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, October 3, 2023

Lazy scholarship at Scripture Central

Everyone is busy. Time is short, so we defer to experts. In his 1776 book Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith explained that we all become more prosperous through specialization and exchange. We visit a doctor so we don't have to go to medical school ourselves. We buy tickets on airplanes so we don't have to attend flight school. 

In the LDS context, we defer to historians and scholars to do research we don't have time to do ourselves. We recently honored the completion of the printed volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers, for example. 

But that deference leaves us vulnerable. We risk accepting their scholarly interpretations as facts.

I was reminded of this when I saw this slide from Scripture Central's celebration of "Moroni Day" 2023.

(click to enlarge)


This is one of the "go-to" quotations we often see from BMC (Book of Mormon Central). And they almost always misspell the author's name.

It's Austin Farrer, not Austin Farrar.

This is a tiny detail, but it exemplifies a much larger problem with LDS scholarship. In the interests of clarity, charity and understanding, let's take a look.


Some time ago I was curious about the context of this quotation. I bought an original copy of the 1965 book that is usually cited. That's when I realized the name was misspelled and the citation was incorrect.

As near as I can tell, John W. (Jack) Welch first misspelled the name and everyone has been quoting Jack's spelling error ever since, including in this slide.

And that's the same pattern Jack's followers have employed in promoting M2C.


Jack used the Farrer quotation in an awesome article titled "The Power of Evidence in the Nurturing of Faith." In Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson and John W. Welch, 17-53. Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2002.


In an important sense, evidence makes belief possible. I am very impressed by the words of Austin Farrar in speaking about C.S. Lewis and quoted by Elder Maxwell on several occasions: “Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows that ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.” 18

18. Austin Farrar, “Grete Clerk,” in Light on C.S. Lewis, comp. Jocelyn Gibb (New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1965), 26; cited in Neal A. Maxwell, “Discipleship and Scholarship,” BYU Studies 32/3 (summer 1992):5.

The citation to Elder Maxwell's article shows he spelled the name correctly, although his citation was wrong. Presumably E. Maxwell's research assistant got it wrong and no one checked it. 

E. Maxwell's quotation:

Do not underestimate the importance of what you do as articulators. In praising C. S. Lewis, Austin Farrer wrote:

Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows that ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.1

I am thankful to those who help to provide the needed “climate.”

1. Austin Farrer, “Grete Clerk,” in Jocelyn Gibb, comp., Light on C. S. Lewis (New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1965), 26.


Jack Welch simply copied the erroneous citation and reformatted it, but then also misspelled the name.

Again, it's not a serious problem that Jack misspelled Farrer's name. Nor is it a serious problem that Jack perpetuated Elder Maxwell's erroneous citation. Mistakes happen. Maybe Jack's research assistant copied it wrong and Jack just didn't notice. 

But this misspelled word is a signature. As the slide at the beginning of this post shows, everyone who misspells Farrer's name is simply copying--and perpetuating--Jack's error.

And everyone who uses Jack's erroneous citation is probably copying his without referring back to Elder Maxwell's original erroneous citation that Jack copies in the first place.

We wonder, how long will these errors persist?


Before moving on to another more serious example, you might be wondering why Elder Maxwell got the citation wrong in the first place.

Table of Contents

The Table of Contents of the book shows that Austin Farrer's article is titled "The Christian Apologist."  

Inexplicably, Elder Maxwell's research assistant instead cited the following chapter by J. W. W. Bennett that is titled "Grete Clerk."

The publisher is also incorrect. Instead of Harcourt and Brace, it is Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, printed right on the title page. (HBJ happens to be one of my previous publishers so I noticed that error right away).

But at least the page number, 26, is correct, as you can see in the next image.

Jack Welch copied the incorrect citation. But at least he kept the correct page number.

Page 26

Farrer's entire article is worth discussing, which I've done elsewhere.


Let's return to the problem of perpetuating errors.

One of Jack Welch's most famous errors is not really an error. It's an intentional omission and misdirection in his otherwise excellent book, Opening the Heavens.

In that book, Jack entirely censored a very key point about the trip from Harmony to Fayette, which is that the messenger took the abridged plates from Harmony to Cumorah before going to Fayette.

That's why the messenger declined David Whitmer's offer of a ride to Fayette.

And that's why David always remembered the encounter as the first time he heard the word "Cumorah."

Yet Jack, to promote his M2C theory, changed the actual Church history to claim that "The plates were carried to Fayette by Moroni in a bundle on his back" without mentioning the detour to Cumorah.

I wrote about that here:


Because Opening the Heavens has become a standard reference, many authors refer to it instead of the original sources. Ordinary readers have no idea that Jack deliberately changed the history to avoid mentioning Cumorah.

This has led to the censorship of Cumorah in the Saints books, the Gospel Topics Essays, and other materials. It has also led to the fake identification of the messenger as Moroni, an error introduced by historian Andrew Jensen that contradicts both what Mary Whitmer said and what Joseph Smith said. As related by David, Joseph identified the messenger as one of the Three Nephites.

For more on that topic, see https://www.lettervii.com/p/moroni-and-nephi.html

While Jack's misspelling of Austin Farrer's name and his repetition of an erroneous footnote are not major problems, the pattern of people simply copying Jack's work and perpetuating errors is a major problem.

Jack's obsession with M2C has infected all of Book of Mormon Central and its affiliates.

How much longer will this pattern continue?

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