In Their Own Language

753 - Current MI Logo

“For it shall come to pass in that day,
that every man shall hear the fullness of the gospel
in his own tongue, and in his own language.”
D&C 90:11


This post begins with a simple question: does the Maxwell Institute (formerly FARMS) publish scholarship that treats the Book of Mormon as an ancient text? Or, in the words of Bill Hamblin, has the new leadership at MI “undermin[ed] ancient Book of Mormon studies” in favor of “modern Mormon Studies in its broadest sense” to the point where the Maxwell Institute today is “Sunstone South”?

It’s a sensitive question, so let me get some caveats out of the way. I’m not an expert in ancient studies of any kind (Book of Mormon, Mesoamerican, Biblical, or other). Additionally, I’m not trying to wade into the larger controversy surrounding the change in leadership, a controversy that involves people I know and respect on both sides. I’m not passing judgment on MI as an institution nor responding to all the criticism raised by Bill Hamblin (and others), some of which are valid. I want to start by just answering one question: has the study of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text survived at MI?

After reviewing the most recent issue Journal of Book of Mormon studies and one of the newest books published by the Maxwell Institute, I can say that it certainly has.

Schooling the Prophet

I’ll start with the book: Schooling the Prophet by Gerald Smith, which was published by MI in August of this year. Smith’s goal is to trace the impact that the Book of Mormon had on the thoughts and beliefs of Joseph Smith. As he writes in the introduction, “It is my thesis that the Book of Mormon had a profound formative influence on Joseph Smith’s doctrinal and institutional development.” In doing so, Gerald Smith takes as an assumption that Joseph Smith translated—as opposed to authored—the text.

Smith acknowledges alternative explanations for the origins of Joseph Smith’s theology, both faithful ones (“Many believers attribute the developments of the restoration directly to revelation from God to the prophet”) and skeptical ones (“Smith’s critics have tried to trace parallels in Mormonism to his contemporary environs and upbringing.”) Smith, however, explicitly sets such alternative considerations aside, writing that “Here I am interested in what kinds of ways the Book of Mormon might have contributed to the schooling of the man who translated it.”

I have invited Gerald Smith to be a guest poster here at Times and Seasons to talk more about his book, so I won’t go into where that analysis takes him. For this post, the important point is that Schooling the Prophet is a book-length analysis of the Book of Mormon text as (1) an ancient text that (2) was translated by Joseph Smith. It is hard to imagine a more serious examination of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text.

Journal of Book of Mormon Studies

Next, I read through the original articles (not the book reviews or notes) within 24th volume of the Maxwell Institutes Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. I was curious to see how each article treated the question of Book of Mormon historicity.

As I read, I sorted each article into one of three categories:

  1. Supportive of Book of Mormon historicity
    These articles either take as an assumption the historicity of the Book of Mormon or support the text’s historicity as a conclusion.
  2. Neutral / silent on Book of Mormon historicity
    These articles work equally well whether the Book of Mormon is a historical text or not.
  3. Critical of Book of Mormon historicity
    These articles either take as an assumption the ahistoricity of the Book of Mormon or detract from the text’s historicity as a conclusion.

I am using “historicity” in an informal sense, where “Book of Mormon historicity” refers to the idea that the Book of Mormon is an authentically ancient text. Clearly there is going to be a degree of subjectivity in my categories. It is also important to state clearly that a decision about how an article relates to the question of historicity is not the same thing as a decision about what the authors think about the question of historicity. One additional caveat: I’m reading these articles with a specific question in mind, and that question is not the question that the articles were written to address. So my comments should not be taken as evaluative in any sense general. I apologize to the authors for wresting their articles out of context a bit. I hope the exercise will justify my decision to do so.

Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon: A Proposed Methodology (Nicholas J. Frederick)

Frederick’s paper is studiously neutral on the question of Book of Mormon historicity. As he states, “It is not the purpose of this paper to evaluate what the textual connections between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon may mean or offer speculation as to why they are present.” Given his objective—to propose a framework for talking about passages in the Book of Mormon which closely match passages from the Bible, including the New Testament—such neutrality is reasonable. Such a proposal will be most effective when it can be used by both skeptics and believers.

It’s also worth noting that the simple act of addressing this sensitive topic in a neutral fashion is, itself, an improvement. As Frederick points out, “The task of identifying New Testament parallels within the Book of Mormon has largely been taken up by those hostile to the Book of Mormon, such as Jerald and Sandra Tanner.” In other words, the standard treatment has been to view textual coincidence between the Book of Mormon and the New Testament as evidence of plagiarism. Neutrality is a step up from that, with respect to historicity.

And so Frederick’s proposed term “biblical interaction” is a carefully neutral one that “shifts the attention away from the troublesome issue of authorship and places the burden of interpretation on the reader while still acknowledging that the biblical authors did have a yet-undefined role in the composition of the text.”

Conclusion: This article is neutral on the question of Book of Mormon historicity.

Samuel’s Reliance on Biblical Language (Shon Hopkin and John Hilton III)

Hopkin and Hilton write that their paper “grows out of a larger project focused on the word patterns of individual speakers in the Book of Mormon.” Clearly, speaking of “individual speakers” is suggestive of an approach that accepts the Book of Mormon’s historicity. They also flatly state that “in this study we take the Book of Mormon as it presents itself,” that is to say: as an ancient document. Hopkin and Hilton’s acceptance in this paper is more than superficial. Their in-depth discussion of Samuel the Lamanite’s background, for example, shows a thorough commitment to the historical nature of the Book of Mormon:

He lived almost six hundred years after the time when the brass plates containing Old Testament writings were first obtained, was almost certainly not connected to the lineage that would have been trained to read and use the plates, and was not part of the Nephite community that had retained the primary biblical and Nephite religious records over the centuries.

Of course it is possible in casual conversation to treat fictional characters as if they were real. We can say, “Harry Potter thought X” or “Luke Skywalker believed Y” (where X and Y are relevant to the plot and themes of their respective stories) and no one supposes that we believe Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker are literally historical figures. However, the more involved the work of discussing a figure’s background becomes and the farther one strays from the text, the more likely it is that such discussion does, in fact, display an acceptance of a figure’s extra-textual reality.

This is not to say the paper is naïvely accepting of the Book of Mormon’s historical claims without awareness of criticisms, however. In a footnote, they refer to treatments of the text as a 19th century text (e.g. by Harold Bloom) as well as to sophisticated data analysis that validates the multiple-author view (and therefore substantiates the claim that the Book of Mormon is a historical document.)

Conclusion: This article offers direct support on the question of Book of Mormon historicity.

Temporality and Fulfillment in 3 Nephi 1 53 (Kimberly M. Berkey)

This article does not deal as directly with the question of historicity as the previous two, but Berkey at several points treats the figures within the Book of Mormon as historical. The strongest example of this is this paragraph discussing Mormon’s role as editor of the Book of Mormon text:

Had Mormon included 3 Nephi 1 at the end of the book of Helaman, modern readers (much like the Nephites) would likely have misunderstood these fulfilled signs to indicate a mere conclusion to Samuel’s story. By positioning this text as he does, Mormon instead editorially alerts us to the proper paradigm for understanding fulfillment, showing that fulfillment is a beginning and inviting us to the task of actively working out those implications.

The contrast of modern readers vs. ancient Nephites and the active descriptions of Mormon’s intentions when editing the Book of Mormon are all suggestive of an actual historical origin for the text, even though the question is not as directly relevant to this article as prior articles.

Conclusion: This article offers tangential support on the question of Book of Mormon historicity.

War Banners: A Mesoamerican Context for the Title of Liberty (Kerry Hull)

Hull’s article is another one that is very strongly supportive of the Book of Mormon as a genuinely ancient document. “In this study,” writes Hull, “I place the title of liberty within a Mesoamerican context to show numerous correspondences to what we know of battle standards in Mesoamerica.”

Not only does Hull take the Book of Mormon’s historical claims seriously enough to begin such a comparison with a Mesoamerican context, but his findings are also supportive of Book of Mormon historicity. As he writes:

Many aspects of the title of liberty ceremony are illuminated when placed in a Mesoamerican context. The use of such banners in ritual and warfare settings—often in fact the same thing in ancient Mesoamerica—is remarkably consistent with nearly all the details in the title of liberty story.

Like both the article by Hopkin and Hilton and the article by Berkey, Hull also treats the figures of the Book of Mormon as historical in passages like this:

What is discounted in locating the rite solely within Old World practices is that the Nephites had been in the New World for over five hundred years, a considerable space of time for cultural change and adaptation. It is not unreasonable to assume that local customs and traditions regarding the ceremonial use of banners would have taken root by that point.

Conclusion: This article offers direct support on the question of Book of Mormon historicity.

The Supremacy of the Word: Alma’s Mission to the Zoramites and the Conversion of the Lamanites (Michael F. Perry)

From our perspective, this article is much like Berkey’s: it neither directly addresses nor hinges upon the question of historicity. And yet, also as with Berkey’s article, the historical nature of the Book of Mormon is taken as a given in passages that treat the figures as historical. For example:

Commentators have long taken for granted that Aminadab’s citation to the teachings of Alma, Amulek, and Zeezrom refers to their mission to the Zoramites. This article agrees with that conclusion, but it is worth considering the textual support for this inference at the outset, since Mormon does not clarify the point explicitly.

The article also refers to “Mormon’s unique editorial decision.” As discussed before, it is quite natural to refer in passing to fictional characters as if they were real when discussing texts in which they appear. But, also as before, the more time one invests in speculating about such characters’ actions outside of what is depicted directly in the text, the more it makes sense to see such discussion as supporting a view of the persons being discussed as historical figures.

Conclusion: This article offers tangential support on the question of Book of Mormon historicity.

Skins as Garments in the Book of Mormon: A Textual Exegesis (Ethan Sproat)

Sproat’s article hinges upon taking the Book of Mormon seriously as an ancient document with Old World influences and even on assumptions of a common linguistic parallels between the Book of Mormon and Old and New Testament texts:

In his nigh-exhaustive Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Skousen claims that the Book of Mormon uses the indefinite article a with the singular skin to refer to animal skins. Skousen specifically points to the use of the indefinite article a in Enos 1:20 (“a short skin”), Alma 43:20 (“a skin”), and 3 Nephi 4:7 (“a lamb-skin”). Intriguingly, this same syntactical pattern also holds true in the KJV, in which the only passages using the indefinite article a with skin are unambiguous references to clothing (see Leviticus 13:48, 51; Mark 1:6). However, Skousen fails to note that other than those three Book of Mormon passages he cites, the only other instance of the indefinite article a preceding skin in the Book of Mormon appears in 2 Nephi 5:21 in which “the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon [the Lamanites].” Skousen’s comparison of Enos 1:20; Alma 43:20; and 3 Nephi 4:7 would appear to suggest that when the text of the Book of Mormon describes “a skin of blackness” in 2 Nephi 5:21, it is referring to something made of animal skin.

It’s hard not to be sidetracked from our present investigation by Sproat’s fascinating thesis—and I can’t urge folks strongly enough to read his article—but for our purposes what matters is the assumption that linguistic analysis of Old and New Testaments texts can be co-mingled with textual analysis of the Book of Mormon.

What is even more supportive of Book of Mormon historicity in Sproat’s article, however, is that his entire thesis rests upon seeing in the Book of Mormon text a historical reality that was present for the original historical context but which no one (including Joseph Smith) has noticed until now. Thus:

In light of these textual observations, I find myself asking a beguilingly simple question: what might be discovered if we follow the contextual lead of Alma 3:5–6—and the syntactical hint in 2 Nephi 5:21—and assume that the other four references to various-colored or cursed skins in the Book of Mormon narrative also refer to certain types of clothing made of animal skin and not to flesh pigmentation at all? It turns out we can discover quite a bit.

The idea that there is a reality to be discovered within the Book of Mormon text of which Joseph Smith was ignorant and which pertains to a historical, Mesoamerican reality, and which can be detected only by linguistic analysis that treats the Book of Mormon text and Biblical texts as arising from similar linguistic traditions all point very strongly to support of the Book of Mormon text as a historical document.

Conclusion: This article offers direct support on the question of Book of Mormon historicity.


Gerald Smith’s Schooling the Prophet and three of the six articles from the 24th volume of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies are strongly supportive of a view of the Book of Mormon as a historical document. Of the remaining three articles, two offer tangential support and one is neutral. None are critical. Have Book of Mormon studies that treat the Book of Mormon as an ancient document been expunged from the Maxwell Institute? Hardly.

Two additional thoughts. First, I am not one of those who treats “apologist” as a pejorative. Christianity has always made bold, historical claims. The physical resurrection of the Savior is the boldest. Mormonism has followed in this vein with its claim of a restoration, including the translation of an ancient text as a sign of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling. The faithful study and defense of these claims is a worthy ambition. However, an apologist—by definition—is a limited calling since it can only defend what is already known. It is possible to both take the Book of Mormon seriously as an ancient text and call into question what we think we know about it. Such a view is not apologetic—and may even be at odds with what some apologists believe—but it can still be fully faithful. Sproat’s article is one such example, since it suggests a radical revisitation of what we think we know about race within the Book of Mormon, but does so not by imposing some alien, secular, skeptical viewpoint on the text but by a completely faithful exploration of the Book of Mormon and Bible as ancient and inspired scripture. In other words: faithful scholarship need not necessarily lead us in comfortable or familiar places.

Second, I believe that the scripture I quoted at the outset (D&C 90:11) applies not only to literal languages (such as Spanish vs. English vs. Chinese) but also to ways of talking and thinking. Different disciplines come with their own terminology, their own shared assumptions, and their own preferences and values. Perhaps even more than that, different kinds of people (different in temperament, aptitude, inclination, interests, etc.) may gravitate towards different disciplines and professions. Incorporating these different perspectives can be difficult and risky, but a truly multilingual approach to Book of Mormon studies—and to Mormon studies in general—is worth the cost. The promise that we can all hear the fullness of the gospel in our own language encompasses more than just translating the Book of Mormon into many spoken languages. It also includes a multi-faceted faith that is capable and willing of presenting itself to diverse audiences with their own “tongues.”

I have no wish to register any opinion on the over-arching controversies that have embroiled the Maxwell Institute over the last few years. But I am happy to see that Book of Mormon studies continues to be alive and well, and—to the extent that a broader approach can help broaden the appeal of Mormonism—I am supportive of that initiative as well.


UPDATE: I changed my categorization of the articles from strongly/weakly supportive to offering direct / tangential support following Julie Smith’s suggestion in the first comment.

28 comments for “In Their Own Language

  1. Julie M. Smith
    December 7, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    “However, an apologist—by definition—is a limited calling since it can only defend what is already known. It is possible to both take the Book of Mormon seriously as an ancient text and call into question what we think we know about it. Such a view is not apologetic—and may even be at odds with what some apologists believe—but it can still be fully faithful.”

    Yes! This is so important and well-articulated.

    One little quibble with your post: I wish you had described some of the articles as offering “tangential support” for historicity instead of “weak support.” To me, weak support is something like “here are five reasons for historicity and four against it,” which isn’t the case here. “Tangential support” is “my point here isn’t historicity at all, but you can tell from what I write that it undergirds my work.”

  2. December 7, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    Very nice, Nathaniel. Would that more controversies were answered with data.

    I suppose one response to your analysis might be that the substance may not have changed, but that the way the MI represents itself or communicates to the world at large suggests an alarming shift in values. Another response might be that the MI still publishes some traditional scholarship, but has broadened its scope to now include skeptical work that would never have been published before. But I’d have to see actual examples before I thought there was any substance to these responses.

  3. December 7, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Nice discussion, Nathaniel, although I’m sure some die-hard apologists will still see the new MI as wolves in sheep’s clothing. But they tend to see anyone not on the apologetic payroll as wolves in sheep’s clothing. The new MI publications have certainly broadened the author pool and the spectrum of discussion. And traditional FARMS-style apologetics seems to be doing just fine at FAIRMormon and Interpreter. Seems like a pretty good deal for the broad LDS reading audience, which is likely to be interested in both the new MI approach and the apologetics approach, depending on the topic.

  4. December 7, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks, Julie. That’s a much better way to express what I was going for. I’ve edited the article to make that change and left an update to let people know that the change was made at your suggestion. Appreciate it!

  5. December 7, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Thanks, Jonathan.

    I think there are many plausible responses to my post, and that’s one reason that I tried to make clear that it’s not intended as a definitive post. It answers a narrow question (Is there scholarship going that takes the BoM seriously as an ancient text?), but leaves unaddressed many additional questions that are relevant and important, such as: can skeptical and faith-affirming scholarship really co-exist at the same venue over a long time period?

    Or, for example, the questions you raised about the possibility that there is a shift in values, etc.

    Which goes to Dave’s comment a bit.

    I confess to being irritated at phrases like “the apologetic payroll” as unhelpful and unwarranted. And to me the phrase “die-hard apologists” still sounds more like a compliment than I think you intended. The defense of core doctrines (including a historical defense when necessitated by the doctrinal commitments) is a worthy endeavor. I appreciate the work apologists do in general, and continue to believe that they have valid concerns as relates to the general MI controversy.

  6. Clark Goble
    December 7, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    Well said Nathaniel. Curious as to how critics of MI respond on this. My sense is that the divide was more one of focus than absolutism although maybe I’m wrong in that.

    I also think Dave is wrong that apologists only want apologetics. I don’t think that’s true of anyone. I do think they felt like there should be more of a focus on such matters and question de-contextualized readings or readings that focus on reading response. But again, maybe I’m misreading them.

  7. Brad L
    December 7, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    Provocative post, Nathaniel. Hamblin is glibly dismissive. Historicity arguments clearly live strong at MI, as you show.

    However, you should probably rephrase your definition of apologist.

    an apologist—by definition—is a limited calling since it can only defend what is already known

    An apologist by definition is someone who defends what is already known about the historical claims of a particular organization or group. I agree with you that “apologist” shouldn’t be understood as a pejorative label. However, I think that more LDS people should accept the fact that they are apologists for the LDS church, including yourself, many of the permabloggers at T&S, and many of the commenters. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it is just that when someone spends a good deal of time defending the traditional claims about nature and history of the LDS church, they are acting as an apologist.

  8. BHodges
    December 7, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    Nathaniel, this is a great post and I appreciate your writing it. I hope it can help clear up some of the questions people have about what the Maxwell Institute has been doing the past two years. I hope more people take the time to check out what we’re producing in order to join the conversation about our work and that we can set some of the identity politics aside.

    Jonathan Green: “the way the MI represents itself or communicates to the world at large suggests an alarming shift in values. Another response might be that the MI still publishes some traditional scholarship, but has broadened its scope to now include skeptical work that would never have been published before.”

    I’d be interested to hear more about this personally, but because it takes the discussion down a different trail than the one this post is walking on it may be best to just contact me directly or initiate another discussion. My email address is blairhodges at buy dot edu and I’m the Institute’s communications specialist. I’ve been a longtime follower of the Maxwell Institute (since before I came to work here), so I have a decent grasp on how it has communicated to the world at large over time. I don’t believe an alarming shift in values has taken place, but there have definitely been some changes. I’m interested to know more about what people think has changed, what they think about how the Institute communicates, etc. Also, it’s indisputable that we’ve published things that had been previously rejected, but degrees of skepticism aren’t the difference maker as far as I’ve seen. Heather Hardy’s JBMS article about 3 Nephi and Joe Spencer’s piece on the Bhagavad Gita and the Book of Mormon were both turned down by the previous editor of JBMS (I hope they don’t mind me so saying). I’d be happy to discuss this with anyone who is interested, but I don’t want to further hijack the thread.

  9. Clark Goble
    December 7, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    Brad L, I honestly think too many people tar apologetics in general because of a relatively small number of papers from FARMS classic days. It’s kind of annoying really. I think a problem with FARMS back in the day was too much snark and taking things too personal. But the critics often do exactly the same thing they accuse FARMS of. It’s weird as quite a few regular people at the main blogs through the years have contributed to apologetics.

    By the same token it always seemed odd to paint MI with a broad brush because of a few posts that just bracketed historic questions. Again there’s a level of hypocrisy since they don’t like it when that is done for them.

  10. December 7, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    Clark Goble, I think a lot of people dislike the apologetics of all religions, not just Latter-day Saint ones. Ask Bill Nye. I think some see it as inauthentic to appear to use scientific methodology to justify unscientific conclusions, which, for many, is what apologetics seem like they do. We live in an increasingly relativistic society, so I think defenders of the faith, whatever faith that is, do not have the support they once did. When is the last time you saw a Spanish Inquisitor as the hero in a story?

    Not that apologetics are at ALL like the Spanish Inquisition; I’m not trying to invoke Godwin’s law. I’m just pointing out that there is less and less support for unquestioning defense of a belief system. By its nature, that’s what apologetics is, and what separates it from honest inquiry.

  11. December 8, 2015 at 1:24 am


    I believe it is a kind of category failure to state that apologetics is essentially “unquestioning defense of a belief system.” The characterization as “unquestioning” goes to the process of thought that precedes a conclusion, but apologetics is defined not by process, but by conclusion: the defense of a belief.

    In other words: apologetics can be “unquestioning defense” or it can also be well-reasoned defense that comes after a lot of questioning. That, for example, is C. S. Lewis’s reputation. I think no one would doubt that he was an apologist, and very few would argue that he was “unquestioning.” At best, it seems beside the point.

    In the end, writing of apologetics as “unquestioning defense” is basically the same as dismissing all faith as “blind belief.” These are caricatures. Nothing more. (The fact that they may be in vogue doesn’t make them any more respectable.)

  12. Clark Goble
    December 8, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Further ones apologetic argument can be held rather tentatively, much as in science one holds a theory tentatively. The attitude towards the beliefs and arguments matter a lot and there’s quite a bit of variety there. The portrayal of apologists as simply clawing onto an idea they don’t want to loose at all costs is a caricature. Typically they have arguments for why they should hold to a belief. Even if they may hold a belief tentatively or even weakly they may find the arguments against the belief problematic. As such apologetics can have a structure rather similar to what happens within science where counterarguments for a theory have to be considered. (A rather common type of criticism a reviewer often makes when you submit a paper to a journal for instance)

    The portrayal by critics is often that apologetics is anti-inquiry rather than being an important part of inquiry. The really underlying issue is much more that the reasons for a belief are not agreed upon due to the private/public evidence distinction. Which is understandable but renders a lot of agreement difficult. The demonization of apologetics is IMO much more about anger over holding a belief for private evidence reasons.

    Regarding relativism, that’s an interesting point. I’d say that relativism of various sorts ends up encouraging an apologetic stance merely without the apologetic arguments. After all relativism, especially of the sort that one finds in strains of anthropology the past 50 years, more or less dislikes engagement between societies to adjudicate truth. Effectively that means that ones beliefs are untouchable. It ends up supporting a certain type of apologetic mindset. Ironically a type that bears more closeness to the caricature of apologetics.

    Say what one will about tone, but a lot of apologetics is typically trying to argue on the grounds of ones opponents. So to the degree relativism undermines apologetics it is because it devalues that very move of arguing on a common basis. Within most (but not all) Mormon apologetics there really is a strong sense of a common ground of scientific inquiry. So the defenses and critiques are made from that stance. A relativist dislikes the very idea of a common universal scientific ground. Now many apologists might critique somewhat certain positivist assumptions made by critics. But it’s important to note that there’s a huge middle ground between positivism and relativism.

    Fundamentally the assumption that apologetics is unquestioning is just wrong. Often different apologists will simply disagree over the very constituents of their religion. So there are two moves – the defense for a position but also different interpretations that may raise into question those particular positions. I think it very hard if not impossible to do good apologetics if one is unquestioning. It is through questioning that we see the problems with may interpretations or attacks.

  13. athena
    December 8, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Nathaniel, you say that “Christianity has always made bold historical claims,” the physical resurrection of Jesus being the boldest. If I can chime in here, Christianity, like most faith traditions, make “faith” claims. The physical resurrection of Christ, Paul’s conversion, the Christmas story, the gospels, are faith accounts and claims, not historical ones.

    I think mirrorrorrim makes a good point about the scientific method. Faith claims cannot be proven or disproven by the scientific method but neither can the scientific method be used to prove an unscientific conclusion, or “faith” claim.

    On another note, I am a little confused by this post about the determination of some to push on with the study of the BoM as an ancient and historical text. I am still recovering from the shock and anger that I am no longer a literal descendant of Laman, or Hagoth. I think one can argue and sound as reasonable as they like, but as long as it doesn’t affect their identity, know that they are meddling with other’s identity and that their claims better be scientifically proven ones.

  14. December 8, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    Clark Goble: why you’re wrong, at least inasmuch as the Maxwell Institute is concerned. Would the Maxwell Institute ever publish a paper concluding that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is incorrect? The answer, of course, is no. Hence, unquestioning defense of a belief system. I do not question that many of the individual contributors at the Maxwell Institute are honest inquirers who have sincere doubts, and are seeking to explain how they overcame those doubts. Individually, their contributions may contain all of the components you state. Collectively, though, they are a mechanism for institutional defense, not open inquiry.

    Nathaniel Givens does a very good job of proving they are not Sunstone South. Until they are open to publishing Sunstone’s wide variety of views, they cannot be considered to be following scientific methodology, just as would be true of any periodical that refused to publish peer-reviewed studies if they deviated from a pre-approved list of theories.

    The very fact that they had no articles disagreeing with the literal historicity of The Book of Mormon might suggest how extensive their predetermined limitations are.

  15. December 8, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    “the determination of some to push on with the study of the BoM as an ancient and historical text.” Is this because you have determined it is not ancient and historical?

    “their claims better be scientifically proven ones.” I think *most* claims are not scientifically provable. And many scientific “facts” are not self-interpreting.

  16. December 8, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    I think that’s somewhat non-sequitor, mirror.

  17. Clark Goble
    December 8, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    Mirrormirror, you are conflating belief with editorial focus. The reason the MI wouldn’t publish a paper that the Church is wrong is because the focus is different. Further the main people at the MI most likely believe that the Church is correct. However the significance of that seems non-existence. It’s like complaining that a biology journal doesn’t publish work on material science.

    Open inquiry is a social system and seems a much broader question than what any one particular journal does. To say that open inquiry requires agreeing with all perspectives strikes me as odd.

  18. Clark Goble
    December 8, 2015 at 6:27 pm

    Athena, proof really isn’t part of science. We can talk about preponderance of evidence. We talk about verification and falsification. But proof is something they do in mathematics. Science deals with fallible theories that we consider to have differing degrees of strength. It’s really not hard to find scientific theories scientists were confident about for years that then end up rejected when the evidence compels it.

    If you’re looking for certainty or proof you simply won’t find it in science. I think science is arguably one of our strongest ways of knowing. But let’s understand what science is.

  19. Brad L
    December 8, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    unquestioning defense of a belief system

    I get where you are coming from, mirror. However, you do need to rephrase this a bit. Mormon apologetics won’t ever draw conclusions that are diametrically opposed to a set number of central claims of the LDS leaders (if it did, then it wouldn’t be apologetic). Apologetics is constructed based on the assumption that these central claims are true. But that doesn’t mean that apologists don’t question the truthfulness of these claims in their prose.

  20. December 8, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Ben S., no, I personally believe strongly in the historicity of The Book of Mormon. That’s not an issue for me. But it seems like more Latter-day Saints, including active Sunday participants, do not, particularly the more scientific and scholarly ones. And I think there are plenty of valid reasons they believe that. Clark Goble talked about how “different apologists will simply disagree over the very constituents of their religion.” If that is true, the historicity issue seems like a prime area for that disagreement to be demonstrated. Sorry you feel this is non sequitur. The second quote was from Athena, not me, so I won’t address it.

    Clark Goble, I’m not conflating the two. Like I said, I am not trying to question the sincerity of apologists themselves, at all. When a certain publication only includes a pre-specified sampling of conclusions, no matter how those conclusions originally came about, the publication has the effect of reinforcing a certain preconceived notion. I think your analogy is flawed. A better one would be an environmental science publication that will not publish any papers that support the idea of human-made climate change. Are there lots of sincere, intelligent people who don’t believe in global warming? I believe yes (I think you disagreed on this point in the other thread; feel free to reverse the analogy if that’s better for you). However, if all of their opinions are gathered together based on that specific criteria, their work, whatever its original intention, or the process behind it, becomes, due to its editorial formatting, literature reinforcing a predetermined viewpoint, and therefore unscientific. This is true even if each article would individually be an entirely scientific work.

    And that’s what many people don’t like, since such publications otherwise often purport to take a rational approach.

    That’s all I’m trying to say, that I don’t think most opponents of Latter-day Saint apologetics dislike them because of a few poorly-written papers from the early days, although they may use those as convenient examples of the larger reasons for their dislike. I think it’s the more general idea of apologetics that many people oppose.

    Personally, if done in good faith, I find apologetics interesting, as long as they are taken for what they are. Every person who believes in the supernatural has reasons behind that belief, as well as reasons they feel that belief can be harmonized with the natural world most people perceive. It is interesting to see into others’ thought processes, when they are presented sincerely. Many apologetics are not, of course, but that’s true of arguments in general. I don’t think apologists are more guilty of ignoring evidence or proof-texting than my daily Facebook feed, or a standard Sunday school lesson of any denomination I have ever attended.

  21. December 8, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    First paragraph, *more and more*, not *more*. I’m not trying to imply that most Latter-day Saints don’t believe The Book of Mormon is historical. I’m pretty sure the opposite is true. But, while they are a minority, there are more and more who are questioning its historicity.

    Brad L., for me, the structure supersedes the prose. Presenting questions about the truth of something with the intent of answering the question in the affirmative, for me, is entirely different than asking a traditional question. The latter is a quest for truth; the former is a rhetorical device. And like I have said two or three times, I am not at all claiming to be able to look into the mind or soul of any writer individually, or even a set collectively. My comments are structural in nature, not personal.

  22. Brad L
    December 8, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    Christianity, like most faith traditions, make “faith” claims. The physical resurrection of Christ, Paul’s conversion, the Christmas story, the gospels, are faith accounts and claims, not historical ones.

    There is a no difference between a “faith” claim and a “historical” claim. They are one in the same. We have every indication that those who claimed that Jesus resurrected meant that he actually rose from the dead and that his body came back to life. In fact, it appears that these early believers in Jesus’ resurrection believed based on what they thought was evidence, multiple witness statements, empty tomb, etc.

  23. Brad L
    December 8, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    mirror, again, I get where you’re coming from in saying that apologetics is a rhetorical device and not a quest for truth. But I know what the apologetic response is to that, and it is something along the lines of: it is impossible for humans to think and speak about a given topic without a set of assumptions in mind. It is just that some of us are more honest about what those assumptions are.

  24. athena
    December 11, 2015 at 9:45 am

    Clarke Goble, by scientific method I’m referring to historical criticism. Establishing what happened by
    critically analyzing sources.

    Brad L, faith claims are not the same as historical claims. Just because I make a claim about what I believe, does not make it a historical claim, it just means that my words can be found on that date and if we fast forward a hundred years, it becomes history, or something said in the past. What is true is that I said it on that date because we have evidence of it.

  25. Clark Goble
    December 11, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    Mirrorrorrim (20) I think if you read through much apologetics you’ll see a wide range of disagreements historically. For instance Nibley seemed less comfortable with the limited geographic model for instance. (I remember in class him handing out a paper on how far people could run – this was in the early 90’s before the limited geographic model became ubiquitous) But on many historical issues apologists disagree. I suspect most adopt a scientific view such that the universal interpretations of a 7000 year Adam or a global flood are rejected. Sadly though some papers were published in FARMs that seemed to embrace a more ID oriented skepticism of such science – although I think they were minority views.

    In any case I don’t think anyone pretends that apologetics are open to all views. After all merely by definition an apologist presents apologetic arguments. So if you’re point is just that apologists and apologetic outfits presuppose the truth of Mormonism I’d tend to agree. Although I’d also note that both FARMS and MI have published things by non-members and thus unbelievers. But maybe I’m just not understanding your point.

    It seems to me that you’re trying to have it both ways. That is to say that for apologists to be seeking for truth they have to admit things they think are false. But again this seems to conflate the conclusions with the reason for the belief.

    Athena (24) that’s fine. I’d just note that I think very little history is science. Most bears far more resemblance to literary criticism.

  26. athena
    December 12, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Clarke Goble, depends whose history you’re referring to. Also, some historical criticisms including apologetics unfortunately display very weak literary criticism and mythologies that in the end resemble nothing but ingenious implausibilities. Historical criticism relies very much on science (or should). For example archeological finds within the last century and a half has provided biblical scholars valuable critical tools and methods for understanding cultures and languages. We know so much more about the Bible and what the biblical authors meant when they wrote because of the contributions of science. Of course historians, like apologists and theologians etc come with their biases (and some, axes to grind) that in the end will find what they want to find.

  27. athena
    December 12, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    methodologies, not mythologies.

  28. Terry H
    December 12, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Wow. This week was a bear, so I must have missed this. Too late for me to jump on, but for my two cents, one of the most valuable things was Paul Owens’ article in the 2014 JBMS about 1 Nephi and apostacy. Owens, of course, is an evangelical scholar who certainly does not believe in the Book of Mormon’s truth claims or in the Restoration, but for him to critique it respectfully and seriously is a plus. In the SBA, there was some harsh criticism of the BYUNTC volume on Revelations that was honest, direct and (at least in some cases) deserved. The “classic” FARMS had those issues with the interaction between Owen & Mosser and several others in 1999 and another round with Michael Heiser and David Bokovoy in 2007 about “Ye are Gods”. These are important forums and provide the best opportunity to engage with arguments (intellectual) for and against the Book of Mormon and other Restoration scriptures and doctrines. As Hugh Nibley said, “We need more anti-Mormon books, they keep us on our toes”. I appreciate the intellectual honesty that publishes both sets and I disagree with those who attack the Maxwell Institute (and FARMS back in the day) for doing so. I also don’t view “apologist” as a negative, but I do view “ignorant and/or dishonest apologist” as such. Refusing to acknowledge or engage serious scholarship is a disservice to everyone.

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