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philipjenkins • 9 years ago

1.My basic concern is this. You speak of a discipline called Ancient Book of Mormon Studies, which for the sake of convenience I will abbreviate to ABMS. In my view, no scholars outside that area (eg Mesoamericanists) need to know anything about it, because it is not a genuine discipline.

If it is Book of Mormon, it is not ancient.

If it is Ancient, it is not Book of Mormon.

Therefore, there is no such thing as Ancient Book of Mormon Studies.

Is that view wrong and dismissive? Very well then – it is up to you to prove it.

2. I will make a statement, and if I am wrong, you can easily disprove it. You say that ABMS is a real and significant discipline, that demands the attention of other scholars, who need to be qualified in that area in order to evaluate publications. So where is this discipline taught or practiced in universities or colleges? The impact of the Book of Mormon itself in modern literature and history certainly is taught and researched in many schools, in departments of English, History, Religious Studies etc, as it demands to be. I would love to teach a course like that myself. But what about what the supposed ancient aspects?

Brigham Young University is a really fine school, with many excellent departments prestigious at national and international level. If you think I am saying that with a shred of irony, you would be totally wrong. Among these units are Anthropology (which includes Archaeology), History, etc. Looking at their webpages, though, I do not readily see where ABMS is taught or researched. Not, apparently in your distinguished Anthropology department, which has so many Mesoamericanists:


I know that work is done in the Maxwell Institute, which publishes several journals, but unless I am mistaken, that is not an academic or teaching department. Am I wrong? Do you offer degrees of any kind in ABMS, where undergraduate or graduate? Where would I find the webpages? If not, why not?

In other words, if I am right, even BYU does not seem to give great weight to ABMS. Do they not take the subject seriously? And if they don’t, why should anyone else?

Any thoughts?

Darren • 9 years ago

The reality of ABMS is that there is no exact place given to study the Book of Mormon peoples. Unlike your comparative parallels given in your first post here, time stamped three hours previous to this one, there is no specific place given ever for where the Book of Mormon events unfolded. All that is given as a point of reference is tha Americas. That's a big place.

When the Book of Mormon was first published it spoke of a people who inhabited this continent in ancient times. Reading the narrative one can easily conclude that there were written records kept, had roads, buildings of cement, well organized and large militaries, a priestly society, and kings. Much of this, if not all, were laughed by scholars during in Joseph Smith's time. All these things today. However, are well known within the scholar community. And, by the way, they all point to a Mesoamerican setting. But, we have not known this until well after Joseph Smith's death.

When we speak of Mesoamerican research, do not assume it's at par with research of the Old World. Even as I type this there's a gold mine of new information literally waiting to be explored in Honduras. Three years ago the City of the Monkey God was discovered and it points to a currently unknown ancient American civilization. Artifacts are literally sitting on the ground to be excavated. Why has it been three years and nothing has been done? I really do not know but it is one example of how New World exploration is not as thorough as the Old World may be. That plus lots of jungle to cut through make research in the New World a bit challenging as compared to the Old World.

philipjenkins • 9 years ago

I'm reluctant to go through this every few days, but for one last and final time.

"Reading the narrative one can easily conclude that there were written records kept, had roads, buildings of cement, well organized and large militaries , a priestly society, and kings" That pretty perfectly describes the Old Testament world that Joseph Smith read about in the Old Testament, and on which he entirely based his imaginary New World communities.

"Much of this, if not all, were laughed by scholars during in Joseph Smith's time." No they were not. Look at the books available on the conquest of Mexico in this era.

And new finds are also turning up in the Old World all the time as well. You gravely and grossly understate the sophistication of New World archaeology.

Your argument boils down to this: somewhere over the rainbow, in Honduras maybe, there is one lost city where these folks lived, kept to themselves, and never interbred with anyone. And there they stayed for a thousand years until they all upped one day and traveled to Upper New York state to be massacred. What a long strange trip it must have been.

And as I remarked in an earlier comment,

If I were a Mormon believer, I would accept that Joseph Smith was quoting an angel personally when he said that the Indians were “the literal descendants of Abraham.” Was he in error on that? In that case, might his translation activities have been flawed? In the context, Smith's remark surely means the Indians of what became the continental US, rather than “Indians from some mysterious region thousands of miles away in South America, from a realm we shall call Nibleystan.”

philipjenkins • 9 years ago

I have one addition to my earlier post. For whatever reason, Mormon apologists have in recent years focused on Central America to find their lands. As I argued in an earlier post, Smith was undoubtedly thinking of North America, where there was so much evidence of great cities and urban complexes available across the Midwest, and especially along the Mississippi and Ohio. Think Cahokia, Chillicothe...


Once you knew there were cities there, you simply used the Old Testament to populate them with a pseudo-ancient society. That is why the Book of Mormon worlds look as they do.

Darren • 9 years ago

Also from your webpost:

"he passed the mound burial of one he identified as Zelph, a “white Lamanite” of the Book of Mormon era"

Careful there. The story of Zelph as we have it today is a hodgepodge of collections from various people and something Joseph Smith himself never reviewed.


B. Wilson • 9 years ago

In addition to the points about qualifications to edit and peer review a journal dealing with the historicity of the Book of Mormon, another more minor issue exists. Science is conservative in nature and editors as well as those scholars providing peer review prefer articles that make small, incremental improvements to or rejections of theory rather than those that are truly original.

In economics, the work of Gary Becker and Vernon Smith both illustrate this point. Becker applied economic tools to the family, race and crime while Vernon Smith created a new field--experimental economics. Both initially had difficulties publishing papers and both eventually won Nobel Prizes.

philipjenkins • 9 years ago

I thank you again for the very fair forum that you have set up to explore these questions. I hope that neither you nor I will misconstrue a forceful and direct argument as rudeness or incivility. I intend no such thing.

You write “The vast majority of Mesoamericanists are not qualified to peer review papers field of ancient Book of Mormon studies.” This is baffling, and somewhat circuitous. (I mean to say “wrong” but I am being polite). The whole question is whether such an animal as “ancient Book of Mormon studies” exists. If I thought it did, I wouldn't be raising the basic issues of historicity.

You remark that “Mesoamericanists are not qualified to pass a scholarly judgment on the Book of Mormon.” That is unfair. Virtually all scholars who deal with pre-Columbian American history believe that the Book of Mormon was written around 1830, so that therefore it is irrelevant to their disciplines. They believe that not out of prejudice, but because they have never seen or encountered a report of an object or piece of evidence that gives them the slightest grounds for belief to the contrary. If such an object or fact or site exists, then it is your responsibility (or that of other experts) to say what it is, and publicize it, that its credentials can be examined. Then, we can speak of issues of scholarly judgment.

I say again - the burden of proof is on the claimants, and the apologists, not the critics.

The fundamental question is one of the Book's historicity. Let me offer a parallel. If you make a claim that, for instance, the presence of medieval Chinese anchors off the coast of California indicates that Chinese ships contacted those shores, that matter can and must be tested by exactly the same familiar archaeological techniques that apply to any other kind of study - we might for instance examine their metallurgy, and what dating evidence can be found from the surrounding mud in which the artifacts were found. In order to perform such an examination, I do not need to know the Chinese philosophical texts of the era. You might well consult a Sinologist to discuss the relevant techniques and design styles at the time in question.

Let's apply that parallel to your Mormon example. If an alleged archaeological discovery in the USA (or Mexico, if you prefer) seemed to suggest pre-Columbian Middle Eastern or Semitic analogies, I would certainly call in experts on those areas, and bow to their experience and learning. My basic testing, though, would be in standard archaeological matters - establishing authenticity, dating, context. If you found it was genuine, in the sense of suggesting a Semitic settlement in Mexico from 100 BC, then at that point I might well consult people expert in the Book of Mormon. The problem is that no study ever conducted on the soil of the New World had ever come within a million miles of confirming or vaguely hinting at such an outcome favorable to the Book of Mormon. So where does this “ancient Book of Mormon” expertise come in?

I ask a direct question, because I am curious about your answer: how do you think that experts in “ancient Book of Mormon studies” could contribute to Mesoamerican studies? What relevant expertise do they have to offer?

He was not speaking about Mormon theories particularly, but I cite the words of the distinguished archaeologist Brian Fagan in his classic book The Great Journey: The Peopling of Ancient America (1987). Reacting to successive theories about pre-Columbian settlers from Europe and the Middle East, he finally exploded, "Why do such lunatic ravings persist? …. To read the crank literature on the first Americans is to enter a fantasy world of strange, often obsessed, writers with a complex jargon of catchwords and 'scientific' data to support their ideas."

I'm sorry, but that is how most mainstream scholars would see the alleged expertise of "ancient Book of Mormon studies." If you wish to see mainstream scholars change that attitude, then as I said, yours is the burden of proof

David Harris • 9 years ago

I'm sorry, but I think I previously posted this on the wrong thread.
Bill, I've enjoyed your responses. I can't wait for you to get to the meat and potatoes and start addressing the specifics of Professor Jenkin's articles. Specifically, his challenge that he issued,

"Just as a refresher, here is my original question: “Can anyone cite any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from the New World that supports any one story found in the Book of Mormon? One sherd of pottery? One tool of bronze or iron? One carved stone? One piece of genetic data? And by credible, I mean drawn from a reputable scholarly study, an academic book or refereed journal, not some cranky piece of pseudo-science.”