Truth and Method:
Reflections on Dan Vogel's Approach to the Book of Mormon
Truth and Method: Reflections on Dan Vogel’s Approach to the Book of Mormon
Reviewed by Kevin Christensen
Dan Vogel’s Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon first appeared
in 1986,1 and I reviewed it in 1990.2 Vogel responded to one admittedly weak
point from that 1990 response with his 1993 article titled “Anti-Universalist
Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon,”3 and I further discussed these anti-Universalist
arguments in an article published in 1995.4 A condensed version of Indian
Origins and the Book of Mormon is now available on the Web,5 as is Vogel’s
latest response to my original review.6
The original publication of Indian Origins consisted of an introduction;
four chapters titled “The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon,” “New
World Antiquities,” “The Origin of the American Indians,”
and “Indians and Mound Builders”; a conclusion; endnotes; a bibliography;
scriptural references; and an index. The Web edition tacitly excises references
to items that turned out to be Mark Hofmann forgeries7 and dispenses with the
In Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon, Vogel explores the following
How did [the Book of Mormon] fit into the ongoing discussion about the origin
and nature of ancient American cultures? The discovery of the New World had
inspired a whole series of questions and debates. At what time and from what
nation did the Indians originate? How and over what route did they travel to
the Americas? How did they receive their skin color? Who were the builders of
the many mounds and ruined buildings which the early colonists found? These
and related questions were variously answered and hotly debated for three centuries
prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon.8
After surveying the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (with a heavy emphasis
on the money-digging stories) and providing chapters with useful information
about the ongoing discussion of Indian origins from the sixteenth to twentieth
centuries, Vogel argues against the historicity of the Book of Mormon, contending
that contemporary sources provide “plentiful” and “striking”
cultural and literary influences for Joseph Smith.9 He asserts that “some
of the major features of the Book of Mormon’s history of ancient America
originated centuries before in religiously motivated minds and subsequently
proved inaccurate.”10 He concludes that scholars seeking to understand
the Book of Mormon should focus on the pre-1830 environment and make useful
investigations “instead of promulgating illusory and emotional speculations
concerning the unknown.”11
In my original 1990 review, I presented three basic arguments that Vogel’s
conclusions are weak: “First, Vogel fails to address the question of adequacy
during paradigm debates as spelled out in Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of
Scientific Revolutions. Second, Vogel’s approach to the Book of Mormon
text rests on questionable assumptions. Third, Vogel’s prodigious research on
the pre-1830 environment sharply contrasts with the superficiality of his grasp
of the Book of Mormon.”12
Vogel’s most recent response attempts to dismiss my use of Kuhn. Yet Kuhn’s
observations have implications for all perspectives in the debates about Latter-day
Saint scripture, and those who neglect them do so at their peril. Most of Vogel’s
current response confronts examples I have given of how his assumptions operate
in contrast to other approaches to the same Book of Mormon. Vogel criticizes
Kenneth Godfrey at length over the meaning of the various accounts of the Zelph
incident during the Zion’s Camp march,13 and he skirmishes with John Sorenson
on Book of Mormon geography and Mesoamerican culture.14 He responds to some
of my brief arguments but ignores my lengthy ones—for example, my discussion
on the issue of alleged “anachronism” in the Book of Mormon. While
I freely grant a few weak points in my arguments,15 overall, the same kinds
of assumptions I observed in 1990 still underlie and undermine his approach.
For example, he still assumes that Joseph’s environment plus Joseph’s
imagination equals everything in the Book of Mormon,16 that Nephites are an
imaginative take on the Mound Builders, and that early Latter-day Saint traditions
for hemispheric geography take priority over later readings, however careful.
In analyzing my words, Vogel comments that “most of Christensen’s objections
are precariously balanced on the head of one apologetic needle called the Limited
Geograph[y] Theory. This theory is not a paradigm, but rather an ad hoc
hypothesis designed for no other reason than to rescue the Book of Mormon
from the implications of adverse ’empirical’ evidence.”17
I will discuss and define paradigms below. I will also explore the implications
that the specific guarantee on prophets in the Doctrine and Covenants has for
common critical claims (D&C 18:18). I will defend the limited geography
theory with some welcome aid from Brant Gardner. My response to Vogel’s essay
necessarily spills into comments on the introduction to American Apocrypha,
in which Vogel and Brent Metcalfe offer further objections to the limited geography
Vogel’s Response and My Reaction
Vogel begins by reciting what he calls “two important concessions”
on my part. First, “Christensen twice admits that ‘some defenders
have claimed too much’ with regard to what Joseph Smith could or could
not have known about ancient American civilizations.”18 Specifically,
he refers to my assessment that some Latter-day Saints have claimed that no
one knew anything about Mesoamerican antiquities or the possibility of writing
on metal plates. However, in 1994 William Hamblin showed that the most prominent
Latter-day Saint commentators on the subject of metal plates have been more
careful than Vogel claims or than I assumed.19
Second, according to Vogel, “Christensen twice allows that the Mound Builder
myth may have had an influence on Joseph Smith’s post-1830 descriptions of the
Book of Mormon, especially in his 1842 letter to newspaper editor John Wentworth.”20
Actually, I made an explicit case that the Mound Builder myth influenced the
summary of the Book of Mormon given in the Wentworth letter. In stating that
“Christensen is careful to avoid the implications of this last admission,”21
Vogel misses the point of my essay. We differ on the implications.
Vogel believes that the Mound Builder myth influenced the content of the Book
of Mormon; I believe that the Mound Builder myth influenced the interpretation
of the Book of Mormon by early readers but that the content remains profoundly
Studies by John Sorenson demonstrate that until 1938 no one even tried to make
a careful, systematic study of the Book of Mormon’s internal geographic
statements.22 However, the view of Joseph Smith as a fraudulent author—who
was able to keep over seven hundred geographic details straight23 during the
swift dictation24 of the lengthy and complex narrative25 (which contradicts
the Mound Builder myth at several essential points),26 but who nevertheless
provides a misreading of the Book of Mormon in the Wentworth letter—demands
Striking and Significant? Or Not?
In his response Vogel claims that
The Limited Geography Theory has not borne fruit in the scientific sense because
the Book of Mormon remains a useless guide to our understanding of ancient civilizations
in the New World. Indeed, as I have already stated, apologists have found nothing
in ancient Mesoamerica as striking as the similarities between the Book of Mormon
and the Mound Builder myth.28
As part of this response, I report the similarities between the Book of Mormon
and the Mound Builder myth, as specified in Indian Origins. For comparison,
I shall include a recent summary by Brant Gardner of geographic similarities
between Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon.29 Readers ought to be able to compare
and judge for themselves which parallels are the most significant, remembering
that a parallel may be striking, but not at all significant.30 For example,
Vogel compares the pre-1830 descriptions of Hopewell/Adena fortifications to
the fortifications in the Book of Mormon.31 The parallels are indeed striking,
but in my review I cited John Sorenson’s examples of exactly the same kinds
of fortifications in Mesoamerica dating to the correct times in a plausible
setting.32 Which descriptions are more significant? Taken alone, neither. But
if we add to the equation other observations—for example, an oppressively hot
climate at the new year (Alma 51:33-37; 52:1), active volcanoes (3 Nephi 8-9),
cultural requirements, distance constraints, and so forth—the balance tilts.33
Further, similarities may exist in one comparative context but not emerge in
another. This includes the details that do not emerge as striking or significant
until they are seen as fitting an ancient context, such as the recent discoveries
of candidates for the Valley of Lemuel, the 600 BC site for Nahom, or the details
of the description of Wadi Sayq.34
Vogel and Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Vogel claims that I use a “loose reading” of Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific
Revolutions to characterize “debates over the Book of Mormon’s historicity
as ‘paradigm debates,’ where one paradigm has yet to prevail.”35 How is my reading
of Kuhn “loose”? Vogel never quotes Kuhn nor confronts my quotations.36 Indeed,
we shall see that he uses precisely the arguments that Kuhn’s book refutes.
Vogel also does not observe that I always supplement Kuhn’s work with Ian
Barbour’s Myths, Models and Paradigms: A Comparative Study in Science and
Religion.37 It is Barbour who supplies the theoretical justification that
I use to apply Kuhn’s model to religion, and I do so keeping in mind Barbour’s
notice of the differences between applying these ideas to science and applying
them to religion.38 Barbour also provides modifications to Kuhn’s original notions
that I accept and apply in all my discussions.
Referring to a page in my review of Indian Origins that barely hints
about this tension,39 Vogel comments that “the major paradigm debate is between
naturalism and supernaturalism.”40 He should have referred to the essay “Paradigms
Crossed”41 for my extended discussion, and to Hugh Nibley’s discussions of the
Sophic and Mantic in The Ancient State.42
Vogel insinuates that I believe “the scientific community rejects Book
of Mormon historicity because they are working from the wrong paradigm.”43
Again, no. I try not to carelessly overgeneralize. Many practicing scientists
are Latter-day Saints, and therefore, many members of the scientific communities
in various fields do not reject the Book of Mormon. Mormon culture has a long
tradition of contributing a disproportionately high number of scientists per
capita to the scientific community.44 Had Vogel read Kuhn’s descriptions
of scientific communities45 and contributed his own analysis of how they define
themselves, behave, and interact, that might have been meaningful.
I agree with John Sorenson that most scientists and scholars who reject the
Book of Mormon do so because their paradigms dissuade them from working with
it at all—they don’t bother doing science with the Book of Mormon.
It lies outside the prescribed problem field. According to Kuhn’s observation:
“No part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena;
indeed those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all. . . .
Instead, normal-scientific research is directed to the articulation of those
phenomena and theories that the paradigm already supplies.”46 Most scientists
and scholars outside the Latter-day Saint tradition have neither the will nor
the motivation nor the requisite knowledge of both the appropriate ancient contexts
and the claims of the text to make valid tests of the Book of Mormon’s
Vogel maintains that I believe “that paradigm choice is arbitrary, that
all paradigms rest on ‘non-empirical assumptions,’ and that a supernatural
paradigm is just as valid as a naturalistic one.”47 No, no, and no. I
never say that paradigm choice is arbitrary, which implies that any paradigm
will do. Rather, I always insist that the questions to ask during a paradigm
debate are, Which paradigm is better? Which problems are most significant to
have solved? I follow Kuhn and Barbour in saying that paradigm choice is constrained
by values rather than determined by rules. This is far from saying that paradigm
choice is arbitrary.
Further, I never say that “all paradigms rest on ‘non-empirical assumptions.'”
(What does this even mean?) Rather, I quote Kuhn: “The proponents of competing
paradigms are always at least slightly at cross-purposes. Neither side will
grant all the non-empirical assumptions that the other needs in order to make
its case. . . . The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle
that can be resolved by proofs.”48 For example, in the introduction to American
Apocrypha, Vogel and Metcalfe assume that early Latter-day Saint traditions
on Book of Mormon geography take priority, despite the fact that early Latter-day
Saint readings were undeniably “pre-critical.”49 Sorenson, however, assumes
that the text has priority, particularly since he can demonstrate that no one
even tried to read the text carefully for geographic information until 1938.50
I go on in my review of Indian Origins,51 and subsequently in much
more detail in “Paradigms Crossed,”52 to explain in pragmatic and schematic
terms the nature of paradigm debate and to show how a conscious recognition
of the limits of verification and falsification and the recognition of a degree
of self-reference on every side should moderate the truth claims of rival claimants.
I always argue that both sides should frame their arguments in conscious recognition
of the implications of their own assumptions and of the values that govern paradigm
And I never say that a supernatural paradigm is just as valid as a naturalistic
one. In “Paradigms Crossed,” I argue (borrowing words from Ian Barbour):
“Whether a person chooses to adopt a religious or irreligious view or
a historicist or environmentalist view of the Book of Mormon ‘makes a
difference not only in one’s attitudes and behavior but in the way one
sees the world. One may notice and value features of individual and corporate
life that otherwise might be overlooked.'”53 I consider a supernatural
approach—that is, a nonnaturalistic approach—superior on those grounds.54
According to Vogel’s interpretation of my conclusion, the “Book of Mormon
historicity issue cannot be ‘adequately’ resolved without making a ‘paradigm
shift,'”55 but my actual conclusion states that “studies assuming historicity
seriously challenge the comprehensive validity of Vogel’s conclusion
that ‘The better that one understands the pre-1830 environment of Joseph Smith,
the better he or she will understand the Book of Mormon,’ as well as his dismissal
of historical approaches as ‘illusory.'”56 I did say that Vogel’s book was timely
and useful, despite my caveats about some of his conclusions.
Pseudoscience or Critical Realism?
To explain how he believes some of us misuse Kuhn’s work, Vogel writes:
In applying Kuhn’s work in this way, Christensen travels a well-worn path
of the pseudo-scientist, pseudo-historian, and New Age religionists. . . .
It is not uncommon for those who become frustrated when the scientific or scholarly
community rejects their radical theories to draw on Kuhn’s treatise and
then to offer the following argument:
the scientific community sometimes resists radical yet valid changes to its
received canon of knowledge;
the scientific community strongly resists my radical theories because it represents
[sic] a new paradigm shift;
therefore my radical theories are valid.57
It is true that Kuhn observes that scientists “are often intolerant” of new
theories.58 Vogel’s second point is also true generally but is more significant
when new arguments meet resistance primarily because they conflict with the
received opinion. James Burke, in a PBS series on paradigm shifts in the sciences,
relates how Alfred Wegner’s notion of “continental drift” was dismissed as crackpot
pseudoscience until core samples from the mid-Atlantic rift and the discovery
of plate tectonics proved that he was on the right track, despite his failure
to describe a plausible mechanism for the drift.59 Just because a scientist
is wrong about some things and is opposed by a majority, it does not necessarily
follow that he or she is wrong about everything.
Vogel’s third assertion is not true if applied to me. I have never used
this argument. Instead, I have consistently argued from my use of Kuhn and Barbour
that during paradigm debates the validity of all theories should be evaluated
by considering which paradigm solves the most significant problems. When the
key question is, Do you preach the orthodox religion? or Do you preach the orthodox
science? the authority of the paradigm is assumed and the methods, problem field,
and standards of solution for that paradigm come into play to settle the question.
Orthodoxy, whether in science or religion, has its value to be sure (and Kuhn
and Barbour have good discussions of this),60 but an uncritical allegiance to
a static orthodoxy can impede the search for further light and knowledge.61
Hence, I cite Barbour’s notion of critical realism, which I accept and
- Theory influences observation with the result that all data are to some degree
theory-laden. Although proponents of rival theories inevitably talk through
each other to a degree, adherents “of rival theories can seek a common
core of overlap . . . to which both can retreat.”
- Comprehensive theories are highly resistant to falsification, but observation
does exert some control over theories.
- There are no rules for choice between paradigms but there are criteria of
assessment independent of particular paradigms.62
For reasons that will become clear, Vogel bypasses comment on this topic.
According to Vogel, “Some misunderstand Kuhn to mean that since there
are some subjective elements in a paradigm, everything in a paradigm is therefore
subjective, relative, and untestable.”63 I, however, have never suggested
any such thing. Vogel correctly observes that “Kuhn was not defending
extreme relativism, nor was he proposing that all paradigms have equal validity.”64
But unlike Vogel, I reference Kuhn’s and Barbour’s discussions of
how people rationally go about deciding why one paradigm is better than another.65
Vogel claims that “if Christensen understood Kuhn, he would not say: ‘One
man’s distortion is another’s paradigm.'”66 He surprises me here because, in
Indian Origins, Vogel himself remarked that the “same statement may
have different meanings when considered within dissimilar environments.”67 I
say the same thing for basically the same reason. I even have a section in “Paradigms
Crossed” that gives examples of how context can change meaning.68
The Place of Subjectivity
Vogel allows that, “while there are subjective elements in all theories
or paradigms, that does not mean that they are all equally useful or probable,
or even have the same validity.”69 I have never said they did. But unlike
Vogel, I do explain the limits of falsification and verification, how scientists
evaluate competing paradigms, and how they decide which is better, not just
in theory but in practice.
Continuing, Vogel comments that “science will always be a human endeavor,
but the goal is to remove as far as possible subjective elements. Scientific
method is an imperfect tool, but it is the best tool we have.”70 I agree on
the value of the scientific method, as well as on its limitations. But had he
understood Kuhn, he would understand that objective rules only exist within
a paradigm. And even the presence of agreed-upon rules within a paradigm does
not cancel the inherent human limitations of selectivity, context, subjectivity,
and temporality.71 During paradigm debates, the rules themselves are in question,
and Kuhn and Barbour have shown that our only rational recourse is to a
value-based, tentative decision, asking which of two paradigms better describes
nature in light of current knowledge. Only that kind of comparison provides
a check on the self-referential rules associated with particular paradigms.
What Metcalfe and Vogel want to sell is a rule-based final decision,
something that exists only within their rigid, empiricist paradigm. Hence, they
show reluctance to admit the subjective, the tentative, and the self-referential
aspects of their own paradigms. And Barbour makes the point that the subjective
elements of paradigm decisions are more in evidence in religious decisions than
in the hard sciences.72 Had Vogel understood Kuhn, he would not talk about “removing”
the subjective elements, but of confessing their inevitable contribution. Rather
than adopt a corrupting pretense of objectivity, the important thing is to be
perceptive, given one’s perspective.
Vogel says, “Whether or not one accepts Kuhn’s critique of science,
Christensen misapplies Kuhn’s work to Book of Mormon studies in several
ways.”73 But Kuhn’s work is not a critique of science as a method
nor of science as a generally accepted body of knowledge (definitions which
Vogel has not supplied), but of positivist-empiricist views of science, whose
weakness and faulty assumptions are most exposed, as the title implies, when
examining “the structure of scientific revolutions.” Kuhn and other
philosophers of science have long since dismantled the positivism of previous
theories of science, and, by implication, Vogel’s own positivism-empiricism.
Here is how Vogel tries to explain how I misapply Kuhn to Book of Mormon studies:
“First, paradigm debates in science are one thing, but in Book of Mormon
studies they are entirely different.”74 Indeed? This would be a good place
for Vogel to define what a paradigm is and how paradigms become established,
unless (as happens to be the case) providing a definition undercuts the argument
he hopes to make. Barbour explains the essence of a paradigm:
Kuhn maintained that the thought and activity of a given scientific
community are dominated by its paradigms, which he described as “standard examples
of scientific work that embody a set of conceptual, methodological and metaphysical
assumptions.” Newton’s work in mechanics, for instance, was the central paradigm
of the community of physicists for two centuries. In the second edition (1970)
of Kuhn’s book and in subsequent essays, he distinguished several features which
he had previously lumped together: a research tradition, the key historical
examples (“exemplars”) through which the tradition is transmitted, and the set
of metaphysical assumptions implicit in its fundamental conceptual categories.
Adopting these distinctions, I will use the term paradigm to refer to a
tradition transmitted through historical exemplars. The concept of paradigm
is thus defined sociologically and historically, and its implications for epistemology
(the structure and character of knowledge) must be explored.75
Another of Vogel’s claims is that “Book of Mormon studies have yet to reach
the point where they can be called scientific let alone form competing paradigms.”76
Had he bothered to define the term paradigm, Vogel would have had to
explain away the paradigmatic presence of standard examples of Book of Mormon
study—Nibley’s Old World approach and Sorenson’s Mesoamerican approach—which
embody a problem field, a set of methods, and standards of solution for an ongoing
research tradition. Because this is the same exemplary function that Benjamin
Franklin’s Electricity or Albert Einstein’s theories of special and
general relativity have performed for scholars and students working in those
fields, it should be clear that paradigm debates in Book of Mormon studies are
exactly like paradigm debates in other fields.
The Rules According to Vogel and to Kuhn
Vogel explains the rules as he sees them:
Before questioning my methodology, Christensen should keep in mind that no matter
how many correlations one perceives in a text, one negative evidence cancels
them all. In other words, it is the apologists who are obliged to answer every
negative evidence, while those who doubt only need present evidence for rejecting
Book of Mormon historicity.77
As a statement of his own attitudes about the Book of Mormon, this is no doubt
accurate, but as a guide to a working philosophy of science and scholarship
in general, he couldn’t be more wrong. Kuhn’s observations include:
There are, I think, only two alternatives: either no scientific theory ever
confronts a counterinstance, or all such theories confront counterinstances
at all times.78
To be accepted as a paradigm, a theory must seem better than its competitors,
but it need not, and in fact never does, explain all the facts with which it
can be confronted.79
If any and every failure to fit were ground for theory rejection, all theories
ought to be rejected at all times.80
Most anomalies are resolved by normal means; most proposals for new theories
do prove to be wrong. If all members of a community responded to each anomaly
as a source of crisis or embraced each new theory advanced by a colleague, science
would cease. If, on the other hand, no one reacted to anomalies or to brand-new
theories in high-risk ways, there would be few or no revolutions. In matters
like these the resort to shared values rather than shared rules governing individual
choice may be the community’s way of distributing risk and assuring the
long-term success of its enterprise.81
During periods of normal science, the object is to “solve a puzzle for
whose very existence the validity of the paradigm must be assumed. Failure to
achieve a solution discredits only the scientist and not the theory.”82
Since the business of science is to solve puzzles that have not yet been solved
and all science and scholarship confront problems that have not yet been solved,
a general application of Vogel’s attitude that “one negative evidence”
suffices would demand the rejection of all science and scholarship. Vogel’s
empiricism overlooks the following points:
- Theory influences observation. “The procedures for making observations,
and the language in which data are reported” are “theory-laden.”83 For example,
when Vogel offers up nineteenth-century descriptions of Native American fortifications,
he sees them as direct evidence of his position rather than as data that any
theory should acknowledge and explain. He ignores the issue of whether such
descriptions would be present in an authentic text because of a combination
of a common stimulus (similar fortifications being present in Book of Mormon
times) and translator vocabulary. His theories permeate the language in which
he reports his data. For example, Vogel claims that “Lehi’s blessing on his
sons speaks of preserving America for his posterity and that the land would
not be ‘overrun’ by other nations until after his seed should ‘dwindle in
unbelief’ (2 Ne. 1[:10]).”84 The word America does not appear in
the Book of Mormon, but Vogel’s interpretive language remedies the lack.
- Theories are assessed and replaced by alternatives rather than falsified.
“The empiricists,” Barbour explains, “had claimed that even
though a theory cannot be verified by its agreement with data, it can be falsified
by disagreement with data. [Note that this is Vogel’s express position!]
But critics showed that discordant data alone have seldom been taken to falsify
an accepted theory in the absence of an alternative theory; instead, auxiliary
assumptions have been modified, or the discrepancies have been set aside as
anomalies.”85 Barbour demonstrates that in practice, theories are neither
verified, nor falsified, but assessed by a variety of criteria. “Comprehensive
theories are indeed resistant to falsification, but that observation does exert
some control over theory; an accumulation of anomalies cannot be ignored indefinitely.”86
So, how much control do we grant to any particular observation and interpretation?
In practice, this relates both to how an investigator chooses to value that
particular observation and to how it rests within a network of theories and
Counterinstances and Puzzles
Kuhn offers insights on how what seems a puzzle from one perspective (for example,
where to place Book of Mormon geography) can change into a counterinstance (e.g.,
what about steel?). What makes an anomaly “that normal science [or faith]
sees as a puzzle” into what “can be seen, from another viewpoint,
as a counterinstance and thus as a source of crisis”?88 There is no comprehensive
answer. But Kuhn does highlight three issues upon which Vogel opts for a discreet
- Issues for fundamental generalizations. “Sometimes an anomaly will clearly
call into question explicit and fundamental generalizations of the paradigm.”89
In American Apocrypha, the point of Vogel and Metcalfe’s introduction
is to establish a set of generalizations about Book of Mormon geography (hemispheric)
and populations (exclusive) that are particularly easy to call into question.
- Anomaly related to specific practical applications. “An anomaly without
apparent fundamental import may evoke crisis if the applications that it inhibits
have a particular practical importance.”90 For example, David Wright’s study
of Isaiah in American Apocrypha fusses over “the appearance of ‘yea’
and the twice-occurring ‘for,'”91 neither of which is fundamental, but both
of which relate to practical understandings of the translation.
- Research puzzles that currently resist solution. “The development of normal
science may transform an anomaly that had previously been only a vexation
into a source of crisis.”92 The shift from the hemispheric model to the limited
model flowed from an awareness of anomalies that the former model created,
both with respect to the view of developing science and to the internal
demands of the Book of Mormon text.93
Kuhn points out that a paradigm crisis closes in three ways.94 First, normal
science handles the crisis. Hence, we have things like Nibley’s “Howlers
in the Book of Mormon” and Matthew Roper’s “Right on Target:
Boomerang Hits and the Book of Mormon,” showing how things that had formerly
been put forth as evidence against the Book of Mormon have been transformed
into evidence in its favor.95
Second, the problem is labeled and set aside for a future generation. This was
the official response to the B. H. Roberts study in 1921.96 And surprisingly,
it was the correct response because his questions were premature in terms of
working out a consistent internal geography of the Book of Mormon, relating
it to a specific external site (the work had not been done), and correlating
it to relevant information on ancient Mesoamerica (it was not available).
Third, a new paradigm emerges with the ensuing battle for acceptance. Kuhn remarks,
“Since no paradigm ever solves all the problems it defines and since no
two paradigms leave all the same problems unsolved, paradigm debates always
involve the question: Which problems is it more significant to have solved?”97
Our Book of Mormon critics always tell us exactly which problems they think
are more significant to have solved. That is their privilege, but we don’t
have to agree with their valuations.
Ideology and the Process of Valuing Evidence
“The process that a scientist goes through in formulating theory,”
Vogel claims, “is vastly different than what an apologist does. The scientist
seeks a theory that explains most of the evidence, whereas the apologist formulates
one that explains most of it away.”98
Let’s see how scientists work in physics, the most objective of the hard
A classic instance was the beta-decay of the nucleus, in which experimental
data seemed clearly to violate the law of conservation of energy. Rather than
abandon this law, physicists postulated an unobservable particle, the neutrino,
to account for the discrepancy. Only at a considerably later point was there
any independent evidence for the existence of the neutrino.99
Until the existence of neutrinos was confirmed, Vogel would have to claim, in
order to maintain the consistency of his own concept of science, that these
scientists were “explaining away evidence” and resorting to an ad
hoc hypothesis in the manner of New Age Religion. The evidence for neutrinos
was eventually confirmed by scientists who were looking for them. As the technology
and tools became available, they designed experiments and apparatus specifically
to find them, and the effort was based on faith in the eventual successful outcome.
When he does confront evidence put forth by apologists in favor of the historicity
of the Book of Mormon, Vogel’s own primary concern involves explaining
it away. For example, he claims that “even Welch and others at FARMS are
beginning to admit that most of the evidence for chiasmus is contrived and ultimately
does not prove a Hebrew origin for the Book of Mormon.”100 Though understandably
enthusiastic, Welch has always been careful in his claims for the significance
of chiasmus. He knows the difference between proof and evidence.101 However,
far from even beginning to admit that the evidence is “contrived,”
Welch affirms that, in his opinion, “the multiple phenomena of chiasmus
in the Book of Mormon amount to a very strong complex of interlocking evidences
that the book is an ancient record that originated just as its authors and its
translator said it did.”102
Science and the Book of Mormon
“Because the Book of Mormon has yet to connect with ancient American history
in any meaningful way,” Vogel claims, Book of Mormon studies “are
pre-scientific.”103 Meaningful to whom? And called scientific by whom?
Again, Vogel’s positivist ideology, never a well-kept secret, emerges
with greater clarity the further we go.
Brant Gardner on the Proper Mesoamerican Approach
With respect to a meaningful Mesoamerican approach to the Book of Mormon, Brant
Gardner’s remarks (made in the course of an e-mail exchange with me) strike
me as profoundly insightful on just how the Book of Mormon connects to Ancient
Would I ever reconstruct Mesoamerican society in a way that appeared to represent
Christianized Old World peoples? No. I wouldn’t. I don’t.
The rather interesting discovery made just a few years back was that I, and
many other Mesoamericanists, had simply made some incorrect assumptions about
the [Book of Mormon] text. The attempts of LDS archaeological apologetics was
for years focused on finding the Christian or the Hebrew—or who knows
what—in Mesoamerican archaeology.
The difference came when I started looking for Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon
instead of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica. Oddly enough, there is a huge
difference, and the nature and the quality of the correlations has changed with
that single shift in perspective.104
One might read the Bible and assume that Hebrew culture was reasonably important
or powerful at times and that the monotheistic religion kept all others at bay.
Of course archaeology tells us otherwise. So does the text, when we know how
to correlate the remarks about groves and high places to the surrounding religions.
When one realizes that we get so much of the religion of Yahweh in the Old Testament
because it is combating other religions, we can understand that the text took
place in a context. Knowing the context helps explicate the text.
The same is holding true for the Book of Mormon. It is the context that is interesting.
Would I ever suggest that this means I think the Nephites were influential in
the great flow of Mesoamerican religion? Heavens no—no more so than the
Hebrews [were in the Old World]. Perhaps even less.105
[Christensen] What evidence do you expect to find (or to be found) regarding
the Book of Mormon civilization?
[Gardner] A very fair question. I’ll answer by telling you where I started
on my current examination and the conclusions I have made. I began with an examination
of my assumptions and what can and cannot be done with ethnohistorical
data. I base my current work on previous work with Mesoamerican history, trying
to sort out the development of religious ideas in later Mesoamerica (quite apart
from anything that has to do with Mormons).
Here are my assumptions:
- The Book of Mormon, if it is an ancient text, should behave like one.
- The writers of the Book of Mormon should have an agenda that is their
own, not one modeled after a modern concern.
- The text should demonstrate typical concerns for ancient societies—kin
groups, out-group prejudice, etc.
- The text should reflect the major cultural trends and pressures of the
time and place in which it took place. Even if it doesn’t directly participate
in the mainstream of history, it should not be ignorant of it.
- The text should be internally consistent.
- The text should describe some aspects of culture that are unexpected in
the modern world but are compatible with its own time. As for the idea that
a forgery can and should be falsifiable, I would expect a forger to be accurate
according to knowledge available at the time the forgery was created. I
would expect, however, that not only would better information call into
question the important elements of the story, but that the forgery would
completely fall apart upon investigation of the smaller nooks and crannies
where a nonspecialist would not even know to pay attention. Really good
forgeries tend to be caught in these small details, even when the large
details conform to expectations.
When I started my examination, I had no expectation of what I would find. Some
of the correlation I have found came not from attempting to find some specific
thing, but in realizing that the text did not say what I had thought it said—and
that it really didn’t make any sense until I saw it in the context of Mesoamerican
When people ask me about the most important correlation I have found, I have
a hard time narrowing it to just one. The most important correlation isn’t
a singular finding; rather, it can be seen in the many facets of the discovery
that the entire text of the Book of Mormon works better in a Mesoamerican context.
Speeches suddenly have a context that makes them relevant instead of just preachy.106
The pressures leading to wars are understandable. The wars themselves have an
explanation for their peculiar features.107 All of these things happen within
a single interpretive framework that puts them in the right place at the right
Science in Summary
Notice that Gardner’s arguments do not fit the pattern Vogel ascribes
to apologists. Nor do they confirm Vogel’s claim that “despite Christensen’s
discussion on shifting paradigms and scientific revolutions, the limited geography
theory has not borne fruit in the scientific sense because the Book of Mormon
remains a useless guide to our understanding of ancient civilizations in the
New World.”109 Rather, Vogel’s approach inherently blinds him to
the relationship between the Book of Mormon and the ancient world.
Science and Religion, Sophic and Mantic
According to Vogel’s definition, “The primary paradigm debate in Book of Mormon
studies is not between scientific theories, but rather between naturalism and
supernaturalism, science and pseudo-science, history and pseudo-history.”110
Here, ideology spills out in the rhetoric, showing that for Vogel, supernaturalism
implies pseudo-science and pseudohistory. On the relationship between science
and supernaturalism, remember the study that Nibley cites in The World and
Disturbed by the lack of real creativity in science, the British government
recently sponsored an ambitious study of scientific creativity in the past.
The result was a shocker, showing that the great original scientists have had
a disturbing way of combining in their persons remarkable scientific skepticism
with an equally remarkable religious gullibility. The creative scientist is
a scientific heretic who “must refuse to acquiesce in certain previously
accepted conclusions. This argues a kind of imperviousness to the opinions of
others, notably of authorities”; the true scientist throws that sacred
cow, Scientific Authority, out of the window, and this “sets him free
to speculate and investigate.” On the other hand he tends to display what
our report calls “a curious credulity” in unscientific areas and
to favor ideas which have “that touch of offending common sense which
is the hallmark of every truly scientific discovery.” Newton, the greatest
genius of them all, is the classic example. . . . It does not seem
to occur to anyone that Newton might have been the great scientist he was just
because of his constant concern with the gospel, and not in spite of it, which
is all the more likely, since many other great creative geniuses display the
same peculiar and regrettable tendency to believe in the Other World.111
Nibley continues this theme in his “Paths That Stray: Notes on the Sophic
and Mantic,” observing that “those whom the Sophic claims for its greatest
representatives lean strongly towards the Mantic, though the Sophic proposition
condemns any such concessions.”112
Vogel asserts that “despite one’s views on the naturalism vs. supernaturalism
debate, drawing on Kuhn’s work to justify a paradigm shift that would
include supernaturalism is to misunderstand Kuhn’s intent.”113 But
my theoretical justification for permitting supernaturalism in the discussion
comes from Barbour, not Kuhn. I not only understand Kuhn’s intent, I also
understand Kuhn’s wide applicability and how that circumstance leads directly
to his wide influence.
Vogel continues to fire away: “One is therefore not surprised to find
Christensen referencing Kuhn in a manner not unlike supporters of New Age religion:
‘Gospel-related questions occasionally lead to what Kuhn calls a paradigm
shift. . . . One [should do] science in a way that includes a spiritual
dimension.'”114 May I have some examples? And not examples that
merely toss in the concept of a “paradigm shift” and drop Kuhn’s
name, but that show me some New Age advocates who explain the limits of verification
and falsification, who adopt Barbour’s “critical realism,”
and who explain the values used in paradigm choice with anywhere near the schematic
precision that I use in “Paradigms Crossed”?
And what is unscientific about including a spiritual dimension? Responding
to Freud’s demonstrably bogus “scientific” speculations about the origins of
religion, Ninian Smart observes that “it is not scientific simply to begin with
assumptions that would make a rival theory false before the evidence is properly
examined.”115 Science defined as a method can be applied to any subject.
Why not religion? (See Alma 32.) Science defined as a generally accepted
body of knowledge does run into difficulty in developing an overall consensus
on particular religious traditions because “between competing religious traditions
there seem to be few common assumptions and less clear-cut common data than
there are between competing scientific traditions. . . . In particular, religion
lacks the lower-level laws which are characteristic of science. The
terms of such laws are relatively close to observations, their theoretical components
are not in dispute, and they are relatively vulnerable to falsification by counter-instances.”116
In summary, Barbour explains:
Each of the “subjective” features of science . . . is more
evident in the case of religion: (1) the influence of interpretation on data,
(2) the resistance of comprehensive theories to falsification, and (3) the absence
of rules for choice among paradigms. Each of the corresponding “objective”
features of science is less evident in the case of religion: (1) the presence
of common data on which disputants can agree, (2) the cumulative effect of evidence
for or against a theory, and (3) the existence of criteria which are not paradigm-dependent.
It is clear that in all three respects religion is a more “subjective” enterprise
than science. But in each case there is a difference of degree—not an absolute
contrast between an “objective” science and a “subjective” religion.117
Vogel continues, “Neither is one surprised when Christensen attacks the
naturalistic assumptions (i.e., positivism-empiricism) of Book of Mormon critics.”118
I compliment Vogel for not denying his positivism-empiricism and his dependence
on naturalistic assumptions. But one would have expected Vogel to actually describe
my attack, to therefore have a target in mind, and to show where I err.119 However,
Vogel does not do so, and the reason appears clear. To refute my criticism,
Vogel should demonstrate that his view is not comparable to the positivist mind-set
and is not limited temporally or by selectivity, subjectivity, or the contexts
for his comparisons. Not surprisingly, he makes no attempt to do so. Massimo
Introvigne, himself an outside observer, describes a surprising inversion of
the Bible wars:
At this stage, an outside observer expecting conservative Latter-day Saints
to adopt a fundamentalist view of truth, and liberal Latter-day Saints to adopt
a postmodernist one, may easily claim that something should be wrong. The attitudes
are in fact almost reversed. Historical truth is regarded as a mere social product
by Latter-day Saint conservatives, while a rather naive sociology of knowledge
claiming that historical-critical methodologies may indeed achieve “truth”
lies behind the liberals’ attitude. The “love affair with Enlightenment
science” of American fundamentalists described by [George] Marsden does
not find a counterpart among Latter-day Saint conservatives; conversely, Enlightenment’s
claim for certainty and objectivity is still defended in the liberal camp. It
is not surprising that liberals accuse “Mormon apologists” almost
Vogel provides no refutation of these points. Rather, he demonstrates that my
criticism of his positivist-empiricist outlook of twelve years ago remains apt
and to the point when he writes:
Nevertheless, the struggle between apologists and critics is not accurately
described as a paradigm debate, for the critics have long ago won their point.
The traditional view of Book of Mormon history and geography collapsed with
the advent of archaeology and anthropology, although most Mormons remain unaware
of this event.121
According to Vogel, the game is over, based on his assumption that
any compromise from the original impressions of the first readers of the Book
of Mormon utterly refutes Book of Mormon historicity.122
Vogel’s assumptions about the Book of Mormon and its early readers underlie
his dismissive approach:
Discovering the futility of forcing scientific findings into a Book of Mormon
mold, twentieth-century apologists reversed the procedure by forcing and contorting
the Book of Mormon into a New World form. This was not a paradigm shift, but
rather an attempt to save the old paradigm from demise.123
Vogel fails to grasp the concept of auxiliary assumptions. Barbour observes
that paradigms resist falsification because “a network of theories and
observations is always tested together. Any particular hypothesis can be maintained
by rejecting or adjusting other auxiliary hypotheses.”124 The assumption
of Book of Mormon historicity provides a motivation for developing a geographic
model, first by defining and assessing the network of details within the text,
and then fitting it to an appropriate external location. No single element of
a detailed correlation is more fundamental than the overall conception that
a correlation can be found.
The old story of the lost keys illustrates a clear and present danger:
Walking home on a dark night, a merchant sees his friend on his hands and knees,
searching frantically in the pool of light under a street lamp. “What’s
wrong?” the merchant asks.
“I’ve lost my keys! Will you help me look for them?”
“Certainly, my friend. Where did you drop them?”
“Somewhere over there.”
“Why are you looking here then?”
“Because the light is better.”
Unless an investigator has done the preliminary work of determining where
to look, even the best methods and authority and expertise and reputation and
urgent motives count for nothing. After first determining where best to look,
we still need to begin the search with realistic expectations of what we shall
find. In the film The Zero Effect, the Holmes-like character, Daryl
Zero, explains his techniques of detection.
Now, a few words on looking for things. When you go looking for something specific,
your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world,
you’re only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything
at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things
in the world, you’re sure to find some of them.125
John Sorenson reports that during a 1953 “archaeological reconnaissance
of central Chiapas,” Tom Ferguson’s “concern was to ask if
local people had found any figurines of ‘horses,’ rather than to
document the scores of sites we discovered and put on record for the first time.”126
Because Ferguson was looking for specific things, rather than “anything
at all,” his list of “disappointments” (borrowed from Roberts,
who in turn got them from Couch) continues to get passed from skeptic to skeptic
like an Olympic torch, though with less and less investigation and perspective.
William Hamblin’s article on methodological assumptions treats the issue
nicely, and I direct interested readers there.127
Because any exploration of the historicity of the Book of Mormon involves a
network of assumptions, scholars should be explicit about the assumptions they
choose and should be careful not to claim too much for the stress that any particular
critical concern places on the overall network.
Checking the Guarantee on Prophets
In reviewing Sorenson’s work, Vogel asserts that he “has been unable to overcome
Mormon traditions regarding Book of Mormon events outside his limited area.”128
However, it is not the traditions that need overcoming, but Vogel’s assumptions
about their priority. Sorenson’s 1992 Source Book includes an appendix
that lists all the traditions in question, and his essay in the new Echoes
and Evidences of the Book of Mormon includes additional analysis of specifics.129
Amazingly, few critics bother to ask how much a prophet should be expected to
know. The Doctrine and Covenants guarantee on prophets is very explicit: “Ask
the Father in my name, in faith believing that you shall receive, and you shall
have the Holy Ghost, which manifesteth all things which are expedient
unto the children of men” (D&C 18:18).130
Expedience provides practical and sufficient compensation for the
human limitation. Consider the inverse. What if a prophet knew everything except
what is expedient? (Or your surgeon, your airplane’s pilot, his air traffic
controller, your general, your stockbroker, and so forth.) Clearly, the lack
of expedient knowledge would be a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, even
a servant with limited and faulty knowledge can accomplish exactly what God
intends (which may be different from what the prophet imagines) if he knows
and acts upon that which is expedient.131
The Authority of First Readers
The arguments of Vogel and Metcalfe are based on broad assumptions concerning
the understanding and insights of the earliest readers of the Book of Mormon.
Sorenson’s work, however, demonstrates just how “pre-critical”
the early reading of the Book of Mormon was—until 1938, no one read the
text carefully for geographic information.132 Vogel and Metcalfe never discuss
Doctrine and Covenants 1:24-26, 28: “These commandments are of me,
and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their
language, that they might come to understanding. And inasmuch as they erred
it might be made known; And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed
. . . and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.”
The Doctrine and Covenants provides direct statements regarding the potential
for their errors to be made known and outlining the remedy—ongoing instruction
and an increase in knowledge over time, all conditioned on our seeking wisdom.
Vogel describes his belief that Joseph Smith is the author of the Book of Mormon,
rather than a translator: “It would be pointless for me to refer to Joseph
Smith if I did not also believe his views were consistent with the Book of Mormon.
They were consistent because he wrote the book. I refer to the statements of
Smith and other first readers to bring perspective and context to the text.”133
Note the tightly looped self-reference exhibited here. Vogel’s assumptions
of authorship create his reading of the evidence to support his assumptions
of authorship. But not only does Doctrine and Covenants 1 expressly declare
the existence of weakness and error in the understanding of the Saints, other
passages specify the ongoing remedy:
Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be
instructed more perfectly [by implication, what they think then is
less than perfect] in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law
of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are
expedient for you to understand;
Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which
have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things
which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of
the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of
countries and of kingdoms—
That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify
the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned
you. (D&C 88:77-80)
Here again we have an explicit statement of human weakness, human error, imperfect
knowledge on the part of the Saints, and a long-term pedagogical program for
dealing with those weaknesses. The scriptures require preparation and appropriate
study. Sorenson shows that before 1938 no one really studied out Book of Mormon
geography: “You have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you
took no thought save it was to ask me. But behold, you must study it out in
your mind” (D&C 9:7-8). Nibley and Sorenson demonstrate that
no one had prepared their minds on the cultural issues relevant to the Book
of Mormon: “I perceive that ye are weak that ye cannot understand all
my words . . . go ye . . . and ponder . . . and
ask of the Father in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds”
(3 Nephi 17:1-3). “There is none other people that understand
the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they
are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews” (2 Nephi 25:5).
Nibley, Sorenson, and those inspired by their approaches have demonstrated that
there is much we have not understood when reading from our own cultural background.
The Lord’s program takes no shortcuts but rather allows for further inspiration
on condition that wisdom must be sought and that, in addition to revelation,
extensive study “of countries and of kingdoms” is necessary. It
should be implicit that the early Latter-day Saint readers could not benefit
from information that was not yet available.
Metcalfe and Vogel versus Sorenson on Book of Mormon
Vogel offers his explanation of Sorenson’s work: “Discovering the futility
of forcing scientific findings into a Book of Mormon mold, twentieth-century
apologists reversed the procedure by forcing and contorting the Book of Mormon
into a New World form.”134 Forcing and contorting? Sorenson cites some seven
hundred interlocking statements from over five hundred verses that involve geographic
matters in the Book of Mormon.135 He also discusses numerous cultural and geological
issues such as written language, limited distances, the use of cement, fortifications,
temples, seasonal wars, volcanoes, hydrology, weather, a city being suddenly
immersed in the waters of Mormon, and so forth. Vogel and Metcalfe, in their
critique of Sorenson’s model, cite six verses, with most of their emphasis on
a single verse, Alma 22:32.136 Their summary of his arguments concerning that
verse falls considerably short of what I find when I check Sorenson’s texts.137
And their reading of Alma 22:32 becomes terribly inadequate when that verse
is consulted in the full Book of Mormon context. Indeed, one need only look
at a map of Panama in comparison to the full requirements of the text. For example,
in American Apocrypha, Vogel and Metcalfe breathe not a whisper about
Limhi’s party and other groups whose travel provides constraints on Book of
Mormon geography models and correlations. In Vogel’s response to me, he briefly
comments about the travels of Limhi’s group between Zarahemla and Nephi, but
he fails to fully define, let alone solve, the problems.
Omni 1:27-30 describes how a group left Zarahemla to journey to the land
of Nephi. Mosiah 8:7-8 and 21:25-27 describe how, two generations
later, Limhi sent a small party from Nephi looking for Zarahemla. Alma’s
group of men, women, children, and flocks traveled from the waters of Mormon,
near the land of Nephi, to Zarahemla in twenty-two or twenty-three days, which
must have been close to the travel time that Limhi’s group expected. Sorenson
figures the beeline distance as around 180 miles.138 Mosiah also sent a party
from Zarahemla toward Nephi, and they “wandered” forty days before
arriving in Nephi (Mosiah 7:4).
But in Vogel’s model, just to negotiate the isthmus of Panama, a party
of forty-three men must go northwest for over a hundred miles, west for about
the same distance, southwest the same distance, and then northwest again. Remember
also that the party must start in the land of Nephi, which Vogel would have
us associate with the stories about Lehi landing in Chile (an assumption that
would add another three thousand miles), or with stories of Inca ruins in Peru,
or at best with some point around four hundred miles south of Darien, for the
land south travel narratives to work (as if they would, even then). Just getting
to Panama on foot involves a substantial journey. Vogel’s version takes
the journey blindly through Panama, forced by the terrain to make several dramatic
changes in direction. The distance from Panama to the Tuxtla Mountains alone,
where Sorenson’s correlation places Cumorah and the Jaredite ruins, is
four times as far as the Sorenson version of the total journey.
Sorenson’s model permits Limhi’s explorers to miss Zarahemla, probably
due to a single incorrect turn in the “narrow strip of wilderness”
that puts them on the wrong side of the Sidon river basin, or perhaps even following
the wrong river northward. They travel in a single direction through Tehuantepec
to the Tuxtla Mountains, find the Jaredite ruins, suppose them to be Zarahemla
(Mosiah 21:25-26), discover the twenty-four plates of Ether, and then
Sorenson reasons that Limhi’s group would be unlikely to have traveled
much more than twice the distance to Zarahemla, all the while traveling the
same northward direction, before deciding to turn back. In Sorenson’s
Mesoamerican correlation, “diligent men,” traveling somewhat faster
than a mixed group with flocks, would have been able to make the trip to Cumorah
and back in thirty to sixty days.
In contrast, Vogel and Metcalfe also insist on the New York location for Cumorah/Ramah
rather than the narrow neck-proximate Cerro El Vigia correlation Sorenson
offers. Their scenario means that Limhi’s diligent men would need to wander
through Tehuantepec, around the Gulf another five hundred miles just to get
to Texas, another two thousand miles to cross the Texas flatlands, and up the
Mississippi and Ohio Rivers toward New York, with a detour to the Great Lakes
so as to ensure justification for the description of “many waters,”
changing directions from east to west to northeast, leaving tropical climates
for desert, plains, and temperate climates until they find what they suppose
to be the ruins of Zarahemla in the south.
Sorenson tells of a shipwrecked sailor in the mid-sixteenth century who journeyed
by foot from southern Mexico to the St. John River in eleven months, a distance
of twenty-five hundred miles.139 An excursion from southern Mexico to a New
York Cumorah and back calls for an almost two-year foot journey in North America,
with an additional more than fifteen-hundred-mile journey each way across Panama
and Mesoamerica, plus however long it would take to come from whichever point
in the land south Vogel and Metcalfe want to start from. And Vogel and Metcalfe
accuse Sorenson of doing violence to the Book of Mormon text?140
In Vogel’s reply to me, he mentions Limhi’s explorers but attempts
to escape the implications of the foregoing situation by referring to Helaman
3:4, though not to Helaman 3:5-11, which provides several constraints
that Vogel ignores, with respect to the lack of timber and building with cement
at that particular time. I’ll provide some of the context here:
And it came to pass in the forty and sixth year . . . an exceedingly
great many . . . departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth
unto the land northward to inherit the land.
And they did travel to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came
to large bodies of water and many rivers.
Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land,141 into whatever
parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many
inhabitants who had before inherited the land.
And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because
of the greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the
land it was called desolate.
And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the
people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore
they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell. (Helaman 3:3-7)
John Welch notes that “the Book of Mormon dates this significant technological
advance to the year 46 BC” and cites research “that cement was
in fact extensively used in Mesoamerica beginning largely at this time.”
In addition, “It is also a significant factor in locating the Book of
Mormon lands of Zarahemla and Desolation; . . . one may reasonably
assume that Book of Mormon lands were not far south of the sites where ancient
cement is found.”142
Here is Vogel’s reading, which he takes care not to complicate with side
issues like evidence for cement existing only far south of where he wants the
Great Lakes version to be:
This area became known to the Nephites as Cumorah, which Mormon describes as
“a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains” (Mormon 6:4). Because
the [Jaredite] record had been found by a Nephite expedition party searching
for the relatively close city of Zarahemla, the new theorists postulate the
Jaredite destruction occurred a short distance northwest of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
in Southern Mexico, perhaps near Tres Zapotes. However, Helaman 3:4 says that
the migrants traveled “an exceeding great distance” into the land
northward until they came to “large bodies of water and many rivers.”
This creates a problem for the new geographers, for, if the Book of Mormon says
Cumorah is “an exceeding great distance” into the land northward,
then it must be admitted that the expedition party had missed Zarahemla by a
very great distance.143
This is as close as Vogel comes to admitting the horrendous distance problems
that his own reading imposes on the text. The “problem” is not with the new
limited geography but with two artifacts of Vogel’s misreading. First, we read
that a foot journey from Zarahemla in the Nephite heartland northward through
the narrow neck, and beyond the Cumorah area (and not, as Vogel misreads,
to Cumorah) into the area of “large bodies of water and many rivers” in the
highlands toward present-day Mexico City, can be described as an “exceeding
great distance.” What does that description imply? This is the only time the
imprecise phrase appears in the text. Never does the word exceeding appear to
describe the order of magnitude that Vogel’s reading demands but rather that
a circumstance exceeds normal measures or efforts.144 It is not unreasonable
to suppose that a foot journey of three or four hundred miles (neglecting terrain-imposed
detours) would be called an exceeding great distance, particularly when undertaken
by a mixed group of migrants with flocks (see Helaman 3:3-4). Limhi’s explorers,
traveling without flocks or children, would be guided by oral traditions that
gave a reasonable idea of the direction they should travel and a travel time
estimate measured in days. However, I find it unreasonable to suppose that after
a one-way foot journey of four to seven thousand miles—and the repeated changes
of direction and climate that Vogel’s reading requires—Limhi’s party would
mistake the Jaredite ruins for Zarahemla in the south (Mosiah 21:26).
Vogel sees the “many waters” description as an opportunity to wave
the ad hoc epithet:
The new theorists therefore have attempted to escape the implications of Helaman
3:4 by proposing two lands of many waters and lakes: one in the land of Cumorah—which
they say is the Papaloapan Lagoon System just west of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec—and
another farther west and north in the Valley of Mexico. If there were two lands
of many waters, one would expect Mormon to distinguish the area of many waters
in Helaman 3:4 from the more famous “land of many waters” of Cumorah.
The creation of two lands of many waters is entirely ad hoc.145
But notice that the Cumorah location specifies “a land of many waters,
rivers, and fountains” (Mormon 6:4) and the Helaman location specifies
“large bodies of water and many rivers.” Mormon’s descriptions
are indeed distinct, with “large bodies of water” characteristic
of only the Helaman description and fitting only Teotihuacán. Vogel creates
confusion by conflating the two descriptions of waters and by neglecting the
other elements specific to each location (such as deforestation and cement).
He combines the two locations so that he can apply the description “exceeding
great distance” to the journey to Cumorah rather than to Teotihuacán.
His version requires the migrants in Helaman 3:4 to march through many locations,
apparently deciding that the water they found in the form of large lakes and
rivers couldn’t really be called “many waters.” But even Vogel’s
report admits that the water was there.
Vogel and Metcalfe expect us to believe that there are “distance problems”
in the Book of Mormon. “Long distances and rapid population growth are not the
only problems the new apologists have to address.”146 Yet Sorenson’s work Mormon’s
Map shows an internally consistent map. All the travel, all the distances,
all the geographical ups and downs, the Sidon river basin, all the city placements,
and all the military situations work out plausibly. The distance problems exist
only in the two-continent external correlation that Vogel and Metcalfe favor.
Their claim that Panama is a good solution for the distance across the narrow
neck complicates matters when the overall demands of the narrative are considered.
They criticize Sorenson’s reading of the “day and a half’s journey for a Nephite”
in Alma 22:32 in An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon.
But they do so not only without reference to the Limhi story, as we have seen,
but also without reference to Sorenson’s recent acknowledgment that “several
researchers have observed that the phrase in Alma 22:32, ‘from the east to the
west sea,’ allows the interpretation that the journey was measured some point
short of the actual east sea shore.”147 Furthermore, this placement confuses
the military situation in terms of distances and causes utter chaos for directions.148
Much of the South American coast that is east of and within reasonable distance
of Panama, the “land south” is north of the narrow neck, and the Caribbean becomes
a “sea west” in relation to much of what they must suppose for the Nephite east
coast. For example, Sorenson discusses marches during military operations along
the east coast in Alma 51-52 and 62.149 “Adding the numbers together we conclude
that the southward limit of Nephite possessions along the east sea was only
about eighty miles from the land northward.”150 To even have an east coast south
of Panama raises problems of all kinds. Sorenson’s analysis in Mormon’s
Map calls for “the southward limit of Nephite possessions along the east
sea” to be “only about eight miles from the land northward.”151 This raises
many directional problems in having the land south extending to the north, with
a coast being east of the east sea. Not only does this require a much more bizarre
directional scheme than Sorenson’s, but it leads to another problem. Sorenson
next explores the question “How wide was the land southward?”152 By considering
the positions of four lands—Moroni, Nephihah, Aaron, and Ammonihah—”the total
width from coast to coast across the land southward comes out to be on the order
of two hundred miles.”153 But the South American coastline around Panama widens
much too abruptly for this to work at all.
Vogel and Metcalfe claim that their suggested geography bottles up the Lamanites
in the south in a more satisfactory fashion. However, they do not presume to
show how the details of Amalickiah’s campaign might play out in Colombia
according to the text descriptions of the “borders by the east sea”
(Alma 52:13)154—in particular, the effect that the horseshoe shape of
the Golfo de Uraba ought to have on the tactical situation. They conclude, “It
is hard to imagine why the ridge would be strategic enough to head off the Lamanites
in view of the wider, more accessible route frequented by traders along the
southern coast.”155 Vogel and Metcalfe provide some information but are
not completely forthcoming on the ridge and its importance. Sorenson, however,
An irregular sandstone and gravel formation appears as a ridge averaging a couple
of miles wide and rising 150 to 200 feet above the surrounding country running
west from the lower Coatzacoalcos River. It provides the only reliable year-round
route from the isthmian/east coast area “northward” into central
Veracruz. A great deal of the land on either side of this ridge is flooded periodically,
as much as 12 feet deep in the rainy season. At times during that season the
ridge would indeed lead “by the sea, on the west and on the east”
(Alma 50:34) . . . and would have barred travel as effectively as
the sea, with which the floodwaters were continuous.156
Even if Amalickiah had taken the southern route, he would still have had to
go through the pass in the mountains at the narrowest point of the isthmus.
If geographic factors are considered, the point at which the adjoining mountains
and highlands descend to a relatively low 750-foot elevation is the only plausible
location for crossing the isthmus. He must then have followed the Coatzacoalcos
River (Sorenson’s “line” dividing the lands north and south)
until he made it to the narrow pass leading into the north. Sorenson offers
this help to those who have a hard time with the military implications:
Adding the numbers together we conclude that the southward limit of Nephite
possessions along the east sea was only about eighty miles from the land northward.
No wonder Amalickiah, in his plan to capture the narrow neck (see Alma 51:30),
chose this east shore as his prime point of attack (the distance he would have
to drive along the west coast was over 250 miles).157
This fits Mesoamerica but not at all with the Panama correlation. So, Vogel
and Metcalfe assert that the “hemispheric geography” of early readers of the
Book of Mormon is “astute—albeit pre-critical.” By contrast, it seems to me
that “astute—albeit pre-critical” is an oxymoron. Of course “the hemispheric
reach . . . made perfect sense to those steeped in the mound builder myth,”158
but that is because they were both “steeped in the mound builder myth”
Some Thoughts on What Is and Is Not Ad Hoc
Vogel and Metcalfe claim that Latter-day Saint apologists have had to shore
up a collapsing structure of argument by means of ad hoc hypotheses. For example,
recall Vogel’s statement quoted earlier:
Most of Christensen’s objections are precariously balanced on the
head of one apologetic needle called the Limited Geographic Theory. This theory
is not a paradigm, but rather an ad hoc hypothesis designed for no
other reason than to rescue the Book of Mormon from the implications of adverse
“empirical” evidence. The limited theory, as we will see, is maintained by a
series of other ad hoc hypotheses and specialized interpretations.159
In their introduction to American Apocrypha, Metcalfe and Vogel flourish
the ad hoc label like a magic bullet. But I discussed the difference between
an ad hoc hypothesis and a general hypothesis in “Paradigms Crossed.”
In practice, as Ian Barbour observes, paradigms resist falsification because
“a network of theories and observations is always tested together. Any particular
hypothesis can be maintained by rejecting or adjusting other auxiliary hypotheses.”
Some adjustments to such auxiliary hypotheses strengthen the overall paradigm.
For example, Kepler adjusted the assumptions of the Copernican theory of planetary
motion by arguing for elliptical orbits rather than circular orbits. The rival
Ptolemaic theory explained otherwise anomalous planetary motions by surmising
epicycles. While the assumption of epicycles preserved the usefulness of the
Ptolemaic theory for several generations, comparison with Kepler’s assumptions
makes it plain that not all adjustments are created equal. Whereas Kepler’s
adjustments led to his generally applicable laws of motion, the ad hoc
notion of epicycles applied only to particular problems and had little justification
other than necessity. The course of the Copernican Revolution shows that the
“accumulation of anomalies” or of “ad hoc modifications having no independent
theoretical basis cannot be tolerated indefinitely. An accepted theory is overthrown
not primarily by discordant data but by an alternative theory.”160
The question is, do the kinds of adjustments we make to auxiliary hypotheses
about geography and direction labels, the nature and extent of Joseph’s
knowledge, and the various names for things, have general implications and a
valid theoretical basis, or are they only for particular problems? Vogel and
Metcalfe see any deviation from what they describe as “the plain meaning
of the words” as ad hoc:
Historical anachronisms are plentiful. For instance, such things
as steel, horses, and wheat were first imported to the Americas by the Spaniards.
Apologists counter with ad hoc hypotheses: steel is actually iron;
horses are deer; wheat is amaranth; goats are brockets; cows are deer, brockets,
camelidae, or bison; and tents are makeshift huts. In short, things are not
what they appear. . . . Only with increasing difficulty do apologists accept
the Book of Mormon at face value.161
It happens that translation by inspiration and interpretation of scripture necessarily
involve a higher degree of subjective interpretation than does physics. But
can we honestly say that the kinds of adjustments that apologists like Sorenson
make have general implications? Yes. The Book of Mormon emphasizes that we can
understand the writings of the Jews as they understand them only if we learn
their culture (see 2 Nephi 25:1-5). By implication, the same is true
of the Mesoamerican context.
Is it possible to tie the meaning of words, particularly translated words, to
a single cultural background? Frankly, no. When I went to England in 1973, I
quickly learned that while many things are what they appear to be, the words
for those things were sometimes not what I first thought. The roads looked the
same, but I had to look a different direction when crossing them. Cars were
much smaller and not only had the steering wheel on the opposite side but had
boots and bonnets instead of trunks and hoods. There were no trucks, but there
were lorries, no elevators but lifts. There were no french fries, but there
were chips (which were also similar to fried potatoes). They had something like
potato chips, but only if I asked for crisps. There were no cookies; what they
called biscuits resembled cookies but were different from what I thought of
as biscuits. And what was it to be cheeky? That sticks in my mind because I
had to learn the concept of cheeky from within the culture because it could
not be translated precisely from their English to mine.
The point is that what Vogel and Metcalfe call “ad hoc,” Sorenson and Gardner
base on a general principle that cultural contexts can make a difference in
meaning.162 Some concepts travel across cultures more easily than others, but
cultural context raises issues that apply to all translations across all cultures.
Their insistence that a nineteenth-century context suffices, and that an appeal
to the “plain meaning” is all that is necessary to understand the text, is itself
an ad hoc defense because it cannot be generally applied to critical study
of any translation of any purported ancient document or, for that matter,
to the study of any culture by any outsider.
Vogel as an Authority on Nephite Temples
In the final section of my 1990 essay, I challenged Vogel’s claim that
the Book of Mormon contains nothing about temple ceremonies. Since I wrote,
several other essays have appeared that further illuminate temple themes and
ideas in the Book of Mormon.163 Rather than explain the evidence, Vogel merely
explains it away:
Christensen is particularly bothered by my comment: “The Book of Mormon
actually gives few details of the observance of the law. It mentions temples
but not the ceremonies, priests but not their robes or temple duties.”
Despite Christensen’s reference to the works of various apologists, there
is no explicit mention of specific points in the Mosaic law.164
For the record, the apologists in question describe passages that show implicit
awareness of specific elements of Mosaic law and a particular affinity for Deuteronomy.
Cyrus Gordon and Gary Rendsburg note that, “throughout the ancient Near
East, law codes were disregarded in actual life. . . . The judges
regularly omit any reference to codes in their court decisions in Mesopotamia.
They are instead guided by tradition, public opinions, and common sense.”165
Hence, from the perspective of these scholars, the dearth of references to the
law before the exile reflects the tendencies of the culture. Further, they argue
that, “aside from cultic matters, the actual enforcement of the Law came
as a result of the Exile, and we find it in effect only after the Exile when
it becomes an integral part of Judaism down to modern times.”166 The Book
of Mormon emphasizes the exodus and cultic matters rather than the details of
the law, which means, contrary to Vogel’s assertion, that things are as
they should be in a text rooted in preexilic understandings, yet influenced
by Josiah’s rediscovery of the law.
Identifying the Great and Abominable: A Case for Method and Context
Vogel disputes my use of Stephen E. Robinson’s excellent article “Early
Christianity and 1 Nephi 13-14,” which shows that the “great
and abominable church,” or the “whore of all the earth,” in
1 Nephi 13-14 cannot be the Catholic Church.167 According to Vogel,
“Nephi’s description is based on Revelation 17-18, which many
Protestants in Smith’s day interpreted as a reference to the Latin or
Roman church and its successor the Roman Catholic Church.”168 But where
did the image in Revelation come from? If we look at the preexilic temple traditions,
which John knew, we find the “people as harlot” image conveniently
available to Nephi.169
Lamanites in the Book of Mormon
Vogel says I am completely wrong about his treatment of Lamanites:
Regarding my reference to Enos’s description of the Lamanites as half-naked
savages (1:20), Christensen accuses me of implying that “all Lamanites of all
periods and lineages and political affiliations fit that description.” This
is completely false. I limited my comments to that specific passage, introducing
it as follows: “The Book of Mormon’s description of the Lamanites sometimes
sounds like an exaggerated version of contemporary stereotypes about North American
Indians.” Christensen’s reference to Sorenson’s opinion that Nephite epithets
“sound like Near Eastern epithets and ‘probably should be considered a literary
formula rather than an objective description'” is irrelevant.170
If Vogel wants to rely on “sometimes,” he is welcome. I concede.
However, my point was and remains that the Book of Mormon contradicts such stereotypes
in the narratives of the sons of Mosiah—who provide the only extended
look at Lamanite culture from the inside—and in the accounts of the righteous
Lamanite cultures in Helaman, in the Samuel and Gadianton narratives, and in
3 Nephi and 4 Nephi. Vogel neglects to mention these, and that neglect
Blake Ostler’s Expansion Theory and Vogel’s Shrinking Plates
Back in 1987, Blake Ostler proposed a theory of Book of Mormon translation that
suggested Midrashic expansion and interpretation as part of the translation.171
Controversial though it has been, a number of committed Saints find it helpful.
Writing in 1990, I offered Ostler’s theory as a model of a comprehensive
approach because it provided a serious attempt to account for comparisons to
both the ancient world and the world of the nineteenth century. Yet what was
a cutting-edge theory in 1987 had already begun to be dated when I wrote. Vogel
responds to Ostler thusly:
Ostler admits the presence of nineteenth-century ideas and sources in the Book
of Mormon but attempts to explain them away by suggesting that they are Joseph
Smith’s inspired “expansion” of an ancient source. Ostler
has only taken B. H. Roberts’s conceptual translation theory a step further
to include non-biblical sources. However, both theories are nothing more than
an ad hoc hypothesis designed to save the Book of Mormon from adverse evidence.
Ostler has introduced what I call the “shrinking plates” hypothesis,
meaning the more we learn about Joseph Smith’s environment, the smaller
the plates have to be to contain the original source upon which Smith expanded.
I am not sure how Ostler’s theory can accommodate the Mound Builder myth,
however. Needless to say, neither Ostler nor Christensen broach that subject.172
Most of Ostler’s “expansions” respond to the same kinds of
anomalies that Alexander Campbell brought up in 1831. The Book of Mormon seemed
too Christian before Christ, a circumstance that critically violates the Mound
Builder myth. I expect that if Ostler were to update his paper in light of Royal
Skousen’s work on the translation173 and with respect to Margaret Barker’s
picture of preexilic Judaism,174 Vogel would find the plates expanding toward
their original size. Indeed, Ostler states his current view as follows:
As new evidence surfaces indicating that primary ideas previously thought to
be Christian were in fact excised from the preexilic text, the content of the
plates rather than Joseph Smith’s midrashic expansion should grow. In
my original article, I suggested, for example, that the phraseology of secret
societies in the Book of Mormon seemed to be nineteenth century—it turns
out that a lot of what I suggested was nineteenth century may well be explainable
in terms of ancient counterparts. By the way, I don’t credit Vogel’s
theory with any explanatory ability at all—the Book of Mormon does not
discuss a Mound-Building culture, and nothing that Vogel has said, even at great
length and verbosity, persuades me in the least that the Book of Mormon was
addressing the Mound Builders in any way—not even in the sense that they
were discussed in the nineteenth century. He’s just off the mark in my
I wanted to comment on Vogel’s potshot that the expansion theory of the
Book of Mormon is ad hoc. A theory is ad hoc if it is not indicated or supported
by any evidence but is merely an explanatory device to save a theory from its
own problems. However, Vogel hasn’t made any attempt to account for the
evidence of an ancient source that I discussed. He hasn’t provided anything
like an adequate explanation of the covenant renewal festivals that are rather
clearly present in the Book of Mormon. He hasn’t even discussed the Hebrew
judicial procedures that are accurately presented in Abinadi’s trial and
in Samuel the Lamanite’s prophetic lawsuit against the Nephites. He has
failed altogether to discuss the prophetic call form that I identified. It is
easy to call a theory ad hoc if one simply ignores all the evidence that disagrees
with one’s own position, as Vogel does. His own theory—that Joseph
Smith drew on the nineteenth-century culture for Primitivist Christian elements
and on Mound-Building theories in particular—is extremely weak and doesn’t
even begin to account for the contrary evidence that others and I have discussed.
His judgments are based on his own blinders. I arrived at my theory after taking
a look at the evidence and asking what kind of explanation is necessary to explain
what I see. In my view, that is how theories are developed. Vogel, on the other
hand, started from the commitment that the Book of Mormon had to be a nineteenth-century
work and simply went looking for anything that would support his prejudices
(that is also a problem with eisegesis).176
Despite Vogel’s claims in Indian Origins and Vogel and Metcalfe’s
claims in their introduction to American Apocrypha, those American
divines who approved of the Mound Builder myth’s notion of a lost ten tribes
origin for indigenous populations typically did not see remnants of Christianity
among the natives. For example, View of the Hebrews reports an 1824
interview with an “old and venerable [Delaware] chief”:
He was asked to state what he knew of Jesus Christ,177 the Son of God. He replied
that “he knew but little about him. For his part, he knew there was one
God. He did not know about two Gods.” This evidence needs no comment to
show that it appears to be Israelitish tradition, in relation to the one God,
to heaven, hell, the devil, and to marriage, as taught in the Old Testament,
as well as God’s estimation of the proud, rich, and the poor. These things
he assures us came down from their ancestors, before ever any white man appeared
in America. But the great peculiarity which white men would naturally teach
them (if they taught any thing,) that Jesus Christ the Son of God is the Saviour
of the world, he honestly confesses he knew not this part of the subject.178
Vogel attempts to slip past the obstacle that pre-Christian knowledge in the
Book of Mormon presents to the Mound Builder myth by relating some speculations
about St. Thomas having taught the gospel in the New World. He also suggests
that the Quetzalcoatl figure that Ethan Smith identified with Moses could become
the Christ figure in 3 Nephi.179 However, the reason that Ethan Smith identified
Quetzalcoatl with Moses was that identifying him with Christ was unthinkable,
given the parameters of the Mound Builder myth. However much Alexander Campbell
saw the Book of Mormon as a reaction to the discussions of the times, on the
point of Christian knowledge before Christ he merely rants against it as absurd.180
But in light of very recent research and discovery, Joseph Smith looks inspired.181
On Translation: Vogel and the Either-or Fallacy
After discussing my 1990 comments on translation issues, Vogel says:
This touches on a current problem in Book of Mormon apologetics: attempting
to use the conceptual translation theory to explain the Book of Mormon’s
anachronistic use of the Bible, while at the same time employing proofs that
require a literal translation. Christensen’s resolution is to side with
the literal translation and assert that all anachronisms can be explained by
a missing ancient document common to both the Book of Mormon and New Testament.
This is simply ad hoc hypothesizing at its worst.182
Part of the problem is that translation as literal versus conceptual cannot
be an either-or proposition. It is more a matter of balancing how literal and
how conceptual a translation should be given the need to express the original
in a different language and culture, and the need to rely upon translator vocabulary
and understanding. I must also wonder where in my writing Vogel is looking when
he describes my “resolution.” For the record, I do not believe that
all anachronisms can be explained by reference to “a missing ancient document”
common to the Book of Mormon and New Testament, although evidence of such possibilities
has come forth.183 In my 1990 response to Vogel, I refuted George D. Smith’s
favorite anachronisms and one of Blake Ostler’s examples by demonstrating
that they had both overlooked a number of existing (not missing) ancient documents.184
More recently, I encountered the work of Margaret Barker. Unexpectedly, and
independent of Mormon apologetics, she cuts a wide swath though the literature
that alleges anachronism in the Book of Mormon.185
More Vogel versus Sorenson
Vogel shows disfavor with Sorenson’s 1973 article “The Book of Mormon
as a Mesoamerican Codex” by means of a most revealing display of technique.
He lowers the bar for himself, while raising the bar for Sorenson. With respect
to his own parallels, he claims that “the historical and literary critic
seeks evidence of environmental influence, not exact replication,”186
and further that “one should not push too hard for exact parallels,”
and “one must allow that the Myth was adapted.”187 But in looking
at Sorenson’s parallels, up the bar goes, and he allows no such flexibility:
To show a belief in the “underworlds,” Sorenson refers to the Book
of Mormon’s use of “depths of hell” and “down to hell,”
both of which have parallel phrases in the Bible (compare 1 Ne. 12:16,
14:3 with Prov. 9:18; Job 11:8). While such Book of Mormon passages have links
to the Near East through the Bible, neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon
can be linked to the Mayan religion, which is more complex than Sorenson lets
on. The Maya believed the earth rests on the back of a huge alligator, that
there are thirteen horizontal levels of the heavens, each one of which has a
certain god residing, and nine underworlds ruled by nine lords of the night.
Of course, these ideas are foreign to the Book of Mormon, which is better understood
in the context of early American Protestant theology.188
One wonders why Vogel would expect that the teachings of migrants from Jerusalem
should not have links to the Near East through the Bible, or that they should
agree with the later Mayan view on all points any more than the Jews would agree
on all points with the Canaanites or the Egyptians.
However, far from ignoring such differences between nineteenth-century conceptions
and ancient Mesoamerican conceptions of the underworld, Sorenson explains that
“a monster (earth monster, leviathan) inhabited these [subterranean] waters.
The back of the monster supported or was the earth layer.”189 Sorenson
finds a comparable image in this passage.
O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from
the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I
call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.
And because of the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this
death, of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead;
which death is the grave.
And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver
up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver
up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must
deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be
restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the
Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 9:10-12)
So we have Sorenson showing that the Book of Mormon imagery in this instance
actually fits nicely, not necessarily in the later Mayan particulars, but in
Further, rather than seeing Jacob’s teachings as merely reflecting nineteenth-century
Protestant thought, one would expect Vogel to claim that such thinking was out
of place in preexilic Judaism. Alexander Campbell, writing in 1831, condemned
the Book of Mormon prophets as having too much Christian knowledge before Christ.
Yet Jacob’s discourse turns out to fit the picture that Margaret Barker
paints of the First Temple tradition190—as it should, since Jacob was
a temple priest. John Tvedtnes cites a passage from Justin Martyr: “And
again, from the sayings of the same Jeremiah these have been cut out [by the
Jews]: ‘The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the
graves; and He descended to preach to them His own salvation.'”191
Jeremiah was a contemporary of Lehi, and all this goes to show that Sorenson’s
case is stronger than Vogel thinks. It would also help if Vogel acknowledged
that Sorenson labors not to “prove” historicity, but rather to understand
the Book of Mormon in its context.192 Vogel generalizes his criticisms from
what he deems Sorenson’s weakest arguments without ever admitting or confronting
Sorenson’s strongest arguments, both describing Sorenson’s comparisons
as “a mixture of things that may be important as evidence and others that
are not important” and dismissing his arguments, for “there is nothing
compelling about Sorenson’s evidence.”193 Since it would be hard
to explain in terms of Protestant theology, Vogel gives no notice to Sorenson’s
observation that in Mesoamerica “just seven lineages were considered primary
in the origin story of the people.”194 Obviously nothing in Sorenson’s
work seems to compel Vogel, but Kuhn observes that “the transfer of allegiance
from paradigm to paradigm is a conversion experience that cannot be forced.”195
A Mesoamerican Approach for Comparison
Vogel continues to claim that “the Mound Builder myth is real and any
impartial reader can see the similarity it has to the Book of Mormon’s
historical premise. Moreover, there is nothing the apologists can bring forward
from Mesoamerica as striking as the Mound Builder myth.”196 Let’s
test these claims. To assert that we have nothing “as striking”
implies a comparison. Vogel does not supply one, but I will here quote some
insightful comments from Brant Gardner on the Book of Mormon in its Old World
and Mesoamerican settings.197 I invite readers to compare these observations
with Vogel’s nineteenth-century parallels and decide for themselves which
are most striking. Opinions may differ since a determination of “nothing
. . . as striking” must necessarily involve subjective valuation.
A discussion of geography is critical because there is so much geographical
description in the Book of Mormon that a failure to locate its settings anywhere
in the world would be a serious problem. There are two general locations in
the Book of Mormon, the Old World and the New.
The Old World description concerns the journey from Jerusalem to Bountiful,
and three major geographic markers have been correlated to this part of the
narration. The first is the river that continually runs to the sea. A plausible
location for the river that fits both the travel distance from Jerusalem and
the requirement that it continually flow to the sea has been found.198
The second geographic marker, Nahom, also fits into the travel parameters of
Lehi’s group. A location called NHM belongs to the correct time period,
and all indications point to its being located in the right place.199
The third location to be identified is Bountiful. Several characteristics are
required of this location, and a plausible site has been identified. In addition,
the descriptions of the travel fit. For example, S. Kent Brown sees evidence
of night travel in the Book of Mormon text, which is the preferred time to travel
in that area.200
The Old World geography places these key geographic markers in the correct locations
to match the descriptions of travel given in the text. The geographical descriptions
form an interrelated set of conditions that must all be met, and they are. Troy
was found with such a set.
A discussion of New World geography, however, must begin with less surety because
we don’t have the beginning point, such as Jerusalem, to tie the geography
to the text. However, the text provides a rather consistent internal map. I
defer to John Sorenson here, as his geographic analysis is extensive, and I
have never seen it seriously assailed.201 The typical disagreement is the location
of Cumorah, and that is minor in the total assessment of the geographic correlations.
The Sorenson summary discusses the following points:
- Consistent determinable distances
- Consistent topographical descriptions
- Correlation to a known geography, including mountains, valleys, and rivers
- Plausible correlation to known topographical relationships (“up”
and “down” are consistent with physical directional movement and
fit with the topography of the area)
- Plausible archaeological remains for many of the named cities that C-14 tests
(and sometimes Maya Long Count) date to Book of Mormon times
- Parallels to the known distribution of cultural groups, particularly linguistic
groups (and regions of interaction)
Having a plausible location now requires the examination of the text of the
Book of Mormon to see whether or not it fits into that cultural area. In this
instance a few more operating assumptions need to be specified:
- Based on known history of the New World and known modes of cultural interaction,
it is expected that the Book of Mormon people (who entered with relatively few
numbers) would have been absorbed into the material culture that already existed.
What is more, they also would have absorbed the local languages as the common
- “Nephite” and “Lamanite” are polity designations,
not lineage designations (there is ample textual evidence for this as people
move from one group to the other).
- While the Nephites attempted to preserve a Mosaic religion, that was not
the case for the surrounding cultures. It is in the conflicts with those outside
cultures that we have the opportunity for the best information about the nature
of the majority culture of the New World.
Beginning with that foundation, here is a set of cultural correspondences and
explanations that come from the Mesoamerican cultural context in which the Book
of Mormon may be plausibly placed:
- The Lehites entered the area during the middle of the Preclassic period,
a time of broad changes in the Maya civilization. City size was increasing and
society was growing more complex. The general trend was toward greater social
differentiation and the beginnings of kingship in Maya city-states. This trend
is mirrored in the conflicts witnessed as early as the book of Jacob. The twin
evils against which Jacob preaches—polygamy and acquisition of wealth
(when it leads to social differentiation)—have both been identified in
this time period in Mesoamerica. (Interestingly, polygamy is directly linked
to one of the mechanisms of accumulation of wealth at this time, and the function
of wealth is to create social differentiation.)
- The early description of economic matters is enigmatic in the Book of Mormon
unless we have the Mesoamerican background. In particular, Jacob speaks against
costly apparel (Jacob 2:13). This is a situation that should not exist in a
society where everyone makes their own clothing from local materials and dyes.
However, it fits into the trade context of Mesoamerica, where clothing was one
of the most obvious modes of displaying wealth and social differentiation. Thus
this Book of Mormon emphasis on the evils of costly apparel has a direct explanation
in the cultural pressures of Mesoamerica at this time.
- In multiple instances, a Nephite describes the Lamanites as lazy and uncivilized.
These negative portrayals occur along with descriptions of Lamanite cities that
appear more powerful than Nephite cities. This pejorative catalog even gets
repeated by Mormon in his abridgment, when it is obviously incorrect. However,
the presence of the pejorative characterization is anthropologically accurate
for time and place. Rather than attributing it to authorial error, it can be
viewed as an accurate replication of typical in-group prejudices that occur
in most human populations.
- The Book of Mormon describes a political situation that fits Mesoamerica
but is not universal to other areas of the world (though it is not completely
unknown). Mesoamerican cities had their own governments, but they were typically
grouped into spheres of influence. In particular, we have descriptions of kings
ruling over kings among the Lamanites. This is precisely the relationship of
Mesoamerican cities as the king-forms were developing. The various fissions
and fusions of the Book of Mormon hegemonies accurately reflect the nature of
- The shift from king to judges in Zarahemla reflects an institutional implementation
of a political structure that already existed in those kingships that did continue.
Even in the king-led polities, there were kin-group leaders who served as the
judges and intermediate rulers. These appear to function as do the judges in
Zarahemla and in some later cultures did replace the kings. Thus the process
and presence of judges in Zarahemla is a parallel of known culture. To this
it should be added that the mechanism described in the Book of Mormon reflects
the more Mesoamerican mode of “judges” in that the position was
hereditary. In spite of the critics’ occasional assertions of a voting
democracy in the Book of Mormon, it did not exist.
- The nature of economics in the Book of Mormon fits the Mesoamerican cultural
setting. The lack of a monetary system shifted the nature of wealth accumulation.
This is apparent in the constant problem in the Book of Mormon of wealth directly
leading to social hierarchies—this is because wealth was defined in terms
of displayable goods, not monetary accumulation. In addition, the relationships
between conquered cities fit the Mesoamerican model of the establishment of
tribute payment rather than political domination. When a city is conquered,
there is no real effort to acquire territory, but rather to secure the tribute.
Thus the Book of Mormon emphasizes the nature of the taxation—which again
is the relinquishing of material, not money.
- Descriptions of warfare in the Book of Mormon fit the Mesoamerican model.
This includes seasonality of fighting, weaponry, tactics, defensive structures,
body armament, and the nature of the conclusion of the warfare.202
- The descriptions of daily life fit a Mesoamerican context. Amulek’s
description of his household (Alma 10:11) corresponds nicely with a Mesoamerican
home compound. And when Nephi’s compound is described (Helaman 7:11),
it fits the description of the home of a powerful person living in the city
center—including a personal pyramid (“tower”), a walled court,
and a location near the highway leading to a main market (multiple markets were
known to exist in single cities).
- The description of the events of Benjamin’s speech fits not only the
cultural climate but explains the anomalous base of a temple built in the plausible
city of Zarahemla at the time of the speech.
- Mormon’s description of a land north of Nephite lands that is devoid
of trees, has buildings of cement, and is in a land of large lakes and many
rivers points directly to Teotihuacán, which fits all of those qualifications
during the required time period.
- The particular destructions described at the time of Jesus’s death
fit the description of a highly explosive volcano (and no other phenomenon).
Correlations include the length of time of the tremors and the thickness and
duration of the darkness. Mesoamerica is along the ring of fire, one of the
most volatile volcanic areas in the world, and we know of at least two major
volcanic explosions at the time of Christ. Dating volcanic explosions that far
back can be difficult, so there might have been more. The fact does exist, however,
that the descriptions in the Book of Mormon fit volcanic activity, and volcanic
activity is known for that area of the world and for that time.203
- The incident of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies has a direct and complete explanation
in a Mesoamerican context, a cultural explanation that even explains the lightning
raid that destroyed Ammonihah (Alma 16:1-3)—otherwise an anomalous
event in the Book of Mormon.204
- The location of Zarahemla in the Grijalva River valley not only fits the
geography and topography, but it links the major linguistic groups. The Nephites
entered a Mayan-speaking area. The Mulekites entered a Mixe-Zoque speaking area.
The movement of the Mulekites/Zarahemlaites up the Grijalva valley parallels
the known movement of Zoque (a daughter language of Mixe-Zoque) up that valley.
This explains why the Nephites and the Zarahemlaites spoke different languages
when there was insufficient time for an unintelligible divergence from Hebrew
to have occurred. (In only four hundred years some vocabulary would change,
but the languages would still have been mutually intelligible.)
- The Book of Mormon places the Jaredite civilization north of Nephite territories
and earlier in time. The geography and time-depth match the geographic and time
distribution of the Olmec. The Jaredites would have participated in Olmec culture
just as the Nephites participated in later culture.
- The rapid increase in militarism noted at the end of the Book of Mormon
parallels the known historical rise in militarism in all of Mesoamerica at the
same time period.
As I have noted before, the important facet of all of these key points is that
they all stem from a single explanatory model. Each of them is dependent on
a single geographic area and a particular time period.
Against these correspondences, what do we have that might be counterindications?
We have the specific descriptive problems of swords, silk, horses, chariots,
etc.205 I find it much easier to explain these as labeling problems than to
find an alternate explanation for the type of detailed correlation listed above.206
Vogel’s Mound Builder approach neither predicts nor accounts for any of
this. Given that knowledge of Central America and the Ancient Near East was
meager in Joseph Smith’s day, why does present-day understanding offer
so much? Why do aspects of the Book of Mormon that especially outraged Joseph’s
educated contemporaries like Alexander Campbell turn out in light of recent
research and discoveries to fit so well into the ancient world?
Latter-day Saint scholarship does progress by investigating and responding to
criticisms, sometimes correcting the misperceptions of our critics, sometimes
learning by examining our own preconceptions in light of criticisms and making
adjustments. Sometimes it is healthy to be reminded that not everyone sees things
the same way, that we make mistakes too, and that both parties can be surprised
by new information. Do I accept my critics’ perspectives? No. My own studies
over the past thirty years teach me more and more that I can trust my testimony.
- Kevin Christensen, review of Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon,
by Dan Vogel, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 2 (1990): 214-57.
- Dan Vogel, “Anti-Universalist Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon,” in New
Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology,
ed. Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 21-52.
- Kevin Christensen, “Paradigms Crossed,” Review of Books on the Book
of Mormon 7/2 (1995): 201-8. Review of Books on the Book of Mormon
6/1 (1994) contained reviews of Vogel’s essay by John Tvedtnes (pp. 12-13)
and Martin S. Tanner (pp. 418-33). Vogel’s essay dismisses all these as “weakly
reasoned” without explaining why.
- See at www.xmission.com/~research/central/vogel1.htm (accessed 15 March
- Vogel, “Dan Vogel’s  Reply to Kevin Christensen,”
at www.xmission.com/~research/central/reply.htm (accessed 15 March 2004).
- For Vogel’s use of Mark Hofmann’s forgeries in the printed edition, see
Vogel, Indian Origins, 14. For details of the forgeries, see Linda
Sillitoe and Allen D. Roberts, Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery
Murders (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1988); and Richard E. Turley,
Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case (Urbana: University
of Illinois Press, 1992).
- Vogel, Indian Origins, 7.
- Ibid., 71.
- Ibid., 72.
- Ibid., 73. Despite this conclusion, Vogel now insists: “I was not attempting
a comprehensive response to Book of Mormon apologists, nor was I trying to
resolve historicity issues with finality. Recognizing that there was an incompleteness
in our knowledge of the pre-1830 literature, I jumped off the apologetic treadmill
to gather the necessary material essential to conduct such discussions.” However,
he later asserts that “one purpose of Indian Origins was to remind
Mormon apologists how well the Book of Mormon fits into Joseph Smith’s world.”
“Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.” He also reports that his still unpublished
critique of John L. Sorenson’s An Ancient American Setting for the Book
of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985) was originally
intended to be an appendix to Indian Origins. In other words, while
his survey does increase our knowledge of relevant pre-1830 literature, he
never did jump off the apologetic treadmill.
- Christensen, review of Indian Origins, 214.
- Kenneth W. Godfrey, “What Is the Significance of Zelph in the Study of Book
of Mormon Geography?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999):
- See Sorenson, Ancient American Setting.
- He observes that John L. Sorenson, “The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican
Codex,” Newsletter and Proceedings of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology
139 (December 1976): 1-9, contains sixty-eight Mesoamerican cultural traits,
rather than ninety-three as I stated. See Christensen, “Review of Indian Origins
and the Book of Mormon,” 220, compared to “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen,”
n. 3. I have also updated my thoughts on Universalism from my 1990 review
as outlined in “Paradigms Crossed,” 201-8. With respect to the Book of Mormon
translation, new information from Royal Skousen’s work on the original manuscript
and Margaret Barker’s studies on preexilic Judaism would change some of my
comments. Beyond this, most of his critique derives from his fundamentally
different approach to the Book of Mormon. I do not concede anything to his
approach. My readings are of possibilities, which is all the believing approach
requires. His readings pretend to be proofs, which he cannot deliver.
- Compare Dan Vogel, “Echoes of Anti-Masonry: A Rejoinder to Critics of the
Anti-Masonic Thesis,” in American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon,
ed. Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002),
291: “One should not push too hard for exact parallels; . . . one should view
such elements as a reflection of Joseph Smith’s imagination—his attempt to
create for readers frightening images of what Masonry could become.” Also
in “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen” he says, “Christensen’s expectation that
the Book of Mormon exactly duplicates the Mound Builder myth is too restrictive.
One must allow that the Myth was adapted to the specifics of Smith’s narrative.”
Again, for Vogel, environment accounts for similarities and imagination covers
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.” Compare Hugh Nibley, The Ancient State:
The Rulers and the Ruled (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991),
391: “Claiming magisterial authority, the Sophic acknowledges no possibility
of defeat or rivalry. In principle it can never be wrong. Its confidence is
absolute,” emphasis in original. Vogel’s comment, by the way, fundamentally
misrepresents the genesis of the limited geography theory, which actually
arose out of a close reading of the Book of Mormon text itself.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- William J. Hamblin, “An Apologist for the Critics: Brent Lee Metcalfe’s
Assumptions and Methodologies,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon
6/1 (1994): 463-65.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- John L. Sorensen, Geography of Book of Mormon Events (Provo, UT:
FARMS, 1990), 34.
- See John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Map (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000); and
Sorenson, Ancient American Setting.
- See “How Long Did It Take to Translate the Book of Mormon?” in Reexploring
the Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and
FARMS, 1992), 1-8.
- See, for example, Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book and FARMS, 1988), 138-41. See also Alan Goff, “Historical Narrative,
Literary Narrative—Expelling Poetics from the Republic of History,” Journal
of Book of Mormon Studies 5/1 (1996): 50-102.
- See John W. Welch, “An Unparallel” and “Finding Answers to B. H. Roberts’s
Questions” (FARMS paper, 1986); and Andrew H. Hedges, review of View of
the Hebrews, by Ethan Smith, FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997):
- See William J. Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon
Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon,” Journal
of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 173-74. See also John L. Sorenson,
“The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record,” in Book of Mormon Authorship
Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo,
UT: FARMS, 1997), 394-99. Incidentally, Matthew Roper’s “Nephi’s Neighbors”
in FARMS Review 15/2 (2004): 97-99, shows that the wording of the
Wentworth letter regarding the Book of Mormon derives from an 1840 pamphlet
by Orson Pratt.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.” Compare Sorenson, “Book
of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record,” 482-87. See also Brant
Gardner quoted here in sections titled, “Science and the Book of Mormon,”
pages 309-12, and “A Mesoamerican Approach for Comparison,”
- I quote Gardner at length in the section headed, “A Mesoamerican Approach
- See, for a striking example, Jeff Lindsay’s parody comparison of Whitman’s
1855 Leaves of Grass with the 1830 Book of Mormon at www.jefflindsay.com/bomsource.shtml
(accessed 1 April 2004).
- Vogel, Indian Origins, 21-27.
- Discussed by Christensen in review of Indian Origins, 219, citing Vogel,
Indian Origins, 21-33; and John L. Sorenson, “Digging into the Book
of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture,”
Ensign, September 1984, 26-37, and October 1984, 12-23. For a more
recent treatment, see John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America: Visualizing
Book of Mormon Life (Provo, UT: Research Press, 1998), 132-33.
- Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 5-48.
- S. Kent Brown, “New Light from Arabia on Lehi’s Trail,” in Echoes and
Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson,
and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 55-125.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- My review of Indian Origins cites Kuhn directly five times and Barbour three
times. My “Response to David Wright on Historical Criticism,” Journal
of Book of Mormon Studies 3/1 (1994): 74-93, cites Kuhn sixteen times
and Barbour four times. My “Paradigms Crossed” cites Kuhn thirty-five times
and Barbour fourteen times. Vogel never cites either author. In “Paradigms
Crossed,” I also cite James Burke’s The Day the Universe Changed
(London: British Broadcasting, 1985), the companion book to the PBS documentary
on paradigm shifts in science.
- See Ian G. Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms: A Comparative Study
in Science and Religion (New York: Harper and Row, 1974), which was nominated
for a National Book Award in 1974. It is now out of print but is worth searching
for. He does have other books in print that review most of the same material
and carry his discussion further. Barbour’s work on science and religion won
him the prestigious Templeton Prize in 1999.
- See Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms, 69-70.
- Christensen, review of Indian Origins, 218.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Christensen, “Paradigms Crossed,” 208-18.
- Hugh Nibley, “Three Shrines: Mantic, Sophic, and Sophistic,” and “Paths
That Stray: Some Notes on the Sophic and Mantic,” in The Ancient State,
311-79 and 380-456.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- See E. L. Thorndike, “The Production, Retention and Attraction of American
Men of Science,” Science 92 (16 August 1940): 137-41; Kenneth R.
Hardy, “Social Origins of American Scientists and Scholars,” Science
185 (9 August 1974): 497-506; Robert L. Miller, “Science and Scientists,”
in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 3:1272-75.
- Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed. (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1970), 165, 176-86.
- Ibid., 24.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 148, quoted in Christensen,
review of Indian Origins, 215.
- Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, “Editors’ Introduction,” in American
- Sorenson, Geography of Book of Mormon Events, 25.
- Christensen, review of Indian Origins, 215-19.
- Christensen, “Paradigms Crossed,” 148-87.
- Ibid., 217-18, quoting Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms, 56.
- See Christensen, “Paradigms Crossed,” 208-18. For a description
of some specific features of religious experience that a supernatural approach
can notice and value and that a naturalist approach overlooks and therefore
inherently devalues, see a draft paper of mine, “A Model of Mormon Spiritual
Experience” at www2.ida.net/graphics/shirtail/spiritua.htm (accessed
15 March 2004).
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Christensen, review of Indian Origins, 257, citing Vogel, Indian
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 24.
- See the nine-part BBC series and the companion book by Burke, The Day
the Universe Changed, 328-30.
- For example, “Commitment to a paradigm (understood, again, as a tradition
transmitted through historical examplars) allows its potentialities to be
systematically explored.” Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms, 11.
Also, Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 150. See also Ephesians
4:11-14 on an institutional structure designed to maintain stability against
being “children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine”
while still retaining the institutional ability to change in light of new
knowledge, as in Acts 15:7-29.
- See Doctrine and Covenants 1 and Joseph Smith’s explanations of the problem
with creeds: “creeds set up stakes” and say “hitherto shalt thou come, and
no further.” See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph
Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 327. There may be “orthodox”
notions of Latter-day Saint doctrine, but there is no “static” orthodoxy.
Because we have no set creeds and accept ongoing revelation we can always
be open to further light and knowledge.
- Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms, 113, quoted in Christensen,
“Paradigms Crossed,” 159-60.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- See Christensen, “Paradigms Crossed.” On the rationality of paradigm choice,
see Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms, 110-18. For Kuhn’s defense
of the rationality of paradigm choice, see Kuhn, Structure of Scientific
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Vogel, Indian Origins, 6, quoted in Christensen, review of Indian
- Christensen, “Paradigms Crossed,” 198-208. Not coincidentally,
this section includes my response to Vogel on anti-Universalism.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Christensen, “Paradigms Crossed,” 187-208.
- Indeed, Kuhn observes that fields of study that display chronic controversies
over fundamentals cannot be said to have a dominant overall paradigm, but
that within various schools of thought rival paradigms can and do exist. See
Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 11-13. History, archaeology,
and scholarship are inherently less objective than physics. See also Barbour,
Myths, Models and Paradigms, 144-45.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms, 8-9.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 80.
- Ibid., 17-18, quoted in “Paradigms Crossed,” 208.
- Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 146.
- Ibid., 186; compare Ephesians 4:11-12 and Acts 15.
- Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 80.
- Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms, 9.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms, 9.
- See Richard L. Anderson’s thoughtful discussion of issues pertaining to
valuing historical sources in “Christian Ethics in Joseph Smith Biography,”
in Expressions of Faith: Testimonies of Latter-day Saint Scholars,
ed. Susan Easton Black (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1998), 162-67.
- Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 79.
- Ibid., 82.
- David P. Wright, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon: Or Joseph Smith in Isaiah,”
in American Apocrypha, 183.
- Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 82.
- See Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2002), 89-154.
- Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 84.
- Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book and FARMS, 1989), 243-58. Matthew Roper, “Right on Target: Boomerang
Hits and the Book of Mormon,” at www.fairlds.org/pubs/conf/2001RopM.html (accessed
15 March 2004).
- See George D. Smith, “B. H. Roberts: Book of Mormon Apologist and Skeptic,”
in American Apocrypha, 129-30.
- Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 110.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms, 100.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.” Vogel cites John W. Welch, “What Does Chiasmus
in the Book of Mormon Prove?” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited,
- John W. Welch, “The Power of Evidence in the Nurturing of Faith,” in Echoes
and Evidences, 17-53.
- Welch, “What Does Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon Prove?” 221. See also John
W. Welch, “How Much Was Known about Chiasmus in 1829 When the Book of Mormon
Was Translated?” FARMS Review 15/1 (2003): 47-80.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Contrast G. D. Smith, “B. H. Roberts,” 150 n. 30: “The Book of Mormon tries
to place an Old World Culture into a New World setting that does not fit.”
Also contrast with Michael Coe, “Mormons and Archaeology: An Outside View,”
Dialogue 8/2 (1973): 42: “The picture of this hemisphere between
2,000 BC and AD 421 presented in the book has little to do with the early
Indian cultures as we know them, in spite of much wishful thinking” (emphasis
added), cited in Thomas W. Murphy, “Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics,”
in American Apocrypha, 53.
- Contrast “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen”: “The limited
theory, as we will see, is maintained by a series of other ad hoc hypotheses
and specialized interpretations. The only fruit this theory produces is how
well it functions to maintain the faith, not how well it explains ancient
American history.” Vogel’s interpretive framework calls for refuting
Sorenson by calling for the Book of Mormon to explain all ancient American
history, whereas Sorenson and Gardner explain how the Book of Mormon people
fit into ancient American history.
- For example, Gardner’s explanation of the reasons for Jacob’s
discourse, including the specific quotations from Isaiah, strikes me as classic.
See his “Interactions with Non-Israelite Populations in the Book of
Mormon” at frontpage2000.nmia.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Interact.htm (accessed
15 March 2004).
- See Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, eds., Warfare in the Book
of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990).
- Quoted with permission from Brant Gardner, e-mail exchange.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.” Compare Sorenson, “Book
of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record,” 482-87.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Hugh Nibley, The World and the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book and FARMS, 1987), 273-74.
- Nibley, “Paths That Stray,” 409, emphasis in original.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Ninian Smart, Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs
(New York: Scribner’s, 1983), 75.
- Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms, 144, emphasis in original.
- Ibid, 144-45. For suggestions for “common data” upon which differing religions
ought to be able to agree, see Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms,
53-56, emphasis in original.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Christensen, review of Indian Origins, 217.
- Massimo Introvigne, “The Book of Mormon Wars: A Non-Mormon Perspective,”
Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (1996): 9.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Vogel and Metcalfe, “Editors’ Introduction,” xiii.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms, 99.
- Screenplay by Jake Kasdan, quoted at us.imdb.com/Quotes?0120906 (accessed
15 March 2004).
- John L. Sorenson, “Addendum,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon
4 (1992): 118.
- See Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems,” 161-97.
- Vogel, Indian Origins, 85 n. 68.
- See John L. Sorenson, “How Could Joseph Smith Write So Accurately about
Ancient American Civilization?” in Echoes and Evidences, 267-69,
for the tension between Joseph as translator and Joseph as commentator.
- See also Doctrine and Covenants 75:10; 88:64-65, 127; and Moroni 7:33.
The most expedient knowledge involves what Peter calls “great and precious
promises: that by these ye may be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter
- Ponder carefully Isaiah 55:8-12.
- Sorenson, Geography of Book of Mormon Events, 7-29, 31.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Sorenson, “Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record,” 392. See Sorenson,
Geography of Book of Mormon Events, 215-328; see also Ancient
American Setting, 23: “Some of the text’s scale requirements are quite
specific. They are also tied together in intricate relationships. It is impossible
to solve just part of the problem of locations and distances, for as in a
jigsaw puzzle, all the features must interlock.”
- Vogel and Metcalfe, “Editors’ Introduction,” ix-xiii.
- Compare especially their summary in Vogel and Metcalfe, “Editors’ Introduction,”
ix-xii, with Ancient American Setting, 16-23, 42-44. See also Matthew
Roper’s discussion of the narrow neck in his review of Answering Mormon Scholars:
A Response to Criticism Raised by Mormon Defenders, by Jerald and Sandra Tanner,
FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997): 126-29.
- Sorenson, Mormon’s Map, 56.
- Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 45.
- Vogel and Metcalfe, “Editors’ Introduction,” ix.
- See Russell H. Ball, “An Hypothesis concerning the Three Days of Darkness
among the Nephites,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993):
113-19, for a demonstration of uses of the phrase the land in the scriptures.
- “Concrete Evidence for the Book of Mormon,” in Reexploring the Book
of Mormon, 212-13.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Other uses of exceeding do not exhibit either the precision or the orders
of magnitude that Vogel requires: “And it came to pass that I, Nephi,
being exceedingly young” (1 Nephi 2:16). “And it came to
pass that when Laban saw our property [carried in by Nephi, Laman, Lemuel,
and Sam], and that it was exceedingly great” (1 Nephi 3:25). “They
came unto me, and loosed the bands which were upon my wrists, and behold they
had swollen exceedingly” (1 Nephi 18:15). “And upon the wings
of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains”
(2 Nephi 4:25). “Now the number of their dead was not numbered
because of the greatness of the number; yea, the number of their dead was
exceedingly great, both on the Nephites and on the Lamanites” (Alma
44:21). Also, “They had encircled the city of Bountiful round about
with a strong wall of timbers and earth, to an exceeding height” (Alma
53:4). Compare, “And upon the top of these ridges of earth he caused
that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up to the height
of a man, round about the cities” (Alma 50:2). How high must the earth
and timbers be? Also compare, “And it came to pass that the brother
of Jared . . . went forth unto the mount, which they called the
mount Shelem, because of its exceeding height” (Ether 3:1). How high
must the mountain be?
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Vogel and Metcalfe, “Editors’ Introduction,” xiii. These issues have been
successfully addressed. See, for example, Sorenson’s book Mormon’s Map
for the internal requirements and his Ancient American Setting for
plausible external correlation. For population issues, see James E. Smith,
“Nephi’s Descendants? Historical Demography and the Book of Mormon,” Review
of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1 (1994): 255-96; James E. Smith, “How
Many Nephites? The Book of Mormon at the Bar of Demography,” in Book of
Mormon Authorship Revisited, 255-93; and John L. Sorenson, “When Lehi’s
Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?” Journal of Book
of Mormon Studies 1 (1992): 1-34.
- Sorenson, Mormon’s Map, 70-71.
- Sorenson’s directions are internally consistent, and, I think, not
unreasonable given the prevalence of “northward” in the text,
and the “northward” orientation of the Grijalva/Sidon basin. We
should place ourselves in that river basin on the ground with Mormon rather
than gazing down at contemporary maps of Mesoamerica.
- See Sorenson, Mormon’s Map, 65–67.
- Ibid., 68.
- Ibid., 69.
- Compare ibid., map 3, “Amalickiah’s Attack by the East Seashore,”
- Vogel and Metcalfe, “Editors’ Introduction,” x–xi.
In making this conclusion, they ignore the practical military problems of
highlands and lowlands, which the Book of Mormon describes, Sorenson illustrates,
and Mesoamerica fits.
- Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 43.
- Sorenson, Mormon’s Map, 68. Compare Nathan B. Forest’s dictum,
“Get there first with the most.” It is difficult to get there first with the
most if you have to go three times as far on foot. Moreover, trebling the
distance trebles the logistics problems.
- Vogel and Metcalfe, “Editors’ Introduction,” xiii.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Christensen, “Paradigms Crossed,” 153-54.
- Vogel and Metcalfe, “Editors’ Introduction,” xiii.
- Smart, Worldviews, 22, notes that the modern study of religion
“treats worldviews both historically and systematically and attempts to enter,
through structured empathy, into the viewpoint of the believers.”
- See, for example, John W. Welch, “The Temple in the Book of Mormon: The
Temples at the Cities of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Bountiful,” in Temples
of the Ancient World, ed. Donald W. Parry (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book
and FARMS, 1994), 297-387. Several essays in John W. Welch and Stephen D.
Ricks, eds., King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom” (Provo,
UT: FARMS, 1998) discuss the temple, including Hugh W. Nibley, “Assembly and
Atonement,” 119-45; Terrence L. Szink and John W. Welch, “King Benjamin’s
Speech in the Context of Ancient Israelite Festivals,” 147-223; Stephen D.
Ricks, “Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6,” 233-75; and M.
Catherine Thomas, “Benjamin and the Mysteries of God,” 277-94. See also Kevin
Christensen, “The Temple, the Monarchy, and Wisdom: Lehi’s World and the Scholarship
of Margaret Barker,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W.
Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2004), 449-522.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Cyrus H. Gordon and Gary A. Rendsburg, The Bible and the Ancient Near
East (New York: Norton, 1997), 269.
- Ibid., 272.
- Stephen E. Robinson, “Early Christianity and 1 Nephi 13-14,” in The
Book of Mormon: First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. Monte S. Nyman
and Charles D. Tate (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1988), 177-91,
referred to by Christensen in his review of Indian Origins, 223 n.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- For example, Jeremiah 2:20; 3:1, 6; 13:27; Proverbs 2:16-19; 6:24-26; Ezekiel
16:15, 22-36. Compare Margaret Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ:
Which God Gave to Him to Show to His Servants What Soon Must Take Place (Revelation
1.1) (Edinburgh: Clark, 2000), 67, explaining that Ezekiel and Revelation
both come from temple priests standing in the same tradition.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Blake T. Ostler, “The Book of Mormon as a Modern Expansion of an Ancient
Source,” Dialogue 20/1 (1987): 66-124.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- See Royal Skousen, “Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original
Manuscript,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, 61-93, and Skousen’s
essays in Uncovering the Original Text of the Book of Mormon, ed.
M. Gerald Bradford and Alison V. P. Coutts (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002).
- See, for example, Margaret Barker, “What King Josiah Reformed,” in Glimpses
of Lehi’s Jerusalem, 523-42; and Barker, The Great Angel: A Study
of Israel’s Second God (London: SPCK, 1992), 12-27.
- Blake Ostler, e-mail correspondence to Kevin Christensen, 20 October 2002.
- Blake Ostler, second e-mail correspondence to Kevin Christensen, 20 October
- Notice that Smith, in “B. H. Roberts,” 139, cites a discussion
of this passage as suggesting “the possibility of the Indians knowing
something of the Christ.” It seems to be strange logic to use a denial
by a knowledgeable source to suggest a possibility.
- Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews (Poultney, VT: Smith and Shute,
- Vogel, Indian Origins, 59–61.
- Alexander Campbell, Delusions: An Analysis of the Book of Mormon
(Boston: Greene, 1832). Compare D. Michael Quinn’s remark: “Another common
criticism of the Book of Mormon relates to its unusually extensive pre-Christian
knowledge of Jesus Christ. . . . However, such details were consistent with
previously published occult content in pseudepigraphic writings. Ten years
before Smith published his translation of the Book of Mormon, Richard Laurence
published his translation of the Ascent of Isaiah.” D. Michael Quinn, Early
Mormonism and the Magic World View, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Signature
Books, 1998), 210. Quinn’s endnote specifies that the text in question was
published in England in 1819; it was referred to in an 1825 volume called
Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures
(Quinn, Early Mormonism, 211). Quinn claims that “various Book of Mormon details
therefore were not unusual within the preexisting literature about heavenly
ascent and about Enoch” (Quinn, Early Mormonism, 211). Quinn does
not discuss the complexities of the ritual and historical context in which
the details appear—that is, the Book of Mormon does not just describe the
details that he lists, and many more besides, but it also accounts for those
details via a specific view of history, places them in a specific historical
tradition rooted in a crucial time and place, offers them within a complex
ritual context, and describes both the loss and recovery of those plain and
precious things in prophetic passages. See my “Paradigms Regained,” FARMS
Occasional Papers 2 (2001): 15–25. Quinn does not specify whether or
not Joseph Smith obtained or was influenced by a knowledge of the Ascension
of Isaiah or by access to an American Bible commentary, being
content to publicly face the remote possibility—the mark of a real scholar
(see Quinn, Early Mormonism, xi). Quinn also gives no examples of
any Book of Mormon critics or defenders in the first generations ever calling
attention to such potential sources. Compared to Joseph Smith, Abner Cole
the newspaper editor, John Gilbert the printer, or Alexander Campbell the
second-generation religious leader seems far more likely to have encountered
such materials, in terms of educational background and financial capability.
Nor did any of Joseph’s neighbors, nor his family, who presumably would have
had equivalent access, ever suggest such sources. The rise of the Spalding
theory shows that Joseph’s critics had the will to track down any promising
rumor and to expose any potential source.
- See Christensen, “Paradigms Regained,” esp. 35–50.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- John Tvedtnes, The Most Correct Book (Salt Lake City: Cornerstone,
- Christensen, review of Indian Origins, 237–46.
- See Christensen, “Paradigms Regained,” 35–50.
- Vogel, “Echoes of Anti-Masonry,” 279–80.
- Ibid., 291; “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.” Compare this
sentence: “One should view such elements as a reflection of Joseph Smith’s
imagination—his attempt to create for readers frightening images of
what Masonry could become.” Ibid. Consider also, “the apologetic
demand for an exact correspondence between Masonry and Gadianton bands is
unnecessary and irrelevant.” Vogel, “Echoes of Anti-Masonry,”
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- “Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Codex,” 4.
- See, for example, Margaret Barker, The Great High Priest (London:
Clark, 2003), 47, compared to 2 Nephi 9:5–7; and Barker, The Older Testament
(London: SPCK, 1987), 119–21, compared to 2 Nephi 9 and Jacob’s use of the
title “the Holy One of Israel.”
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 72, quoted in Tvedtnes, Most
Correct Book, 101.
- See Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, xviii–xxi.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Sorenson, “Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Codex,” 5.
- Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 151.
- “Vogel’s Reply to Christensen.”
- Brant Gardner, originally on Zion’s Lighthouse Message Board, 8 June
2002. Quoted by permission. For his supporting documentation, see his Web
site at frontpage2000.nmia .com/~nahualli/ (accessed 12 April 2004).
- See George D. Potter, “A New Candidate in Arabia for the Valley of Lemuel,”
Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 54–63.
- Warren P. Aston, “The Arabian Bountiful Discovered?” Journal of Book
of Mormon Studies 7/1 (1998): 5–11.
- Brown, “New Light from Arabia,” 55–125.
- Sorenson, Ancient American Setting.
- See Ricks and Hamblin, eds., Warfare in the Book of Mormon.
- See Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 318–23; and Bart J. Kowallis,
“In the Thirty and Fourth Year: A Geologist’s View of the Great Destruction
in 3 Nephi,” BYU Studies 37/3 (1997–98): 137–90.
- For the cultural explanation, see Brant Gardner, “A Social History
of the Early Nephites,” at www.fairlds.org/pubs/conf/2001GarB.html (accessed
8 June 2004).
- See William J. Hamblin and A. Brent Merrill, “Swords in the Book of Mormon,”
in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, 329–51; “Possible ‘Silk’ and ‘Linen’
in the Book of Mormon,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 162–64;
“Once More: The Horse,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 98–100;
“Were Ancient Americans Familiar with Real Horses?” Journal of Book of
Mormon Studies 10/1 (2001): 76–77; Daniel C. Peterson and Matthew Roper,
“Ein Heldenleben? On Thomas Stuart Ferguson as an Elias for Cultural Mormons,”
in this number of the FARMS Review, pages 175–219; and John L. Sorenson,
“Wheeled Figurines in the Ancient World” (FARMS paper, 1981).
- End of Brant Gardner quotation. My thanks for his permission to use it.
Notice that Gardner deals with “puzzles” the way Kuhn and Barbour
would, assessing them within a network of assumptions and evidences, and not
in Vogel’s positivist-empiricist manner.
Dan Vogel, Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature