Monday, September 30, 2013

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.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

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 evidence for the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica), but all the best books have these sorts of sections (though they don’t all span across more than 100 pages!). Understanding the method being applied is an important part of evaluating the quality of the arguments, and understanding how to subsequently apply those arguments and evidences. (Even good evidence/arguments can be misused when there is a lack of methodological rigor.)

Friday, September 13, 2013

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.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

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 subject for several decades. Second, it means to get the full picture, you ought to read all of them.

Friday, September 6, 2013

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 trace. By 180, when I project that the total Christian population first passed the 100,000 mark there would finally have been enough Christians so that it is probably that traces of their existence would survive.” (p. 9)
This raises a number of interesting questions about archaeology and what it can and cannot tell us about Scriptural history.