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.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Illusion of scholarship - Mormon's Codex part 2

In my previous post in this series, we saw how Terryl Givens claimed Mormon's Codex is "the high-water mark of scholarship on the Book of Mormon." Foreword, Mormon's Codex, p. xvi.

Today, let's look at the basic premise of Mormon's Codex.

First, I re-emphasize that I have great respect and admiration for Brother John L. Sorenson, the author of Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book. As I mentioned in my own book, Moroni's America, Brother Sorenson has helped me and many other members of the Church think of the Book of Mormon people and events in a real-world context. That is an important and invaluable contribution that I hope everyone recognizes.

He also taught us all that we can and should use scientific discoveries in archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography and other fields to understand the real-world context of the Book of Mormon.

In my view, the only problem is that Brother Sorenson started with a false premise and never looked back.

To understand this, we need to assess what we mean by scholarship.

If you google the definition of "scholarship" you get this result from the online Oxford dictionary.



  • 1[mass noun] Academic study or achievement; learning at a high level.
    ‘the intellectual dishonesty has nothing to do with lack of scholarship’

I want to be crystal clear about this.

I do not think the M2C intellectuals, including Brother Sorenson, are intellectually dishonest.

I do not think they lack scholarship.

Scholarship involves citations and analysis of data. It involves interpretation of source materials. It involves source-checking and peer review.

But scholarship also requires careful, respectful consideration of alternative viewpoints, and this is where Mormon's Codex, as all of M2C publications, falls way short.

It's very simple.

The M2C intellectuals have elevated their intellectual preferences over the teachings of the prophets, and then they have engaged in bias confirmation to persuade themselves they are correct and the prophets are wrong.

When it comes to the Hill Cumorah in New York, we as members of the Church can choose to accept the prophets or the intellectuals. It's an either/or choice.

Some critics claim that my book, Moroni's America, lacks sufficient "scholarship" to match up with Mormon's Codex. I have three responses.

First, I explained at the outset that Moroni's America was an introductory examination of the evidence for the North American setting. It was an experiment, essentially. I wanted to see if the physical evidence and the text supported the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. It was never intended as a full-bore scholarly proof of the North American setting. There is abundant scientific evidence to support the North American setting that has never, to my knowledge, been assembled in one location or document. However, that will change soon, as we'll announce next month.

Second, for members of the Church, the teachings of the prophets deserve deference, especially the accounts of eye-witnesses to events that no one since has experienced. When someone from history says "I saw such-and-such," no amount of scientific analysis, especially scientific analysis 150-200 years later, can disprove that eye-witness. IOW, the burden of proof is virtually insurmountable if one seeks to disprove a historical eye-witness account; conversely, the burden of proof is low when all one seeks is to corroborate a historical eye-witness account.

Third, the question of Book of Mormon geography depends largely on interpretation of the text. Anyone who claims their view is "based on the text" is delusional; everyone's view is based on an interpretation of the text. There are few nouns, verbs, or modifiers that do not have more than one connotation. This should be self-evident to everyone, especially scholars and academics. Yet it is their belief in a particular interpretation, and their subjective rejection of alternative interpretations, that guide M2C intellectuals throughout their work, including Mormon's Codex.

Lately, people have been citing the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography to claim that (i) the modern prophets have changed the teachings of their predecessors and (ii) that we should not discuss Book of Mormon geography and historicity.

Neither proposition is set forth in the essay.

The essay has already been changed once, and will undoubtedly be changed in the future, if only to correct the obviously false statement of fact it contains, as I've discussed before. Plus, there is the obvious problem in the essay where it conflates theories and facts, and the confusion about the difference between claiming prophetic and Church support for one's theories vs. supporting the unambiguous and (so far) unrepudiated teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.

In the meantime, the essay reaffirms the principle that we can all believe whatever we want.

The question still boils down to prophets (New York Cumorah) vs. scholars (M2C) because there is scientific evidence to support both positions.

That leads us to examine the M2C claim that M2C is the product of sound scholarship.

The cover jacket of Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book explains the fundamentals. Original in blue, my comments in red.

Leading scholar and author John L. Sorenson brilliantly synthesizes in this volume his work from 60 years of academic study of ancient Mesoamerica and its relationship to the Book of Mormon.

IOW, the book synthesizes 60 years of bias confirmation.

Here Sorenson reveals that the Book of Mormon exhibits what one would expect of a historical document produced in the context of ancient Mesoamerican civilization. 

Notice carefully the word choice here. "Reveals" implies the uncovering of a previously unknown truth or reality. Yet no one--literally no one--would expect ancient Mesoamerican civilization to produce a manuscript such as the Book of Mormon. 

Even the M2C intellectuals lament that the Book of Mormon refers to horses instead of tapirs, sheep instead of agouti, wood and cement instead of stone and cement, etc. There is a stark absence in actual Mesoamerica about Israelite practices and teachings, let alone the Christian teachings that permeate the Book of Mormon from start to finish. 

He also shows that the scholars' discoveries about Mesoamerica and the contents of the Nephite record are clearly related. 

Here, you should notice that "contents of the Nephite record" is really "Sorenson's interpretation of the Nephite record." As we'll see, the book is full of reinterpretations of the actual text.  

Indeed, Sorenson lists more than 400 points where the Book of Mormon text corresponds to characteristic Mesoamerican situations, statements, allusions, and history.

These are the illusory correspondences of which I've written quite a bit. We'll take another look in this series. 

Are we to simply suppose that mere coincidence can account for similarities of this magnitude? 

These illusory correspondences are anything but coincidences. Sorenson and other M2C intellectuals have specifically interpreted the text to match elements of Mesoamerican society and history. 

The parallels are too striking and too sweeping to answer in the affirmative. 

The "parallels" were designed by the M2C intellectuals. The surprise would be if they were not striking and sweeping.

Even the greatest savant of the early 19th century--let alone a marginally literate frontier farm boy--could not possibly have produced a volume as rich in Mesoamericana as the Book of Mormon.

Joseph Smith was prepared by the Lord to translate the Book of Mormon. He was anything but "marginally literate." And could hardly be a book more removed from Meosamericana than the Book of Mormon. The text says nothing of jade, jaguar, and jungles, for example. No stone pyramids. No volcanoes. Nothing, really, about Mesoamerica. 

The only format in which a record such as the Book of Mormon could have been preserved is that of a native Mesoamerican book referred to by scholars as a codex. 

Re-read that statement of fact and judge its absurdity for yourself.

According to the record itself, the text was compiled by a man named Mormon, who lived in the Mesoamerican isthmus area in the late fourth century. Mormon passed the record to his son Moroni, who survived him by more than 35 years and made modest additions to the text.

This is perhaps the most audacious statement on the jacket. Now the text of the Book of Mormon itself claims Mormon lived in the Mesoamerican isthmus. I realize this was probably an editing error; they meant to say only that the "record itself" identified Mormon as the compiler, not that he lived in Mesoamerica. But whoever copy edited this piece was so persuaded by M2C that he/she didn't catch the distinction. In fact, I suspect many M2C scholars and their employees and followers actually believe the text refers explicitly to Mesoamerica, just as this jacket copy claims.

A significant contribution to the fields of Book of Mormon studies and Mesoamerican studies, Mormon's Codex is John Sorenson's magnum opus. It contains copious explanatory material, extensive footnotes, over 1,300 bibliographical references, illustrations, an appendix, and detailed maps. This long-awaited volume will appeal to informed general readers, archaeologists, and scholars alike.

Quantity as evidence of veracity. Beautiful. 

Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
Deseret Book Company

Neither of these organizations has, or ever will, publish something that supports the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah. Enough said.

Next in this series we'll discuss the origin of the bias that the book confirms.

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