There are 29 thoughts on “A Lengthening Shadow: Is Quality of Thought Deteriorating in LDS Scholarly Discourse Regarding Prophets and Revelation? Part Two”.

  1. Pingback: Best of the Blogs – Week of July 30, 2017 – The Mormon News Report Podcast

  2. Wow. Just Wow. After reading part one and two of these essays, and most of the comments, all I can say is: Thank you, Thank you Mr. Boyce. I had no idea how serious this had become. This is extremely helpful. I realize, in this forum, I am in august company, whose thesaurus’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. However, if I am entitled to an opinion, be it ever so wrong-headed, these essays really help me to see, that the ascendant Emperor of mormon liberal philosophy… has no clothes. Rest easy, that’s only the opinion of an idiot. Again, my deepest gratitude to Mr. Boyce and this website.

  3. I have published articles that view Nephi more as Brother Boyce does than as Brother Hardy does. The articles treat the killing of Laban (Killing Laban: The Birth of Sovereignty in the Nephite Constitutional Order, in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies) and Nephi’s conversation with the Spirit of the Lord (Hidden in Plain View: Mother in Heaven in Scripture, in Square Two). In the latter article, I demonstrate that the Spirit is the premortal Christ. He commands Nephi to “Look!” then vanishes before Nephi’s eyes. When the angel who replaces him then repeats the command “Look!” Christ reappears as a baby in the arms of Mary. So as he notes echoing Moses, Nephi speaks face to face with the pre-mortal Yahweh. There is no distance between him and the Lord in this episode. Brother Boyce is right about that. And as Michael Austin suggests in the most recent JBMS, Lehi’s tree is the Tree of Life just as Nephi’s is. Whereas Adam and Eve ate of a tree in the garden, were ashamed and then cast out into the lone wilderness, Lehi begins in the wilderness, partakes of the Tree of Life which is prototypically located in the garden, is not ashamed, and thus enters paradise. Again, I am unpersuaded by Hardy’s reading and more nearly agree with the reading of Boyce. But despite my fundamental disagreement with Hardy’s take on Nephi, I regard Understanding the Book of Mormon as the best thing done on the Book of Mormon in at least the last 10 or 15 years. Hardy’s basic approach is incredibly fruitful. The book is filled with compelling insights and will catalyze many more in years to come. Though I agree with many of his substantive points, I think Brother Boyce’s critique of Hardy in this article is fundamentally misguided–because it is so essentially a critique of Hardy. It would have been better to offer an alternative interpretation focused on the Book of Mormon text rather than aggressive criticism focused on Hardy’s text. If the article had briefly summarized Hardy’s reading, then had offered a more compelling alternative reading, I think it would have been fine. But its essential tenor, like part 1, is ad hominem. Ironically, while Brother Hardy is wrong to characterize Nephi as condemnatory and exclusionary, he would not be wrong to characterize these two articles that way.

  4. I thought the tone of Part 2 was much improved over Part 1, and found many individual arguments in this section persuasive. At other times, it seemed like as the author was arguing against Hardy he was actually making Hardy’s point. Here I am not sure if there was an issue communicating the arguments or a lack of understanding of Hardy’s approach.

    This has been mentioned before, but criticizing Hardy for not using Skousen’s recommended word changes over the prophetically authorized version of the Book of Mormon was a weakness so significant it does damage to every argument thus far provided – and yet to come. That being said, I understand (I think) the author’s approach and will do my best to set it out of my mind while reading Part 3.

    Kudos again to Boyce for addressing an important topic and provided an environment to discuss the differing roles of faith and doubt, research and revelation. It is no easy thing in the Church to master the combining of revelation with our own studious efforts (D&C 9), and every step we take in the right direction is a good one.

  5. Having read part two now, why do I keep thinking this is largely an effort to pound a square peg through a round hole? Defending the prophets and holding all accountable, particularly when it comes to things involving the prophets, is important. But the ends cannot justify the means.

  6. Finally, let me remind readers that in spite of my strong disagreement with conclusions and methodology, Boyce is sincerely seeking to strengthen the faith and thinking of Latter-day Saints, and I apologize if my own tone in challenging him is too shrill. He makes numerous points that many readers might perceive as well reasoned and intelligent. But I think that at least some of his targets do not deserve the criticism he levies, and in his passionate effort to condemn sloppy LDS scholarship, has made some unfortunate errors in scholarship himself.

    Such errors are easy to make, and I have made similar errors in my own writings where I miss a key point or misunderstand a source I criticize. I hope the explanation of apparent errors here and on the Mormanity Blog will result in some revisions, at least in the forthcoming Part 3, and some form of acknowledgement to temper what has been said so far, so that noteworthy and faithful LDS scholars may be more fairly characterized.

    • Thanks Jeff for your candor and your passion for the truth. One thing that I have noticed is that you often make retractions on your blog and on your apologetic website when you feel you have made an error. I honestly think I worry less about the quality of scholarly thought deteriorating than I do about the entrenchment of flawed ideas due to an unwillingness to publicly admit we are wrong. It would be nice to see more scholars openly repudiate and correct their own errors, especially when those errors are themselves a critique of others’ thinking.

      • Thanks, Ryan! It would be even better if I didn’t malke so many errors in the first place, of course, but thanks for noting my attempt to straighten things out at times when the evidence requires it or when commenters convince me to see something differently. That’s the power of feedback and review.

  7. Boyce’s comments regarding Hardy’s alleged double-standard in his use of Skousen’s Critical Text is particularly troubling. He makes a charge here that I wish had been noted and considered during the peer review process. Boyce states:

    Reliance on the word rejected in this part of Hardy’s argument, then, is an error. The truth about the language in this verse, far from serving as evidence for Hardy’s view about Nephi’s condemning and justice-oriented tone, actually serves as compelling evidence against it.

    Additional Error. There is an additional layer to this error. After all, Hardy is familiar with Skousen’s textual change from “rejected” to “separated.” It is something he acknowledges in an endnote. What he does not do, however, is allow this alteration to affect his argument. This is surprising. Throughout his volume Hardy refers to Skousen’s textual changes and in each instance he accepts Skousen’s modification. In this case, however, while acknowledging in an endnote Nephi’s use of the word separated rather than rejected, Hardy proceeds in the text with his characterization of Nephi as if this correction didn’t exist — or at least as if it didn’t matter.

    It does matter, though. Hardy’s characterization of Nephi as exclusionary and condemning depends in no small measure on the appearance of the word rejected in this particular passage. When Hardy discovers this is the wrong word, one would therefore expect him to identify this passage as a counterexample to his thesis about Nephi and address it in some way. What we do not expect is what Hardy actually does: ignore the disabling effect this correction has on his argument altogether.

    This suggests a highly unfair, perhaps even unethical handling of Skousen, but it is the charge made here that is affair. Where does Hardy show signs that any of Skousen’s changes have changed or served as the basis of his argument? What does Boyce mean with “Throughout his volume Hardy refers to Skousen’s textual changes and in each instance he accepts Skousen’s modification”?

    In the Kindle edition of Hardy’s book, it is easy to search for “Skousen” and thus one can see that he is mentioned only 3 times in the body of the text, outside of endnotes. First is in the Acknowledgements (loc. 47). Then comes a mention on page 67, where a table of 4 Isaiah verses from the KJV are compared to the Critical Text’s version of the Book of Mormon to illustrate something about the translation process, not anything relevant to Hardy’s arguments about Nephi or other Book of Mormon prophets. And finally comes another mention right after that table, still on page 67, noting that Skousen estimates that about 1/3 of the changes relative to the KJV involve italicized words. And that’s it. All other references to Skousen are in the endnotes (chapter notes), with little indication that any of his arguments depend on Skousen’s proposed changes, though there are many interesting and sometimes quite academic insights.

    When Hardy discusses the fiery sword keeping mortals away from the tree of life, it is only in an endnote (#32 on p. 54) where we learn that Skousen proposes “sword” should replace “word” in 1 Nephi 12:18. I think that is an important observation that greatly strengthens Hardy’s argument, and wish it had been given more emphasis in the body of the text, but he discusses that merely as a quiet observation in an endnote, just as he observes in the next endnote (#33 on p. 54) that Skousen offers a proposed change that undermines Hardy’s point about the wicked being “rejected” (versus Skousen’s “separated”) from the tree of life.

    Those are the only two changes in wording from Skousen’s Critical Text that appear to have significant bearing on Hardy’s arguments, one significantly strengthening part of an argument and one undermining an aspect of an argument, and both are handled the same way–fairly. Both are cited in an endnote. This cannot fairly be characterized as unethical. How on earth can Boyce say Hardy acts “as if this correction didn’t exist” when he gives it just as much weight as a similar change that greatly strengthens his argument? How can he say that Hardy fails to identify Skousen’s proposed change and that he has chosen to “ignore the disabling effect this correction has on his argument altogether” when in fact he HAS identified Skousen’s proposed correction and has not ignored it at all, but given it just as much weight as a proposed correction in his favor.

    Hardy’s book was written nearly 10 years ago and published in 2010. Skousen’s work was not so widely known and accepted then as it is now, and it was a sign of good scholarship that Hardy was citing Skousen and paying attention to the details of that scholarship already at that time. But his tendency is to rely on the canon that we have, leaving the details of a scholar’s proposed changes for endnotes. And for this, for failure to value Skousen over the canonized text, we are to accuse Hardy of grave error in failing to rely properly on the prophets instead of LDS scholarship?

    The other references in endnotes to proposed textual changes from Skousen include endnote 13 from page 40 (the note itself occurs on p. 268) which tells us that 1 Nephi 3:16 has the singular “commandment” in Skousen’s Critical Text versus “commandments” in the current printing, which is consistent with a minor argument made by Hardy, but not of great import. Another minor observation from Skousen’s Critical Text is found in a note regarding 1 Nephi 19:4 (note 23, p. 47). Another minor observation is made regarding 1 Nephi 9:4 in endnote 24 on p. 47 (“reigns of the kings” vs. “reign of the kings”), which has little impact on Hardy’s arguments.

    A proposed change is also found in endnote 37 on p. 56 which has little impact on Hardy’s point about 2 Nephi 4:26 (Skousen proposes that “visited men” should be “visited me”).

    In the section on Mormon, Hardy in endnote 1 on p. 89 observes a minor change proposed by Skousen with no obvious bearing on the analysis of the verse considered (Jacob 7:26). Other revisions noted without significant bearing on his argument include endnote 45 on p. 80, endnote 3 on p. 90, endnote 12 on p. 102, endnote 14 on p. 103, a minor insight from Original Manuscript in endnote 44 from p. 142, a minor issue in endnote 28 on p. 171, another in endnote 44 of p. 206, endnote 52 on p. 211, endnote 2 on p. 219, endnote 14 on p. 227, endnote 22 on p. 236, and endnote 7 on p. 268. These are provided for the reader’s information and aren’t necessarily accepted or rejected.

    Nearly all of the endnotes discussing Skousen’s work are there for completeness and don’t affect the argument Hardy is making. Skousen’s proposed alternative is directly relevant in only two cases, in my opinion, and both are handled in the same way. There is no sign of a double standard or unethical cherry picking that Boyce alleges, in my opinion.

    If Hardy were actually suppressing evidence, he could have simply left out the footnote where he explains Skousen’s offers “separated” instead of “rejected.” But he treats that case the same way he treats a proposed change that strengthens his argument: it’s placed in a footnote, while the main body of the text relies on the canonized text. It’s evenhanded and fair — unlike the harsh treatment Hardy receives in this paper. I feel an apology, retraction, or correction of some kind is warranted. Boyce is trying to strengthen the faith and encourage acceptance of prophets and the canon, but the methodology here seems seriously flawed. I hope Part 3 will reflect careful corrections to ensure it more fully complies with the high standards that the Interpreter seeks to follow.

  8. This quote from President Uchtdorf’s address entitled “What is truth?” seems relevant. I think the rest of the talk may also be relevant:

    “In the Book of Mormon, both the Nephites as well as the Lamanites created their own “truths” about each other. The Nephites’ “truth” about the Lamanites was that they “were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people,” never able to accept the gospel. The Lamanites’ “truth” about the Nephites was that Nephi had stolen his brother’s birthright and that Nephi’s descendants were liars who continued to rob the Lamanites of what was rightfully theirs. These “truths” fed their hatred for one another until it finally consumed them all.

    Needless to say, there are many examples in the Book of Mormon that contradict both of these stereotypes. Nevertheless, the Nephites and Lamanites believed these “truths” that shaped the destiny of this once-mighty and beautiful people.”

    • Hmm… Hugh Nibley also espoused, at least once, a moral equivalence between the Nephite and Lamanite people, regarding the wars. This never sat right with me. Toward the end of the book, that certainly was the case. For most of the book, it seemed to me, the Lamanites wanted to rule and the Nephites didn’t want to be ruled. In the second world war, there could have been as many good men in the Nazi forces as there were in the British forces, but I have trouble with moral equivalence when one side desired conquest and the other desired survival. Perhaps that is why the prophets, (when the Nephites would listen) strongly counseled strategic defence, though sometimes tactical offence was needed to serve the strategy. Anyway, I am uncomfortable with the equivalence. I think we should be wary of bias, but not lose our way in an effort to give equal weight to all sides. Maybe to Lucifer, Christ was Father’s goody-two-shoes pet that stood in the way of a more fair and equal plan, or at least a better being (Lucifer). I guess we all weighted one side more than the other back then. I really appreciate your comment and the Uchtdorf quote. I’m just musing.

  9. To be honest, much of the ‘scholarly’ discussion of the Book of Mormon lacks sufficient understanding of the culture in which Nephi and the rest of the Book of Mormon writers find themselves, which is not the Old World. I find much of it just regurgitation of different takes on the existing text, that without more corroborative information or new information, are just mostly speculation. There are likely reasons why Nephi discussed the tree of life as he did, and it probably had zero to do with what the meaning was in the Old World, after all he was writing approximately 30 years after arriving in the New World to a New World audience. The only other audience he would have cared about was the audience in the last days (us). Nothing against Grant Hardy, but I didn’t find much in his book that gave me an increased understanding of the Book of Mormon, mostly because he is not bringing any new data or information to bear. Writers like Brant Gardner and John Sorenson (and some others) have. Anyway, I think a big problem is that LDS persons actually accept information as infallible because someone has a PHd behind their name and then they accept it all as fact. It is after all just their opinion based on information available to them. I have written a few books myself, and would hope nobody thinks I am infallible in what I have written about the Book of Mormon (sorry I only have an ME, PE, and PG behind my name).

    • BG, you captured my thoughts perfectly. You did it in one sentence. I would have fumbled around my keyboard like one of the monkeys writing Hamlet. Well done.

  10. A further problem is Boyce’s view that Nephi’s words to his brothers about the vision he had cannot reflect his own views since he is merely an intermediary passing on what he learned from an angel and from Lehi. This seems out of touch with the basics of human conversation and certainly scholarship on the ways in which a text or story can be shaped by the teller for the teller’s own purposes. I can add a touch of my own views just in the way I read a fixed text out loud, choosing where to pause, what to emphasize, what to brush through quickly. But when I can paraphrase or retell a story in my own words, then I can dramatically inject my own views and attitudes, whether intentional or not. This should be obvious and is something that LDS students should know especially well as they consider the different ways Joseph shaped his First Vision account or the different ways Alma’s dramatic conversion story is told.

    Further, many of us should know from family experiences that the attitude of a parent toward a rebellious child is often greatly different than the attitude of a well-behaved sibling who has suffered at the hands of the rebel. It is insufficient to deny this by saying that Nephi is just an intermediary or merely “answering questions.” Answering questions is the ideal way to teach our views and achieve our objectives in a conversation, whether we are conscious of that or not. Boyce’s insistence that Hardy is wrong because Nephi is just passing on Lehi’s vision or an angel’s words and is merely answering questions does nothing to undermine Hardy. I am surprised that this line of argumentation is pursued.

    Hardy helps us see that Nephi’s own text provides subtle clues about this very plausible and natural difference in attitudes. Seeing it through the lens Hardy offers should not make us feel threatened by the possibility of Nephi having human weakness and frustrations that may have shaped his tone and message. Rather, Hardy’s lens helps us see in remarkably subtle ways that there are different voices and different authors in the Book of Mormon, indeed, real people, and the result is a nuanced, beautiful text that is deeper and more plausible that we had previously realized. Nephi and Jacob, for example, are very different in tone and style, but both are plausible examples of men who ahve suffered much at the hands of their brethren. One struggles with anger (2 Nephi 4) at his “enemies,” while the other seems to have become highly sensitive from his years of abuse. Meanwhile, Lehi is a tender parent doing all he can to love and rescue his wayward sons. Nephi speaks of justice and punishment for his enemies, while Lehi speaks of fear that his wicked sons may be lost. Those clues are there and need not be so vigorously denied because they do not undermine Nephi or prophethood or the Book of Mormon after all.

    Building in such subtlety and plausibility that only now is being noticed would have been a remarkable task for young Joseph dictating from a hat. What Hardy offers is powerful evidence of Book of Mormon authenticity. Some of Hardy’s points may be weak at times, but the overall approach is one of refined and noteworthy scholarship from a faithful writer deserving more praise than condemnatory nitpicking.

  11. I felt the tone of Part 2 was an improvement over Part 1. However,
    Boyce’s analysis of the tree of life in his critique of Hardy seems to overlook some crucial points. Boyce seems to want things to be neatly classified as black and white manner, such that the tree of life either means the specific tree John saw, or the specific tree Adam encountered. Connections to both are improperly ruled out. The broad significance of the tree of life in the ancient Near East (and Book of Mormon) is overlooked.

    After noting the relationship between the tree of life in Nephi’s vision and Mary and the coming of Christ, Boyce says: “The idea of life — indeed, of divine life — permeates the account. These elements of the record make it easy to imagine Nephi’s referring to the tree he sees as the ‘tree of life,’ independent of the tree in the Garden of Eden. Nephi explicitly saw what John saw of a ‘tree of life’ — a tree that represented spiritual abundance and glory and that was associated with living waters. Moreover, even what he saw of Lehi’s tree served as a forceful and holy symbol of the bestowal of life.”

    But how does Boyce jump from parallels to John’s tree of life to the claim that Nephi’s tree is “independent of the tree in the Garden of Eden”? The tree of life is a well-known ancient theme, or complex of themes, that permeated wisdom literature and abounded throughout the Near East in art and literature. That term is used multiple times in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Both Christian and Jewish writings link it not only to fruit but also to waters and to life, including divine life. I cannot imagine an ancient Jewish or early Christian writer such as Nephi or John or Lehi speaking of the “tree of life” without understanding and intending connections to various well known aspects of that ancient theme. Boyce writes as if the Genesis tree of life cannot possibly have been invoked by Nephi because his tree has strong parallels to John’s tree of life, but John’s tree of life cannot be separated from that of the Old Testament. His tree may be different or used for a different purpose, but the concept is overtly similar: a divine tree with fruit that brings life. They are part of the same complex of themes. Neglecting the basic knowledge and extensive scholarship on this point raises serious questions about the methodology in Boyce’s black-and-white effort approach that seeks to paint LDS scholars with interesting insights as egregiously wrong. It’s OK to disagree with their interpretations and some may go too far, but the reasons given in the tree of life discussion seem highly flawed.

    By way of background, see Wilford Grigg, “The Tree of Life in Ancient Cultures,” from the June 1988 Ensign. It’s an excellent overview of how that theme rooted in Genesis plays a vital in later Jewish and Christian thought. See also Daniel Peterson’s famous work, “Nephi and His Asherah,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000): 16–25, 80–81. Also just consider Genesis 2 and other OT references to the tree of life to see that it is likewise associated with water and, of course, life (Gen. 2:9-10, and Prov. 13:10-12 with a fountain of life and tree of life). I don’t think one can fairly claim that whatever Nephi and Lehi said about the tree can possibly be “independent” of the Genesis account and the many interrelated themes and concepts.

    Boyce’s claim is even further undercut by Lehi’s own words recorded by Nephi a few chapters later when he expressly addresses the tree of life in the Garden of Eden in 2 Nephi 2:15. These teachings of Lehi in the discourse with his call of repentance to his wayward sons have a purpose similar to the purpose taught by Lehi’s dream of the tree, and the connection simply cannot be denied.

    This connection should be overwhelmingly clear by Nephi’s connection of his tree to a flaming sword, obviously and remarkably similar to the flaming sword the Lord uses in Genesis to keep Adam away from the tree of life. Boyce seems to turn to special pleading to deny the significance of the connection, while grudgingly admitting that there is a superficial similarity(!). Again, he turn to the existence of some differences to deny a connection: “The first feature that creates a difficulty is the dissimilarity that exists between the two fiery elements. Whereas the fire and sword Nephi sees specifically represent the justice of God — and explicitly separate the wicked from the righteous and from God — this is not true of the fiery sword in the Garden of Eden. The Genesis account does not frame Adam and Eve as wicked, and its fiery element does not represent the justice of God: it is a flaming sword that merely prevents Adam and Eve from partaking of the tree and living forever. That both accounts have fiery elements, therefore, is only weak evidence that the fire Nephi sees puts him in mind of the tree in the Garden of Eden.”

    The fiery sword protecting the tree of life has become merely a “fiery element” shared perhaps by chance alone with Nephi’s vision. We are to dismiss the connection–when the mere use of the term “tree of life” is ample evidence of a connection to the well known tree of life theme, and the specific use of a fiery sword should remove all doubt. Hardy has a very plausible point, and what becomes implausible if not egregiously wrong is the effort to deny a connection. The methodology Boyce applies leaves me perplexed.

    Boyce makes a valid point in noting a significant weakness in Hardy’s use of 1 Nephi 15:36, “the wicked are rejected from the righteous, and also from that tree of life” (1 Nephi 15:36). The word “rejected” probably should be “separated” which undermines one supporting argument from Hardy but does not demolish his point about Nephi’s view relative to Lehi’s. Hardy offers a footnote observing that Skousen proposes it should be “separated.” This is not enough for Boyce, who cries foul since Hardy has failed to let Skousen’s conclusion change his mind (after relying on Skousen’s proposed changes elsewhere) and insists that Hardy is guilty of error in this manner.

    While I personally respect Skousen’s work and rely on it heavily, there is irony in Boyce’s argument that needs to be noted. Some of the irony is that the very mistake he accuses Hardy of making, connecting the tree of life in Nephi’s account to that of Genesis 2, has been rather naturally made by other LDS leaders in various talks and sermons, and even the footnotes in the current printing of the Book of Mormon for 1 Nephi connects the term “tree of life” to Gen. 2:9.

    According to Boyce, Hardy’s error here is in relying on the wording from the official LDS canon (“rejected”), the wording that has been approved by leaders of the Church instead of fully accepting an alternative (“separated”) proposed by an LDS scholar in an unofficial, uncanonized but highly scholastic work. I agree with Boyce that this should have been addressed more fully in the text and not merely observed in a footnote, but feel Boyce’s protest is too harsh here. Isn’t Boyce’s argument highlighting a case where human fallibility among leaders has resulted in an alleged error in the scriptures that LDS scholarship may now help correct? If such errors don’t matter because prophets are virtually infallible in all things that are important, can Hardy’s apparent error actually matter?

    • To be more clear, in Parts 1 and 2 Boyce condemns scholars who imply prophets are fallible in ways that might actually matter. He also condembs scholars who offer new readings of scripture that may highlight human weakness in prophets or otherwise depart from teachings of some leaders in the Church. But then he condemns Hardy for an argument that draws upon the wording in the official, canonized version of the Book of Mormon instead of fully accepting an alternative in wording proposed by an LDS scholar in an academic work that has not been canonized and that inherently points to the existence of possible error in the canon that the prophets have given us. Is this not a touch of irony that should help the author soften his stance a bit? Is Hardy’s problem relying too much on the official wording rather than a scholar’s revision?

    • Connecting Nephi’s Tree of Life to the Tree in Genesis is natural and obvious and I was very surprised that Boyce spilled so much ink over the issue. Indeed, the Tree in Revelation would also be seen as related to the Tree in Genesis by the early Christians. I was a little perplexed at Boyce’s tenacity to make striking differences between the two. While that certainly is permissible such maneuvers leads to the disconcerting hypothesis that Boyce is encased in a very rigid framework of thought that appears to undergird his entire arguments against the scholars he accuses of a lack of quality of thought.

      Several of Boyce’s points are valid in this paper. But textual criticism requires many turns and look overs, and different voices and arguments are necessary. There is an additional disconcerting feeling in these papers that there can be only one official church-approved interpretation of these texts. No such luck amongst the mortals, prophets included.

      • Any confusion about the relationship between the tree of life in the Garden of Eden and Lehi’s dream/Nephi’s vision should be thoroughly cleared up now by the latest article at The Interpreter, David M. Calabro’s “Lehi’s Dream and the Garden of Eden.” Outstanding scholarship. The connection between the tree of life in 1 Nephi and Genesis should have been unquestionable before this work, but Calabro greatly amplifies the case for a deep connection at many levels between Lehi’s dream and the Garden of Eden.

  12. Boyce’s counter-arguments of Hardy’s textual analysis is apt but utterly fails his thesis. This is a strange series of papers that ironically reveal the shadow side of LDS culture. Boyce has framed his argument as “A Lengthening Shadow: Is Quality of Thought Deteriorating in LDS Scholarly Discourse…?” So his argument is not rooted in particular truth-claims but in LDS scholarly thought.

    One would expect, therefore, Boyce to discuss scholarly methodology, the practice and “art” of history making and historical interpretation, i.e. primarily hermeneutics, with special attention to cultural prejudice in the interpretation of texts. One would also expect him to contrast the work of the scholars he criticizes with established norms in academic procedure and show how these scholars are not conforming to strict academic standards. This is the argument Boyce has framed.

    But he does none of that. He entirely skips the framing of his argument and jumps right into textual criticism himself, contrasting his interpretation with those other scholars he accuses of deteriorating scholarly discourse.

    This maneuver is a sort of ironic suicide. By framing the argument in scholarly thought and by ignoring the principles of hermeneutics, Boyce has taken the de facto stance that his method and procedure of textual criticism is the standard of quality of thought that all other scholars must meet. But this approach entirely ignores hermeneutics—the very thing he was supposed to argue.

    Had he framed his papers in a completely different way, i.e. “Contrasting Textual Criticisms: Boyce Versus Givens and Hardy” he would be proclaiming that he is giving a contrasting point of view within the scholarly realm. This would at least put everyone on notice that what they should expect is contrasting textual criticisms, which is the only thing Boyce provides.

    But Boyce does not do that. And the end result shows an arrogance and snobbishness that is, above all, lacking in quality of thought. Lengthening shadow indeed—the shadow turns out to be the preconceptions inherent in a tradition that considers itself truer than the rest and does not take kindly to criticism, academic or otherwise.

  13. I was intrigued by this article and looked forward to part two but I have to question some of his analysis.

    For example, he argues against Hardy’s interpretation that there is another way to view Laman and Lemuel. But his analysis uses what are little more than ethnic stereotypes that described Lamanite hatred. A better textual analysis might acknowledge that Nephite record keepers had their own bias and prejudices (as Hardy does). That better analysis wouldn’t rely on biased texts to say that Nephites didn’t have bias. For example, he cites the Lord as a justification for the traditional view of Laman and Lemuel, but the Lord’s description of them is recorded by Nephi, which Noel Reynolds and others argue was a political text to justify his rule (compared to the stronger claim from his older brothers.)

    If anything, the one sided descriptions from Nephite authors, compared to some less biased accounts such as Zeniff who saw the good in Lamanites, Jacob, who acknowledged the Lamanites cared for their wives (both cited by Hardy), and the primary first hand accounts of dissenters such as the letter from Giddianhi, which actually showed more empathy than Moroni’s letter to his enemies, shows that there is more to the story than Nephite writers would have you believe. As my FAIR presentation last year discussed (and I assume Neal Rappleye will discuss next week), this kind of nuanced reading enhances the text and a person’s faith in it.

    If I can make the time I’ll write these up in greater detail. Essentially I have an entire book that reassess the BoM and suggests that the Nephites aren’t as good as the text would have us believe, and the Lamanites aren’t always as bad. For example, I have an entire chapter that argues Amalickiah’s arguments to the Lamanites in favor of war were likely enhanced by Moroni’s actions.

    Boyce’s analysis takes a step back, and is essentially an extremely articulate and verbose defense of a flawed and facile methodology.

  14. Thank you Duane, for your insightful article.

    I would also like to thank Grant Hardy for his book and his novel explorations of the Book of Mormon’s narrators. I reread his chapter on Nephi in conjunction with Boyce’s article to make sure I was familiar with the context of both Boyce’s and Hardy’s claims. I love Hardy’s book. I can’t count the number of times where he draws out a contrast, points out a theme, or recognizes an omission that I would have never seen myself.

    However, I like Boyce, continually find myself disagreeing with Hardy’s conclusions, and for many of the fundamental reasons that Boyce identifies in his article. I disagreed with a number of Boyce’s assertions as well, but overall I feel he hits on a number of weaknesses in Hardy’s conclusions.

    To be clear, I don’t believe my disagreement with Hardy is due to a desire (some may consider it a bias) to shield prophetic figures from criticism—even well-intentioned and fairly benign criticism. I, like the Book of Mormon prophets themselves, recognize that they are humans, that they have character defects, and that they are less than fallible intermediaries of divine truths. I’m not uncomfortable with their fallibility, and, for me, Hardy’s claims themselves hardly induce some sort of knee-jerk, iron-rod-Mormon response. (As an aside, I’m really not a fan of the characterization of iron rod vs. liahona mindsets.) I think I simply consistently disagree with Hardy’s logic.

    I guess one question that naturally crops up in this discussion is the morality of sincerely, and yet mistakenly, pointing out character flaws in prophetic figures. Assuming Hardy is mistaken on a number of points and that Boyce is correct, would that mean that Hardy’s analysis somehow becomes morally bankrupt—even morally hostile—to God’s prophets and scriptures?

    I don’t really think so. I think that such an outcome would simply reveal an honest mistake—the type that Nephi and other prophets certainly made themselves from time to time. It’s the type of mistake that deserves our charity, compassion, and patience—if indeed they turn out to be mistakes at all. I feel that Hardy, despite his attempts to point out Nephi’s human flaws and less-than-noble personality traits, actually has that type of charity for Nephi and for other prophets he discusses.

    We in turn, if we disagree with Hardy’s analysis, ought to show him the same charity he affords for these prophets whom I have all confidence that he loves, reveres, and sustains. And whether or not one agrees with Boyce’s analysis, his efforts to point out Hardy’s flaws seem no more or less charitable than Hardy’s attempts to point out Nephi’s flaws. I hope this discussion can avoid drawings lines between good guys and bad guys based on our agreement or disagreement with their interpretations of the scriptures.

  15. These articles are helpful, but in my opinion, “there is a general (and growing) IMPROVEMENT of thought on the topic of prophets and revelation in LDS scholarly discourse” and other gospel issues with the contributions of Hardy, Mason, the Givens, Brant Gardner, and many others.

    So much of LDS debate has traditionally been facile. No longer. And we’re all the better for it.

  16. Again, a fine and careful examination of the mistaken ideas presented by a scholar who does not use prophetic/inspired interpretations in his textual analysis, and is therefore mistaken in his conclusions. Scripture is only correctly understood the same way it originates, by the power of the Spirit; any other way is useless. This paper does a fine job in pointing that out without directly saying it. Thanks again Duane.

    • Dennis, one of Boyce’s primary criticisms of Hardy is that he relies on the current authorized canon of the Book of Mormon for 1 Nephi 12:18 instead of fully accepting for that verse the proposed change of “word” to “sword” by an LDS scholar, Royal Skousen, in his outstanding but non-canonized, unofficial work on the Critical Text that points to potential mistakes in the current canon that have been missed for decades by the leaders of the Church. So for at least one important argument, Boyce’s complaint seems to be that Hardy is too reluctant to accept a scholar’s opinion that runs contrary to the current LDS canon.

      • My mistake: the verse in question is 1 Nephi 15:36), “the wicked are rejected from the righteous, and also from that tree of life,” where Skousen proposes that “rejected” should be “separated.” Hardy acknowledges Skousen’s suggestion but sticks with the current canon, and takes heat for that.

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