Book of Mormon Historicity Discussion in Sunstone

The past eight issues of Sunstone (March 2004 through November 2005) have hosted a spirited discussion about Book of Mormon historicity. Our decision to put together a Sunstone issue with several views on the subject was prompted by notoriety over DNA findings challenging Mormon assumptions about Amerindian origins that was enjoying a renewed news cycle in late 2003 and early 2004 because of the near-excommunication of Thomas Murphy, who first reported on these findings and suggested that these conclusions would force a reconsideration of LDS belief and understanding about the Book of Mormon.

We weren’t anticipating that the energy created by the articles and column in the March 2004 issue would spur the number of responses—in letters to the editor as well as fresh essays and articles—that it did, lasting until our most recent issue where I made the decision to end the discussion in the magazine and move it to SunstoneBlog.com. I chose to invoke a moratorium based on a significant number of trusted friends and advisors who were saying “enough already,” but also because letters and submissions were becoming far more technical and narrowly focused than the earlier pieces, challenging specifics from previous pieces and assuming that readers would have read (and remember in detail) the article or essay they were problemetizing. Blogging seems to me to the perfect medium for discussions of very specific points, but I’m very open to publishing more on the Book of Mormon controversy in the magazine when fresh new ideas and approaches to the question arise—something that I hope will happen in the conversations here.

In order to facilitate the discussion, I’ve created links to pdfs of all the Sunstone articles, essays, columns, editorials, and letters to the editor that are part of this discussion of Book of Mormon historicity. I hope many of you will read, enjoy, and want to comment on these discussions and related issues.

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Links and a quick guide to each:

March 2004 Sunstone:

Reframing the Book of Mormon. A one-page introduction to the articles on the Book of Mormon that follow

Reinventing Lamanite Identity. This short article by Brent Lee Metcalfe is, in essence, a query as to whether the “tail is wagging the dog” when it comes to current views of the Book of Mormon within the Church. In other words, are FARMS scholars and others who are trumpeting limited geography/small population models creating new doctrine that flies in the face of the book’s own understanding of itself as well as past prophetic understanding of it?

Now What?. In this short article, Trent D. Stephens problemetizes some of the assumptions about the scope of the DNA challenges to the Book of Mormon. Are the conclusions based on testable hypotheses? And if so, how might one weigh the evidence they find compelling? What limitations are there on science and religion that might come into play as one deliberates over the evidence?

A Malay Site for Book of Mormon Events. In an attempt to show that not everyone is convinced by the Mesoamerican, limited-geography model, we chose to present in very brief form the interesting work of Ralph A. Olsen, who believes that one should look to the Malay Peninsula as the location of Book of Mormon events. Olsen’s much larger study can be found here.

The Book of Mormon as Symbolic History: A New Perspective on Its Place in History and Religion. Our introduction to this article by C. Jess Groesbeck: “Deeply influenced by Jungian psychology with its ideas about archetypal patterns in human experience, and by his own lifelong interest in shamanism and ancient healing practices, Groesbeck advances a grand theory of the Book of Mormon as “symbolic history.” In dialogue with historians of religion and students of mythic structures, Groesbeck’s article lays the groundwork for understanding the Book of Mormon as powerful and true in the most important ways while explaining the limitations facing all approaches that attempt to fix the Book of Mormon in any literal historical or social setting.”

Inventing Galileo. This essay is Thomas Murphy’s explanation of events surrounding the publication of his essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon in the book American Apocrypha and what he considers to be misrepresentations of his work, especially in relation to the idea that he considers himself the “Mormon Galileo” and whether the DNA/Book of Mormon controversy is a “Galileo event” in Mormon history.

May 2004 Sunstone:

Letters to the Editor and On Wagging the Dog. Letters regarding the pieces in the March 2004 issue by Preston Bissell, Gary Rumler, and Dan Vogel (with a response by Trent D. Stephens), plus a response essay to Brent Lee Metcalfe’s article by Kevin Christensen.

“A Real Fight.” Editorial on why I enjoy vigorous exchanges on issues like Book of Mormon historicity.

July 2004 Sunstone:

Letters to the Editor. Letters by Clair Barrus, Benjamin H. Layman, and Dan Vogel.

December 2004 Sunstone:

Assessing the Logical Structure of DNA Arguments against the Book of Mormon. This short essay by Blake T. Ostler really reinvigorated the discussion. In it, Ostler, like Stephens did earlier, problemitizes the strength of the DNA evidence contra Book of Mormon historicity but with philosophical assessments of the logic the arguments used.

March 2005 Sunstone:

Letters to the Editor. An onslaught of letters in response to Ostler’s challenge, with Ostler responses to each. Letter writers are: Thomas W. Murphy, David H. Bailey, Steve Oakey, Michael J. Barrett, Doug Ward, and Ralph A. Olsen.

On the Death of Nephi. Editorial on why I’ve decided that I don’t want to rush to judgment on the Book of Mormon historicity question.

Is a “Paradigm Shift” in Book of Mormon Studies Possible?. Dan Vogel’s critique of what he sees as misuse of Thomas Kuhn’s notion of “paradigm shifts” by Book of Mormon apologists.

May 2005 Sunstone:

Letters to the Editor. Letters and responses by Robert A. Rees, Tom Kimball, David H. Bailey, and Roger Terry.

DNA Strands in the Book of Mormon/The Ancient Book of Mormon as Tribal Narrative. Part II of Blake Ostler’s contribution to clarifying what he believes are the salient issues regarding DNA and historicity. Instead of logical structure and philosophical issues, this article focuses much more directly on scriptural exegesis and ways one might approach discrepencies between what the text says about itself and what science shows to be pretty much incontrovertible and the teachings of LDS leaders. This article also contains a short piece (run as a sidebar) by D. Michael Quinn in which he tells the story of his own journey with the Book of Mormon and how he came to read it as a “tribal narrative” much in the same way he reads the Bible. We ran Quijnn’s piece within the same article because Ostler tells of a similar tale to Quinn’s of his own coming to view the Book of Mormon, especially the Book of Ether, as a ” dynastic history.”

September 2005 Sunstone:

Letters to the Editor. Letters by Dan Vogel and David A. Anderson (with a response by Ostler to the Anderson letter).

DNA Uber-Apologetics: Overstating Solutions—Understating Damages. Simon Southerton’s response to arguments of Ostler and Quinn, defense of misrepresentations of his intent in writing Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, and his parsing of the current dilemma facing the Church with regard to the Book of Mormon.

November 2005 Sunstone:

Letters to the Editor. Letters by John D. Gustav-Wrathall (tangentially connected to Ostler and the arguments at play in recent Sunstone issues), Larry Morris, and Blake T. Ostler (responding to Southerton’s September 2005 article).

Determining What is “Real”. As stated in an earlier blog post, this piece by Kevin Christensen began primarily as a response to Dan Vogel's essay on Thomas Kuhn and the notion of 'paradigm shifts' (Sunstone, March 2005), but through the editing process became much more an account of his journey through Book of Mormon studies and the kind of epistemology he applies. It shares examples that illustrate why it might be wise to never rush to judgment when the latest science or history or archaeology upsets one's previously held sense of things.

Toward a New Reading of the Book of Mormon. As stated in that same earlier blog post, this article by Dennis Potter is a bit more technical than is typical for Sunstone, dealing with how different theories of truth operate in different discourses and how difficult it is to talk across the divide between them. Potter explores scientific realism and logical realism?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùand gives objections to both. He then suggests new ways to look at the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Äúmost notably, a 'post-liberal' approach, which he defines as one that lets the book be judged on its own (not scientific, not logical) criteria. It reminds us that it is a serious matter to favor one worldview and its methodologies and logic and forget that it's not the only set of questions for approaching things.

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Dan Wotherspoon
Editor, Sunstone

27 comments

  1. Dan Vogel says:

    CAN OSTLER SAVE BOOK OF MORMON HISTORICITY?
    by Dan Vogel

    [The following response to Blake Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s second essay on the DNA/Book of Mormon issue has been posted here at the suggestion of Dan Wotherspoon. My thanks to Ron Priddis and Brent Metcalfe for their helpful comments. DV.]

    I applaud Blake Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s candor in admitting that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthere is no such thing as Book of Mormon archaeology unless and until we find something that can be directly linked to the text somewhere,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù but he should also be willing to admit that the Book of Mormon makes no direct connection with the Old World either. As expressed in his previous essay, Ostler bases his belief in the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s antiquity on parallels drawn from Hebrew culture (SUNSTONE, Dec. 2004, 71, 72 n. 6). Apparently, he is unimpressed with similar parallels that John Sorenson, Brant Gardner, John Clark, and others have made between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica. Why the double standard? Ostler gives no clue. Disappointingly, this kind of contradiction and incoherence appears frequently in Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s presentation.
    Another major flaw that appears repeatedly is when Ostler insists (seven times, in fact) that we ?¢‚Ǩ?ìassess [the Book of Mormon] based on what it says and not on what others say about it,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù including Joseph Smith. But this is a distinction without a difference since no text speaks for itself. Ostler apparently holds the naive view that texts can be assessed independent of interpretation. While one might distinguish between exegetical and eisegetical readings, or internalist and externalist readings, there is no such thing as an interpretation-free reading. Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s assertion, that he is not interpreting and his opponents are, is simply false. His special pleading becomes especially apparent when he can cite no explicit mention of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìindigenous others?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in the Book of Mormon but relies solely on implied meanings of vaguely worded passages. Ostler contradicts himself when he later argues that various passages are ?¢‚Ǩ?ìbest read as assuming the existence of others already in the land with whom the Nephites and Lamanites interacted, intermarried, and became assimilated.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Both apologists and critics bring assumptions to the text, but the question is which set of assumptions best fits the text and the assumed historical setting in which the book was produced?

    INDIGENOUS OTHERS

    Ostler admits that it ?¢‚Ǩ?ìrequires careful reading to detect?¢‚Ǩ¬ù the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìindigenous others?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s text. Actually, Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s interpretations do not derive from a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcareful reading?¢‚Ǩ¬ù but are filtered and constructed by an assumption that the Lehites/Mulekites lived in a sub-cultural setting with non-Israelites in a small region of America ?¢‚Ǩ?ìabout the size of Palestine.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Hence, his observations of the text are theory-laden; in other words, he begs the question because his interpretations assume what they are trying to prove. As I will show, Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s assumptions not only dictate what he sees in the text, but also permit him to see what is not there.

    Skin Color Not a Result of Intermarriage

    Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s argument that the change in the Lamanites?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ skin color is evidence of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìintermarriage with indigenous populations?¢‚Ǩ¬ù contradicts what the Book of Mormon says of itself, which is a misstep he claimed he was not going to make. The text does not say the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcurse?¢‚Ǩ¬ù of a dark skin came upon Laman?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s and Lemuel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s descendants because they had broken the covenant by ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmixing seed?¢‚Ǩ¬ù with non-Israelites. The reverse is the case: the curse of a dark skin comes upon those (presumably Nephites) who mix their seed with Laman?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s and Lemuel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s (2 Nephi 5:23). Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s observation that in the Bible ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmixing seed?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is an ?¢‚Ǩ?ìidiom for marriage with foreigners?¢‚Ǩ¬ù might be correct, but that is not how it is used in the Book of Mormon. Already one can see how Ostler is reading not only colors the text but distorts it as well.
    Ostler is at odds with the text when he says ?¢‚Ǩ?ìNephi interprets this change of skin color as a curse.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Nephi is not simply inferring from casual observation but speaks prophetically: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAnd thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people. … And the Lord spake it, and it was done?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (2 Nephi 5:22). Ironically, in an effort to defend the book?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s historicity, Ostler finds it necessary to deny one of its miracles as well as the inspiration of one of its prophets by substituting a naturalistic explanation. Thus, Ostler provides us with an example of how interpretation and what the text says are inseparable, for it is not Nephi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinterpretation?¢‚Ǩ¬ù that is being discussed, but Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s. His interpretation is that Nephi is describing things differently than how they really happened. Can Ostler give us a reason why we should prefer his interpretation over Nephi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s?
    Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s methodology is no better when he discusses Jacob?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s sermon against ?¢‚Ǩ?ìconcubines?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmany wives?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Jacob 2). He asks: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWhere did all of these wives come from??¢‚Ǩ¬ù and then argues: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìIt seems to me that the text once again presupposes an influx of others from an already existing population.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù However, this is not the most logical inference. If one is limited by what the text says, one might conclude, as did M. T. Lamb in 1887, that the anomaly points to the author?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s historical naivete and bombastic style of writing (M. T. Lamb, The Golden Bible; or, The Book of Mormon. Is It from God? [New York: Ward & Drummond, 1887], 116-17). Even the best of writers make this kind of mistake and without clear reference to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìothers,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù resolving the anomaly as Ostler does is an example of circular reasoning and goes beyond what the text itself says.
    It does not matter if Jacob?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s use of the term ?¢‚Ǩ?ìabomination?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in reference to the unauthorized practice of polygamy is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìconsistent with the Hebrew crime of breach of covenant by intermarrying with populations outside the covenant,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù as Ostler claims, because that is not how the Book of Mormon uses the term; in fact, the term appears throughout the text with a variety of meanings, but never, so far as I can determine, with the definition Ostler has given. Ostler fails to explain why these Jews, who supposedly find dark skin ?¢‚Ǩ?ìloathsome,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù so quickly intermarry with Amerasians. If Jacob is criticizing his brethren for marrying non-Israelites, why doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t he mention God?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s curse of a dark skin coming upon their seed? Instead, he tells the Nephite sinners that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Jacob 3:5; emphasis added). Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s assertion that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìwithin one or two generations, both the Lamanites and the Nephites had begun to intermarry with others from a preexisting population of ?¢‚ǨÀúindigenous others?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢?¢‚Ǩ¬ù does not come from a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcareful reading?¢‚Ǩ¬ù of the text as he claims, but rather from speculative inferences drawn from vague and problematic texts.
    Finally, Ostler cites Jacob?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s speaking to a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìquite large?¢‚Ǩ¬ù assembly of his ?¢‚Ǩ?ìbrethren?¢‚Ǩ¬ù at the temple (2 Nephi 6-10) as evidence that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe text presupposes there had been an influx of people into the Nephite population.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù While the text gives no details about the size of this gathering, Jacob refers to them as the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhouse of Israel?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (6:5). The only ?¢‚Ǩ?ìGentiles?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Jacob mentions are latter-day Gentiles. This means one cannot resolve the anomaly by including indigenous others–and again, Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s reasoning is circular.
    Ultimately, assuming there are unmentioned ?¢‚Ǩ?ìothers?¢‚Ǩ¬ù will not resolve the issue; the unreality of the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s populations is a persistent problem, which Ostler acknowledges with regard to military numbers. Oddly, he does not draw on indigenous others to account for the unrealistic numbers, as other apologists have, but rather argues that it is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìa common practice in ancient texts to hyperbolically overstate population and areas of land seized to demonstrate the enormity of the feat accomplished.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Ancient texts might intentionally exaggerate, but is that what is going on in the Book of Mormon? It is unlikely given the unrealistic population growth right from the start, which despite Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s efforts, remains anomalous.

    Reading Others into the Text

    Ostler wonders where Sherem came from if not from a nearby group of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìindigenous others?¢‚Ǩ¬ù? He argues that this is the case because the text says Sherem ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcame … among the people of Nephi?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Jacob 7:1) and Jacob doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t seem to know him. Again, Ostler chooses not to interpret the story as evidence that the Book of Mormon is contradictory. The phrase ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcame … among?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is ambiguous, but the mystery is less puzzling if the Nephites have suddenly become a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmultitude?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (7:17). In this context, the story is not a problem. The real issue is the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmultitude?¢‚Ǩ¬ù–and the unrealistic numbers exhibited throughout the Book of Mormon. In his effort to construe Sherem as an ?¢‚Ǩ?ìoutsider,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Ostler asserts that Sherem ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhad learned the [Nephites?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢] language by study.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù However, the text says that he ?¢‚Ǩ?ìwas learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore, he could use much flattery, and much power of speech?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (7:4). The text is speaking to Sherem?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s sophistry, not to his foreign language ability.
    Violating his own rule to discuss only what the Book of Mormon says, not what others (including himself) say about it, Ostler then submits the following argument from silence: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìCertainly Sherem would have introduced himself as so-and-so?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s son had he been a relation.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù He misstates Brent Metcalfe?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s argument that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe Book of Mormon is punctilious in noting whether a person is Nephite or Lamanite.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Nowhere does Metcalfe argue that every character in the Book of Mormon identifies himself by lineage, rather, that whenever someone is identified, they are consistently said to be either a Lehite or Mulekite; in other words, despite the many opportunities, a non-Israelite is never introduced. Nevertheless, there is nothing in the text that would demand that Sherem give his lineage only if he were a relative. Ostler cannot infer from the text?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s silence that Sherem is a non-Israelite outsider.
    The way Ostler handles Helaman 5-7 is a less than ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcareful reading.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù When both Nephite and converted Lamanite missionaries from the land southward go into the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìland northward, to preach to the people?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Helaman 6:6), Ostler wonders who these people are, reasoning that they can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t be Lamanites because Helaman 5:50 says ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe more part of the Lamanites were convinced of [the truth].?¢‚Ǩ¬ù But the text tells us these people are Nephites who had migrated into the land northward seventeen years earlier (Helaman 3:3-14).

    Surviving Jaredites

    Citing the nearly four hundred-year overlap in Jaredite and Lehite/Mulekite occupation of the new land, Ostler argues that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthere are other people [of non-Israelite descent] already in the same land (somewhere) when Lehi arrives.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù This is beyond dispute. The sticking point is whether or not there were Jaredites (besides Coriantumr) who survived the mass destruction described in the book of Ether (Ether 13:20-21; Omni 1:20-22). Ostler acknowledges the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s claim but questions its accuracy. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìNo human writer,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù he argues, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcould possibly know that every last one of the Jaredites was included within the population whose slaughter is recounted in the epic tale of the various Jaredite dynasties.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Here, again, we see a naturalistic explanation discounting the book?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s supernatural claims, specifically Ether?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s prophecy that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìevery soul should be destroyed save it were Coriantumr?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhe should only live to see the fulfilling of the prophecies which had been spoken concerning another people receiving the land for their inheritance?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Ether 13:21). Ostler also again violates his rule of not going outside the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s text.
    In discussing possible Jaredite survivors, Ostler formulates the following convoluted and incoherent arguments:

    (1a) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe Jaredites and Mulekites both co-existed with the Nephites for more than 350 years without the Nephites knowing about them.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    (2a) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe Mulekites in Zarahemla actually met Coriantumr — and until that time, they too did not know of the Jaredites.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    (3a) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìSo it is clear that there were large populations of Jaredites and Mulekites in nearby regions contemporaneous with the Nephites, but the Nephites didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t know anything about them for more than three hundred years.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    Ostler can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t make this argument while at the same time arguing above (p. 63) that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìindigenous others?¢‚Ǩ¬ù are not mentioned because Nephi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s religious record is unconcerned about ?¢‚Ǩ?ìprofane history,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and below (p. 64) that the text suppresses information about ?¢‚Ǩ?ìindigenous others?¢‚Ǩ¬ù because it is a lineage, tribal, or dynastic history. Even if Lehite ignorance of the Jaredites and Mulekites is allowed, there is no point to this argument since Ostler already argued that Nephite and Lamanite contact with non-Israelite ?¢‚Ǩ?ìothers?¢‚Ǩ¬ù was immediate, intimate, and extensive. Upon this fallacious argument, Ostler builds another:

    (1b) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìHence the text is quite clear that large populations of peoples can co-exist for hundreds of years with the Nephites (who keep the record), without the Nephites knowing anything about them.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    (2b) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìJust as their knowledge of the extent of the land they inhabit is limited, clearly the Nephites are not aware of ?¢‚ǨÀúothers?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ whom the Book of Mormon states were in fact present.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    (3b) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThus, any citation from the Book of Mormon that is interpreted to mean that all inhabitants of the Americas (or wherever Book of Mormon events took place) must be Israelite is contrary to the text itself because, at the very least, the Jaredites are not Israelites.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    Ostler seems to imply that if the Lehites did not know about the Jaredites, they were therefore in no position to know whether or not all the inhabitants of the Americas were Israelites. But Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s also wants us to believe the Lehites were immediately in contact with indigenous people on their arrival in the New World. The passage which Ostler alludes is Lehi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s prophecy in 2 Nephi 1, which I will examine below. For now, it is important to know that it does not state that all inhabitants of the Americas must be Israelite, but that the Israelite inhabitants will ?¢‚Ǩ?ìpossess this land unto themselves?¢‚Ǩ¬ù until the arrival of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìother nations.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Obviously, the Jaredites did not threaten Israelite inheritance in the same way Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s indigenous others would have. Building one fallacious argument upon another, Ostler continues:

    (1c) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAs Hugh Nibley argues, … the Jaredites probably originated largely in Asia because the journey recounted in Ether appears to have traversed the steppes of Asia. Thus the Jaredites may well have been largely Asiatic.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    (2c) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe Book of Mormon does not identify the origins of the others who ?¢‚ǨÀúmixed seed?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ with the Lamanites or whom the Nephites took as plural wives.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    (3c) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWe know any indigenous others had to be of largely Asiatic origins.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    (4c) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìSo, based on the text of the Book of Mormon, we should expect to find Asiatic DNA in American Indians.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    This argument comes under the fallacy of obscurum per obscurius, or attempting to explain the more certain with the less certain. Nibley?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s speculation that the Jaredites picked up some Asiatic peoples along the way and brought them to America is intended to harmonize the text with what scientists know about Amerindian origins. However, migrations to the New World from Asia occurred about 15,000 years ago, well before the Jaredites. Moreover, the Book of Mormon does not support Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s assertion that the Jaredites were ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlargely Asiatic?¢‚Ǩ¬ù; rather, it suggests they were largely Middle-eastern. To suggest otherwise is wishful thinking and a violation of Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s rule to exclude what other interpreters say about the Book of Mormon, which would include Nibley.
    Proposition (2c) is an attempt to set up an argument from silence as well as from ignorance. Proposition (3c) is information obtained external to the text, so the conclusion (4c) that the predominance of Asiatic DNA among Native Americas should be no surprise does not follow. (2c) seems to suggest that the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìothers?¢‚Ǩ¬ù with whom the Nephites and Lamanites intermarried were Jaredites, which would make his speculation about Asiatic genes imperative. If one does not accept the Nibley-Ostler speculation that the Jaredites were ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlargely Asiatic,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù then Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s argument about skin color through intermarriage goes with it. Ostler follows these confused arguments with several exaggerated summary assertions:

    (1d) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìViewed as an ancient text in the genre of dynastic history, the Book of Mormon does not preclude the presence of many ?¢‚ǨÀúothers?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ besides those in whom it is particularly interested.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    (2d) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìFor these reasons and others, the DNA argument cannot disprove the possibility that the Book of Mormon is a historical document.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    (3d) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe DNA argument is based upon overly simplistic assumptions about the text which are not consistent with what the text itself says.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    The first of these statements (1d) makes the extraordinary assumption that Book of Mormon prophets were uninterested in the majority Asiatic population. This sets up the following circular argument:

    Why didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t Book of Mormon prophets write about the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìindigenous others?¢‚Ǩ¬ù?
    Because they weren?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t interested in them.
    How do you know they weren?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t interested in them?
    Because they didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t mention them.

    The next statement (2d) begs the question. DNA does not disprove Book of Mormon historicity if one thinks like Ostler that: (1) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìindigenous others?¢‚Ǩ¬ù are present despite the book?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s silence about them; (2) the Book of Mormon describes an island setting (or a limited geography of some kind) and local colonization; (3) the text does not always mean what it says; (4) the book?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s authors were not interested in Native Americans. If one does not accept this string of apologetic defenses, then DNA remains a central problem.
    As previously argued, the idea (3d) that the text speaks for itself is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìoverly simplistic.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Ostler is oblivious to his text-corrupting assumptions. If Ostler is right that the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s author had ?¢‚Ǩ?ìoverly simplistic assumptions?¢‚Ǩ¬ù about ancient America, that someone was likely Joseph Smith, who, along with many of his contemporaries believed all Native Americans were of Hebrew origin.

    Was Lehi Inspired?

    Ostler writes that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìany citation from the Book of Mormon that is interpreted to mean that all inhabitants of the Americas … must be Israelite is contrary to the text itself because, at the very least, the Jaredites are not Israelites.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù This was in response to Lehi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s prophetic utterance in 2 Nephi that, according to Brent Metcalfe, precludes indigenous others. Among other things, Lehi declares:

    “It is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance. Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves” (2 Nephi 1:8; emphasis added).

    Ostler quibbles about the meaning of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthis land,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù insisting that it is too vague to determine what is meant. However, Nephi previously prophesied that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (1 Nephi 22:7; emphasis added), which is difficult to harmonize with Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s island thesis. Speaking to the Nephites in the land southward, Jesus declares: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAnd behold, this people will I establish in this land, … and it shall be a New Jerusalem?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (3 Ne. 20:22; emphasis added; cf. 21:21-26; Ether 13), which Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s early revelations located in Independence, Missouri (D&C 57:1-3; 84:1-5). Obviously, in prophetic terms, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthis land?¢‚Ǩ¬ù refers to the entire continent.
    Ostler argues that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthis land?¢‚Ǩ¬ù cannot refer to an area requiring more than several days of walking because the non-Israelite Jaredites were not far away at the time and would render the statement ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfalse at the time it was made. … Thus it seems fairly clear to me that Lehi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s statement cannot mean what Metcalfe claims it does.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Why not? This is odd coming from someone who has argued that prophets don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t always speak prophetically and are limited by their own assumptions and cultural expectations.
    Lehi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s prophecy pertains to his descendants (as well as others ?¢‚Ǩ?ìwhom the Lord God shall bring out of Jerusalem?¢‚Ǩ¬ù) inheriting the land ?¢‚Ǩ?ìunto themselves?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and preventing ?¢‚Ǩ?ìother nations?¢‚Ǩ¬ù from coming to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìoverrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (2 Nephi 1:9). Prophetically speaking, the doomed Jaredites did not threaten to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìoverrun the land?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and therefore did not conflict with Lehi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s declaration in the way ?¢‚Ǩ?ìindigenous others?¢‚Ǩ¬ù would. As far as the text is concerned, there was no contact between the Lehites and Jaredites and only Coriantumr lived to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsee the fulfilling of the prophecies which had been spoken concerning another people receiving the land for their inheritance?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Ether 13:21; emphasis added). So the presence of the Jaredites does not force one to interpret ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthis land?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in a non-hemispheric way.
    Lehi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s words, according to Ostler, pertain to those who were brought ?¢‚Ǩ?ìout of the land of Jerusalem?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnot to everyone already present on the face of the land.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù In addition, Ostler claims, the prophetic promise was conditional and was broken within ?¢‚Ǩ?ìone generation.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù But Lehi is clear that his posterity will first ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdwindle in unbelief,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù then they will be ?¢‚Ǩ?ìscattered and smitten?¢‚Ǩ¬ù by the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìother nations,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù whom the Lord will ?¢‚Ǩ?ìbring … and give unto them power … [to] take away from them the lands of their possessions?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (2 Nephi 1:10). While the land is divided between the Nephites and Lamanites shortly after Lehi dies, there is no indication that either of them have lost their inheritance to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìother nations.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù If Lehi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s prophecy had been fulfilled, one would expect it to be noted by the prophets.
    Lehi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s prediction should be read in light of Nephi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s visions which precede it. Using similar words, Nephi predicted that the Lehites would not loose their lands until after the Lamanites destroyed the Nephites, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdwindle[d] in unbelief,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and were ?¢‚Ǩ?ìscattered and smitten?¢‚Ǩ¬ù by European Gentiles (1 Nephi 12:20-23; 13:10-14, 30-31, 34-35; cf. Alma 45:10, 12). As Lehi had linked ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthis land?¢‚Ǩ¬ù with ?¢‚Ǩ?ìland of promise,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Nephi had seen ?¢‚Ǩ?ìa man among the Gentiles, who … went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (13:12). If this alludes to Columbus?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s discovery of America, it is difficult to limit Lehi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s and Nephi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ?¢‚Ǩ?ìpromised land?¢‚Ǩ¬ù to an island somewhere off the west coast of the Americas or even a small section of Mesoamerica.

    LIMITED GEOGRAPHY THEORIES

    Ostler hurries over his discussion of the limited geography theory, but it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s precisely what is at issue. His criticism of Earl Wunderli?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s 2002 essay in DIALOGUE, which critiqued John Sorenson?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Tehuantepec theory, is superficial and disingenuous. Ostler indulges in special pleading when he cites Brant Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s response in the FARMS REVIEW as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìa credible response that substantially undermines Wunderli?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s arguments.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù In light of his island theory, Ostler agrees with Sorenson-Gardner only on distances, but is unconvinced by their arguments for Tehuantepec, presumably for the same reasons as Wunderli.
    One cannot simply invoke distance problems as the reason for rejecting hemispheric geography. To do so is to beg the question. They must propose a geography that fits the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s description of a narrow neck of land between lands northward and southward better than traditional hemispheric geography. Even Ostler recognizes that Sorenson?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s theory doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t do that. If Panama is a better fit and hemispheric geography comes into play, then distances are problematic and can be read as evidence of Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s naivete. Evidently Joseph Smith and first-generation Mormons (and most present believers in the Book of Mormon as well) were oblivious to problems of distance and population growth. As far as can be determined, M. T. Lamb?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s 1887 book The Golden Bible was first to question Book of Mormon historicity based on these problems.

    Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Island Theory

    Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s idea about Book of Mormon events taking place ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnot on the mainland or continent, but upon an island?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is sheer desperation and not likely to be embraced by the apologetic community. The island theory has been suggested and rejected by the apologetic community, mostly because it rests on one rather ambiguous passage, 2 Nephi 10:20: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfor the Lord has made the sea our path, behold we are upon an isle of the sea.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Most interpreters have concluded that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe fact that they came there by ship led Jacob to refer to it as an isle?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (James H. Fleugel in FARMS Review 3 [1991]: 99-100). Moreover, the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcritical passage?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in Isaiah 49:1 upon which Jacob is commenting is translated ?¢‚Ǩ?ìislands?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in the King James Version but, as Ostler noted, as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcoastlands?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in other versions. The fact that Ostler provides the underlying Hebrew words in Hebrew script is curious–as is the fact that his authority for the English comes from a German-language commentary on the Hebrew.
    In any case, Ostler maintains that ?¢‚Ǩ¬ùJacob couldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t possibly have a complete geographic knowledge of the Americas?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and therefore could not have referred to it as an ?¢‚Ǩ?ìisland.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Oddly, he suggests that the only way Jacob could have known he was on an island was by ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcircumnavigating?¢‚Ǩ¬ù it. He forgets that Jacob was speaking prophetically. If Ostler seeks naturalistic explanations, perhaps he should consult Ethan Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s 1825 View of the Hebrews: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAnd the places from which they are recovered are noted; among which are ?¢‚ǨÀúthe isles of the sea;?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ or lands away over the sea, and ?¢‚ǨÀúthe four corners of the earth.?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ Certainly then, from America!?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrew; or, The Tribes of Israel in America [Poultney, Vt.: Smith and Shute, 1825], 232-33).
    A theory that is created for the sole purpose of overcoming problems in a central theory and cannot be tested is known to scientists as an ad hoc hypothesis. The more a theory relies on such devices, the less scientific it becomes and a sign that it is about to be replaced.

    Limited Geography vs. Early Church History

    Ostler acknowledges that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmany Church leaders?¢‚Ǩ¬ù have ?¢‚Ǩ?ìtaught that all Amerindians are descended solely from Israelites,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù but he finds this irrelevant. He simultaneously admits that his interpretation is not what the text says, but rather what needs to be assumed to make sense of the text, especially in light of new evidence. But why should we prefer Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s interpretations over those of others?
    What I have found is that the Book of Mormon once made perfect sense to those steeped in the Mound Builder Myth. This was the prevailing belief in Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s day that the earthen mounds and ruins of North, Central, and South America were constructed anciently by a race of white-skinned agriculturalists who were destroyed by Indians in the Great Lakes Region prior to discovery by Europeans (See Dan Vogel, Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon: Religious Solutions from Columbus to Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986]; ). Both the Book of Mormon and early readers participated in a discourse with this part of the prevailing culture, and any interpretation that does not include the dominant voice in the discussion is incomplete.
    Because the Book of Mormon specifically and repeatedly addressed its readers, describing conditions that would exist at the time the book first appeared, Ostler is wrong to de-contextualize the narrative. Paying attention to Joseph Smith and other early commentators can illuminate the text in ways otherwise unavailable to scholars and guard against the fallacy of presentism. Ostler attempts to minimize this evidence by given two competing excuses:

    (1) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìIf a Prophet teaches something that is false, then either that prophet is: (a) not a true prophet; or (b), not speaking prophetically.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    Ostler chooses (b). So how does he explain Brent Metcalfe?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s documentation of revelatory pronouncements on the topic?

    (2) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìEven when a prophet is speaking prophetically, the revelation reflects the prophet?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s assumptions, language, and cultural horizons.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    So, according to Ostler, when a prophet is speaking prophetically, he is not necessarily speaking the precise truth. (Apparently, he is a partly true and partly false prophet.) The arbitrary application of such a definition renders ?¢‚Ǩ?ì(a) not a true prophet?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s syllogism meaningless. But really, can Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s revelations about building a New Jerusalem among the Lamanites be dismissed as reflections of Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s assumptions or ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdoctrinal overbeliefs?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (D&C 28:8-9, 14; 30:6; 32:2; 3:18-20; 10:48; 19:27; 49:24; 54:8; 57:4; 109:65-66)?

    Zelph, The White Lamanite

    Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s response to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìZelph,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìwhite Lamanite,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is unsatisfactory (cf. Joseph Smith, et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, B. H. Roberts, ed., 7 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1932-51], 2:79). Despite his conclusion that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìwe just don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t know enough about this incident to claim anything reliable,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù we know as much about this incident as we do about any historical event. It is certainly right to be skeptical about the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìreliability?¢‚Ǩ¬ù of sources and a historian?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ability to reconstruct the past, but Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s skepticism is arbitrary. He states: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI believe that the reliability of these accounts and the timing of their having been set in writing are sufficiently suspect that we are best advised to be careful about their claims.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Kenneth Godfrey examined thirteen sources dealing with the Zelph story, four of which were written at or near the time of the event. Reuben McBride, for example, recorded:

    “Tuesday 3 [June 1834] visited the mounds. A skeleton was dug up, [Joseph Smith] said his name was Zelph a great warrior under the Prophet Omandagus. … he was killed in battle. Said he was a man of God and the curse was taken off or in part he was a white Lamanite” (Reuben McBride, Diary, 3 June 1834, LDS Church Archives).

    The account in Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s own history, which was published for the first time in the Times and Seasons on 1 January 1846, was composed from the accounts of Wilford Woodruff and Heber C. Kimball, both of whom were present when Joseph Smith made his statement. Under the heading ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMay 8th 1834,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Woodruff recorded:

    “Brother Joseph had a vission respecting the person he said he was a white Lamanite, the curse was taken from him or at least in part, he was killed in battle with an arrow, the arrow was found among his ribs, … his name was Zelph. … Zelph was a large thick set man and a man of God, he was a warrior under the great prophet that was known from the hill Cumorah to the Rocky mountains. The above knowledge Joseph received in a vision” (Wilford Woodruff, Diary, 8 May 1834, LDS Church Archives; Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols. [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1983-85], 1:10; angled brackets indicate words written above the line).

    Kimball wrote:

    “It was made known to Joseph that he had been an officer who fell in battle, in the last destruction among the Lamanites, and his name was Zelph. … Brother Joseph had enquired of the Lord and it was made known in a vision” (?¢‚Ǩ?ìExtracts from H. C. Kimball?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Journal,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Times and Seasons 6 [1 February 1845]: 788).

    If Ostler is uncertain about the story of Zelph, how certain can he be about the relationship between any historical event and the source documents? For example, how would the story of the restoration of priesthood keys through Peter, James, and John, which has less and more distant documentation, fair against Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s extreme caution? It is beyond dispute that Joseph Smith claimed revelation for his comments about Zelph, yet Ostler tries to obscure the evidence from ?¢‚Ǩ?ìjournals of other Latter-day Saints who heard Joseph establish that some present talked about a Zelph who was a white Lamanite?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (emphasis added). His prejudicial handling of the sources prevents him from admitting the information came from a prophetic declaration and suggests it was just talk among those present.
    Next, Ostler argues that the most that can be established is that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìat some time a person who could claim to be a Lamanite or of Lamanite descent was present in western Ohio [Illinois]. Such information is not incompatible with a limited geography because even if there was a Zelph (which remains in doubt) he could have been a descendant of Lamanites who had wandered far from where the events in the Book of Mormon occurred.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù But Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s own letter of 3 June 1834 to Emma explained that he and his men had been

    “wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & and their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity” (Joseph Smith to Emma Smith, 4 June 1834, Letterbook, 2:57-58, LDS Church Archives, in Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984], 324).

    Rather than using Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s letter to contextualize and clarify what happened, Ostler uses the letter to try to establish that Smith ?¢‚Ǩ?ìneither claims … revelation, nor does he make any reference to ?¢‚ǨÀúZelph.?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ The [letter] establishes only what we already know, i.e., that Joseph Smith assumed at that time that all American Indians were Lamanites.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù In fact, the letter resolves Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s question about the relationship of Zelph to the Book of Mormon, which Ostler describes as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìextremely unclear.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù How likely is that Joseph Smith would describe prophets among post-Book of Mormon peoples or ?¢‚Ǩ?ìa white Lamanite?¢‚Ǩ¬ù after Book of Mormon times? Note also how Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s inspired declaration about Onandagus?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s reputation spanning the North American continent creates the same kind of geographical problem that Ostler is trying to escape in the Book of Mormon.

    New Insight or an Apologetic Device?

    Ostler tells us ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe limited geography model emerged before the turn of the [twentieth] century and was derived from a careful reading of the Book of Mormon text itself, not a desire to escape challenges from science or anthropology.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Citing Matthew Roper?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s recent article, Ostler adds that RLDS Louis Edward Hills was ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe first writer to advance a fully limited Book of Mormon geography?¢‚Ǩ¬ù between 1917 and 1924 (Matthew Roper, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìLimited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù FARMS Review 16/2 [2004]: 260). As far as Utah Mormons were concerned, Roper traced ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe first versions of a fully limited Book of Mormon geography?¢‚Ǩ¬ù to the years ?¢‚Ǩ?ì1920 to 1926?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Ibid., 261), specifically removal of some footnotes from the 1920 edition of the Book of Mormon and Janne Sjodahl?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s 1927 article in the Improvement Era as starting points (Ibid., 257, 261).
    As Brent Metcalfe and I have pointed out, B. H. Roberts suggested on 22 January 1921 that if Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s revelations designating South America as the place of Lehi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s landing could be set aside, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìit would be easier to reply to adverse critics of the Book of Mormon.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Otherwise ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe enormous distances to travel present a serious difficulty?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Janne M. Sjodahl, Diary, LDS Archives, cited in Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, eds., American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002], viii). Roberts was aware of Lamb?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s 1887 book and no doubt included it among those ?¢‚Ǩ?ìadverse critics.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Therefore, Ostler would be more accurate if he said the limited geography model was derived from Lamb?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s careful reading of the Book of Mormon text. Roberts was also aware that Native American languages demonstrated a pre-Lehite migration and a diversity that the Book of Mormon could not account for (B. H. Boberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, ed. Brigham D. Madsen [Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985], 91-92). He posited: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìother races, speaking other tongues, developing other cultures, and making, though absolutely unknown to Book of Mormon people, other histories?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Ibid., 92). The limited geography was his way to respond to critics and harmonize the Book of Mormon with new scientific discoveries.

    Did Joseph Smith Change His Views on Geography?

    Kenneth Godfrey, as Ostler notes, asserted that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe thinking of early church leaders regarding Book of Mormon geography was subject to modification, indicating that they themselves did not see the issue as settled.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù To support this point, Godfrey cited two 1842 editorials from the Times and Seasons, probably written by managing editor John Taylor, which linked John L. Stephens?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s discovery of Central American ruins with Book of Mormon cities (Kenneth Godfrey, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWhat is the Significance of Zelph??¢‚Ǩ¬ù Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 [1999]: 72. Cf. Times and Seasons 3 [1 October 1842]: 927-28). Because these editorials associated Zarahemla and Nephi with the ruins of Quirigua and Palenque, some apologists cited them as evidence that Taylor (and possibly Joseph Smith) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhad come up with a different model of geography?¢‚Ǩ¬ù than what had been previously assumed (John L. Sorenson, An Ancient America Setting For the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: FARMS, 1985], 2-6; John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book [Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992], 11-12). By placing two cities from the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ?¢‚Ǩ?ìland southward?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in Central America, was he not excluding Panama as the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìneck of land?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and South America as the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìland southward?¢‚Ǩ¬ù? The situation is complex and deserves discussion given its frequent use by apologists.
    What the apologists fail to note is that Taylor?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s geographic innovations were not inspired by a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcareful reading of the Book of Mormon text,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù as Ostler asserts, but rather by apologetic concerns. Seven months before Taylor?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s first editorial, Parley P. Pratt noted Stephens?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s discoveries and linked the Central American ruins with the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmany cities as existing among the Nephites on the ?¢‚ǨÀúnarrow neck of land?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ … ?¢‚ǨÀúTeancum, Boaz, Jordan, Desolation,?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ &c.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Millennial Star, March 1842, 165; emphasis added). These cities are associate with Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s flight through the land northward toward Cumorah (Mormon 4-5), which is as one would expect from someone holding the view that South America was the land southward and everything above Panama was the land northward. However, Taylor wanted to make the link stronger for maximum apologetic effect. In the first article (15 September 1842), he associated the ruins at Palenque with the temple Nephi built (2 Nephi 5:16), but in his second article (1 October 1842) he enthusiastically announced that Zarahemla had probably been found. The evidence was Stephens?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s description of a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlarge round stone, with the sides sculptured in hieroglyphics?¢‚Ǩ¬ù at Quirigua, which Taylor linked to the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s description of a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlarge stone … with engravings on it?¢‚Ǩ¬ù that Coriantumr evidently left with the people of Zarahemla (Omni 1:20-22). In Taylor?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s pre-archaeological mind, this was as close to proof for the Book of Mormon as one could hope for, and he wasn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t about to let the opportunity pass: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWe are not agoing to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones, and the books tell the story so plain …?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Times and Seasons 3 [1 October 1842]: 927).
    To locate Zarahemla in Central America, rather than South America as expected, Taylor introduced an innovative but unlikely interpretation of Alma 22:32–one that Orson Pratt and most readers of the Book of Mormon evidently found unpersuasive for obvious reasons. Taylor decided that the Nephites ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Times and Seasons 3 [15 September 1842]: 915). In other words, the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìneck of land?¢‚Ǩ¬ù was the entire area between the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to the north and Panama to the south. In the next issue, he made this even more clear.
    Did Taylor incorrectly place Zarahemla on the neck of land rather than in the land southward? That?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s possible, but he may have been attempting something more subtle. By moving the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìline?¢‚Ǩ¬ù that divided the lands Bountiful and Desolation (mentioned in Alma 22:32) from the bottom of the neck to the top, he was able to construe, although quite awkwardly, that the neck of land was part of the land southward, rather than part of the land northward as previously and subsequently conceived. In another editorial in the 15 September 1842 issue, perhaps also written by Taylor, there are references to the Jaredites occupying North America and Lehi landing ?¢‚Ǩ?ìa little south of the Isthmus of Darien [Panama]?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Times and Seasons 3 [15 September 1842]: 922). South America has not been excluded, although it has become a peripheral concern since it has become part of that undefined Lamanite territory.
    Other than in the writings of John E. Page cited by Roper (Roper, 248-50), Taylor?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s geographic innovations evidently did not catch on. Factors that made the Taylor-Page models less appealing were: (1) conceiving the neck of land as part of the land southward and South America, rather than as part of the land northward and North America, was awkward; (2) the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, at about 120 miles as opposed to about 30 miles for Panama, was too wide for the boundary ?¢‚Ǩ?ìline?¢‚Ǩ¬ù mentioned in Alma 22:32; (3) it became necessary to account for the discovery of similar ruins in South America (e.g., the Inca in Peru; see Times and Seasons 5 [15 December 1844]: 744-48); and (4) the tradition that Lehi landed in South America, probably Chile, was too strong to set aside (first mentioned in ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe Golden Bible,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Observer and Telegraph 1 [18 November 1830]: 1).
    It is important to note that resolving distance problems was not a factor in pre-1887 discussions of Book of Mormon geography. The Taylor-Page models did not resolve distance problems since both evidently located Cumorah in New York. While both Taylor and Page were trying to make the Central American ruins relevant to Book of Mormon readers, neither attempted to overturn hemispheric geography because the rationale for doing so was simply not in place. At most, Taylor and Page demonstrate a propensity to distort the text to serve apologetic needs.

    CONCLUSION

    Ostler admits there is no archaeological evidence for Book of Mormon historicity, that the geographical location is unknown, and that the people described in the book of Mormon are hopelessly lost. In support of historicity, he can only offer a few interesting parallels to Hebrew culture. None of this lives up to what the Book of Mormon once seemed to promise. Perhaps it is time for a real paradigm shift.

  2. Dan says:

    I received the following as a letter to the editor from Robert Rees in which he responds to Dan Vogel’s letter to the editor in the September 2005 Sunstone, which was a response to Rees’s letter in the May 2005 issue, which was written about Vogel’s essay in the March 2005 issue (you can find links to all of these various pieces above). Given our recent decision to move discussions of Book of Mormon historicity from the magazine to the blog, I’ve posted it here.

    Dan Wotherspoon

    ——————-

    Hope for a Continuing Dialogue

    ?¢‚Ǩ?ìBelief is both prize & battlefield, within the mind
    & in the mind?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s mirror, the world.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù
    –David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

    In his recent response to my letter to the editor regarding his Sunstone article (?¢‚Ǩ?ìSame Old, Same Old,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù September 2005), Dan Vogel accuses me of reiterating ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe apologists?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ position without responding to the main issues raised by [his] essay.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù He is right that I did not directly address his argument about certain apologist scholars?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ misappropriation of Kuhn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s philosophical position regarding paradigms, but that was not my purpose. Rather, the thrust of my argument was that I felt Vogel was being either na?ɬØve or disingenuous in offering a paradigmatic option (that believing Mormons should accept the Book of Mormon as non-historical but nevertheless ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinspired?¢‚Ǩ¬ù) that most Mormons, scholars and lay members alike, would not consider a choice at all. I accused Vogel of being disingenuous because I felt he was using ?¢‚Ǩ?ìprophet?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinspired?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in ways that he knew contradicted the typical Mormon understanding of these words. For example, Vogel cites Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s response to the question as to whether he considered himself to be a prophet?¢‚Ǩ‚Äù?¢‚Ǩ?ìYes, and every other man who has the testimony of Jesus?¢‚Ǩ¬ù?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùto suggest that Joseph considered himself a prophet only in the loosest sense of that word. But Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s own extensive research and writing on Joseph Smith shows that Joseph considered his prophetic powers and calling anything but ordinary (like ?¢‚Ǩ?ìevery other man?¢‚Ǩ¬ù). As Richard Bushman reveals in his new biography of Joseph Smith (Joseph Smith: Rough Rolling Stone, when Joseph declared boldly in 1831, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI am Joseph the Prophet,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù ?¢‚Ǩ?ìit was a startling claim for an unprepossing young man of twenty-five.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s argument that Joseph ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsincerely believed himself to be an inspired prophet?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùbut not in the way he encouraged his followers to believe,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is not supported by any evidence other than what I consider Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s misappropriation of Alma 6:8.

    What Vogel seems not to understand, but which is apparent to anyone who attends a typical (and they are all typical!) Latter-day Saint sacrament meeting, is that the average Mormon is bound to his or her religious beliefs (including the First Vision and the Book of Mormon), not by logic or history but rather, to use Robert Frost?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s line, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìby countless silken ties of love and thought.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù These ties include such things as church service, the bearing of testimonies, temple attendance, hymn singing, scripture study, and fellowship, to name only a few. For better or worse, most Mormons don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t bother themselves about such things as scholarly debates, scientific discoveries, or, perhaps most lamentably, their own history. The social-religious system of the Mormon Church is conservative, hierarchical, and somewhat insular. Thus, the paradigm that Vogel suggests, even if it were based on irrefutable science and scholarship (which it is not), would not be seriously considered by most Mormons. Therefore, if Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s proposal is not disingenuous, it is certainly na?ɬØve, no matter how sincerely offered.

    Vogel accuses me of accusing him of being ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnarrow-minded.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I did not make such an accusation in my letter, nor would I use such a term in regard to him. I do believe from his writing and from conversations we have had that Vogel has a limited scope as to what he considers acceptable evidence. Clearly he puts more stock in certain empirical rather than non-empirical data. But it is more complicated than that. In the introduction to his biography of Joseph Smith, Vogel admits his bias toward empirical data but also reveals that he employs a more complex epistemological approach. What I consider ironic is, on the one hand, Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s rejection of all supernatural evidence for the Restoration (Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s visions, the visions and manifestations of Joseph?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s family and associates, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, etc.) and, on the other, his acceptance of what many consider wildly psychobiographical speculation. What Vogel seems not to recognize is that his seeing the Book of Mormon narrative through the prism of the Smith family dynamics is at least as subjective and speculative as the arguments he dismisses from those who see the book as being an authentic, divinely inspired, angelically delivered text. In other words, to me, seeing Smith family ghosts in the Book of Mormon narrative does not differ all that much from seeing angels in Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s bedroom. Neither can be empirically proven. I see Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s imposing the Smith family dynamics on the Book of Mormon narrative as a procrustean bed of analysis. At the very least it is a highly imaginative reading of the text.

    Vogel calls my challenge to naturalist critics to explain how the Book of Mormon could be a product of nineteenth century culture ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnothing but a red herring?¢‚Ǩ¬ù that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhas no probative value in determining whether or not the Book of Mormon is historical,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù but I contend that it is at least as legitimate a challenge as those presented by naturalist critics. Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s argument that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthere is simply no direct evidence linking the book of Mormon to ancient America?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe apologists?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ case rests on isolated parallels and wishful thinking,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù does not accommodate what for many constitute serious evidence of ancient elements, elements that cannot be explained from Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s information or cultural environment. If these cannot be demonstrated as coming from Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s mind or found in nineteenth century America (as some persuasively argue), then it is legitimate to suggest they came from outside that environment?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùand to challenge those who are convinced that it did come from within that environment to demonstrate exactly (or even approximately) how they did so.

    Vogel is right to say that there is no such thing as a neutral position, but I was not presenting myself as neutral?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùonly as someone who is concerned that the polar shouting I experience on both sides of the divide doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t seem to lead to anything constructive. I confess that I am not completely objective or dispassionate. However, trying to be as intellectually and as spiritually honest as I can, I thoughtfully consider both the legitimacy of intellectual challenges to my faith and the validity of spiritual experiences of my faith. As I have tried to make clear, I cannot seem to escape the tension between the two kinds of experiences, particularly because I see both as having strengths and weaknesses?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùthat is, one can be as deceived by too great a reliance on reason as by too great a reliance on spiritual or spectral evidence.

    While it is true, as Vogel contends, that the term ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnaturalist?¢‚Ǩ¬ù does not ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdescribe all those who question Book of Mormon historicity,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù it does seem an accurate appellation for Vogel himself, who seems to eschew all non-naturalistic phenomena or explanations (again except for the speculative biographical data mentioned above). He must be aware that modern neuroscience sees a much more complex view of reality. As Joseph Chilton Pearce and Michael Mendizza state, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìPerception, awareness, what we call reality is an ever-changing blend of multiple data streams?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùexternal, internal, past, imagined, and intuitive?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùsimultaneously displayed in consciousness.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Most Latter-day Saints give primacy to their felt experience with the Book of Mormon, and the breadth and depth of such experience is more persuasive to them than such things as the absence of Semitic DNA markers among Native American lineages. In other words, the spiritual logic of their encounter with the book trumps other kinds of logic. So, even if Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s argument were iron-clad (which I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t believe it is), it would make little difference to the majority of Latter-day Saints. That may be lamentable, but it is no less a reality. This is why I consider his hope for a paradigm shift unrealistic.

    Vogel tries to turn the tables on me by saying that my use of Stephen J. Gould?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s idea of non-overlapping-magisteria makes his case, but he obscures Gould?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s point, which is not that bad or pseudo-science has any validity but that the realms of scientific inquiry and religious experience have separate domains and that it is illegitimate to judge either by the standards of the other. Thus, believers must regard the findings of science as significant (if not always conclusive) and non-believers must respect the experience of faith (even if not persuaded by it). These are, as Gould argues, non-overlapping (i.e., entirely separate epistemological) realms. This is significant in relation to some naturalists and to some apologists who keep judging each another by the wrong criteria.

    I have tried to make my own position clear: As a scholar and a believer, I value both magesteria; in fact, I have spent my professional and personal life trying to foster respectful dialogue between the two. As a scholar I have tried to use the best critical skills of my particular profession (literary history and textual analysis) in coming to terms with the text of the Book of Mormon. In doing so, I am persuaded that it is an amazingly complex, sophisticated, and, at times, profound text. As objectively as I able to weigh the evidence, I am persuaded that it is highly unlikely a product of Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s or one of his contemporaries?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ mind and imagination. Nevertheless, I remain open to the possibility that it might be. As I have said elsewhere, if someone were to discover a proto-manuscript of the Book of Mormon, say written in 1795, I would have to revise my thinking.

    The question I put seriously to Vogel is whether if it had been shown that there was DNA evidence of Semitic bloodlines among indigenous American populations that would have convinced him that the Book of Mormon was what it claims to be. From all he has said and written on this subject, I seriously doubt such evidence would have been persuasive to him. And yet he wants the absence of such DNA markers to overturn all other evidence that others find for concluding the text is ancient.

    Unfortunately, Vogel resorts to the very kind of rhetorical tricks of which he accuses me, tying me to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfundamentalist,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcreationists,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and other extreme, right-wing positions, which I believe he knows from our conversations and from my published work has no basis in reality. It is exactly this kind of pejorative rhetoric that I find so dispiriting. While I tried to be as dispassionate as possible in my critique of Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s position, to whatever extent he feels I was unduly or unfairly critical, I sincerely apologize. I respect his right to hold and defend his views and I personally believe him to be both sincere and caring.

    Robert A. Rees
    Brookdale, California

  3. Dan Vogel says:

    Testimony-Ladenness of Observation

    In their critiques of scientific methodology, Thomas Kuhn and postmodernists like to talk about the theory-ladenness of observation, which refers to how a theory influences not only how one gathers evidence but how one perceives it as well. The term ?¢‚Ǩ?ìtestimony-ladennes of observation?¢‚Ǩ¬ù came to mind as I read Kevin Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s essay ?¢‚Ǩ?ìDetermining What Is ?¢‚ǨÀúReal?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in the November 2005 issue. His long recounting of a chain of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmeant-to-be?¢‚Ǩ¬ù events is mind-boggling, but it provides an example of how testimony-ladennnes shapes Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s interpretations, not only of life but of evidence as well. Obviously, one can add the rhetorical flourish ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI am convinced that these [events] were meant to be?¢‚Ǩ¬ù to any story without fear of being proven wrong, because it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s untestable and unfalsifiable. This is exactly what apologists want to happen with the debate over Book of Mormon historicity. By using a series of ad hoc hypotheses, they hope–as Christensen quotes Apostle Dallin Oaks–to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsettle for a draw.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù And that is the most that someone without compelling evidence can hope for.

    Moreover, Christensen demonstrates that he has not understood my essay ?¢‚Ǩ?ìIs a ?¢‚ǨÀúParadigm Shift?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ in Book of Mormon Studies Possible??¢‚Ǩ¬ù (March 2005) when he quotes Apostle Oaks?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s statement that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsecular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the Book of Mormon. Its authenticity depends, as it says, on a witness of the Holy Spirit.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Clearly, this statement attempts to resolve the question of historicity with testimony, while my essay argued that having a spiritual witness about the book?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ?¢‚Ǩ?ìtruth?¢‚Ǩ¬ù does not necessarily mean that you have a testimony of its historicity. Contrary to Apostle Oaks?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s assertion, the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s historical claims can be tested by secular scholarship and are potentially falsifiable. For example, if one believes the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s early revelations identify Native Americans with Israelites, if one finds apologetic attempts to revision text and tradition unpersuasive, then evidence like DNA has falsified Book of Mormon historicity. Nevertheless, in light of this quote from Apostle Oaks, Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s later denial that he is not trying to corrupt the scientific method by inserting religious values into the process seems disingenuous.

    Christensen misapplies a statement I made in my introduction to himself. My comment that some apologists draw on Kuhn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s critique of science as a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsubjective enterprise?¢‚Ǩ¬ù to argue that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìbelieving that the Book of Mormon is historical is neither more nor less ?¢‚ǨÀúscientific?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ than not believing?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 69) was, in part, inspired by John-Charles Duffy?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s use of Kuhn in the same issue as Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s initial essay (see May 2004, p. 35). So, if Christensen finds the argument ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsilly,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù we agree on one thing at least.

    Christensen also incorrectly personalizes my statement that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìno matter how many correlations one perceives in the text [of the Book of Mormon], one negative evidence cancels them all?¢‚Ǩ¬ù as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìgrounds for leaving the Church, dropping my belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the divinity of Jesus Christ, [and] the existence of God.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù While Christensen is free to make whatever personal conclusions about the implications of negative evidence, my comment was intended to be understood as an epistemological point about the nature of evidence. Assuming the negative evidence is valid, one is enough. More negative evidences might increase confidence, but it won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t make a falsified theory more false. A dead theory–like a dead person–can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t be made more dead. On the other hand, because apologists can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t make a direct connection between the Book of Mormon and ancient America, they rely on accumulation of inferences, speculations, and indirect correlations in the hope that the total weight will somehow be greater than the sum of its parts. In such a situation, I argue that negative evidence should be more decisive than perceived correlations.

    The problem, of course, lies in the disagreement over what constitutes negative evidence. This is where Christensen and other apologists want to introduce the limited geography theory, the local colonization theory, the inspired translation theory, or some other ad hoc device. And here we begin to have an answer to Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s question: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWhy do things that others find devastating and shattering not bother me at all??¢‚Ǩ¬ù One reason Christensen is unmoved by negative evidence, he says, is that he has seen ?¢‚Ǩ?ìa seemingly powerful, decisive and final ?¢‚ǨÀúnegative evidence?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢?¢‚Ǩ¬ù become ?¢‚Ǩ?ìvery powerful positive evidence.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Assuming this has happened in the past, it is no guarantee that it will always happen; so this is basically a statement of faith, or the fallacy of potential proof.

    Christensen gives us an example of where seemingly negative evidence became positive, for him at least. Refusing to be moved by David Wright?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s 1993 discussion of the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s anachronistic borrowing of material and ideas about Melchizedek from the Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament (cf. Hebrews 7 and Alma 13), Christensen waited two years and found a promising answer in the speculations of Old Testament scholar Margaret Barker, who believes the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMelchizedek material in Hebrews, and the early Church?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s association of Melchizedek and the Messiah?¢‚Ǩ¬ù are based on legends that go back to the First Temple (ca. 700 B.C.). If anything, this demonstrates the casualness with which Christensen sets aside negative evidence, because postulating the existence of a mythology that possibly influenced Hebrews in some unspecified way does nothing towards replacing Wright?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s comprehensive analysis. Responding to Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s use of Barker, David Wright communicated to me:

    [Barker?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s] statement establishes nothing in regard to the content of traditions that may have been available to Hebrews or the early church. One cannot jump from a reasonable supposition that there are some (very undefined and perhaps very minimal) ?¢‚Ǩ?ìMelchizedek?¢‚Ǩ¬ù traditions to a notion of what the content of those traditions may have been. One cannot ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsubtract?¢‚Ǩ¬ù the OT (i.e., Gen 14 and Ps 110) motifs from Hebrews and say that the rest of the Melchizedek material in Hebrews is old. This is especially unlikely given what we know about how early Jewish (and this includes early Christian) readers of the Bible midrashically (i.e., creatively and expansively) interpreted the bare facts available only in the biblical text. For example, that Melchizedek had no parents (according to Hebrews) is based on the lack of genealogy in Genesis 14–this is interpretive, not the retention of ancient tradition. … If one cannot talk about the content of general ?¢‚Ǩ?ìtraditions?¢‚Ǩ¬ù available to Christianity, certainly one cannot talk about the content of specific texts.1

    Nor does Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s use of Barker explain what happens in the Book of Mormon. To remove the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s borrowing from Hebrews, apparent not only in Alma 12-13 but also in Ether 12, from the list of anachronisms, Mormon apologists need to postulate the existence of a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìProto-Hebrews?¢‚Ǩ¬ù text at least 700 years before Hebrews was composed. As Wright explained in 1993:

    The text would have to include at least the following: (a) Hebrews 3:7-11, a version of verse 12, plus exposition of this material from Psalm 95 highlighting the matters of heart-hardening, entering into God?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s rest, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìToday?¢‚Ǩ¬ù as the time of faithfulness, and provocation; (b) the essence of Hebrews 7:1-4 and a relatively extensive discussion of priesthood; (c) a version of Hebrews 9:27-28; (d) much of Hebrews 11; (e) scattered verses or parts thereof outside Hebrews 11 parallel to Ether 12 … (g) a messianic topological element. … Critical study of the biblical canon and the growth of biblical exegesis indicates that the type of text that Proto-Hebrews would have to be would be unlikely in the preexilic period.2

    Quoting Barker?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s theory is hardly adequate reason to dismiss Wright?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s specific arguments. With such grasping-for-straws methodology, it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s no mystery why Christensen remains unmoved by negative evidence. Christensen acknowledges that there is a point at which resisting negative evidence becomes unreasonable, but this acknowledgment seems meaningless in light of his method of privileging weak positive evidence over more comprehensive negative evidence, inventing incoherent ad hoc rationalizations, and believing that testimony trumps all negative evidence.

    Christensen attempts to distract the discussion from negative evidence to perceived mistakes some critics make, apparently to say that the critics can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t be trusted because they are not always right. As an example, he refers to a footnote in my essay on the Book of Mormon witnesses in American Apocrypha, which mentions an 1857 letter that, as Christensen represents, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcontains a second-hand report of a rumor to the effect that Joseph Smith learned hypnotism ?¢‚ǨÀúfrom a German peddler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 67). Christensen suggests that my valuing of this historically weak source occurred because of the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdemands of his hypothesis?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 68). Without sounding overly defensive or implying my work is flawless, Christensen has misconstrued my reason for quoting the source. Not only did I quote the source without comment, but I quoted it in conjunction with George W. Schweich?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s 1899 comment that his grandfather David Whitmer?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s vision of the angel and plates was either real or hypnotism. The context of my use of these two sources clearly show that my intent was not to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsupport [my] hypothesis about Smith being a skilled hypnotist?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 68), as Christensen asserts, but rather to show that the possibility that Smith used something like hypnotism had been brought up as early as 1899 (and perhaps earlier) and that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthis possibility has never been adequately explored, let alone refuted.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù3 Not surprisingly, the lens through which Christensen magnifies weak evidence into strong, also allows him to exaggerate the faults he perceives in counter-apologetic writings. Regardless, dwelling on a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhuman mistake?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in a footnote and ignoring the major evidence and arguments is a fallacy of distraction called quibbling.

    Christensen disputes my description that Kuhn believed that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe historical progress of science is best understood as punctuated by mass conversions to new understandings, sudden ?¢‚ǨÀúparadigm shifts?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 69). According to Christensen, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWhat Kuhn describes as a paradigm shift takes time and involves overcoming resistance for both individuals and paradigm communities?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 68). This might be true of the period leading up to paradigm shift, but not paradigm shift itself. Speaking of paradigm shift for individuals, Kuhn said: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at a time, forced by logic and neutral experience. Like the gestalt switch, it must occur all at one (though not necessarily in an instant) or not at all.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù4 Regarding the scientific community, my description of scientific revolutions as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsudden … mass conversions?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is meant to be understood in the relative terms of historical time–long periods of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnormal science?¢‚Ǩ¬ù punctuated by relatively brief periods of revolutionary paradigm shifts, like what happened with the Copernican and Einsteinian Repositions.

    Christensen complains that I engage in ?¢‚Ǩ?ìrhetorical sleight of hand?¢‚Ǩ¬ù when I describe the weak and contradictory parts of Kuhn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s philosophy. Christensen says, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìOnly if my use corresponded to the hypothetical irresponsible Kuhn could the criticism apply?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 68). However, my critique of Kuhn stands alone and appears a page and a half before Christensen is even mentioned. The first part of my essay deals in general terms with Kuhn and those who misuse him to attack science as a means of supporting weak theories. The wording of his denial is an admission that his use of Kuhn is selective, and therefore it is out of context and unrepresentative of Kuhn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s complete thought. Indeed, as I argued, Kuhn himself would have objected to how his thesis is being used to support unscientific viewpoints.

    Christensen denies that he uses the three step ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfallacy from Kuhn?¢‚Ǩ¬ù common among some Creationists, which I did not apply specifically to him. Nevertheless, the fact remains that he and other apologists appeal to Kuhn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s critique of science as a means of weakening the significance of negative evidence by creating a different paradigm, which blends scientific and scholarly inquiry with religious values and introduces ad hoc rationalizations that make sense only to those who inhabit that paradigm. Christensen has argued, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAnd in Book of Mormon studies, Hugh Nibley?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s efforts for the Near Eastern side and John Sorenson?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s efforts for the Mesoamerican side have defined paradigms for the most significant groups of believing researchers today.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù5 I have argued that the introduction of such apologetic devises are not true paradigm shifts, but rather are ad hoc hypotheses designed to protect the old paradigm (Book of Mormon historicity) from demise. Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s use of Kuhn in this effort places his writings firmly in the same genre as the Creationists.

    Christensen implies that my critique of Brant Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s approach misrepresents his position, but Gardner himself says that his method entails ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlooking for Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon instead of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Christensen praises Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s approach because it ?¢‚Ǩ?ìre-defines the problem field, method, and standard of solution?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 69). Indeed it does. As I argued in my essay, by using this method ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhistorical anachronisms become invisible to researchers and falsification becomes impossible?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 71). In response, Christensen quotes another completely unrelated statement from Gardner where he discusses anachronisms to show that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìGardner openly notices and discusses potential ?¢‚ǨÀúhistorical anachronisms,?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ demonstrating that Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s charge that such things ?¢‚ǨÀúbecome invisible?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ is false?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 69). But Gardner is no longer applying the approach he described in the previous statement; so, while it might be fair to say Gardner has more than one approach, the second statement is irrelevant to an assessment of the first. Using Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s first methodology of looking for Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon, one would skip over anachronisms like steel swords or horses. The only time they would come into play is when one looks for the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica. When Gardner momentarily slips out of his new methodology and notices anachronisms, he quickly jumps back to his Mesoamerica-in-the-Book-of-Mormon approach, calls them ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlabeling problems?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (meaning a horse is really a deer or tapir), and the anachronisms disappear. Despite Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s claim, Gardner is not ?¢‚Ǩ?ìputting the text at risk via his methods.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù The whole reason for switching to the new method was because, as Gardner stated, there was a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhuge difference?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe quality of the correlations.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù It is also much easier to manipulate the text, especially if one believes, as Christensen does, that there is an ?¢‚Ǩ?ìuncertain relationship between the signs of language and the signified beyond language?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 66). This belief not only allows Gardner and Christensen to see Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon, but also to rewrite the text to conform to their testimony-laden assumptions.

    Christensen describes the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìimpasse?¢‚Ǩ¬ù between our views as a simple matter of reading the Book of Mormon with different eyes. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI read with different contexts, different perspectives–and I come to different valuations,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù he argues (p. 69). These ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdifferent contexts?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìperspectives?¢‚Ǩ¬ù are nothing more than apologetic ad hoc theories, and his ?¢‚Ǩ?ìvaluations?¢‚Ǩ¬ù are determined by their effectiveness in overcoming problems. Then, back to his relativistic postmodern views, he states: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI do not say that my readings are the only ones possible, but I strive to show that they are plausible and, from my perspective, better and more promising?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 69). It is not a simple matter of arbitrarily choosing among several plausible readings of a text. Sometimes apologists confuse readings which make the text more historically plausible with readings that are plausible. The number of plausible readings is constrained by the text itself, and in this instance the hemispheric reading is more plausible and less textually problematic than the limited geographic theory.

    Christensen denies that he believes ?¢‚Ǩ?ìKuhn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s thesis gives Mormon scholars permission to corrupt the scientific method with religious values?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and complains that I did not quote him on this charge (p. 69). However, this charge rests more on the implications of his methodology, rather than on an explicit statement. Nevertheless, in a footnote, I quoted his 1995 statement that Ian Barbour?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s work ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsupplies the theoretical justification that I use to apply Kuhn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s model [of science] to religion?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 74 n. 16). In the same essay, he admitted that the apologists?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ paradigm includes other ?¢‚Ǩ?ìpreferred, even useful and possibly true, assumptions,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and advised fellow believers, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWe do not need to retreat from our preferred assumptions when doing our research, or living our lives, or in communicating with audiences that share those assumptions.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù6 Christensen also describes how those extra-scientific assumptions helps to overcome counter-evidence:

    When confronted by different conclusions … the best way to get perspective is to start asking all the questions that apply to a paradigm debate. Rather than focusing on a single problem … ask, Which paradigm is better? Which problems are more significant to have solved? The Book of Mormon itself claims that the key problem to have solved is testimony.7

    Christensen gives an example of how his testimony-laden observation resolves counter-evidence. Responding to Stan Larson?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s research showing Joseph Smith ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcopied the KJV blindly, not showing awareness of translation problems and errors in the KJV,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Christensen objects that no one knows what inspired translation entails.8 Evidently, for Christensen, being able to translate under inspiration is not only different than normal translation, but less reliable and in some undefinable way potentially able to explain away all anachronisms and KJV-dependent errors. Besides committing the fallacy of possible proof, it is a faith-based ad hoc rationalization that has no place in scholarly discourse.

    In the last section, Christensen tells us why he resists a paradigm shift to an inspired fiction model for the Book of Mormon. He fears that life would become ordinary and lose the magic and mystery to which he has become accustomed. His criticism of those who have made the shift as prideful in their ability to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìface the abyss without flinching,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù tells us all we need to know about what lies behind his resistence. All of which is quite ironic given his allusion to Buddhist symbolism: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìTo enter into the Real, we have to be willing to leave what we think and what we want, what we fear, and what we desire.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    Dan Vogel
    Westerville, Ohio

    NOTES

    1. David Wright to Dan Vogel, 12 Jan. 2006.

    2. David Wright, ?¢‚Ǩ?ì?¢‚ǨÀúIn Plain Terms That We May Understand?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢: Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Transformation of Hebrews in Alma 12-13,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 204-5.

    3. Dan Vogel, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe Validity of the Witnesses?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ Testimonies,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, eds., American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 91, and 115 n. 60.

    4. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 150.

    5. Kevin Christensen, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìParadigms Crossed,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7/2 (1995): 150.

    6. Ibid., 160.

    7. Ibid., 172.

    8. Ibid., 157-59. See Stan Larson, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe Historicity of the Matthean Sermon on the Mount in 3 Nephi,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in Brent D. Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 115-63.

  4. Brant Gardner says:

    It is fascinating how different a method can look when explained by someone who is clearly unfamiliar with it. I will attempt a reply to Vogel’s representation of the way I have approached the Book of Mormon.

    What does it mean to look for Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon? It means that any text written in a particular time ought to show evidence of the time and culture in which it was created. If the Book of Mormon were created during the years it says it was and if the Mesoamerican location were the real background, then that cultural background should leave its traces in the text and should do so in ways authentic to historical texts.

    This is, using a different comparative base, the same method Vogel suggests for his examination of the Book of Mormon. The difference is that he compares the text to New York frontier culture during Joseph’s time. It is ironic that Vogel would be so adamant that my method must be incorrect when it is so similar to his own. I suspect that he doesn’t feel that way about his work.

    The second question is the issue of anachronisms. Again, what I have said about them becomes something quite different in Vogel’s retelling. I have looked at all of them and analyzed the contexts in which they appear. Most of them are anachronous words that do not clearly have any supporting descriptive actions that allow us to be sure that the word represents what we think it does. Since the Book of Mormon claims to be a translation and since it is well known that a translation can insert anachronous words (such as “candle” in the KJV NT) then we cannot make any decisions based on those anachronisms alone. Until other data tell us how to read the text, they are simply anomalous data that must wait for resolution. That is a long way from ignoring them. It isn’t unusual for any scientific investigation to have anomalous data. At some point they must be accounted for and the strongest theory will account for the anomalies without damage to the larger data set. In the case of the labeling anachronisms, it is the larger data set that will tell us how to understand the words that appear to be anachronous.

    Concerning Vogel’s assertion that my approach doesn’t allow for falsification, I can’t imagine how that could be correct. If is text doesn’t fit a historical time and place – particularly when the target covers such a long time – one discovers issues rather quickly. This is particularly true if the underlying motivations and culture being described differ from that of the time period of discovery/translation. Apart from the possible translation anachronisms, there are ample cases where motivations, descriptions and assumptions would be anachronistic that would rapidly falsify the hypothesis. In the case of the Book of Mormon there are complex relationships between culture areas, peoples, languages and times that must all fit with know geography, topography, linguistics and time periods. There are a number of descriptions of economic and political developments that should reflect conditions at the historical time, if it is an ancient document.

    Any of those issues are much more damaging to a hypothesis of antiquity that the potential mislabeling through translation.

  5. The discussion of the historicity of the Book of Mormon assumes that there can be a homgeneous account of the meaning of the term “historicity”. I assert that this cannot be the case. What is “historically true” depends on what “really” happened in the past. But the concept of reality is adjudicated differently from within the confines of different linguistic frameworks and practices. For example, mathematics adjucicates the reality of numbers differently than physics does the reality of quarks. So, prior to all of the above discussion we should have a discussion of the usage of concepts such as “reality” and “historical” from within the Mormon context. I think that you find that the average Mormon (non-apologists) do not care about DNA evidence. This entails that for them it has nothing to do with the historicity of the Book of Mormon in their linguistic framework. It follows that their claim that the book of Mormon if historical is logically very different from the anthropologists’ claim that the inhabitants of this continent are not from the middle east (for example). The apparently competing claims are not really comparable since they have different standards of evidence. This said, we must recognize an important implication: saying that the native americans are lamanites is a different kind of claim. It is a political claim. It is a claim about what their status is with respect to the gospel. With a properly political reading of the Book of Mormon we will find that this means that there is more hope for them than for us. We’re the Nephites and “we” were destroyed.

  6. Gordon Hill says:

    Wow! Dennis Potter has really been drinking the purple cool aid!
    Dennis, You forgot that science is still evolving, first archeology disproved the B of M, and then DNA evidence etc. etc.
    In the future science will develop new tools and insights to help people ferret out the skunk in the wood pile.
    In the end it won’t matter because many Mormons have shown that no amount of evidence will turn them away from their childhood faith. Faith based people have always disdained reason while those of us who cherish both reason ( reality based )and faith sit back in amazment as we watch the faith based folk fighting over who can drink the most purple Kool-aid.

    Gordon Hill

  7. Dan Vogel says:

    Continuing Dialogue Between Robert Rees and Dan Vogel

    RR: In his recent response to my letter to the editor regarding his Sunstone article (?¢‚Ǩ?ìSame Old, Same Old,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù September 2005), Dan Vogel accuses me of reiterating ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe apologists?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ position without responding to the main issues raised by [his] essay.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù He is right that I did not directly address his argument about certain apologist scholars?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ misappropriation of Kuhn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s philosophical position regarding paradigms, but that was not my purpose.

    DV: So, if you didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t want to contribute to the main theme of my essay, what was your purpose?

    RR: Rather, the thrust of my argument was that I felt Vogel was being either na?ɬØve or disingenuous in offering a paradigmatic option (that believing Mormons should accept the Book of Mormon as non-historical but nevertheless ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinspired?¢‚Ǩ¬ù) that most Mormons, scholars and lay members alike, would not consider a choice at all.

    DV: You?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re probably right about most Mormons, although I find it odd that you want to speak for them. I understand that you do not consider the inspired fiction theory an option, but no one knows for sure what the average Mormon, or even a significant minority, would do once they have been informed of the issues. However, I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m less concerned about how many Mormons would accept a non-historical but inspired Book of Mormon, than that some be allowed to hold that position openly without fear of punishment or intimidation. Since testimony pertains to the truthfulness of the book, not historicity, skepticism should be permitted and not considered a heresy.

    RR: I accused Vogel of being disingenuous because I felt he was using ?¢‚Ǩ?ìprophet?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinspired?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in ways that he knew contradicted the typical Mormon understanding of these words. For example, Vogel cites Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s response to the question as to whether he considered himself to be a prophet?¢‚Ǩ‚Äù?¢‚Ǩ?ìYes, and every other man who has the testimony of Jesus?¢‚Ǩ¬ù?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùto suggest that Joseph considered himself a prophet only in the loosest sense of that word.

    DV: True, I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m less concerned about the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìtypical Mormon?¢‚Ǩ¬ù definitions of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìprophet?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinspiration,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù than with Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s. Rees objects to my quoting Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s definition of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìprophet?¢‚Ǩ¬ù–that the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìtestimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Rev. 19:10)–?¢‚Ǩ?ìto suggest that Joseph considered himself a prophet only in the loosest sense of that word.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Whether or not it meats expectations, this was Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s definition, which he repeatedly gave. In January 1843, he repeated the definition and explained: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI did not profess to be a prophet any more than every man ought to who professes to be a preacher of righteousness?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (DHC 5:231-32). I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t think Joseph Smith thought his definition was ?¢‚Ǩ?ìloose?¢‚Ǩ¬ù since he was using it to distinguish himself from the hireling priests. It is also important to note that I did not introduce Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s definition of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìprophet?¢‚Ǩ¬ù as proof that he was only a prophet in that sense, as Rees implies; but rather to explain that despite his use of deception, he could still consider himself a prophet by his own definition.

    The same is true with regard to the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinspired?¢‚Ǩ¬ù status. If one concludes that Joseph Smith knew the Book of Mormon had not come from anciently engraved gold plates, did Joseph Smith still consider the Book of Mormon ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinspired?¢‚Ǩ¬ù? The Book of Mormon itself says, yes. ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWherefore every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. … For every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Moroni 7:13, 16).

    RR: But Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s own extensive research and writing on Joseph Smith shows that Joseph considered his prophetic powers and calling anything but ordinary (like ?¢‚Ǩ?ìevery other man?¢‚Ǩ¬ù). As Richard Bushman reveals in his new biography of Joseph Smith (Joseph Smith: Rough Rolling Stone, when Joseph declared boldly in 1831, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI am Joseph the Prophet,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù ?¢‚Ǩ?ìit was a startling claim for an unprepossing young man of twenty-five.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    DV: To quote Joseph Smith calling himself ?¢‚Ǩ?ìJoseph the Prophet?¢‚Ǩ¬ù begs the question since what is meant by prophet should be understood by his own definition, not what he ?¢‚Ǩ?ìled followers to believe?¢‚Ǩ¬ù about angels and gold plates. Many Old Testament prophets did little more than to write inspired poems. Does a prophet have to do the things Joseph Smith claimed to be a prophet?

    RR: Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s argument that Joseph ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsincerely believed himself to be an inspired prophet?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùbut not in the way he encouraged his followers to believe,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is not supported by any evidence other than what I consider Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s misappropriation of Alma 6:8.

    DV: Huh? I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t believe I made this argument. Again, this statement arises out of the Book-of-Mormon-is-not-history paradigm. If the Book of Mormon is not history and the story of the angel and the plates is fiction, then he was a prophet in a difference sense than he led his followers to believe. This is the paradigm shift that I was describing.

    RR: What Vogel seems not to understand, but which is apparent to anyone who attends a typical (and they are all typical!) Latter-day Saint sacrament meeting, is that the average Mormon is bound to his or her religious beliefs (including the First Vision and the Book of Mormon), not by logic or history but rather, to use Robert Frost?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s line, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìby countless silken ties of love and thought.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù These ties include such things as church service, the bearing of testimonies, temple attendance, hymn singing, scripture study, and fellowship, to name only a few. For better or worse, most Mormons don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t bother themselves about such things as scholarly debates, scientific discoveries, or, perhaps most lamentably, their own history. The social-religious system of the Mormon Church is conservative, hierarchical, and somewhat insular. Thus, the paradigm that Vogel suggests, even if it were based on irrefutable science and scholarship (which it is not), would not be seriously considered by most Mormons. Therefore, if Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s proposal is not disingenuous, it is certainly na?ɬØve, no matter how sincerely offered.

    DV: I certainly prefer naivete to disingenuous, but only time will tell how naive I am. Nevertheless, the merits of my argument should not rest on how many LDS embrace it.

    RR: Vogel accuses me of accusing him of being ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnarrow-minded.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I did not make such an accusation in my letter, nor would I use such a term in regard to him. I do believe from his writing and from conversations we have had that Vogel has a limited scope as to what he considers acceptable evidence. Clearly he puts more stock in certain empirical rather than non-empirical data.

    DV: A distinction with very little difference, but nevertheless an attempt to cloud historical issues with testimony while at the same time labeling anyone who doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t accept your ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnon-empirical evidence?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (testimony) as using a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlimited scope?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (i.e., ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnarrow-minded?¢‚Ǩ¬ù).

    RR: But it is more complicated than that. In the introduction to his biography of Joseph Smith, Vogel admits his bias toward empirical data but also reveals that he employs a more complex epistemological approach. What I consider ironic is, on the one hand, Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s rejection of all supernatural evidence for the Restoration (Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s visions, the visions and manifestations of Joseph?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s family and associates, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, etc.) and, on the other, his acceptance of what many consider wildly psychobiographical speculation.

    DV: This is nothing more than an ad hominem (circumstantial), or an attempt to appeal to an opponents personal circumstances as a means of coercing him/her to accept a particular proposition without defending the merits of one?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s own argument.

    Nevertheless, the analogy between supernaturalism and psychology is rather weak. If the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmany?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Rees refers to are anything like the brothers Hedges, they assume the term ?¢‚Ǩ?ìpsychobiography?¢‚Ǩ¬ù refers to the use of Freudian psychoanalysis, which my biography does not use (see my response at SignatureBooks.com). Instead my approach is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinformed by?¢‚Ǩ¬ù family systems theory, which is less concerned with psychodynamics than family dynamics. Using my reconstruction of Smith family dynamics, which is not psychoanalytic but behavior oriented, I look for possible insights in the Book of Mormon. As a literary critic, Rees should be familiar with the historical-biographical method of literary analysis, which are not offered as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìproof?¢‚Ǩ¬ù but as plausible meanings of texts based on certain assumptions. While this can be subjective, it in no way equates with supernaturalism. Does he know of any literary critics who use prayer, testimony, or the supernatural?

    RR: What Vogel seems not to recognize is that his seeing the Book of Mormon narrative through the prism of the Smith family dynamics is at least as subjective and speculative as the arguments he dismisses from those who see the book as being an authentic, divinely inspired, angelically delivered text. In other words, to me, seeing Smith family ghosts in the Book of Mormon narrative does not differ all that much from seeing angels in Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s bedroom. Neither can be empirically proven. I see Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s imposing the Smith family dynamics on the Book of Mormon narrative as a procrustean bed of analysis. At the very least it is a highly imaginative reading of the text.

    DV: Absurd! There is no way that the historical-biographical method is on the same plane as claims of seeing visions of angels. Nevertheless, Rees fails to realize that I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m not offering my analysis as evidence of Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s authorship, whereas the apologists?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ parallels are being offered as such. I have conclude the Book of Mormon is not history based on the lack of evidence and various historical anachronisms, and I have rejected Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s story of the angel and the plates based on the same kind of evidence. I haven?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t simply dismissed Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s claims to visions, but I have offered reasons why his stories are not credible.

    True, interpretations of texts cannot be ?¢‚Ǩ?ìempirically proven?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in any case, but Book of Mormon historicity potentially can. If the Book of Mormon is proven to be historical, then Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s claims about angel visitations become credible. However, the intent of my essay was to encourage apologists not to brush negative evidence aside with their ad hoc devices, but to redefine ?¢‚Ǩ?ìprophet?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinspiration?¢‚Ǩ¬ù based on a non-historical Book of Mormon. It was not my purpose to rehash the pro and con of Book of Mormon historicity, but Rees can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t seem to get out of that rut and, at least momentarily, consider other possibilities. Of course, there are many ways of looking at a text and every method of interpretation, every tool of scholarship, has its limitations and drawbacks, but what other choice do you have?

    RR: Vogel calls my challenge to naturalist critics to explain how the Book of Mormon could be a product of nineteenth century culture ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnothing but a red herring?¢‚Ǩ¬ù that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhas no probative value in determining whether or not the Book of Mormon is historical,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù but I contend that it is at least as legitimate a challenge as those presented by naturalist critics.

    DV: Suppose critics can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t explain exactly how Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, does it prove it is an ancient book. No. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s an attempt to shift the burden of proof from those who assert the positive to those who are skeptical of the claim.

    RR: Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s argument that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthere is simply no direct evidence linking the book of Mormon to ancient America?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe apologists?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ case rests on isolated parallels and wishful thinking,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù does not accommodate what for many constitute serious evidence of ancient elements, elements that cannot be explained from Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s information or cultural environment. If these cannot be demonstrated as coming from Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s mind or found in nineteenth century America (as some persuasively argue), then it is legitimate to suggest they came from outside that environment?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùand to challenge those who are convinced that it did come from within that environment to demonstrate exactly (or even approximately) how they did so.

    DV: This is another argument from ignorance. All it means is you can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t find a nineteenth-century antecedent. Nothing more. It also begs the question since it requires the critic to accept the legitimacy of the apologists?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ evidence for ancient origins. But here Rees has missed the purpose of the discussion between me and Christensen, which is the tendency of the apologists to use ancient parallels to discount historical and literary anachronisms and other negative evidence.

    RR: Vogel is right to say that there is no such thing as a neutral position, but I was not presenting myself as neutral?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùonly as someone who is concerned that the polar shouting I experience on both sides of the divide doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t seem to lead to anything constructive.

    DV: Yet, when I try to present the Book of Mormon as non-historical in a way that preserves it as a sacred, perhaps inspired text, you call me disingenuous.

    RR: I confess that I am not completely objective or dispassionate. However, trying to be as intellectually and as spiritually honest as I can, I thoughtfully consider both the legitimacy of intellectual challenges to my faith and the validity of spiritual experiences of my faith. As I have tried to make clear, I cannot seem to escape the tension between the two kinds of experiences, particularly because I see both as having strengths and weaknesses?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùthat is, one can be as deceived by too great a reliance on reason as by too great a reliance on spiritual or spectral evidence.

    DV: I have no problem with this statement, generally, if one acknowledges that testimony of the Book of Mormon pertains to its spiritual truth and not to its historical truth. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not a matter of balance, but of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmagisteria?¢‚Ǩ¬ù as you have noted.

    RR: While it is true, as Vogel contends, that the term ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnaturalist?¢‚Ǩ¬ù does not ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdescribe all those who question Book of Mormon historicity,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù it does seem an accurate appellation for Vogel himself, who seems to eschew all non-naturalistic phenomena or explanations (again except for the speculative biographical data mentioned above).

    DV: My comment came in response to Rees?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ad hominem that my conclusion about the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s historicity is dictated by my commitment to naturalism, which is fallacious and irrelevant. This is evident from the fact that I was basically arguing a similar position given by some believing Mormons, not to mention that multitude of supernaturalists of other faiths who also offer naturalistic explanations for the Book of Mormon. We need to stick with evidence and arguments.

    RR: He must be aware that modern neuroscience sees a much more complex view of reality. As Joseph Chilton Pearce and Michael Mendizza state, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìPerception, awareness, what we call reality is an ever-changing blend of multiple data streams?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùexternal, internal, past, imagined, and intuitive?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùsimultaneously displayed in consciousness.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    DV: I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m not sure this information is relevant to the subject at hand, other than perhaps to muddle the reader?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s brain and thought processes and circumvent the need for evidence in deciding the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s historical status.

    RR: Most Latter-day Saints give primacy to their felt experience with the Book of Mormon, and the breadth and depth of such experience is more persuasive to them than such things as the absence of Semitic DNA markers among Native American lineages.

    DV: As I said, I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t have a problem with anyone having a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfelt experience?¢‚Ǩ¬ù with the Book of Mormon, it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s the interpretation of that experience that I question. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s possible to misinterpret ?¢‚Ǩ?ìspiritual experiences?¢‚Ǩ¬ù with cultural expectations and assumptions just as we do other ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfelt experiences.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù It is the clouding of the issues that concerns me.

    RR: In other words, the spiritual logic of their encounter with the book trumps other kinds of logic. So, even if Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s argument were iron-clad (which I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t believe it is), it would make little difference to the majority of Latter-day Saints. That may be lamentable, but it is no less a reality. This is why I consider his hope for a paradigm shift unrealistic.

    DV: Given what Rees said above, that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìreality?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìan ever-changing blend of multiple data streams?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùexternal, internal, past, imagined, and intuitive?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùsimultaneously displayed in consciousness,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m not sure how much authority his description of it has. He might be right, but he might be wrong. Only time can tell. But what does that have to do with the merits of my discussion?

    RR: Vogel tries to turn the tables on me by saying that my use of Stephen J. Gould?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s idea of non-overlapping-magisteria makes his case, but he obscures Gould?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s point, which is not that bad or pseudo-science has any validity but that the realms of scientific inquiry and religious experience have separate domains and that it is illegitimate to judge either by the standards of the other.

    DV: Not quite. He wanted religion to stay out of science, and science to stay out of theology. He wasn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t supporting a postmodernist view of reality as you seem to imply.

    RR: Thus, believers must regard the findings of science as significant (if not always conclusive) and non-believers must respect the experience of faith (even if not persuaded by it). These are, as Gould argues, non-overlapping (i.e., entirely separate epistemological) realms. This is significant in relation to some naturalists and to some apologists who keep judging each another by the wrong criteria.

    DV: The ?¢‚Ǩ?ìexperience of faith?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is not ?¢‚Ǩ?ìepistemological.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù When determining the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s historical status, there should be only one set of criteria–and faith, religion, and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfelt experience?¢‚Ǩ¬ù have nothing to do with it. That is the point I hope you will get.

    RR: I have tried to make my own position clear: As a scholar and a believer, I value both magesteria; in fact, I have spent my professional and personal life trying to foster respectful dialogue between the two.

    DV: In determining historicity, there doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t need to be dialogue between the two magesteria. Should it be determined the Book of Mormon is not ancient, then faith will have to adapt just as it has in so many other situations, at least, for the most part. One can resist, as in the case with Creation science or intelligent design theory, or decide that it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s really not that threatening to faith.

    RR: As a scholar I have tried to use the best critical skills of my particular profession (literary history and textual analysis) in coming to terms with the text of the Book of Mormon. In doing so, I am persuaded that it is an amazingly complex, sophisticated, and, at times, profound text.

    DV: None of which proves it is ancient. All these elements appear in Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s revelations as well as in some of his sermons and letters (particularly those that are now D&C 121-23).

    RR: As objectively as I able to weigh the evidence, I am persuaded that it is highly unlikely a product of Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s or one of his contemporaries?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ mind and imagination. Nevertheless, I remain open to the possibility that it might be.

    DV: This is a highly subjective assessment–far more than my speculations about family dynamics. You simply do not know what Joseph Smith was capable of doing. No one–not even a professor of literary history and textual analysis–can answer that question.

    RR: As I have said elsewhere, if someone were to discover a proto-manuscript of the Book of Mormon, say written in 1795, I would have to revise my thinking.

    DV: This is simply silly, especially in view of your claim that I have ?¢‚Ǩ?ìa limited scope as to what he considers acceptable evidence.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    RR: The question I put seriously to Vogel is whether if it had been shown that there was DNA evidence of Semitic bloodlines among indigenous American populations that would have convinced him that the Book of Mormon was what it claims to be. From all he has said and written on this subject, I seriously doubt such evidence would have been persuasive to him.

    DV: Of course not. Because the evidence isn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t specific to the Book of Mormon. There is such a thing as having the right answer for the wrong reason. One of the most popular theories among Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s contemporaries was that Native Americans originated from the lost ten tribes. But there is no evidence, genetic or otherwise, for a Hebrew presence in the Americas, although Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s contemporaries thought they had a lot of proof.

    RR: And yet he wants the absence of such DNA markers to overturn all other evidence that others find for concluding the text is ancient.

    DV: Disconfirming evidence has more probative value than perceived correlations, because correlation does not prove derivation. Presently, Book of Mormon historicity is precariously propped up by the limited geography, local colonization, inspired-but-faulty translation theories, which are far more speculative than my family dynamics theory. However, the case for the nineteenth-century origin of the Book of Mormon doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t rest on that kind of analysis, whereas Book of Mormon historicity does. Once these devices go, whatever ancient parallels the apologists thought they could see in the text can be dismissed as coincidence and apologetic ingenuity.

    RR: Unfortunately, Vogel resorts to the very kind of rhetorical tricks of which he accuses me, tying me to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfundamentalist,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcreationists,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and other extreme, right-wing positions, which I believe he knows from our conversations and from my published work has no basis in reality.

    DV: True, I repeatedly asked what difference there was between Rees?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s rhetoric and that of Christian fundamentalists and Creationists who also think scientists have ?¢‚Ǩ?ìa limited scope as to what [they] considers acceptable evidence.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    RR: It is exactly this kind of pejorative rhetoric that I find so dispiriting. While I tried to be as dispassionate as possible in my critique of Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s position, to whatever extent he feels I was unduly or unfairly critical, I sincerely apologize. I respect his right to hold and defend his views and I personally believe him to be both sincere and caring.

    DV: No apology is necessary. I wasn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t offended. Nor did I intend to offend, but to make what I sincerely believed to be a legitimate point.

  8. Timothy A. Griffy says:

    A Defense of My Faith

    For more than a year, I have been reading with interest the debates carried out in Sunstone over the authorship of the Book of Mormon. The focus of these debates has been over recent DNA studies and their bearing on Book of Mormon historicity. Alongside this debate on this so-called Galileo event1 is the question posed by Dan Vogel, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìIs a ?¢‚ǨÀúParadigm Shift?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ in Book of Mormon Studies Possible??¢‚Ǩ¬ù2 In part, Vogel was responding to Kevin Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s work applying paradigm shifts in science to the authorship debate.3 This article has generated its own share of responses.

    Initially, I read Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s corpus and took my cue from him. I felt he had made some valid points,4 and wrote an essay synthesizing the environmentalist paradigm which may yet see the light of publication.5 But as the debate progressed, I became increasingly uneasy with the responses and felt an entirely different type of essay would have more value. So instead of a scholarly essay, I offer my personal reflections on this issue.

    I begin by affirming as clearly as possible my beliefs about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon is truly the word of God, and Joseph Smith was truly a prophet of God. Beyond that, nothing else matters. The issues of authorship and dating for this scripture are relevant only for interpreting the work. If an unambiguous statement from Joseph Smith stating he wrote the Book of Mormon from whole cloth were found tomorrow, it would not affect my faith. Likewise, if a proverbial ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWelcome to Zarahemla?¢‚Ǩ¬ù sign were found, it would not affect my faith.

    Having said that, I also affirm that Joseph Smith is the human author of the Book of Mormon, which can be dated no earlier than the mid-1820s. I make this assertion strictly from my opinion of the available evidence, made after examining the issue as carefully and prayerfully as I am able. This opinion is subject to change pending new evidence, but for now, I do not foresee this happening.

    I also firmly reject any contention that if Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, then he is a fraud. Whether Joseph was the author or the translator, the Book of Mormon remains my primary evidence that God called him to be a prophet. The amount, if any, of conscious deception in producing the work is simply irrelevant from my viewpoint as a believer. Joseph was doing God?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s work, and that is all that matters to me.

    I have already outlined my spiritual journey in a letter published by Sunstone.6 My journey into Mormonism began when I was an Evangelical with decidedly anti-Mormon views. This included a belief in the plenary inspiration of the Bible, resulting in a work that was completely inerrant. My study of the Bible showed me otherwise, and that led to a crisis of faith. Told the Bible was either inerrant or worthless, I found myself torn because it was speaking to me with power although I had to conclude it was hardly inerrant. I resolved that issue, and in turn looked at Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon in a new light. A good seed, now planted in good soil, began to sprout (see Alma 32:28ff.).

    Thus, when I say that the Book of Mormon is inspired fiction, I mean inspired by God. I am hardly a disaffected Mormon. My testimony came from hard work and with no small amount of personal tribulation. Since the time Sunstone published my letter, my testimony about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon has only grown. I can say with confidence that I would be willing to match the strength of my testimony against anyone seeking to defend the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

    If I judge correctly from various historicist responses, my belief regarding Book of Mormon authorship is irreconcilable with my belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet. First, I think it well to remember many possible solutions to reconcile the problem are available. These possibilities include the following: Joseph as pious fraud,7 automatic writer,8 mystic,9 shamanic negotiator of the collective unconscious,10 and pseudipigraphic writer.11 All these ideas have merits worth considering for those having problems with a historical Book of Mormon.

    More important, I think many defenders of Book of Mormon historicity have staked their claim to this scripture?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s authority on issues that can and should be separated. Thus, many historicists claim the Book of Mormon cannot be both authoritative and fictional. I see this happening whenever someone effectively hides behind their testimony, using their spiritual witness as proof of historicity.12

    While it is not my business to question anyone?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s spiritual witness, I wonder if the questions asked about the Book of Mormon are really that specific. In my experience of listening to or reading about Latter-day Saints receiving a testimony, the question deals with whether the Book of Mormon is true, not whether it is historical. While I was wrapped up in the issue of whether the Book of Mormon is historical, I could receive no witness. It was only when I separated the two issues that I received my testimony.

    Can the issue of historicity and the issue of truth be so easily separated? In one response to Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s essay, Robert A. Rees, who had already become a personal hero of mine, mentions Stephen Jay Gould?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s idea of non-overlapping magisteria.13 While I have my reservations about Gould?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s thought, it seems to me that a natural application to the Book of Mormon presents itself.14 The historicity of the Book of Mormon is an empirical question that we can resolve through normal historical-critical means of inquiry. That issue can and should be debated vigorously by both sides using any and all tools available to the respective scholars. Nevertheless, its real truth, what it communicates about the ultimate meaning of the universe and humanity?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s place in the world, belongs in a separate category. In a manner not unlike the Evangelicals regarding biblical inerrancy, many Latter-day Saints have confounded the two issues, effectively substituting the lesser issue for the weightier one.

    How would separating the issue of historicity from the issue of truth affect the Book of Mormon? I think that it would have little, if any effect. Certainly, a modern Book of Mormon would affect some particularities of interpretation, but the universal message of the Book of Mormon would be untouched. Most Latter-day Saints will continue to read it for guidance and inspiration largely unaware of the academic debate. For all Mormons, it will remain a witness to Christ, it will remain an affirmation of Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s prophetic calling, and it will remain God?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s statement to humanity in power.

    Related to, though also distinct from the problem of history and truth, is the confounding of author and authority. Thus, Joseph Smith as the author of the Book of Mormon is a worthless fraud but Nephi et. al. make it Scripture. It is not as though Joseph could not write Scripture; Latter-day Saints can accept him as the author of the Doctrine and Covenants (at least certain sections) and parts of the Pearl of Great Price. So, in principle, they can accept the idea that it is not the human author that makes a given work the word of God.

    Yet the same principles that transform Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s undisputed works into Scripture apply equally well to the Book of Mormon and other ?¢‚Ǩ?ìancient?¢‚Ǩ¬ù scriptures. On a mundane level, they are Scripture because the Latter-day Saints as a community accept them as such by common consent. On a more important level, they are Scripture because God backs them with his authority.

    In my mind then, the picture of Joseph Smith as a prophet remains unchanged even if he wrote the Book of Mormon. Joseph was a prophet because he did what prophets do?¢‚Ǩ‚Äúcompelled, even seduced by God,15 he brought forth the message that burned within him. And the most important message of the Book of Mormon is a witness of this?¢‚Ǩ‚ÄúGod is still talking to mankind! Will we listen?

    If we allow the authority of the Book of Mormon to rest where it belongs, different possibilities open for Joseph Smith. Assuming he knowingly wrote the Book of Mormon and passed it off as ancient, he did so with God?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s authority and with a clear conscience knowing he was acting as God directed. For those who would object that God would not do such a thing, I would direct them to the Exodus story, 1 Kings 22, or Abraham 2:22-25. God is certainly not above using a bit of deception, or allowing people to continue in harmless beliefs, if it accomplishes a greater purpose.

    Nevertheless, I do not believe that Joseph knowingly passed off his own work as that of the ancients. The available evidence leads me to believe that Joseph honestly believed he was translating ancient records. I seriously doubt anyone could have perpetuated such a charade for nearly twenty years without cracking under the pressure. He suffered too much, and could have easily ended many of his troubles simply by coming clean about the origin of the Book of Mormon. Perhaps God really is not above deceiving his own prophets.

    The important point here is that God worked with Joseph to get His message across ?¢‚Ǩ?ìaccording to [our] language, unto [our] understanding?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (2 Ne. 31:5). The Book of Mormon is not Scripture because Joseph Smith translated it from ancient records, and therefore does not cease to be Scripture if Joseph Smith is its human author. It is Scripture because God speaks to us through it.
    That is enough.

    NOTES

    1. See Brent Lee Metcalfe ?¢‚Ǩ?ìReinventing Lamanite Identity,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Sunstone (March 2004): 25 note 39 and Thomas W. Murphy, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìInventing Galileo,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Sunstone March (2004): 58-61.

    2. Sunstone (March 2005): 69-74.

    3. For the most recent example, see Kevin Christensen, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìDetermining What is ?¢‚ǨÀúReal,?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Sunstone (November 2005): 66-70.

    4. Setting aside the question of whether Christensen is committing a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfallacy from Kuhn,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù framing the authorship issue as a paradigm debate has cast new light on the dynamics of the authorship debate. It has also kept his writings remarkably free from rancor. Would that all apologists imitate his irenic tone!

    5. Timothy A. Griffy, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe Environmental Theory of Book of Mormon Interpretation,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù unpublished essay in possession of the author, copies available upon request.

    6. Timothy A. Griffy, letter to the editor, Sunstone (April 1997): 2-3.

    7. Vogel, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìParadigm Shift,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù 73.

    8. Scott C. Dunn, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAutomaticity and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon, ed. Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 17-46.

    9. Clay L. Chandler, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìScrying for the Lord: Magic, Mysticism, and the Origins of the Book of Mormon,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36, no. 1 (Winter 2003): 43-78.

    10. C. Jess Groesbeck, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe Book of Mormon as a Symbolic History: A New Perspective on Its Place in History and Religion,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Sunstone (March 2004): 35-45.

    11. Robert M. Price, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìProphecy and Palimpsest,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35, no. 3 (Fall 2002): 67-82.

    12. With varying degrees of explicitness, see Trent D. Stephens, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìNow What??¢‚Ǩ¬ù Sunstone (March 2004): 29; Benjamin H. Layman, letter to the editor, Sunstone (July 2004): 4; Roger Terry, letter to the editor, Sunstone (May 2005): 5-6; Larry Morris, letter to the editor, Sunstone (November 2005): 4. I found Morris?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ letter particularly condescending. I do not need his kind of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìempathy.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    13. Robert A. Rees, letter to the editor, Sunstone (May 2005): 4.

    14. Note Dan Vogel subsequently made a similar point in a letter to the editor, Sunstone (September 2005): 5.

    15. See Jer. 20:7, which some versions translate ?¢‚Ǩ?ìseduced?¢‚Ǩ¬ù rather than ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdeceived?¢‚Ǩ¬ù as per the KJV.

  9. Dan Vogel says:

    Brant Gardner complains that my critique misrepresents his methodology, but I see no significant difference between what Gardner defends and what I had critiqued. In fact, his response simply reiterates what I had described and labors to overcome my assessment. So the issue is not my misrepresentation of his methodology, but whether or not my critique is valid. In the end, I believe Gardner provides us with a clear description of how an apologist tries to close his paradigm to negative evidence.

    Actually, if anyone has misrepresented his methodology, it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Gardner himself. While he defends ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlook[ing] for Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù he neglects to mention the balance of his own description of his methodology: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI started looking for Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon instead of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Why ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinstead of?¢‚Ǩ¬ù? Why not ?¢‚Ǩ?ìin addition to?¢‚Ǩ¬ù?

    In my essay, I suggested that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthis one-way procedure has apologetic advantages because if one looks only for similarities in the text, rather than comparing the text as a whole against what is known about Mesoamerica, historical anachronisms become invisible to researchers and falsifiability becomes impossible?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (SUNSTONE 136 [March 2005]: 71). That is still a valid observation, and nothing Gardner says changes that.

    What are the apologetic advantages of Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s one-way methodology? Gardner implies that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhistorical anachronisms?¢‚Ǩ¬ù that are being avoided are mere ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlabeling problems,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù or ?¢‚Ǩ?ìanachronous words,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù such as one would expect to find in any translation. Even an inspired translation? Admittedly, it is less difficult finding the Mesoamerican tapir or deer in the Book of Mormon than finding the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s horse in Mesoamerica, but Gardner knows is methodology avoids much bigger problems than explaining a few anachronistic words. He is quite aware that his methodology relieves apologists from the impossible task of finding an Israelite colony in ancient America. As he explained to Kevin Christensen:

    ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWould I ever reconstruct Mesoamerican society in a way that appeared to represent Christianized Old World peoples? No. I wouldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t. I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t.

    ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe rather interesting discovery made just a few years back was that I, and many other Mesoamericanists, had simply made some incorrect assumptions about the [Book of Mormon] text. The attempts of LDS archaeological apologetics was for years focused on finding the Christian or the Hebrew–or who knows what–in Mesoamerican archaeology.

    ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe difference came when I started looking for Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon instead of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica. Oddly enough, there is a huge difference, and the nature and the quality of the correlations has changed with that single shift in perspective.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (B. Gardner to K. Christensen, quoted in FARMS Review 16/1 [2004]: 309)

    Obviously, Gardner knows his methodology avoids more than a few anachronistic words. Nevertheless, Gardner assures us that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmost of them are anachronous words that do not clearly have any supporting descriptive actions that allow us to be sure that the word represents what we think it does.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù What does it mean ?¢‚Ǩ?ìto be sure?¢‚Ǩ¬ù? How much contextual information does an apologist need to conclude the translation is accurate? Given the fact that apologists have no difficulty associating the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhorse?¢‚Ǩ¬ù with tapir and deer despite its being contextualized with ?¢‚Ǩ?ìchariots?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Alma 18:9-12; 20:6; 3 Nephi 3:22), Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s appeal to contextual evidence is rather dubious. When combined with Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s appeal to deconstructionism and the indeterminancy of sign and signified, the apologists?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ ability to avoid the implications of anachronistic words is only limited by their imaginations.

    However, some anachronisms aren?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t so easily explained. The word ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsteel,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù for example, is difficult to explain with a substitute word because metallurgy is unknown in Mesoamerica before about AD 900. Apparently this kind of anachronism comes under the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìanomalous data?¢‚Ǩ¬ù that Gardner believes should be weighed against the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlarger data set?¢‚Ǩ¬ù–a data set, by the way, accumulated by using his one-way methodology. This simply begs the question in more than one way. If the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s historicity was not an issue, there might be some agreement on what constitutes a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlarger data set.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Those who see the Book of Mormon as a product of the nineteenth century have a different ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdata set?¢‚Ǩ¬ù from which to view anachronistic words and ideas. Indeed, what Gardner regards as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìanomalous data?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is no longer anomalous from a nineteenth-century perspective. Such anachronisms are expected when weighed against the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlarger data set?¢‚Ǩ¬ù of the Mound Builder Myth, anti-Masonic and anti-Universalist rhetoric, and over reliance on the KJV of the Bible. Against this backdrop, the apologists?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ parallels become the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìanomalous data.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Indeed, Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s assertion that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìany text written in a particular time ought to show evidence of the time and culture in which it was created?¢‚Ǩ¬ù means different things to apologists and critics.

    Of course, weighing the anachronisms against the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlarger data set?¢‚Ǩ¬ù would be more meaningful if that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdata set?¢‚Ǩ¬ù included a direct connection to ancient America. In such a situation, one could more confidently make allowances for anachronisms. As it is, one does not know if one is correcting an ancient but mistaken author, clarifying a translator?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s error, or facilitating a forger. Given the fact that the Book of Mormon has not made a direct connection to ancient America and the apologists?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ position increasingly relies on ad hoc theories such as the awkward-fitting limited geography, the Book of Mormon has not earned the benefit of the doubt that apologists constantly demand.

    Nevertheless, Gardner suggests that we set aside word anachronisms and focus on a different kind of anachronism:

    ?¢‚Ǩ?ìApart from the possible translation anachronisms, there are ample cases where motivations, descriptions and assumptions would be anachronistic that would rapidly falsify the hypothesis. In the case of the Book of Mormon there are complex relationships between culture areas, peoples, languages and times that must all fit with know[n] geography, topography, linguistics and time periods. There are a number of descriptions of economic and political developments that should reflect conditions at the historical time, if it is an ancient document.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    Gardner contends that these kinds of anachronisms ?¢‚Ǩ?ìallow for falsification?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and are ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmuch more damaging to a hypothesis of antiquity.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù However, when one observes Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s methodology at work, one quickly discovers that these other kinds of anachronisms are handled in much the same way as word anachronisms: by reading what is known about Mesoamerica into the Book of Mormon. Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s essay ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe Gadianton Robbers in Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s theological History: Their Structural Role and Plausible Identification?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (2002) (available on FAIR.com), which is sometimes suggested by apologists as an alternative to the anti-Masonic interpretation, is an example of how his methodology works. While I found many things in the essay objectionable, I want to focus on how he bends the Book of Mormon narrative to fit his conception of Mesoamerican history.

    Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s main objective is to connect the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Gadianton robbers with the jaguar cult centered in Teotihuac?ɬ°n in the Valley of Mexico, which he argues corresponds to the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ?¢‚Ǩ?ìland northward.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù A major problem is that the Book of Mormon never describes secret combinations as occupying the land northward, except when it was also occupied by the Jaredites. Not to worry, Gardner believes Mormon interrupts his account of secret combinations among the Nephites with the story of mass migrations into the land northward about 46 B.C. (see Helaman 3) because he is hinting about the origin and location of the Gadiantons of his own day. Never mind that Mormon does not make this claim. For Gardner, the juxtaposition of the two stories is enough to justify his reading Mesoamerican history into the Book of Mormon.

    There are also several problems with Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s claim that the migrants?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ destination was Teotihuac?ɬ°n. Gardner argues:

    ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe essential elements that allow us to identify this area are:

    It is northward of the Nephite lands
    There are many waters
    It is nearly desolate of trees
    There are cement buildings

    ?¢‚Ǩ?ìFrom perhaps 100 BC to 600 AD there is only one area in Mesoamerica that fits all of these descriptions, and that is the city known as Teotihuac?ɬ°n. It is north of the Nephite lands. It is near the lake that at that time occupied the current site of Mexico City. It has buildings made of high quality cement. The lack of trees and the environmental imbalance created by denuding the land of trees is hypothesized as a major factor in creating the downfall of Teotihuac?ɬ°n. We have several very specific requirements that must all converge at one point to fit Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s description and there is only one area in Mesoamerica that fits this description well in the time period described.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s claim that Teotihuac?ɬ°n ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfits all of these descriptions?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is true only if one is willing to make several significant adjustments to the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s claims.

    First, Gardner creates two lands of many waters: one in the land of Cumorah (the site of the Jaredite and Nephite destructions), which apologists have identified as the Papaloapan Lagoon System just west of the Isthums of Tehuantepec near Tres Zapotes, and another farther west and north in the Valley of Mexico. According to Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s reading, the migrants went to Teotihuac?ɬ°n, which is about 225 miles northwest from Tres Zapotes. Yet Helaman 3 links its land of many waters with the Jaredite destruction. If there were two lands of many waters, one would expect Mormon to distinguish the area of many waters in Helaman 3:4 from the more famous “land of many waters” of Cumorah. Gardner admits that Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s description is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìgiven in such a way that Mormon likely supposed that we should easily understand what he was describing.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Gardner mentions the Mexican lake but Helaman says ?¢‚Ǩ?ìlarge bodies of water,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù which early readers readily identified with the Great Lakes. The creation of two lands of many waters is entirely ad hoc and forced.

    Second, Gardner also says he chose Teotihuac?ɬ°n because it had buildings made of high quality cement. He references an article by Matthew G. Wells and John W. Welch, which describes the appearance of cement at Teotihuac?ɬ°n ?¢‚Ǩ?ìas early as the middle of the first century B.C.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (?¢‚Ǩ?ìConcrete Evidence for the Book of Mormon,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret; Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992], 212-14). While the use of cement began in the north, it soon spread to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe Maya regions of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (p. 212). This statement seems odd since Mormon makes the use of cement sound like a peculiarity of living in the deforested north country. Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s linking cement construction with the lack of timber is also at odds with David S. Hyman?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s description of how the cement was made: ?¢‚Ǩ?ì[The limestone was purified on a] cylindrical pile of timber, which requires a vast amount of labor to cut and considerable skill to construct in such a way that combustion of the stone and wood is complete and a minimum of impurities remains in the product?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (David S. Hyman, A Study of the Calcareous Cements in Prehispanic Mesoamerican Building, as quoted in Wells and Welch, 213).

    Third, Gardner acknowledges but fails to overcome the differences in the timing of the deforestation of the area. While Mormon attributes it to the Jaredites, in Teotihuac?ɬ°n it does not happen until ?¢‚Ǩ?ì250 AD and later.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù To overcome this monumental problem, Gardner claims that Mormon did not have ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhistorical records that tell of the land to which these people went.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Then he gives two possible solutions to his problem: Mormon was either wrong about the destination of the migrants or he is describing the Teotihuac?ɬ°n of his day. Of course, this ad hoc rationalization fails if Mormon was relying on historical sources, which Mormon said he was doing (Helaman 3:13-16).

    Fourth, the biggest problem is that Mormon never connects the Gadiantons with the northern migration; that is Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s attempt to force the Book of Mormon into a Mesoamerican mold. In fact, at no time are the Gadiantons described as being located in the land northward let alone radiating from a major city near large bodies of water. This is all Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s doing. Despite living in the land northward until age 11, Mormon does not mention the Gadiantons until moving to Zarahemla (Mormon 1:18). As far as Mormon is concerned, the Gadiantons were in league with the Lamanites to destroy the Nephites and were located by treaty to the south of Nephite lands (Mormon 1:18; 2:28-29).

    Despite such heavy-handed manipulation of the text, Gardner conclusion is overly confident:

    ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWhen we place known Mesoamerican history side by side with Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s spiritual history, we find in both accounts a militarism exacerbated by a small contingent of a foreign element from the lands northward. The Book of Mormon timing for this description corresponds directly to the secular history of the expansion of Teotihuac?ɬ°n throughout all of Mesoamerica, but particularly the Maya region to their south.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    On the contrary, there are significant differences and gaps. First, although from the north himself, Mormon always looked to the south for his enemy. He is unconcerned about the northern country; for him, it is not a foreign country filled with Lamanites and Gadiantons, but allies and recruits for his armies. Second, Mormon does not ascribe the downfall of Nephite rule to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmilitarism exacerbated by a small contingent of a foreign element from the lands northward.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Again, that is Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s forcing the Book of Mormon into his Mesoamerican mold.

    In this manner, Gardner shows us what he means by finding Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon. Evidently his procedure includes correcting the text using his understanding of Mesoamerican history, which not only creates a closed circularity of interpretation but also renders his claim about falsification rather meaningless. Nevertheless, just as the Book of Mormon cannot make a direct connection to ancient America, Mesoamerica makes no direct connection with the Book of Mormon.

    Finally, Gardner seeks to justify his one-way method by suggesting that it is no different than my attempts to connect the Book of Mormon to the nineteenth century. He argues, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìIt is ironic that Vogel would be so adamant that my method must be incorrect when it is so similar to his own.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù However, in contextualizing the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s environment, I am not necessarily trying to prove it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s modern origin. As I have repeatedly stated, the issue of historicity is secondary to understanding the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s message and the interpretive dynamic between it and its first readers. So, if my approach deals with the question of historicity at all, it deals with it indirectly.

    Moreover, besides being a fallacious appeal to special circumstances, Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s comparison is inappropriate for the simple reason that I believe it is fiction and he believes it is authentic history–hence the burden of proof is his, not mine. Free of this burden, I obviously have more flexibility in my interpretations than someone trying to demonstrate historicity. Simply put, one does not demonstrate historicity by using the same methods as someone interpreting a novel.

  10. I begin by affirming as clearly as possible my beliefs about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon is truly the word of God, and Joseph Smith was truly a prophet of God. Beyond that, nothing else matters. The issues of authorship and dating for this scripture are relevant only for interpreting the work. If an unambiguous statement from Joseph Smith stating he wrote the Book of Mormon from whole cloth were found tomorrow, it would not affect my faith. Likewise, if a proverbial ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWelcome to Zarahemla?¢‚Ǩ¬ù sign were found, it would not affect my faith.

    Reminds me of the very pragmatic nature of twelve step programs. People who have encountered a higher power, but who are extremely relaxed in their possible definitions of it (nothing like hearing an athiest talk about the “god of his understanding”).

    If the spiritual connection has occurred, the rest of the issues are transformed.

  11. Kevin Christensen says:

    Vogel, in responding to Blake Ostler offers what I consider a most revealing statement:

    ?¢‚Ǩ?ìOne cannot simply invoke distance problems as the reason for rejecting hemispheric geography. To do so is to beg the question. They must propose a geography that fits the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s description of a narrow neck of land between lands northward and southward better than traditional hemispheric geography. Even Ostler recognizes that Sorenson?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s theory doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t do that. If Panama is a better fit and hemispheric geography comes into play, then distances are problematic and can be read as evidence of Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s naivete. Evidently Joseph Smith and first-generation Mormons (and most present believers in the Book of Mormon as well) were oblivious to problems of distance and population growth. As far as can be determined, M. T. Lamb?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s 1887 book The Golden Bible was first to question Book of Mormon historicity based on these problems.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    I find this a remarkably telling statement. Notice particularly the arguments that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinvoking distance problems…is to beg the question.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù
    Technically, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìbegging the question?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is to assume the very thing that you pretend to argue. This, of course, is exactly what Vogel does here. He assumes hemispheric geography and uses that assumption to dismiss as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìJoseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s naivete?¢‚Ǩ¬ù passages that provide evidence against that reading. Kuhn had observed a degree of self-reference in all paradigms commenting that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìParadigms not only provide scientists with a map, but with some of the directions for map-making.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù The only way to avoid the problem of circular reasoning in paradigm debate is to admit the issue up front, and argue the paradigms in terms of which better explains the evidence. And in arguing which is better, we should also be upfront about the selection and valuing process we use in deciding which is better. I discussed all of this in detail in ?¢‚Ǩ?ìParadigms Crossed?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in RBBM 7:2. (Incidentally, Vogel claims that my use of Kuhn is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìselective:?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Specifically, he says ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe wording of his denial is an admission that his use of Kuhn is selective, and therefore it is out of context and unrepresentative of Kuhn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s complete thought.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I observe that of all the quotes from both Kuhn and Barbour that he used in his Sunstone essay ?¢‚Ǩ?ìIs a Paradigm Shift in Book of Mormon Studies Possible??¢‚Ǩ¬ù I spotted only one that I had not previously used in my FARMS essays. ?¢‚Ǩ?ì If there is something amiss or non-representative in my selections, I find it of interest that he follows my selections so slavishly.)

    Notice Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s admission that no one considered distance issues in the Book of Mormon until 1887. He tellingly describes readers before Lamb as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìoblivious.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù By implication, this admits that Book of Mormon speculations and opinions offered before that time should be recognized as pre-critical, of interest for social history perhaps, but worse than useless in establishing the geography of Book of Mormon events. Indeed, John Sorenson has shown that the first serious attempt to examine all of the Book of Mormon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s internal statements did not appear until 1938, fifty one years after Lamb. Sorenson and John Clark offered further refinements of internal geographies in FARMS publications. Vogel, despite admitting that there is no evidence that anyone did the proper critical study, blithely offers as support for his interpretation of the Great Lakes region as the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìland of many waters?¢‚Ǩ¬ù the conclusions of those same, undeniably pre-critical, demonstrably ?¢‚Ǩ?ìoblivious?¢‚Ǩ¬ù readers. Begging the question indeed.

    Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s approach profoundly affects his reading of the text: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìIf Panama is a better fit and hemispheric geography comes into play, then distances are problematic and can be read as evidence of Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s naivet?ɬ©.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù His arguments in the introduction to American Apocrypha make his case that Panama is a better fit for the narrow neck, but I noticed that he makes the case by only using a few passages to define the problem. His case that Panama is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìbetter?¢‚Ǩ¬ù depends on his a priori dismissal of literally hundreds of other passages from consideration. He uses a hemispheric presumption to define the problem, the method and the standard of solution. N.R. Hansen had famously written, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìall data are theory-laden?¢‚Ǩ¬ù and here, we have a theory that converts nearly all distances in the Book of Mormon into evidence of Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s naivete, rather than the essential starting point for any Book of Mormon map making. Vogel refuses to consider geographic information to establish geography. Amazing, don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t you think? In contrast, Sorenson observed in An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon that the Book of Mormon geographic statements are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle (over 700 pieces) that must all fit together. Geography as a science, given current satellite technology, it should be admitted, is much more stable than archeology, which is subject to change at any given time. So any questions of archeology, such as the ever popular horses, steel, and Hebrew street signs, ought to be seen as being made against incomplete sources of comparison. We can ask the questions of archeology, certainly. But we should not answer them too quickly. This is the point of John Clark?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s presentation at the Joseph Smith Conference in 2005, published with some revisions in the recent BYU Studies. Despite the existence of open questions, he observes a clear trend is in the direction of resolution.

    In his blog reply to me, Vogel states:

    ?¢‚Ǩ?ìOn the other hand, because apologists can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t make a direct connection between the Book of Mormon and ancient America, they rely on accumulation of inferences, speculations, and indirect correlations in the hope that the total weight will somehow be greater than the sum of its parts. In such a situation, I argue that negative evidence should be more decisive than perceived correlations.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    Vogel is free, as always to value evidence and interpretation as he sees fit, as are well all. Of course, if I point out a problem with his arguments or evidence (the clear derivation of his 1857 letter from an 1856 novel, for instance, or in general, the kinds of things in Alan Goff?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s review of The Making of a Prophet in FR 17:2), he would prefer that I should not decide on evidence that affects his case negatively. Given unavoidable human imperfections, including mine along with his, should I not judge based on larger correlations rather then focus on some trifling imperfection? But as Kuhn explains, paradigm debates are value-driven, rather than rule driven, the operative question being, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìwhich problems are more significant to have solved??¢‚Ǩ¬ù I have often referred to Ian Barbour?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s point that paradigms are neither verified, nor falsified, but rather assessed, as Kuhn explains, in terms of accuracy of key predictions, comprehensiveness and coherence, fruitfulness, simplicity and aesthetics, and future promise.

    Vogel presumes here that apologists cannot make a direct connection between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica. Consider the Sidon in light of this from Lawence Poulson?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s website, here:
    http://www.poulsenll.org/bom/zarahemla.html

    “Many of those who attempt to determine the geographic location of the
    Book of Mormon place undo attention on the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnarrow neck?¢‚Ǩ¬ù which is only
    mentioned three times in the Book of Mormon with little geographic
    information that would identify it with a specific location on the American
    continents, as shown by the myriad of locations proposed for its identity..
    The River Sidon, on the other hand, is mentioned over 20 times and in at
    least four different geographic contexts. Each of these contexts contain
    geographic information which should make it possible to find a river in the
    Americas that can be uniquely identified with the River Sidon. The
    description of the Nephite and Lamanite lands in Alma 22:27-34 identifies
    3 specific geographic attributes relative to the River Sidon.”

    “These are:
    1. Its head, source, is located in a narrow strip of wilderness.
    2. The head runs from east to west
    3. The narrow strip of wilderness is located south of the Land of Zarahemla
    and runs from an east sea to a west sea from the east to the west.”

    “If one accepts that the Book of Mormon is translated correctly from the
    plates given to Joseph Smith by the Angel Moroni, then the text of the
    book must be accepted as the most authoritative source for information
    relative to the geography of the Book of Mormon.”

    “Using the three dimensional satellite maps incorporated into the computer
    program ?¢‚Ǩ?ìEARTHA Global Explorer DVD?¢‚Ǩ¬ù by Delorme, a thorough search
    of the geography of America in 3D can be made. Such a search results in
    one and only one location that fits the geographic restraints imposed by
    the text of Alma 22:27 for the River Sidon. This is as described above for
    the Grijalva River, indicating that the Grijalva is the same river described
    as the Sidon in the Book of Mormon and as has been proposed by many
    proponents of Book of Mormon geographies.”

    This strikes me as a direct and decisive correlation between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica.

    Since much of the New World text of the Book of Mormon takes place on the axis between Zarahemla and Nephi, locating the Sidon seems essential in solving the jigsaw puzzle. And if the identification of the Grijalva as the Sidon is correct, that should aid the interpretation of the text. Since the Sidon and the narrow strip of wilderness are both clearly south of the Narrow Neck in the Book of Mormon, Panama, being far south of the only candidate in the Western Hemisphere for the Sidon, cannot possibly be the Narrow Neck of the text. There are many other reasons why Panama cannot be the narrow neck, including the story of Limhi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s explorers, as I discussed in detail in FARMS Review 16:1. (Others, such as Sperry, Palmer, the Washburns, and Sorenson have done so previously.) The presence of such arguments appear to fuel Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s eagerness to dismiss the distance narratives as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnaivete?¢‚Ǩ¬ù relative to the assumption of a hemispheric view. This is exactly how data becomes ?¢‚Ǩ?ìtheory-laden?¢‚Ǩ¬ù, and demonstrates Kuhn claim that anomalies for any paradigm, Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s paradigm in this case, emerge only against resistance.

    If we read the story of Limhi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s explorers against the only candidate for the river Sidon, we should not see further evidence of Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s naivete, but rather, evidence of first hand experience in the region. The story of Limhi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s explorers contains important distance implications that Vogel must dismiss as naivete, rather than as constraints on his overall reading. The explorers, we will recall, are third generation descendants of a group that come from Zarahemla to Nephi, had suffered political reverses and come into captivity, and were sent back to find Zarahemla and help. Alma?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s journey to Zarahemla from the waters of Mormon near Nephi took 21 days, which must have been reasonably close to the travel time these men were given to expect. The directions that the explorers were given, plausibly by living people who had made the journey would reasonably involve a charge to find the headwaters of the Sidon, and to follow the river valley to Zarahemla. Given that the directions that Limhi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s explorers were given would involve travel to the headwaters of a river, and then follow the river valley, ONLY the close proximity of the headwaters another river and a parallel valley provides an reasonable explanation for how the explorers could miss Zarahemla both coming and going to where they found the 24 plates. It turns out that the source of the Usamacinta river is within 20 miles of the source of the Grijalva. A single wrong turn at the beginning of a real journey in a real location explains everything neatly, including their supposition that they had actually found the ruins of Zarahemla. Reading the same story against a hemispheric geography, with a Palmyra Cumorah and a Panamanian narrow neck, as Vogel does, produces only nonsense. In his reading, the explorers must travel more than 10 times the distance, and could not possibly avoid the realization that they had gone into the land Northward, given the narrow width, and the twistings and turnings of the Panama isthsmus. A yet, after traveling across the North American continent to New York, leaving tropical climes for desert, and then temperate zones, these same diligent men must suppose that they have found there, the ruins of Zarahelma, which they knew to be in the land South. Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s reading assigns Joseph Smith the blame for such absurdities. The freedom to do so is a powerful tool for suppressing anomalies.

    The Limhi story is not the only story in the Book of Mormon text that is illuminated by the real world correlation. Only in Mesoamerica can we find the important factors of writing, city building and high cultures at the proper time depth, kings over kings, appropriate volcanics, an appropriate seasonality of warfare, armor and weapons, the influence of Teotihuacan at the time of Mormon and the final Nephite wars, the complete absence of any reference to winter snows, and the otherwise anomalous presence of oppressive heat at the New Year (remembering the conspicuous influence of severe winters on the Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s early history in Vermont). In FARMS Review 16:1, I quoted Brant Gardner?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s observation:
    “The location of Zarahemla in the Grijalva River valley not only fits the geography and topography, but it links the major linguistic groups. The Nephites entered a Mayan-speaking area. The Mulekites entered a Mixe-Zoque speaking area. The movement of the Mulekites/Zarahemlaites up the Grijalva valley parallels the known movement of Zoque (a daughter language of Mixe-Zoque) up that valley. This explains why the Nephites and the Zarahemlaites spoke different languages when there was insufficient time for an unintelligible divergence from Hebrew to have occurred. (In only four hundred years some vocabulary would change, but the languages would still have been mutually intelligible.)”

    Here again, reading the text against the only external context that fits the internal geographic details turns out to illuminate other aspects of the story. Vogel can argue for the descriptions of fortifications of heaped earth with wooden palisades as explaining a few passages the Book of Mormon military accounts, but not decisively, because Sorenson has shown the same kinds of fortifications in a Mesoamerican setting at the proper time depth, as illustrated in the 1984 Ensign articles and in his Visualizing the Book of Mormon.

    Elsewhere, Vogel writes:

    I have argued that the introduction of such apologetic devices are not true paradigm shifts, but rather are ad hoc hypotheses designed to protect the old paradigm (Book of Mormon historicity) from demise. Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s use of Kuhn in this effort places his writings firmly in the same genre as the Creationists.

    Actually, no. My use of Kuhn and Barbour in my LDS writings has been detailed, explicit, and rigorous, more so, I believe than any other LDS writer to date. I do not use the Creationist ?¢‚Ǩ?ì3 step fallacy from Kuhn?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (as Vogel admits), and I do not merely drop Kuhn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s name and a quote or two. Rather than argue from a few high level abstractions about paradigms, I make full use of the structure, and give concrete examples to show how the structure applies to LDS debates every step of the way. Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s use of Kuhn strikes me as mere posturing (see Goff?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s essay in the FARMS Review 17:2), just as his lavish use of the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìad hoc?¢‚Ǩ¬ù label is mere sloganizing, a quick way to devalue any reading that that disagrees with his own.

    Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s dismissal of Margaret Barker, even with the help of Professor Wright, is weak. He fails to consider any of the evidence for her case, and he completely overlooks the implications and importance of her approach. Indeed, I no evidence that either Wright or Vogel has read anything she has written. Recall that Wright had admitted that while Hebrews is based on older source material, he explicitly claimed that the sources for such ideas did not go back to 600 B.C.E and would not be found in a single source. Barker?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s work makes exactly that case and demonstrates that this specific prediction is false. Barker establishes that the traditions behind Hebrews, indeed, behind the origins of Christianity, do indeed go back to the First Temple and, serendipitously, to the purported time and place for the beginning of the Book of Mormon narrative. Abbreviating and restating Wright?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s original 1993 argument, does nothing to touch what is illuminated in the entire Book of Mormon by Barker?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s extensive case. Wright?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s approach, however rigorous, offers a narrow focus on a very few words and phrases in Alma and Hebrews. Those same phrases and all the same background texts were discussed by Welch and Tvedtnes in their responses to Wright. Going beyond a fixation on a few phrases, Barker labors to reconstruct a specific set of interrelated ideas specific to time and location in which the Book of Mormon begins. I noticed that many other themes presupposed by the Barker?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s approach also appear in Alma 13 despite none of them eliciting any notice in Wright?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s original essays, nor in his abrupt dismissal here. Indeed, every line and theme in Alma 13 fits her picture. Wright?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s approach actually explains far less of the Book of Mormon text than does Barker?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s. Your mileage may vary. Margaret herself was impressed enough to say so in public at the 2005 Joseph Smith Conference at the Library of Congress.

    Kevin Christensen
    Bethel Park, PA

  12. Dan Vogel says:

    Whether Christensen uses Kuhn superficially or accurately isn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t the issue; it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s that he uses Kuhn apologetically, as a means of weakening counter evidence. Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s appeal to Kuhn is nothing but a distraction from assessing the validity of arguments and evidence, which can be done without debating about paradigms.

    For example, we can assess the validity of his proposal for Sidon River without any of Kuhn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s baggage. In fact, I have already assessed it on the FAIR board more than a month ago when Christensen presented nearly an identical post there. The major flaw in Poulson?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s interpretation is ?¢‚Ǩ?ì2. The head runs from east to west?¢‚Ǩ¬ù. This is based on a misreading of Alma 22:27. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not the head of the river that runs from east to west, but the wilderness. The passage is describing how the Nephites are surrounded by the wilderness:

    [the land of Nephi] was divided from the land of Zarahemla
    by a narrow strip of wilderness,
    which ran from the sea east even to the sea west,
    and round about on the borders of the seashore,
    and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land Zarahemla,
    through the borders of Manti,
    by the head of the river Sidon,
    running from the east towards the west?¢‚Ǩ‚Äù
    and THUS were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided.

    In context, the passage describes the locations of the wilderness and does not say that the head of the river runs east to west. Poulsen distorts the passage so as to conform to his knowledge of the Grijalva River. Christensen can argue that Poulsen is interpreting the BOM from a realist paradigm all he wants, but that does not justify textual distortions.

    Needless to say, Christensen?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s triumphant declaration that Poulson?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s interpretation amounts to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìdirect and decisive correlation between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is laughable.

    In my 7 April post, I also responded to his use of the Limhi expedition for supportive evidence as follows:

    Your theory plays on the assumption that Limhi?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s party knew Zarahemla was somewhere along the Sidon river, but that is not at all clear from the story. You fail to mention that, according to your theory, the party traveling up the wrong river (Usamacinta) would have at some point necessarily crossed over the right river (Grijalva) in order to head (north) west to Cumorah (or the scene of Jaredite destruction). Don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t you think it would have occurred to them to travel down the other river before embarking on an aimless 250-mile off-course journey through the wilderness? The story simply doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t make sense.

    Christensen says that I only think Panama is a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìbetter?¢‚Ǩ¬ù fit for the BOM?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ?¢‚Ǩ?ìnarrow neck?¢‚Ǩ¬ù than the Isthmus of Tehuantepec because of my ?¢‚Ǩ?ìa priori dismissal of literally hundreds of other passages from consideration.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Of course, these hundreds of other passages have no direct bearing on the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìneck of land.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù What Christensen is trying to argue is that the problems of matching Tehuantepec with the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìneck of land?¢‚Ǩ¬ù should be overlooked because other less significant geographic features seem to correlate. That doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t make sense.

    No amount of paradigm talk will save a bad theory. Of course, a smaller geographic region is more realistic, but it doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t fit the BOM?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s description. The limited geography is an ad hoc hypothesis, not because it relies on rather dubious readings of the text, but because of how it functions to protect a central thesis from counterevidence. Pre-1887 reconstructions of BOM geography were not ?¢‚Ǩ?ìpre-critical,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù but rather pre-apologetic. The point being that Book of Mormon defenders began their search for a smaller geographic area in response to criticisms of hemispheric geography. Hemispheric geography was part of the Mound Builder Myth, which informed the discourse between the book and its first readers. I have yet to see a coherent refutation of that thesis. I quote Joseph Smith and the first readers, because I believe they correctly understood the book.

  13. John Williams says:

    Dan Vogel wrote:

    ?¢‚Ǩ?ìNo amount of paradigm talk will save a bad theory. Of course, a smaller geographic region is more realistic, but it doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t fit the BOM?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s description. The limited geography is an ad hoc hypothesis, not because it relies on rather dubious readings of the text, but because of how it functions to protect a central thesis from counterevidence. Pre-1887 reconstructions of BOM geography were not ?¢‚Ǩ?ìpre-critical,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù but rather pre-apologetic. The point being that Book of Mormon defenders began their search for a smaller geographic area in response to criticisms of hemispheric geography. Hemispheric geography was part of the Mound Builder Myth, which informed the discourse between the book and its first readers. I have yet to see a coherent refutation of that thesis. I quote Joseph Smith and the first readers, because I believe they correctly understood the book.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    Before I respond, let me say that I like Dan, and have read his books, etc, so I hope he?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ll indulge me a bit with this post.

    Dan is a tireless critic (as tireless as an apologist), and, as such, he?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s almost always right and wrong at the same time. So, if I could somehow dive into the simultaneous past and future, in which I have advanced to full-tenured professor (the future), and Dan Vogel is back as an undergrad at Long Beach (the past), I would take the passionate young debunker aside and give him a reading list. First, I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d say, Dan, you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve got to read some Stanley Fish (start with ?¢‚Ǩ?ìHow to Recognize a Poem When You See One?¢‚Ǩ¬ù), and then maybe Richard Rorty or Jacques Derrida?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùjust to get the postmodern ball rolling. Then, Dan, maybe some Terry Eagleton or David Harvey to instill a bit of crypto-Marxist concern for the starving masses of the world who, let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s face it, don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t give a crap about whether or not the Book of Mormon is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhistorical?¢‚Ǩ¬ù or not. The point of the reading list, I hope, would be to prepare him so that he would not be surprised (or scandalized, as he seems to be) that such ?¢‚Ǩ?ìad hoc?¢‚Ǩ¬ù explanations have surfaced about the Book of Mormon since the mid-1980s.

    I say this because (and what follows is going to sound terribly obvious, but here goes), the Book of Mormon is a text. And the way this text has been interpreted from the beginning was that it had something to do with the larger population of Native Americans that were, for better or (more often) for worse, around. But since 1830 this has been an interpretation (and, in fact, that?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s all you can ever do with books), and it was an interpretation that carried such weight and authority that it seemed impossible to interpret it otherwise. Now, those of us doomed to be well-versed in hermeneutics know that there are always other ways of interpreting a given text, and that given a different spatio-temporal context these other ways can seem every bit as legitimate as did previous ways. Sorenson?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Limited Geographic Model came on the scene in a burst of creative energy (really, even if you think he?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s wrong, you have to admire the frenetic creativity going on there), and gave us a way of reading the book that was consistent with?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùor, if not that, at least ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfriendlier?¢‚Ǩ¬ù to the mounting archeological and anthropological evidence that scholars had been amassing throughout the twentieth century indicating that Native Americans are not at all Israelites. But Sorensen, let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s remember, was only ever tentative. The scientific discourses to which he was accommodating his faith were themselves fraught with disagreement and scholarly speculation. Now, however, with DNA, a new kind of legitimacy seems to be on the table. DNA evidence is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìsexy.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù It arrives in this discussion at a time when it has gained a foothold in everything from the courtroom to the talk-show. It seems completely irrefutable, if only because so few people even know how it works to begin with. And because the Mormon elite (since Brigham Young at least) have been in love with the idea that their religion is as epistemologically sound as, say, geology or mathematics, the scholarly consensus that Native Americans are in fact Asian Americans meant that Sorenson, who had only ever proposed a tentative possibility, has suddenly become (at least for the tiny coterie of a Mormon intellectual vanguard) absolutely crucial. The DNA love-child of Sorenson and Mesoamerica, then, is Blake Ostler, who not only says that limited geography is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìanother?¢‚Ǩ¬ù way of interpreting the Book of Mormon, but indeed, the only way of interpreting the text that is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìconsistent?¢‚Ǩ¬ù with itself. But, of course, Ostler is as wrong as Vogel. There is not, and will never ever be, just one way of interpreting the Book of Mormon. If, for example, someone tomorrow discovered some ancient fossils with the phonetic sounds for ?¢‚Ǩ?ìNephi?¢‚Ǩ¬ù scrawled on them somewhere in Indonesia, you can bet someone at FARMS would be hot on the trail!

    One has to be impressed with the lengths (and the shorts) to which people will go to ?¢‚Ǩ?ìscientifically?¢‚Ǩ¬ù prove or disprove the BofM, but I suspect that Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s appeals to a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcorrect?¢‚Ǩ¬ù reading of the text (as when he says, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI quote Joseph Smith and the first readers, because I believe they correctly understood the book.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù) will have to move beyond Joseph Smith and the book?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s initial reception. For Mormon apologists today, it no longer matters what Joseph Smith thought of the book, which means that Vogel can only ever be engaged in a contest of interpretations. At the end of the day, the question will be not what did Joseph Smith think, but whose interpretation is the most convincing now? Who is the closest reader of the book?

    Still, I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t mean to discourage either side. My own opinion about the Book of Mormon, and its historicity, has changed, so it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s definitely possible to persuade the persuadable.

  14. Don Bradley says:

    Hi,

    This message is for Tim Griffy.

    Tim, I’d very much like a copy of your paper ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThe Environmental Theory of Book of Mormon Interpretation.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù I don’t have your current e-mail address. Mine hasn’t changed, and I’m still on LLM.

    Don Bradley

  15. Timothy A. Griffy says:

    I wrote:
    I begin by affirming as clearly as possible my beliefs about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon is truly the word of God, and Joseph Smith was truly a prophet of God. Beyond that, nothing else matters. The issues of authorship and dating for this scripture are relevant only for interpreting the work. If an unambiguous statement from Joseph Smith stating he wrote the Book of Mormon from whole cloth were found tomorrow, it would not affect my faith. Likewise, if a proverbial ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWelcome to Zarahemla?¢‚Ǩ¬ù sign were found, it would not affect my faith.

    And Stephen M. responded:
    Reminds me of the very pragmatic nature of twelve step programs. People who have encountered a higher power, but who are extremely relaxed in their possible definitions of it (nothing like hearing an athiest talk about the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìgod of his understanding?¢‚Ǩ¬ù).

    If the spiritual connection has occurred, the rest of the issues are transformed.

  16. Timothy A. Griffy says:

    (with apologies for submitting too soon)
    I wrote:
    I begin by affirming as clearly as possible my beliefs about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon is truly the word of God, and Joseph Smith was truly a prophet of God. Beyond that, nothing else matters. The issues of authorship and dating for this scripture are relevant only for interpreting the work. If an unambiguous statement from Joseph Smith stating he wrote the Book of Mormon from whole cloth were found tomorrow, it would not affect my faith. Likewise, if a proverbial ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWelcome to Zarahemla?¢‚Ǩ¬ù sign were found, it would not affect my faith.

    Stephen M. responded:
    Reminds me of the very pragmatic nature of twelve step programs. People who have encountered a higher power, but who are extremely relaxed in their possible definitions of it (nothing like hearing an athiest talk about the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìgod of his understanding?¢‚Ǩ¬ù).

    If the spiritual connection has occurred, the rest of the issues are transformed.

    I answer:
    I acknowledge the pragmatic effect of my statement, but it should be noted that the pratical value was not my primary consideration in making my declaration. In my case, I would say that the issues were not transformed by the spiritual connection. Rather, it was a reciprocal process. I found a spiritual connection, which led me to seek a better understanding of Scripture, which strengthened the spiritual connection, which continues to lead me to seek a better understanding of Scripture.

    The reciprocal process is illustrated in my spiritual journey. I experienced something I cannot deny–God speaking to me through the Bible. I learned something I also could not deny–the Bible is quite errant. I resolved that problem by transforming the issues, and once those issues had been transformed, I looked at the Book of Mormon with new eyes. Then another spiritual connection occurred.

    I don’t know if I have an extremely relaxed view of divinity, at least when talking strictly about myself. Despite my stance on the historicity of modern Scripture (or my stances on ancient Scripture for that matter), I would consider myself fairly orthodox when it comes to Mormonism’s theological traditions. That would underscore my belief that there would be little effect in separating the issues of historicity and truth. The corollary to that statement is that the message is more important than the messenger and even the medium.

  17. Trevor S. Luke says:

    A SEER IS GREATER THAN A PROPHET

    What an interesting thread. One particular item caught my eye: the definition of prophet. Vogel claims that Joseph defined the word prophet very narrowly as one who has a testimony of Jesus. Rees objects to this by correctly pointing out that Mormons today would not accept such a narrow definition. So true, but I agree with Vogel in thinking that Mormons may be open to different interpretations, namely those informed by historical research into Joseph Smith’s views and by careful interpretation of LDS scriptures.

    I propose that we look more closely at the Book of Mormon’s use of the words seer and prophet as a way of getting past objections to Vogel’s position on Joseph’s definition of ‘prophet.’ I apologize in advance if this is ‘old hat.’

    In Mosiah chapter 8, king Limhi inquires of Ammon whether he can translate the 24 plates of gold that his explorers had found on a journey to locate a new home for Limhi’s people. Ammon replies that he cannot translate but that he knows someone who can:

    “I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.” (13)

    In response to this information, Limhi exclaims in wonder, “a seer is greater than a prophet,” (15) to which Ammon replies, “a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God” (16).

    The Book of Mormon thus defines what a seer is as distinct from the prophet. While the seer is a revelator and prophet, a prophet is not necessarily a seer. Seership is defined as the greatest gift, and one of its defining characteristics is the command of God to translate ancient records with “interpreters.”

    Today the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the twelve are sustained as “prophets, seers, and revelators.” Unless we are to understand this as nothing more than a flowery pleonasm, it would seem to suggest that, in keeping with distinctions between prophet and seer which occur both in the OT and the BoM, the Church still recognizes a difference between ‘seer’ and ‘prophet.’

    Whether or not one considers the Book of Mormon an ancient document, one must consider Mosiah 8 as revealing of Joseph’s understanding of the role of the seer. As one who had some practice finding hidden objects (…by them…shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light[17]), Joseph doubtless could identify with the seer as he is described by Ammon.

    In everyday LDS parlance the distinction between ‘prophet’ and ‘seer’ is little observed. After all, all of the Church’s highest leaders are sustained as both, so for us there is functionally little difference, and to call someone a prophet covers all the bases well enough. I do not believe, however, that a young Joseph ‘translating’ or ‘writing’ the Book of Mormon necessarily saw things the same way. If a seer is a prophet, but a prophet is not necessarily a seer (especially when he does not possess interpreters and has not been commanded of God to translate), then it is conceivable that Joseph asserted a narrow definition of prophet, like that identified by Vogel.

    By defining prophet in the narrow terms Vogel has identified, however, Joseph was not thereby limiting his own self-definition. After all, he, in Book of Mormon terms, was a seer, which included being a revelator and prophet too.

  18. Bryon Martin says:

    Re: John Williams?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ post of May 8th (#13 above):

    I was saddened when I read Williams?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ post about a month ago, that a scholar of Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s magnitude was seemingly being cheaply lectured at. As I read it now, another month later, I feel even more strongly and feel a response is needed.

    What kind of hymn to ambiguity is Williams describing when he writes ?¢‚Ǩ?ìDan is a tireless critic (as tireless as an apologist), and, as such, he?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s almost always right and wrong at the same time.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù? Williams further writes, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìFor Mormon apologists today, it no longer matters what Joseph Smith thought of the book, which means that Vogel can only ever be engaged in a contest of interpretations. At the end of the day, the question will be not what did Joseph Smith think, but whose interpretation is the most convincing now??¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    Again, Williams is, I believe, too caught up in his own reading list. The claims Joseph Smith made are the critical thing, and these include his Book of Abraham, his preliminary report of the Kinderhook plates, his Nauvoo explanation of the foundations of Freemasonry, and his various reports of the first vision. All of us who are part of the Sunstone/Dialogue communitas know that the facts matter. That?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s why we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re here. Somehow, the facts got to us. The facts may not matter in the same way to the apologists William describes (at least publicly ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú what they wrestle with in their own hearts may end up not being surprising at all), but Vogel is only responding to the apologists for the sake of clarity. When the dust settles from their give and take, we, whom Vogel is truly writing for, are able to attach weight and meaning to the strength of the various arguments.

    The reading list Williams suggests may be appropriate for postmodernist reviews of poetry, fiction, or political writing; however, the text under consideration here is of a different order altogether. The Book of Mormon purports to be a historical document and, like the Donation of Constantine, can be considered on terms of textual criticism of like kind. The ?¢‚Ǩ?ìcritics?¢‚Ǩ¬ù who proved the Donation to be a forgery were not ?¢‚Ǩ?ìright and wrong at the same time,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù nor were the critics who found the Protocols of Zion to be nothing but the product of zealous imaginations. Historical documents have a provenance and evidential support that either gives them credence or takes it away from them. I could go on and on with examples of Mark Hoffman, Carlos Castaneda, and Mary Baker Eddy. The historical claims tied up in these writers?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ texts and lives sometimes can be deciphered by critical examination. Clearly. And this can be done when there is a paper trail, as is definitely the case with Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Book of Mormon.

    I believe the point that Williams is entirely missing is this: To what degree are the claims of the BOM grounded in reality? That they are part of the Tillichian ?¢‚Ǩ?ìground of all being?¢‚Ǩ¬ù for millions of active or non-critical LDS is not the point. That the FARMS group will use whatever they can to defend the claims of the BOM is, again, not the point. There was a similar feverish endeavor to dismiss the conclusions of the critical examination of the Donation. What matters is that scholars like Dan Vogel are (thank God) expending the energy at textual and environmental studies to give us a chance to wrestle with the truths they uncover.

    Consider how Mormon studies are so different now than they were 40 years ago. (Dare I say pre-Tanners?) Facts do matter. In fact, the notion that Williams apparently puts forth, that truth claims themselves are open to postmodernist interpretations, is an indicator of how devastating the revelation of factual truth is. The diminishing role that both Joseph Smith and the BOM play in the rechristened Community of Christ is another.

  19. John Williams says:

    In responding to Bryon Martin, I’d like to first state how much I admire Dan Vogel’s work. And, just as crucially, explain that I have indeed changed my views about Book of Mormon historicity over the years, and Dan’s work was part of that. But, whether you are a naturalist or not does not change the fact that the debate will ALWAYS hinge on the question of interpretation. When Bryon asks, “To what degree are the claims of the BOM grounded in reality?” One has to respond, a priori, to what extent do we understand its claims? You can’t measure a claim against reality before you understand its claim.

    So the question is, now, how clear are the “claims” made by the Book of Mormon? Naturally, we would like to privilege JS’s interpretation of the book (hemispheric geography, Plains Indians = Lamanites, etc.). But, even if you accept that JS wrote the book, you have to concede that the claim that it was a TRANSLATION opens the possibility, however remote, that he may not have completely understood the precise implications of what he was translating. Such a thing happens all the time with translation. If, for example, I attempt a translation of Jacques Derrida’s work (which I’ve tried), it certainly doesn’t mean I understand everything he’s talking about, even if I can give you a rough word-for-word from the French.

    So, that the BofM is a translation (even if you don’t accept any of that postmodern rhetoric) means that its translator could have very well misunderstood what he was translating. Of course, such an explanation isn’t going to sit well with your average church member, but it is nonetheless FARMS’s entire argument. Anyway, your average Mormon doesn’t think about it.

    My only purpose in encouraging Dan to explore a bit of postmodern theory was the hope that it might save him some exasperation. There is nothing wrong with defending absolute historical truth (in fact, you HAVE to proceed as best you can in that direction), but there is no reason to pretend that textual meaning arrives to us in some unmediated univocal fashion, clean and delicious. It’s messier than that, and the amazingly creative energy exhibited in someone like Blake Ostler only proves that messiness.

    best,
    John.

  20. Bryon Martin says:

    While Mr. Williams?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s response (post #19) may be appropriate for texts like The Song of Solomon or even Job (pieces that may try to convey a subjective vision of truth via metaphorical, poetic, or even Socratic-like dialogues), I maintain that his response is not appropriate to texts that purport to factually describe a historical situation. Two strong examples, The Constantine Donation and The Protocols of Zion, were listed earlier. The Book of Mormon falls into this category; Hoffman?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Salamander Letter does as well. These texts are either historically accurate or they are not.

    Imagine an anthropologist (think of Margaret Mead, for example) who has described a culture (think of the Samoans) in great detail: its tools, industry, architecture, language, coinage, animal husbandry, etc. Imagine that after she publishes her work we visit the places she has written extensively about ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú but instead of being able to corroborate the anthropologist?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s findings, we find absolutely nothing that corresponds with what she had described. In fact, what we find on the ground actually contradicts the claims that the anthropologist had made in her book.

    At this point we would not look for a metaphorical or post-modernist interpretation that would justify our continued reliance on what the anthropologist had described and published; we would question the book?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s validity and start weighing evidences to see which of her claims were fraudulent and which could be relied on for their accuracy.

    I see John?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s argument creep away from this critical distinction as he moves from paragraph one to paragraph two in his last posting. Paragraph one ends with, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìYou can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t measure a claim against reality before you understand its claim.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù The next paragraph opens with two revealing sentences: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìSo the question is, now, how clear are the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìclaims?¢‚Ǩ¬ù made by the Book of Mormon? Naturally, we would like to privilege JS?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s interpretation of the book (hemispheric geography, Plains Indians = Lamanites, etc.).

    At first he says that we must understand the nature of a claim. I couldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t agree more. (So a quick review: What is a horse? Could we recognize a horse if we saw one? What is a chariot? Does it have wheels that enable transportation? What is an elephant? What is wheat? What is an iron sword, helm, or chest plate?) Good enough. But look what happens as Williams opens his next paragraph ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú he changes the direction of the claims that the BOM itself makes to those that Joseph Smith makes about the BOM (?¢‚Ǩ?ìhemispheric geography, Plains Indians = Lamanites, etc.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù). I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t think this is a deliberate bait and switch; I think it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s simply mistaking two kinds of claims. Evidence that Smith was aware of this difference is shown in the terms he used for the currency of the Nephites: he didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t use denominations like pound, doubloon, or dollar, terms with which he was familiar, because those weren?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t the Nephite?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s currency. (Or because it would have been an easily noticed anachronism?) Similarly, when he translates that the Nephites had horses, chariots, silk, etc., he does not come up with new names for these things. He names them as they are. And as a translator ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú not an interpreter of his translation ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú his work was confirmed by an angel to be the most correct of any book on earth. This is the issue to be dealt with.

    The remarkable idea that Smith was an accurate translator but so weak a prophet that he cannot be depended upon to comment knowingly on an allegedly religious work puts the FARMS folk and their followers in an interesting position. Remember the controversy of 1835, when revelations from the Book of Commandments were revised for the new Doctrine and Covenants? There was contention among some of the faithful because of these changes. One of the changes was this: The 1833 BoC, at 4:2 (re: Joseph Smith), originally read, ?¢‚Ǩ?ì?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ and he has a gift to translate the book, and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù This was changed in 1835 to, ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAnd you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift, until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (D&C 5:4)

    The faith of some of these early Mormons was severely challenged because of this episode. How ironic, that some modern LDS apologists, in their eagerness to preserve the BOM, might feel more comfortable now with the original wording of the BoC!

    Bottom line, I prefer the notion that the BOM may be a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmetaphorical?¢‚Ǩ¬ù work that demonstrates a young man?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s feverish desire to make simple that which had, over the centuries, becomes so complicated. But let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not relieve the BOM of the rigorous tests we must give it as the historical document it claims to be just because the BOM is easier to deal with as a metaphorical one.

  21. John Williams says:

    I am very much on board with Bryon as to the weight of evidence compelling us to read the book as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmetaphorical.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù As I said, I am no defender of historicity. But there are different levels we have to deal with here. The first is a strictly epistemological one. At this level, unless you are stuck in absolutist Cartesian thinking, you have to understand that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìclaims,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù before they can ever even be understood as such, must be identified as the product of some ?¢‚Ǩ?ìauthor?¢‚Ǩ¬ù?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùor, to use archeological language, of some ?¢‚Ǩ?ìstyle.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Style, in Richard Neer?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s words, is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe feature that identifies an assemblage, stratum, or find-spot as such.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù For something to have ?¢‚Ǩ?ìstyle,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù in other words,?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is to already grant it the status of being an artifact. Archeologists have sometimes uncovered an object, which ?¢‚Ǩ?ìis either the earliest known example of human representational activity or a funny looking rock.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (see Critical Inquiry 32.1: 4-6). With texts, we assume, always beforehand, that they are the product of some ?¢‚Ǩ?ìauthor?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Foucault calls it an ?¢‚Ǩ?ìauthor function?¢‚Ǩ¬ù?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùbut I won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t weigh things down with another reference). And once we grant an object/text the status of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìstyle?¢‚Ǩ¬ù, there are basically three things we can do with it: 1) We can ask what it means; 2) We can provide a history of its reception over the years; 3) We can play with it.

    Now, before I turn to the Book of Mormon as we read it in these contexts, let me turn to Bryon?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s somewhat baffling discussion of my statements on ?¢‚Ǩ?ìclaims.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Here is his paragraph:

    ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAt first [John] says that we must understand the nature of a claim. I couldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t agree more. (?¢‚Ǩ¬¶) Good enough. But look what happens as Williams opens his next paragraph ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú he changes the direction of the claims that the BOM itself makes to those that Joseph Smith makes about the BOM (?¢‚Ǩ?ìhemispheric geography, Plains Indians = Lamanites, etc.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù). I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t think this is a deliberate bait and switch; I think it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s simply mistaking two kinds of claims.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

    Where exactly is the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìbait and switch?¢‚Ǩ¬ù here? IS there a difference between Joseph Smith?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s claims about the book and the claims made by the book itself? COULD there be a difference between JS?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s claims and the book?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s claims? Would Bryon have us believe that there could NEVER be a difference here? If so, then he is defending positivist historicism at the expense of the larger lessons learned in anthropology (that meaning is ALWAYS a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìconstructed?¢‚Ǩ¬ù rather than a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfound?¢‚Ǩ¬ù phenomenon). His prejudice against belief in the BofM (as when he claims ?¢‚Ǩ?ìThank GOD?¢‚Ǩ¬ù there are scholars like Vogel around to help disabuse us all) has led him into positivist absolutism. In the end, someone well-versed in post-structuralism could have quite easily have predicted the advent of Ostler?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s expect-to-find-no-DNA-evidence argument. Indeed, it comes as no surprise at all. Unbending positivists, on the other hand, are more often seem surprised, scandalized, or even hurt by such moves. How, they ask, could Ostler SAY such a thing?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùand particularly when we have so reliably been interpreting the BofM THIS way for so long? Textuality will always be troublesome to positivists. They?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d be just as happy to repress it altogether I think. This is why Bryon wants to make a distinction between different “types” of books and claims. It’s okay for POETRY, he says, to be re-interpreted, but texts that try to get at the FACTS cannot be re-interpreted (because, unlike poetry, we ALWAYS completely understand them–if only this were true!)

    Now, the claim that there are only three things you can do with a text (and you might turn to Stanley Fish for a greater elaboration here) is equally true of the Book of Mormon. The problem is, however, while Bryon thinks Ostler is maliciously doing #3, while passing it off as #1, Ostler doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t think so. But what Ostler thinks he is doing is not something Bryon can decide for him (whether Bryon likes it or not). Any time you are asking what a text ?¢‚Ǩ?ìmeans?¢‚Ǩ¬ù you are making an assumption about intent, and authorship. That the text in question is a translation only makes this argument that much easier. So what it comes down to is that BOTH Oslter and Vogel are asking what the text MEANS. It is just that they don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t agree. Now, like me, you can find Vogel more persuasive, but I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t think that means you have to tell Ostler that he?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not even asking what the text means anymore.

    And, before I finish, let me say that the comparison with Mead is somewhat specious. In fact, it may even prove MY point. Mead?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfateful hoaxing?¢‚Ǩ¬ù (as Freeman refers to it) has only changed what we understand her book to MEAN. We no longer look at the book (as American social scientists did at one time) as ?¢‚Ǩ?ìevidence?¢‚Ǩ¬ù of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìtrue?¢‚Ǩ¬ù Samoan culture. We look at it as evidence of a clever Samoan?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s duping of Margaret Mead. But if such a hoaxing happened at Mead?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s expense, and she didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t know it was happening, then in some ways it is, again, a question of TRANSLATION. She was still there, still saw things, still heard the Samoans, but got much of her information through native pranksters, and ?¢‚Ǩ?ìtranslated?¢‚Ǩ¬ù it all in a way that titillated American readers back home. If there was ever a text that illustrated how meaning is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìconstructed?¢‚Ǩ¬ù rather than simply ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfound?¢‚Ǩ¬ù, this was it!

    Bryon seems to think that any concession to the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìconstructedness?¢‚Ǩ¬ù of meaning necessarily forces us to accept the truth claims of scrambling apologetics. But it doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t. I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t anyway. If anything, I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m only talking about a LARGER truth here.

  22. Bryon Martin says:

    First off, I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d like to thank John for the stimulating dialogue! This is great fun for me, and is exactly the reason why I value the Sunstone communitas so much. With the hope that I haven?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t put John in the exasperating situation that his initial post was trying to save Dan Vogel from, I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d like us to consider three points:

    1) Margaret Mead. My ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthought experiment?¢‚Ǩ¬ù re: the anthropologist still stands. Margaret Mead?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s apparent fall from grace is pretty well known to anyone who?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s taken methodology courses, and I used her, parenthetically, as an example of what can happen to a text that is presumed to be accurate but fails to stand up to careful scrutiny. The only thing that would confound such an approach would be if, for example, a small church had been established that proclaimed that the message of Mead?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s book was necessary for salvation, and that it was the most correct of any book on earth. The believers of this dogma would fight tooth and nail against any approaches that would diminish the book?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s authority. But because there was no institution making such faith claims about Mead?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s work, scientific method and academic discourse could play out as they did. I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m saying that the claims of the BOM are entitled to the same objective, scientific critique.

    2) Positivism. Yes, positivism has been supplanted and Ayer is just a footnote in 20th century philosophy. This is what happens when an allegedly scientific ?¢‚Ǩ?ìverification principle?¢‚Ǩ¬ù is revealed to be just one more article of faith. But just because positivism was overthrown as a philosophy doesn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t mean it can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t inform us with useful practices. If I go to the hardware store to purchase a $10 dollar item and try to pay for it with only a $5 bill, positivism will rule the day. (Even if I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m holding it perfectly still and hope that, as Heisenberg shows us, if she sees its position on the counter she will be confused about its value.) But seriously, it was through scientific (positivistic) methods that the errors in Mead?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s work were revealed.

    3) JS as a translator/interpreter. Maybe I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve misunderstood the direction of how these terms are being used; here?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s how I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve thought we?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve been using them: From reading some of the ideas being floated around by FARMS apologists, I think their position is that a) Joseph Smith translated the BOM, b) it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s true because of both the angel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s declaration and our own answers to prayerful inquiry, and c) it will stand up to any scrutiny. This is, I believe, their position of JS as a translator. Now where this gets tricky is that in order to defend the BOM, they?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re willing to denigrate Smith as an interpreter of the work he brought forth. (For example, when the idea is floated that JS was perhaps mistaken when JS said Zelph?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s reputation was known from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains, or that the plains Indians of his time were Lamanites.) A current apologist trend seems to be that they only have to defend the standard works ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú not any former prophet?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinterpretation?¢‚Ǩ¬ù of them, even if the prophets claimed to be speaking for the Lord. (As in Wilford Woodruff?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s journal, where he states that JS received the information about Zelph in a vision.)

    That?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s it. I know these positions may seem frustratingly naive (or hopefully, to others, frustratingly direct and pertinent), but it seems to me that if we wish to submit the BOM to the same validity tests as the Constantine Donation, the Protocols of Zion, Coming of Age in Samoa, or even that bill I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m handing the cashier at the hardware store, that they can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t be ignored.

    Best,
    Bryon

  23. John Williams says:

    Unlike what I see happening on other blogs out there, I think Bryon and I are starting to reach an interesting consensus (and I say a hearty ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAmen?¢‚Ǩ¬ù to the value of Sunstone!). As for the everyday, nuts-and-bolts value of positivism, I couldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t agree more. You have to live your life according to some basic positivist assumptions about the nature of interpretation, language, and textualism. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a bit like Newtonian science. It won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t answer the deeper questions of space and time brought up by Einstein, but it sure makes a lot of sense when you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re driving down the street or making a trip to the hardware store. I think, then, Bryon and I have just been arguing a different levels. The ?¢‚Ǩ?ìNewtonian?¢‚Ǩ¬ù rules of interpretation go a long way in helping us see the improbability of the BofM?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s claims to historicity (though it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s worth pointing out that this has changed in the last hundred years?¢‚Ǩ‚Äùfor many readers in 1830 it made quite a bit of ?¢‚Ǩ?ìscientific?¢‚Ǩ¬ù sense to think Native American Plains Indians might have come from Israel). But it is just as true that the ?¢‚Ǩ?ìEinsteinian?¢‚Ǩ¬ù rules of interpretation explain how, at a deeper level, the unconscious mechanics of interpretive communities and the slippery non-saturation of contexts and intentions make possible the kind of reinterpretation we are seeing at FARMS.

    The #3 that Bryon discusses above is something I find absolutely fascinating. First, it is based on a principle (the simultaneous infallibility/fallibility of JS) that a majority of church members would not accept. But by-and-large, they do not understand the situation, and have no idea how much this fundamental contradiction is necessary to maintain BofM historicity. The only people who understand it are those who 1) find it bizarre, and end up at Sunstone or reading Vogel?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s books for a better historical explanation of how the BofM came to be; 2) also find it bizarre, but who have enormous cultural or psychological reasons to go on believing in the book (or maybe their job depends on it, as for the boys at FARMS), and so have been initiated into an actually progressive way of thinking that allows the prophet to be both inspired *at times* but also wrong in how he saw many things (i.e. limited by his own culture). This is why, while I agree that the BofM was a 19th century creation, the boys at FARMS (and let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s face it, they?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re ALL boys) are ultimately engaging in what John-Charles Duffy calls ?¢‚Ǩ?ìprogressive orthodoxy.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

  24. Cameron Kraus says:

    This question is for Dan Vogel:

    Ever since I started reading your work I have wonder why you are still so interested in Mormon studies. You seem to write so much about LDS history, philosophy, culture, etc. and have been at it for years and years. I can understand a believer who dedicates all their intellectual power to this one topic. For them they derive purpose, value, identity and growth from this religion. Why not focus your life?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s energy on it?!? I can also understand the non-believer who finds mormon issues interesting and engaging, for a time. But I guess I can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t understand why someone of your obvious intellectual prowess and natural writing ability is still so solely committed to a subject matter as esoteric as mormonism. I mean, you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re the world expert on how Joseph Smith is not a prophet of God. If you like it you like it, but scrolling through this post and seeing the sheer amount of mental energy you commit to things like this makes me hesitant to consider what you say as anything other than fanatical.

  25. Rick Jepson says:

    Cameron,

    I’m obsessed with ischemic strokes that happen in the middle cerebral artery of the right hemisphere of the brain. I think about it all day. I stay up late downloading journal articles. I talk about it to anyone willing to listen. I subject every patient I can get my hands on to endless tests.

    So, if I tell you that a patient I had last week has extinctive and peripersonal visuospatial neglect but not motor, far space, or representational or personal neglect…….would you be hesitant to consider what I say as anything other than fanatical?

    Many people don’t choose the bug that bites them….if someone gets bitten by the Joseph Smith bug, who am i to question why? After all, there’s really no good reason for me to have been bitten by the R-CVA bug, but here I am.

    It might be more productive to discuss things point by point instead of disregarding a person’s whole body of contributions just because they’re more excited about it than you or I.

  26. Dan Vogel says:

    Cameron,

    I haven’t been here for awhile, so sorry for the delay to your question. I think Rick Jepson expressed it well. Generally, I have found that the only people who question such passion are those who have not experienced it themselves. I am also passionate about other things as well; I just don’t write about them. But I got hooked on Mormon studies while I was still a believer, and it just so happens that I didn’t lose my interest with my change of interpretation. If it wasn’t Joseph Smith and Mormonism, I would likely be writing about some other mystery.

    I would also like to debunk the notion that I am “the world expert on how Joseph Smith is not a prophet of God.” First, I don’t see myself as an “expert” in anything, much less about how Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God. No one can be an expert in that. I prefer to deal with lesser mysteries like: is the Book of Mormon historical? Did Joseph Smith use deception on occasion? What did Joseph Smith think about himself? These questions are plenty tough enough.

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