Thursday, July 23, 2015

"The learned shall not read them" (2 Nephi 27:20)

One morning, several years ago, I had to acquire some materials for a research project I was working on. In company with two friends, I visited a small Salt Lake City bookstore operated by a well-known anti-Mormon couple. The woman, and co-proprietor of this establishment, was friendly and helpful. While there, I had the opportunity to witness and also participate in a most interesting conversation with this woman. During our conversation the question arose as to what, in her view, would constitute acceptable evidence in support of the Book of Mormon. She struggled with this question for several minutes, so we asked if some kind of ancient inscription would do. This would depend, she said. One of my companions then gave her a hypothetical scenario: Let’s suppose non-Mormon archaeologists found an inscription in highland Guatemala dating to the early sixth century B.C. with the name Nephi written in Reformed Egyptian. If verified, would such a find then constitute evidence for the Book of Mormon? Yet our kind host was unwilling to grant that even this would constitute such evidence, allowing only that, “it might be a topic of discussion.” as I left her store it was unclear what if anything would constitute such evidence.

In reflecting on this experience over the years I am reminded of the the Lord's words to a young Joseph Smith. No doubt eager to share the excitement of early sacred experiences with others, the Lord warned, 

“Behold, if they will not believe my words, they would not believe you, my servant Joseph, if it were possible that you should show them all these things which I have committed unto you” (D&C 5:7).

The Scriptures compare Jesus Christ to a stone. For some, that stone is a "sanctuary"--a reliable source of  peace and light to guide and protect those willing to follow the only reliable but narrow way. For others Christ and his teachings become a "stone of stumbling" or even a "rock of offense" (Isaiah 8:14; Matthew 21:42-44). 

Today, the Book of Mormon  fulfills a similar role. It too is a rock--a precious jewel that reflects the light of our Redeemer to the humble seeker of peace in a dark, confused, and troubled world. But it is a rock of offense and stumbling to the self-important, proud, and impatient.The world hates the Book of Mormon, as it hated Christ, because it forces all who learn of it to make a choice. It freely invites and even challenges us to do so.

"And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye--for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness" (2 Nephi 33:11). 

Our reactions to the Book of Mormon manifest what is in our hearts and that which we vainly seek to keep others from knowing. But in the end we can hide nothing from ourselves or from the Lord.

"And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches--yea they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. But the things of the wise and the prudent shall be hid from them forever--yea, that happiness which is prepared for the Saints" (2 Nephi 9:42-43).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Hugh Nibley on John Sorenson's Book

In 1998 John Sorenson's book, Images of Ancient America : Visualizing the Book of Mormon was published by FARMS. This book, now out of print, provides a beautifully illustrated and systematic  treatment of ancient life in Central America (Mesoamerica) and likely connections to the Book of Mormon. 

On January 14, 1999, Hugh Nibley wrote a brief note about this book which was sent to John Sorenson, a hard copy of which I have in my files. "This is the best book I have ever seen on the Book of Mormon," wrote Nibley.  "John Sorenson's book `Images of America' must remain the indispensable handbook for students of the Book of Mormon. The only book of its kind - enlightening and convincing. Who else will ever bring such diligence, knowledge and honesty to the task?

Hugh Nibley 1/14/99

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Scholars are People Too: Attitudes, Assumptions, and Perspectives

“It is a vulgar superstition, now, fortunately being dispelled, that archaeology is an empirical discipline . . . archaeological interpretations are a function not only of the evidence at hand, but also of the ideas and assumptions . . . that the interpreter carries about with him.”

R. B. Trigger, “The Strategy of Iroquoian Prehistory,” Ontario Archaeologist 14 (1970): 30, cited in William N. Irving, “Context and Chronology of Early Man in the Americas,” Annual Review of Anthropology 14 (1985): 529.

“Until recently, archaeologists have largely adhered to the belief that their profession is objective and free of value judgment. This idea is associated with the philosophy of positivism, according to which the physical phenomena of the universe are characterized by inherent immutable features; since the meaning of these qualities should be self-evident to the observer, it can be discovered by the scientist, regardless of his or her personal perspective or inclinations. However . . . it is generally accepted today that science depends for its ultimate authority on the attitude of the scientific community, rather than on a rule-governed method of inquiry.”

Talia Shay, “Israeli Archaeology–Ideology and Practice,” Antiquity 63 (1989): 768.

Monday, July 20, 2015

“Among the Ancestors of the American Indian”: Not a New Idea

The introduction to the Book of Mormon was not a part of the revealed translation of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith, but was provided to help orient the reader to the contents of this book of Latter-day scripture. The 1981 version of this introduction described the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon as “the principal ancestors of the American Indians.” In 2004 with the publication of a Doubleday edition of the Book of Mormon in cooperation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the introduction contained a minor, but significant revision which has since been added to current Church editions of the book. The Lamanites are now there described as “among the ancestors of the American Indians.” This corrected wording is consistent with the Book of Mormon text, which affirms that Native American peoples are heirs to covenant blessings promised to some of their forefathers, but makes no claim of exclusive or even principal ancestry.

The current wording of the introduction is actually not new, but has been used and approved by earlier Church leaders. In 1954, Elder Richard L. Evans, a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles wrote an article entitled, “What is a Mormon?” which was published in Look, a popular religious magazine. The articles which was published in the October 5, 1954 issue read as follows:

The Book of Mormon is part of a record, both sacred and secular, of the prophets and peoples who (with some supplementary groups) were ancestors of the American “Indians.”

Richard L. Evans, “What is a Mormon?” Look (October 5, 1954): 68

On February 20, 1955, this article was published in the Wisconsin State Journal with the identical wording (Richard L. Evans, “What is a Mormon?” Wisconsin State Journal (Sunday, February 20, 1955).

In 1957, Leo Rosten, who had edited Look Magazine, published a collection of articles from different religious denominations in the United States and included Even’s article as part of that collection. The 1957 version, however contained a minor, but interesting revision

The Book of Mormon is part of a record, both sacred and secular, of the prophets and peoples who (with some supplementary groups) were among the ancestors of the American “Indians.”

Richard L. Evans, “What is a Mormon?” In Leo Rosten, ed., Religions of America (Melbourne, London, Toronto: Heinemann, 1957), 94.

The Book of Mormon is part of a record, both sacred and secular, of the prophets and peoples who (with some supplementary groups) were among the ancestors of the American “Indians.”

Elder Evans passed away on November 1, 1971.

In 1975 Rosten prepared a new edition of his collection. He requested and received permission to republish Evan’s earlier article. In the introduction he noted, “A few such changes, approved by the First Presidency of the Church, have been included in this version. Where the text is not that of Dr. Evans, the initials [TFP] (The First Presidency) identify it.” (Leo Rosten, ed., Religions of America: Ferment and Faith in An Age of Crisis: A New Guide and Almanac (New York: Simon and Schuster,1975, 186). The phrasing for the relevant passage, however remained unchanged after First Presidency review of the article and read:

The Book of Mormon is part of a record, both sacred and secular, of the prophets and peoples who (with some supplementary groups) were among the ancestors of the American “Indians.”

That wording is essentially found in the introduction to current editions of the Book of Mormon today.

Historically, the idea that Pre-Columbian peoples may have had many other ancestors in addition to those associated with the Book of Mormon has been held by many Latter-day Saints and Church leaders. For more information on this question see Matthew Roper, “Nephi’s Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations,” FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 99-113.