink just talking about methodological considerations. Any guesses as to which kind of book the 826 page Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book is? The first six chapters, equaling 115 pages, of Sorenson’s new tome comprise “Part 1. Orientation.” Yes, Sorenson follows Nibley’s first rule to “never oversimplify.” These chapters focus on laying the groundwork for the correlation Sorenson intends to make between Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon record. Such lengthy introductory material is not for the faint of heart, or those who wish to jump right into the “meat” of the book (i.e., the eviden…

A Second Note on Archaeology and the Book of Mormon

Last week while doing my homework I came across a tidbit that I thought was interesting in relation to the Book of Mormon and archaeology. Well, this week I find myself increasingly distracted from my homework by John L. Sorenson’s Mormon’s Codex, the most extensive treatise on the Book of Mormon and archaeology yet to be published. Though still only in the third chapter, I found another interesting tidbit I thought worth sharing.

A Tribute to John L. Sorenson: Reading His Works in a Logical Order

Yesterday, I picked up my copy of John L. Sorenson’s magnum opus (a Latin term meaning “great work,” by the way), Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book. I’ve only made my way through the front matter and the first couple of chapters. School work will likely keep me from making any more significant progress for a while. This is Sorenson’s fifth book on Book of Mormon geography, culture, and history, to say nothing of the dozens of articles he has written on the subject.[1] Although it is the culmination of his life’s work, Sorenson still seems to gloss over certain aspects previously covered in past books, often referring the reader to those earlier works for more detailed information. Like many scholars of many subjects, Sorenson’s books all build on this same theme in different ways. This means a couple of different things. First, it means that there is a certain amount of overlap between each of his works, an inevitable fact when constantly writing and expanding on the same subj…

A Note on Archaeology and the Book of Mormon

For school this semester, I am reading Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (HarperOne, 1996). I am only a few pages in, but already am finding it quite interesting.
One thing that struck me is that, according to Stark, there is not a shred of archaeological evidence for Christianity before the year AD 180. That means that Christianity existed for about 150 years before they left a trace in the archaeological record. Stark, in reconstructing the growth of the Christian Church, suggests that there were about 7,535 Christians at the turn of the first century. Stark then suggests that this is due to the small number of Christians. “The lack of anything surviving from prior to 180 must be assessed on the basis of the tiny number of Christians who could have left such traces. Surely it is not surprising that the 7,535 Christians at the end of the first century left no…

Deuteronomy and Family Conflict in the Book of Mormon

Many Book of Mormon commentators have found that the social, religious, and political upheaval that started a few decades before the opening chapter of 1 Nephi, and was ongoing in Lehi’s day provide a useful and fascinating backdrop to early Book of Mormon events. The view that Lehi was not in agreement with the zealous reform efforts has proven to be an incredibly powerful paradigm for explaining aspects of the Book of Mormon. Kevin Christensen, Brant Gardner, and even non-LDS scholar Margaret Barker are leading advocates of this view,[1] though it is not without its critics.

Anachronisms and Expectations: Assessing the Role of Anachronisms in the Debate over Book of Mormon Authenticity

One thing I think critics have fundamentally misunderstood is the apologetic response to anachronisms. All throughout the endless online discussions you can read the sarcastic, and often mocking (and even sometimes contemptuous) remarks about how absurd it is that apologists would suggest that a “horse” is really a “tapir.” “Did Joseph Smith not know what a horse is?” they ask. They express the sentiment that this is merely a desperate attempt to keep a sinking ship afloat.
            In order to address this matter and assess where anachronisms fit in the grand scheme of Book of Mormon debates, we must take some time to discuss what our expectations should be.

2013 FAIR Conference Report…Sort of: Actually, this is Going to be About ME!

I am too lazy to do an actual write up on the FAIR Conference, so I’ll just refer you to Blair Hodges summaries of the talks on the Maxwell Institute Blog. John Gee also has a brief report. The FAIR Blog has also reported on important news from the Conference. Instead, I want to focus just a little bit on the part of the FAIR Conference that was all about me.
That is right – a small, teeny-tiny part of the conference was about ME!

Joseph Smith and Plural Marriage: The Quest for the Hidden History Continues

Many who feel like the Church is “hiding” it’s history will mention Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage as one of their key examples. They tell all kinds of stories about being in the Church for decades and never hearing anything about it. They talk about how they asked others about it, and everyone they knew – all these faithful, long-standing members – knew nothing about Joseph Smith and polygamy. I have personally never been able to relate to this experience, because my experience has been exactly the opposite. I always thought the fact that Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage was common knowledge. I’ve known it since my childhood, and all my friends, so far as I could tell, seemed to know about it too. No big deal.

Nephi's Vision and the Founding of America: Some Thoughts for Independence Day

Nephi, the boy from Jerusalem who penned the earliest part of the Book of Mormon, had what is probably the most vivid vision of future events of any prophet, past or present. (Certainly is it the most vivid such vision we have on record.) A vision like Nephi’s – with such clarity and detail – is unprecedented within the current cannon of scripture. “As a truly great prophet with an unusually clear view of future developments, Nephi provides a vast sweep of God’s role in human affairs for the accomplishment of divine purposes.”[1] Through Nephi’s vision, the reader gains a lucid understanding of God’s involvement in recent historical events. Historian Roy A. Prete has noted, “The blending of Nephite history with this wider vision of world history paints in broad strokes for the providential historian – at least for the historian who believes in the Restoration – a significant part of the canvas depicting God’s designs and purposes in modern history.”[2] Among the future events Nephi w…

REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 3 (1991)

Overview
The Review continues to take shape in this issue, only the third volume. While still full of “fluff” reviews of family (i.e., child) oriented scripture aids and what have you, an increasing percentage of the reviews are dealing with books critical of the Book of Mormon. This issue has 7, out of 23 total, which is approximately 30% of the reviews. In a page count, I’m sure the percentage of pages dedicated to critical material is even higher (since most are of the longer variety). The pervious issue only had 4 out of 30 (~13%) deal with critical literature, while the inaugural issue only had 1 out of 18 (~6%). In addition to the 7 reviews of critical literature, there are substantial reviews/papers on Mesoamerican Harvest festivals compared with the Book of Mormon, some Book of Mormon geography, and Book of Mormon warfare.

Names and Meaning: Zoram as a Case Study

Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project Launched Online
The Book of Mormon Onomasticon project, which has long been in the works, has finally been launched online. Although it is still under development, there is plenty of great information and research available already on every single name in the Book of Mormon. Many of the entries provide convenient summaries of the research that has gone into a Book of Mormon name. Some brief time browsing the entries will quickly make it apparent which names have received the most attention from scholars and which names need more work. In any event, it is a great new tool for Book of Mormon study.

My Apologia to Mike Adams

I don’t really know much about who Mike Adams is, or what makes him think he is an authority on Mormonism, but his recent column at Townhall, egregiously titled “My Apology to Mormon Readers” is a complete slap-in-the-face. I am stunned that Townhall has allowed itself to be party to such blatant bigotry. In any event, because it exists, I am sure people will read it. Thus, I am writing a response, meant to show the problems with Adams’s statements. Adams is either unaware of LDS scholarship on these topics, or blatantly choose to ignore it.

REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 22, ISS. 2 (2010)

Overview
In this, the final issue of the FARMS Review (before the name was changed to the Mormon Studies Review), the shifts in emphasis (which prompted the name change) are quite apparent. Much less book-review-centric, and not burdened down by any sort of commitment to review everything (which, I think, is the mentality which produced the much larger volumes of old), this issue offers a modest collection of essays, most of which are on the Book of Mormon. Rod Meldrum’s heartland theory remains on center stage as it is scrutinized in two reviews (recommended together below) by Matt Roper. Other topics in this issue are LDS apologetics, letters in the Book of Mormon, the promised land covenant in the Book of Mormon, Book of Mormon historicity, and social trends among America’s youth.

Novum Nomen - Studio et Quoque Fide

Don’t worry! If you were looking for LDS Reason and Revelation, you have come to the right place!
This last month marked the anniversary of my third year blogging on LDS scholarship and apologetics. Over that time, I have managed to put out 92 posts (not counting this one) on a variety of topics, and I am pleased to say that my audience, though still quite small, has grown considerably. But I have also grown, and with that the aims and purposes of this blog have also been adjusted from time to time. With that in mind, I have decided that it was time for a change. Not just in the look of the blog changed last month (I’ve made such a change once before), but even in the name.

Highlights from Interpreter: Volumes 1-4 (2012-2013)

Back in August of last year I mentioned the new online journal Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, but have not said much about it since. Meanwhile, the folks involved with it have been busily plugging away, methodically publishing one article or book review every week, providing weekly roundtables based on the gospel doctrine lessons, and much more. Some of them break new ground, while others conveniently summarize some of the interesting work that has already been done. I figure with just nine months under its belt and four volumes completed, now was a good time to highlight some of the work being published there. The following will be more or less like that of the “Recommended Reading” segments of my “Reviewing the Review” posts:

The Meaning of the Mystery

Rumaging through old Facebook messages the other day, I came across this little gem sent to friend on August 25, 2010. A few days before that, I had said something in a group conversation about the original meaning of mystery being associated with esoteric rites. He asked if I could send him something on it, so I whipped this up. (Gives you a bit of a peek into what I was busy reading approx. 3 years ago, eh?) Not wanting to loose it in an Inbox clear out, I thought I would post it here, where I'll always be able to find it and  where it may be of some benefit to others. Enjoy!!
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REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 2 (1990)

Overview
Although this is only the second issue, here you can already see the Review taking the form for which it was known for by 2000s. Don’t get me wrong, this issue still consists mostly of standard, run-of-the-mill book reviews, but I was surprised at how many I found containing some valuable insight, giving it merit entirely independent of the book under review. I have recommended here 13 of the 30 articles this issue contains. While a lot of these are still just short reviews of a book (5 of them are under 5 pages in length), several of them are much more than that. There is also plenty of good apologetics in here, with a couple lengthy reviews of anti-Mormon books, or books that seek to explain the Book of Mormon in naturalistic terms. There are also reviews, primarily of Hugh Nibley books, that offer important reflections on the methodology for studying Book of Mormon historicity. A handful of the reviews also cover Book of Mormon geography in a number of ways. Then a number …

Wish Granted! Introducing the BYU New Testament Commentary Project

Back around Christmas time, I created a wish list for things I wished were available, but simply were not. Among other things, I wished for “a good, scholarly edition of the Bible translated by LDS scholars.” Well, it appears that I am about to have my wish granted, at least in part, along with much more. Just today, BYU has unveiled a New Testament Commentary Project. It will involve multiple scholars and will provide a new translation and also offer extensive commentary.
A group of Latter-day Saint scholars has joined forces to produce a multi-volume commentary on the New Testament along with a new rendition of the Greek New Testament texts. Planned to take several years to complete, this  series will combine the best of ancient linguistic and historical scholarship with Latter-day Saint doctrinal perspectives.
The first volume to be published is, perhaps strangely, on the last book in the New Testament, The Apocalypse of St. John, by Richard Draper and Michael Rhodes. It is current…

BLOG UPDATE: MAY 2013

Last week was finals, which means I am done with another semester of school. Despite the fact that I was more dedicated to school this semester than have been in semesters past, I nonetheless managed to stay pretty active on here. In fact, it was the most active I have been for the months of January to April than any previous year of blogging. I hope to keep that up, but this summer marks a transition that will probably impact how often I can blog, and I actually have a lot of exciting opportunities this summer. So, now seemed like a good time to feature an update.

GREG SMITH, JOHN DEHLIN, ROLLO TOMASI, AND THE 100 HOUR BOARD: THE MAXWELL INSTITUTE CONTROVERSY ONCE AGAIN – PART 3

I have, for the most part, tried to publicly stay out of the raging debate about last year’s controversy at the Maxwell Institute. The one blog post I made (at the time) on the subject avoided making any judgments about the decision, or speculating on the many details. In the other blog post I made six months later, I also avoided making any kind of judgment on the decision made at the Maxwell Institute. I have, instead, focused my limited public comments to responding to what others have been saying about the whole hullabaloo (in the first: what others were saying a the paper in the second: what others were saying about Dan Peterson), and I intend to continue that trend today.

Apologetic Notes from General Conference – April 2013

Now, I know that there are much more useful ways to read/listen to conference then with apologetic issues in mind. And I certainly wouldn’t advise that anyone seek out an apologetic message from conference at the expense of other, far more important messages that the General Authorities and the Spirit are trying to communicate. I’ll also grant that things which one, such as myself, might read/hear an apologetic message in are probably, more often than not, not indented apologetically. But, I do think that conference often has some things in it that are useful in our efforts to defend the faith, and so with that in mind I give you these apologetic notes. Some of things are not strictly apologetic, but have some bearing on the matter.

REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 22, ISS. 1 (2010)

Overview
            Like other more recent issues, this issue is rather thin compared to issues from the last decade. The highlight of this issue is the lengthy review of Rod Meldrum’s DNA argument, which seemed to be the top priority of FARMS Review in 2010. In addition to dealing with DNA and the Book of Mormon, topics covered in this Review include Book of Mormon apologetics, literary approaches to the Book of Mormon, the Sermon on the Mount as a Temple text, grace, and plagiarism.

The Greatest Book of Mormon Scholars

The 26th of this month will mark the 183rd anniversary of the publication of the Book of Mormon. Since the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, Latter-day Saints have been producing studies about it. For the first 100-plus years, much of those studies were done by amateurs who lacked any sort of professional training; even for those who did have professional training, many of the scholarly disciplines during that time were too underdeveloped to help lead to any useful, long-standing conclusions. But over the last 70 years or so, Book of Mormon scholarship has been making some huge strides, and there are promising signs for the future of such work.
In celebration of the progress that has been made, I would like to highlight here the Book of Mormon scholars who have been most significant over that time period. This is, of course, a very subjective exercise, and I by no means see myself as creating the definitive list. Others (who may very well be better versed in Book of Mormon schol…

REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 1 (1989)

Overview
With recent events being as they are and no sign of the Review returning anytime soon (though Blair Hodges informs me it will be returning), now seemed like a good time to go back to the beginning. I’m talking about Volume 1. It’s 1989 and I’m only two years old. I live in Colorado Springs, CO. Little do I know that over to the west, in Provo, Utah there was a group of Mormon scholars launching an annual book review that would, in all honesty, change my life. And make no mistake about – the work of “classic FARMS” as it is called, and of Dan Peterson specifically, has changed my life. Now, I’ll grant that without it I would probably still be in the Church. I never had a faith crisis, or anything like that, but the reading of FARMS – and other “Mormon Studies” work which I discovered through FARMS, via the book reviews, or checking the footnotes, etc. – has enriched my faith in important ways; has influenced life decisions (including my resent change in major); and otherwise i…

“Schologetics”: A Response

David Bokovoy, someone who has produced far more scholarship, and participated in more (and better) apologetics, than I have, has recently written a blog post trying to parse between scholarship and apologetics. If I were someone else, I would almost certainly give more weight to Bokovoy than myself. But, alas, I am I, and I have some of my own thoughts which I feel a need to express. Interestingly, the distinction is one that I have had on my mind recently, so Bokovoy’s comments proved timely for me, and responding to him is a good excuse to write out what I have been telling myself I need to write for a week or so now.

Why I Choose to Believe

Preface

Anyone who has read Alma 32 understands that a testimony begins with a “desire to believe.” Once planted, that desire must have space to grow, you must “let that desire work in you” until you can have faith (Alma 32:27). Unfortunately, not everyone who has that desire can let it grow. The thorns and thistles of doubt choke out that seed of faith (Matthew 13:7). Even though they have the desire to believe, they can’t seem to make the choice to believe. Faith can only grow if we choose to let it grow, choose to nourish it. Overtime then it can grow into testimony and ultimately conversion. But for some, their minds are so plagued with doubts that faith doesn’t seem like a viable option. In the face of various challenges – and they may be all kinds of things – they feel that disbelief is their only rational choice. My heart goes out to those who are going through this process right now. The following is written for them, in hopes that it might help them find some way to make the …

REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 19, ISS. 2 (2007)

Overview
I would remiss not to acknowledge that I got the hard copy of this issue from my good friend Stephen Smoot, who just gave it to me out of his good graces, when I most certainly did not deserve such a gift.
This issue of the review features a number of articles on history and remembrance in the Church and gospel, off-set from the rest of the volume by a sub-section introduction from Louis Midgley. This issue also features a number of reviews on Mormon historical subjects, like polygamy and the Mountain Meadows massacre. Other subjects taken up in this issue include such wide ranging topics as the new atheism, Book of Mormon geography, New Testament scholarship, baptism for the dead, and the Joseph Smith Papyri. As usual, this variety ensures that this issue includes something of interest for nearly every connoisseur of Mormon studies.

Rambling Thoughts on First Vision Study Aids

There are some who are disposed to boredom or complacency in the Church because we “always talk about the same things.” And, that is true, we do. But if this bores you, I would suggest you are just not engaging the topics enough on your own. There is wealth of knowledge that can be learned about every subject we study in Church, and an awful lot of supplementary material in terms of scholarly books and articles, which can help you in digging deeper.
Take for instance, the First Vision. Unless my ward or your ward has somehow already managed to get off course for the year, you should be talking about the restoration, with some particular focus on Joseph Smith and his First Vision this week in Sunday School. Instead of rolling your eyes and thinking “We have all heard this story before…” I would encourage you to explore something new about the vision or its historical background.

Understanding the Doctrine and Covenants, the Purpose of History in Church, and "Hidden" History One More Time

The sixth paragraph of the “Explanatory Introduction” to the Doctrine and Covenants explains what is one of my favorite things about this particular book of scripture. “These sacred revelations were received in answer to prayer, in times of need, and came out of real-life situations involving real people.” The relative recentness of these real-life situations brings a forceful sense of reality to the revelations that, I must confess, is sometimes lacking for me when studying more ancient scripture. I feel that because these people had their prayers answered, and their needs met by a responsive God, then I too can pray to God and receive answers; when I need God, he will be there. My own life experience has only confirmed this reality.