There are 14 thoughts on “Moving Beyond the Historicity Question, or a Manifesto for Future Book of Mormon Research”.

  1. I just want to echo the article’s statement that the value of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies will wane because it is locked behind a paywall.

    Not only is it locked behind a paywall, but I, as a BYU-Idaho professor can’t get behind the paywall when logged in under my institution! If a BYU professor can’t even get behind it, who do they think is going to be reading this thing?

    • My guess is very few people. If you do not want your Book of Mormon scholarly contributions to be widely read, publish them in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. When it accepts unsolicited manuscripts again (it has been closed to non-invited manuscripts for three years now).

  2. My question is, how big is this paradigm change? Is it, in fact, a paradigm change, or just a paradigm change in the minds of a few researchers? This book review already demonstrated that the Interpreter is cited twice as often as the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, and the distance between the two journals will only get greater, since the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies is locked behind a paywall and not freely available (my university doesn’t pay for it to be included in their database of journals; I cannot imagine most would).

    One result of the citation analysis in the paper (though not reported) is that the entire universe of Book of Mormon studies is rather small. There are a small number of authors producing Book of Mormon scholarship and a somewhat larger number of readers. Excluding a large part of it (e.g., the Interpreter and its readership) just makes the reach of the remaining publications rather small. We are not anywhere near as large as, say, Biblical studies. Those trying to change the paradigm by excluding historicity research may be cutting off their noses to spite their faces. Unless a large number of non-Latter-day Saint readers take a scholarly interest in the Book of Mormon, I just cannot imagine their impact will be that great.

    Perhaps it is time to do an assessment of the impact of the major journals focusing on the Book of Mormon and see just who is impacting whom. I bet the authors of Book of Mormon Studies: An Introduction and Guide would be surprised at the results. I think I just discovered my next project.

  3. If a writer wants to build on historicity, then it would be nice to see some of crucial observations that have emerged from historicity approaches in the newer streams of scholarship, rather than, say, an occasional anecdote that depicts someone like Grant Palmer as an innocent victim of the Review, and thereby tars the whole body of work with some insinuative taint. Have read all of the old Review, and the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, I have experience with hundreds of reviews and reviewers in my head, and can apply that measure of personal familiarity against the kinds of thin generalizations with which some other scholars purport to measure them.

    I look back at the 2016 change in the Maxwell Institute Website that offered a kindler gentler, more socially acceptable and desirable scholarship, that, which could have added the kind of things they wanted to do on top of the accumulated work of hundreds of scholars taking hundreds of approaches, but instead un-ceremoneously discarded everything. If tempted to suppose this was just an oversight, an unintentional oopsie, I consider Thomas Kuhn’s observation regarding what happens to old scholarship when paradigms change.

    “When it repudiates a past paradigm, a scientific community simultaneously renounces, as a fit subject for professional scrutiny, most of the books and articles in which that paradigm had been embodied.” (Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 167).

    But rather than disappearing, the old FARMS scholars thrive at Interpreter and FAIR, and elsewhere. Margaret Barker wrote in 2000 in her talk on Reflections on Biblical Studies in the 20th Century that “Biblical studies should to serve the needs of the Churches; there are other goals, too, but if the needs of the churches are not even considered, something has to be amiss. Perhaps the time has come to break free from the Faustian pact between Church and Academy. We are unlikely to solve the problems currently facing biblical studies using the methods which
    created them. What we need is an approach, soundly based in scholarship, which enables us to stand where they stood, look where they looked, read what they wrote and glimpse what
    they saw.”

    What I like about the historicist scholars, is that when, by adding a contextualization that left to myself I might never have imagined, they help me to see what otherwise I might never have seen. Indeed, they help me resolve the very kinds of questions that people ask, and many many more, that given their narrow horizons, most people never think to ask. One favorite example is the 1984 FARMS Preliminary Report by Lisa Bolin Hawkins and Gordon Thomasson on “I Only Am Escaped to Tell Thee: Survivor Witness in the Book of Mormon.” Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon is a very good book, brimming with insights and is a very good example of the direction of the approach advocated as a Manifesto of the kind of scholarship we should have. Yet, Hardy does not refer to the Hawkins -Thomasson paper. Hardy’s close reading brings out many enlightening observations about Mormon and Moroni as characters and editors. But not the survivor witness profile, something I see as crucial for understanding them. Does that neglect by Hardy make it a better book, given the target audience and his ambitions to give us a text-only, close reading approach, or is it an inherent weakness in a text-only approach, where the assumption is words always mean what we think they mean from within the lens of present culture, in all times and places, for all observers, and soil and nurture, acquired from Jerusalem 600 BCE or Khor Kharfot, or the banks of the Grijalva river, could not possibly make a difference in the harvest? Of the Parable of the Sower, on the difference soil nurture make for word, Jesus says, “Know ye not this parable? And how then shall ye know all parables?” Historicity approaches teach me that a different cultural context may not only make a difference, but that that difference can often make all the difference, and I cannot know what a difference it might make until we stand there and look.

    Consider also the numerous important essays taking literary approaches by various authors in the Old FARMS Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. Say Tod R. Harris, “Journey of the Hero: Archetypes of Earthly Adventure and Spiritual Passage in 1 Nephi” which views Nephi through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, or the several essays of Alan Goff, which employed Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative to open up the telling allusivity and artfulness of Book of Mormon narratives. It would be nice if the old FARMS were given credit for the range and depth of approaches, not just historicity and apologetics, and it would be very nice if the new lights actually did build on what had come before, and continues to this day, rather than strive to forget or actively erase it.

  4. I haven’t read the book yet, but one might consider the significant intersection between issues of historicity and hermeneutics. Studies that argue for Book of Mormon historicity, whether directly or implicitly, often go to lengths to demonstrate how the text can or ought to be situated in an ancient historical, cultural, or literary contexts. It should go without saying that if valid, such arguments can helpfully illuminate the authors’ original intent, which in turn can help positively shape our devotional understanding of the Book of Mormon, or its manifold spiritual applications to our lives.

    This can readily be seen in the outpouring of articles over the past decade written by Matthew Bowen, many of which have been published in Interpreter. These word studies are implicitly apologetic, in the sense that they unavoidably strengthen the case for historicity. Yet they aren’t pushy, derisive, combative, or otherwise contentious. If anything, they feel more intent on informing one’s perspective about the meaning of the text, rather than making an overt case for divine origins.

    The point is that much of the “apologetic” research that has been published in the past, and which is continuing to be published today, isn’t as hyper-focused on making a case for historicity as the authors of this recent Book of Mormon Studies publication seem to indicate (based on this review). Even those studies that are more apologetic in nature, or which more directly confront criticisms, have potentially significant interpretive or devotional value. As one who is deeply immersed in this literature on a daily basis, I personally have found that the its value often transcends its apologetic goals.

    In short, I’m not sure why anyone who believes in the Book of Mormon’s authenticity would conclude that historicity-affirming research should give way to a more academically neutral discourse. Why can’t we just have both and see the value in both for the different audiences that they can reach and the different valid functions that they can serve?

    • My impression from reading the book is that the authors have no issues with those who research historicity. What they see is that there are more questions being asked that don’t start from a question of historicity. What they have suggested, and which I find ringing true, is that the pace of research on historicity has significantly slowed. In particular, we are seeing a lot fewer papers dealing with Mesoamerican topics. We still have those that depend upon Old World connections, such as the Hebrew connection that Matt Bowen uses for his textual explanations. It seems that the question of historicity is returning to the Nibley era of Old World investigation, leaving anything in the New World alone.

      Book of Mormon Central publishes quite a bit that can be seen as defending historicity, but the vast majority of what they do is repackage scholarly work and perhaps making it more accessible. While that is valuable, it is different from the type of academic research the book investigates for Book of Mormon studies.

  5. My concern is with the word “beyond.” When we talk about going “beyond” historicity, are we saying that we want to take its historicity (a.k.a. “truthfulness”) as given and ask other important questions about the Book of Mormon as well? Or are we saying that it’s time to stop pushing the idea that the Book of Mormon is a true document about real people, because all that does is divide people and risk our acceptability in the sight of the scholarly world, and instead move “beyond” that to focus on issues and questions that won’t create those risks for us?

    The reality, I think, is that some contemporary scholars talk about moving “beyond” historicity in the former sense, and others in the latter sense. And it makes a huge, huge difference which sense it is.

    • Hi Rick. Only the authors know what they truly believe, but my sense is that they want to move beyond the historicity question in your first sense, not the second sense. However, I agree there is a growing number who fit into the second category.

  6. This is a very through review, which I appreciate. I have great respect for the current plurality of approaches to the Book Mormon currently happening at BYU and among Latter-day Saint scholars.. Long ago, Hugh Nibley wrote AN Approach to the Book of Mormon, expecting that MANY would follow. A pluralism of believing scholars, employing many methods could help us all to respect the effort, love, and faith that go into Book of Mormon Studies. Why choose one over the other? We do not need to justify our own faith (even faith in the methods we prefer) ) at the expense of others’. Let us all press on in the work of studying the Book of Mormon.. It is the message of the hope of this world. Scholars squabbling is well beneath that.

    • This is exactly what I think the authors are suggesting and doing. They do not REJECT the historicity question but are building upon it.

  7. The Lord clearly emphasized the historicity of the Book of Mormon by giving Joseph Smith the original metal plates of Mormon’s book. They were not given to Joseph to read. They rather stood as a constant witness to Joseph and his companions that this artifact, which repeatedly appears in the narrative as a character throughout a thousand years of history, is not a fantasy, but is part of our real world. The plates attest that our reality is a world where God speaks to prophets, where Christ is physically resurrected and has promised to return, where angels visit us. The historicity of the Book of Mormon testifies of the historicity of God and Christ and angels and miracles. It is a reality that Joseph and the witnesses were willing to die for. It is of eternal relevance for our own salvation and exaltation. If we approach the Book of Mormon in an attitude of judging whether it is worthy of our respect based on the transitory criteria of men, then we have failed the test set by the authors of the book, who will “come triumphant through the air” to testify against us before the pleading bar of the great Jehovah.

    • Raymond, thanks for the comment. I doubt any of the authors of the book reviewed reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon. I would venture to guess they all accept it (I certainly accept the historicity of the Book of Mormon).

      What they are doing is asking other important questions as well. Instead of continuously playing a single key on a piano, they recognize there are other keys to be played as well, and they offer a rationale for playing those other keys. They are suggesting that even scholars not trained in ancient Near Eastern culture or languages, archaeology, Mesoamerican studies, Hebrew literary structures, etc., can advance the study of the Book of Mormon.

  8. Maybe I’m old fashioned. But if the Book of Mormon is not historical then it doesn’t matter what it says. Historicity has to be the basis of Book of Mormon scholarship. Other topics can be studied and discussed, but if there is no historicity there is no Book of Mormon.

    • Craig, thank you for your comment. I accept the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and I believe the authors of the book do, too. Their point, that there are other important and interesting questions to ask, is hard to refute. They claim that the students they are seeing today are concerned about other issues and are likely, if not more likely to drop the Book of Mormon and its sponsoring religion over issues such as sexism and violence, than over issues of historicity, which is something I have also seen in my many years working with young single adults. Historicity is important, they argue, but so are other questions.

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