long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jenkins and Hamblin

There is a running discussion between William Hamblin, a believing LDS scholar, and Phillip Jenkins, a non-LDS scholar, at Hamblin's blog on Patheos.


The conversation is a little difficult to follow because Jenkins' comments are called "Jenkins Rejoinder" while Hamblin's are called "Jenkins Response" but the numbers assigned don't line up, but it is still worth following if one is interested in these perspectives.

Jenkins makes the argument that Hamblin has no evidence for the Book of Mormon. Here's how he frames it:

I am puzzled by the directions that Dr. Hamblin’s columns are taking – or rather, not taking.
 Basically, why has he not yet addressed the critical issue of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon? Why has he not begun to address my “Rule of One” question, namely to produce from the New World one single object or site, one piece of genetic or linguistic evidence, that begins to support the historicity of that source. He is as well acquainted with these debates and issues as well as anyone around. So why is he not (yet) socking me daily with convincing examples from Oaxaca or Ohio, Michoacán or Michigan? Stop me before I alliterate more.
 By my reading, everything he has said in his several columns to date assumes the Book’s authenticity as an ancient text, and on that basis he suggests (for instance) how sad and inappropriate it is that non-Mormon scholars neither know nor consult the Book. ALL his arguments depend on that assumption about historicity – and so far, it is an assumption. To the contrary, I have suggested that the Book is of inestimable value for anyone interested in American religious history in the nineteenth century, but otherwise it is of no relevance for any non-Mormon. He thinks it is an ancient text; I think it was written anew by an American around 1830. That is a clear enough distinction, and one of us is wrong.
 My own view, in scientific terms, is easily falsifiable, as my hypothesis can be tested and verified. It could in theory be proven wrong with just a few convincing, credible, and well documented New World examples, according to the reasonable standards for credibility that I have offered. So where are these examples? At present, with all due modesty and restraint, I am asking for just one.

As near as I can tell, Hamblin responds with this:

During years of debating the historicity of the Book of Mormon, I’ve found that the real problems have to do with assumptions, presupposition, methodologies, and epistemological questions.  Until we can achieve common ground on those issues, debating the specific implications of a particular inscription is pointless.  So far, professor Jenkins and I have not arrived at that common ground; far from it.  It has been difficult to convince him even that ancient Book of Mormon studies is field of study, and that the evidence should be examined with an open mind.  He stubbornly refuses to take seriously either ancient Book of Mormon studies as a field, or the scholars who engage in it.  If we can’t arrive at at least a working agreement on that, how can we hope to have a fruitful discussion of the evidentiary significance of Preclassic Mesoamerican pottery?

To me, this is not responsive. I've been reading Sorenson, FARMS, Maxwell Institute, and similar material for decades but so far, like Jenkins, I have not seen a single credible "object or site, one piece of genetic or linguistic evidence" from Mesoamerica that begins to support the historicity of the Book of Mormon. 

It's interesting that Jenkins asks, "So why is he not (yet) socking me daily with convincing examples from Oaxaca or Ohio, Michoacán or Michigan?" 

The reason: Hamblin has nothing from Oaxaca or Michoacan, and he rejects everything from Ohio and Michigan.

Numerous artifacts have been found in North America that directly support the Book of Mormon, but they are all rejected as "counterfeit" or "frauds" because they don't align with prevailing theories about the origins and culture of the Native American Indians. In some cases, there have been counterfeits, but that raises the question, what were these hucksters copying? 

I've looked into some of the claims about these artifacts, and in my view, the question of authenticity of these artifacts needs to be re-examined. 

At any rate, Hamblin has no solid response to Jenkins' observation that even BYU has no program for Ancient Book of Mormon Studies (ABMS). Instead, he alludes to BYU professors (including himself) who correlate the Book of Mormon with Mesoamerica--a thought that makes me cringe.


Here are his examples. Note that what he considers ABMS is actually "Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica Studies," excluding North America.

2- When I teach world history classes at BYU, I always talk about the Book of Mormon and Precolumbian America in the week I spend on Precolumbia.
3- The anthropology department teaches many classes on Precolumbian Mesoamerican studies. These classes generally integrate BOM issues with mainstream ideas. 
4- There is no class on BOM archaeology per se because archaeology is organized by region, period and culture, not by books. Most universities don’t teach classes on biblical archaeology any more for this reason, they teach something like Palestinian/Canaanite/Israelite Iron Age archaeology instead.  At BYU ABMS is integrated into Mesoamerican archaeology classes.  
7- The Maxwell Institute is a research not a teaching institute.  It recently abandoned support for the historicity of the Book of Mormon for personal, political and power reasons.  It was a coup.  Those things happen in academia—but I’m sure not a Baylor! :-)
Finally, let me note the following:
1-  There are dozens, if not several hundred of qualified scholars publishing on ABMS.  
2- The bibliography in the field amounts to hundreds, and perhaps several thousand items.  
3-  Several professional journals are dedicated to ABMS.  
4-  Several conferences are held each each year on ABMS.
5- Numerous books on the topic are published each year.
6-  BYU supports the Maxwell Institute, which until three years ago was dedicated primarily to ABMS.  (How and why that changed is controversial: some claim it represents an ideological shift in BYU and the Church, but I’m confidant it was all about money, research positions, power, glory, PR, land, diverting donations to pet projects, etc.)

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