”The Witchcraft Paradigm:
On Claims to "Second Sight" by People Who Say It Doesn't Exist
The Witchcraft Paradigm: On Claims to “Second Sight” by People
Who Say It Doesn’t Exist
Daniel C. Peterson
Certain critics of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies
(FARMS), which is now a division of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious
Scholarship at Brigham Young University, deny its intellectual or academic
legitimacy on the basis of the “fact,” as they see it, that it is
nothing more than an “apologetic” organization.
This denial, as I shall demonstrate, is misguided. But even the perception
upon which they claim to justify their denial is only partially accurate.
A great deal of what the Maxwell Institute does (for example, its Middle Eastern
Text Initiative, its production of the Dead Sea Scrolls on CD-Rom, and its
digitizing efforts in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome, as well
as at Petra, Naples, Bonampak, and elsewhere) is not apologetic under even
the loosest definition of the term.1 But even much of what FARMS proper undertakes
cannot reasonably be described as “apologetic.” To choose one very
obvious example, Royal Skousen’s fifteen-year Book of Mormon Critical Text
project, supported (very substantially) by FARMS since its inception, is not
at all apologetic in character.2 The spirit of much of the work done
by FARMS, or by the Maxwell Institute as a whole, is in keeping with the famous
slogan coined by St. Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109): Fides quaerens intellectum,
“faith seeking understanding.”3 This sets FARMS apart, obviously, from
the approach of the secular academy as a whole, but it does not, in and of
itself, delegitimize FARMS scholarship—any more than it has marginalized
St. Anselm himself, who remains an important figure in the history of Western
thought.4 “Believe that you may understand,”
wrote St. Augustine (d. 430), an even more central figure in the intellectual
history of the West.5
It seems likely that the FARMS/Maxwell Institute Web site, without intending
to do so, yields a somewhat unrepresentative picture of the overall activity
of FARMS and the Maxwell Institute for the simple reason that while everything
published in the periodicals is up on the site and pretty much fully accessible
even to nonsubscribers, the books and, now, the film (Journey of Faith)
that FARMS and the Institute have produced are only partially present (if
even that) on the Web site to this point.6 This causes the periodicals—and
notably the FARMS Review, far and away
the Institute’s most overtly “apologetic” publication—to seem
relatively more prominent among our overall efforts than they actually are.
A number of vocal critics claim to have read FARMS materials and to have
been deeply disappointed (or actually, as some maintain, driven by what they
found into leaving the church). I suspect, though, that they have sampled
only a relatively small portion of what FARMS produces and that they entertain
a skewed view of what FARMS does. Typically, they are, at least marginally,
aware of the FARMS Review, which devotes
substantial attention (though by no means all of its attention) to responding
to critics and so-called “difficult issues.” But they mistakenly
conclude that the FARMS Review is representative of, or actually is, the totality of FARMS.
However, both FARMS and the Maxwell Institute publish many, many things that
are neither principally nor even secondarily devoted to responding to “difficult
issues” but are, rather, entirely positive and affirmative in character.
There are literally scores of these, including such books as Pressing Forward
with the Book of Mormon, edited by John Welch and Melvin Thorne; Book
of Mormon Authorship and Book
of Mormon Authorship Revisited, edited
by Noel Reynolds; Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald Parry, Daniel Peterson, and John Welch;
the new volume Oliver Cowdery: Scribe, Elder, Witness, edited by John Welch and Larry Morris; and the collected
works of Hugh Nibley; as well as the film Journey of Faith and its accompanying book about the Lehite party’s
experiences in Arabia.
The garden of faith, like most gardens, requires both weeding and watering.
While the FARMS Review does most of the weeding for the organization,
FARMS as a whole expends considerably more effort on nourishing. Or, to employ
a metaphor from American football, FARMS plays both offense and defense. Those
who watch only the defensive portions of a football game will typically have
a rather inaccurate sense of how the overall game is going.
An Apology for Apologetics
From time to time, the question is asked why we “apologize” for
Mormonism. Some members of the church even express discomfort at the thought
of “apologetics.” But such discomfort, I think, reflects a misunderstanding
of the word. Apologetics is simply “systematic argumentative tactics
or discourse in defense (as of a doctrine, a historical character, or particular
In a very real sense, anyone arguing in a more or less sustained way for
or against any position—whether it be the truth of Mormonism or the
superiority of atheism, the legitimacy of the United States’ intervention
in Iraq or the immorality of American foreign policy, the virtues of embryonic
stem-cell research or the abhorrent character of euthanasia, the historicity
of the Book of Mormon or the authorship of Solomon Spalding, inflationary
or noninflationary models of the Big Bang—is engaged in apologetics.
And that is particularly and most obviously so when such a person is defending
an already-advanced thesis against criticisms.
Thus, it makes little sense to claim, as some of its critics do, that the
FARMS Review is not a “scholarly
journal” because it tends to argue for a certain position. (“Defending
a belief,” one Internet detractor oddly declares, “has nothing to
do with truth.”)8 With
the exception of such specialized enterprises as editing texts, producing
catalogs and bibliographies, and creating lexicons, scholarship typically entails setting out and arguing for positions. Moreover,
anybody who seriously holds an opinion must necessarily, when the circumstances
require it, defend that position.
Evolutionists defend their theories against creationists; liberals defend
their positions against conservatives; vegetarians defend their views against
carnivores; atheists defend their atheism against the arguments of theists.
Whether or not arguments are scholarly depends upon the quality and character
of the evidence and analysis that they adduce.
There is also little merit to the allegation that, since it is expressly
dedicated, on the whole, to publishing essays from essentially believing Latter-day
Saints, the FARMS Review cannot be considered truly “scholarly.” By this standard, an
evangelical journal of biblical studies could not be considered scholarly,
no matter how superb its contributors and how high its standards, unless it
abandoned its raison d’être
and failed to prefer evangelical perspectives over atheistic and other nonevangelical
perspectives—or perhaps, indeed, unless it banished faithful perspectives
from its pages altogether. A market-oriented journal of economics would somehow
be violating academic freedom (as one critic has somewhat incoherently accused
the FARMS Review of doing) unless it featured a roughly equal number
of articles from a socialist point of view; a journal dedicated to Freudian
perspectives in psychoanalytic theory would have to surrender its mission
charter and be equally open to non- and anti-Freudian viewpoints; and journals
of evolutionary theory would need to be completely and genuinely open, at
least in principle, to submissions from young-earth creationists. This is
clearly not the way the academic world works, nor is it the way it ought to
Journals dedicated to particular points of view, explicitly or implicitly,
broadly or narrowly conceived, are practically omnipresent in the world of
scholarship. Consider, for instance, the highly regarded Faith and Philosophy:
Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers. While it expressly welcomes articles from various
points of view, Faith and Philosophy
gives pride of place, according to the statement found inside the front cover
of every issue, to “articles which address philosophical issues from
a Christian perspective.” And membership in its sponsoring society, which
includes some of the leading philosophers in North America, is explicitly
limited to professing Christians.
Nobody who picks up the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly,
or Studia Theologica: Nordic Journal of Theology,
or Ephemerides Theologicae Loveniensis: Louvain Journal of Theology
and Canon Law, or Kerygma und Dogma: Zeitschrift für Theologische
Forschung und Kirchliche Lehre, or the
Evangelical Quarterly: An International Review of Bible and Theology,
or the Calvin Theological Journal,
or Dallas Theological Seminary’s Bibliotheca Sacra,
or the Anglican Theological Review,
or Evangelische Theologie, or
the Japan Christian Review,
or Gregorianum (published by the Pontificia Universitî Gregoriana
in Rome), or the Greek Orthodox Theological Review, or New Blackfriars: A Review (“edited by the Dominicans of the English Province”),
or the American Baptist Quarterly, or the Zeitschrift für Katholische Theologie,
or the American Benedictine Review,
or the Revue Bénédictine, or
the Mennonite Quarterly Review
will be surprised to discover that the journal in question favors a certain
general perspective. Nobody will be shocked to learn that it doesn’t open
its pages equally and indiscriminately to all positions. And only a narrow-minded
dogmatist would declare, in advance of actually examining these publications,
that they do not and cannot possibly publish “real scholarship”
or maintain that their publication somehow violates “academic freedom.”
Quite the contrary: The luxurious profusion of such varied voices is a wonderful
expression of academic freedom.
And, to forestall any secularist’s response that such overtly partisan journals
are just what one would expect from irrationalist religious pseudoscholars,
I must point out that partisan advocacy and particular “party lines”
aren’t limited to journals edited by churchmen or theologians. Nobody familiar
with its founders Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre, with its past editor Fernand
Braudel, and with current members of its editorial committee like Jacques
Le Goff and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, could possibly expect Annales: Histoire,
Sciences Sociales not to manifest a particular historical approach. Nor
could anybody who knows Les Temps Modernes (founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir)
be in any possible doubt about what its ideological leanings are likely to
The Psychoanalytic Review is a publication of the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis—an
avowedly partisan group of Freudians.10
By contrast, the Journal of Humanistic Psychology features a strikingly un-Freudian creed, entitled “Five Basic Postulates
of Humanistic Psychology,” on its opening page11—containing
very much the sort of ideas that one would expect after reviewing the list
of deceased members of its board of editors (for example, Viktor Frankl, Aldous
Huxley, Abraham Kaplan, Arthur Koestler, Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, Lewis
Mumford, and Carl Rogers) that appears on that same page.
The Harvard Business Review and International Labor and Working-Class History tend to view things rather differently. Does this simple
fact, as such, automatically disqualify either one of them, or both of them,
as representing serious scholarship? The Journal of Post Keynesian
Economics, which lists the late John Kenneth
Galbraith as its “founding chairman” and recently eulogized him
as “our friend and our hero,” is unlikely to be confused, ideologically,
with the Journal of Austrian Economics (founded by the late libertarian economist Murray Rothbard
[with whom I once spent an amusing evening in St. Andrews, Scotland] and dedicated
to continuing the tradition established by Carl Menger and Ludwig von Mises)
or the “Chicago school’s” Journal of Law and Economics.12 Finally,
no sentient person has ever mistaken the Radical History Review for the Journal of Banking and Finance or the Journal of Monetary Economics. These journals all have discernible points of view.
But the term apologetics is most often
reserved particularly for religious issues, where it is defined as “that
branch of theology devoted to the defense of a religious faith and addressed
primarily to criticism originating from outside the religious faith; esp:
such defense of the Christian faith”13 or as “that branch of theology
in which a body of doctrine is defended against criticism.”14
According to the standard dictionary of classical Greek, the term apologia
denoted a “defence,” or “a speech in defence.” In a Greek
courtroom, the plea entered on behalf of a defendant (an apologoumenos [ἀπολογούμενος])
was known as an apologema (ἀπολόγημα).
All of these nouns are derived from the verb apologeomai (ἀπολογέομαι),
“to speak in defence.”15 Probably the most notable ancient occurrence
of the word is to be found in the title of Plato’s Apology, a famous account of Socrates’ defense of his behavior
as a philosopher before a jury of 501 Athenian men in the spring of 399 BC.
A related use occurs in the Latin title of John Henry Newman’s—later,
Cardinal Newman’s—classic 1864 autobiography and “defense
of his life,” the Apologia pro Vita Sua.
In modern Greek, apologia retains the meanings of “defense,” “plea,” and “pleading,”
but has also come to include “apology” and “excuse” in
much the same way that the term apology includes those senses in English.16
But the primary and original sense of apologia remains. In German, for instance, an Apologet is the “defender of a creed, a viewpoint, or doctrine
(especially of the Christian faith).” An Apologie is “(particularly in religious discussions) a
speech or writing in defense or justification, a defense or justification.”17 Saying “I’m sorry” is done
in German by means of completely unrelated words and falls under totally distinct
Under its entry for apology, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) lists as the first
definition: “The pleading off from a charge or imputation, whether expressed,
implied, or only conceived as possible; defense of a person, or vindication
of an institution, etc., from accusation or aspersion.” The OED‘s first sample sentence for this sense of the term
apology dates to 1533. The earliest specimen for the second
sense—a passage from Shakespeare—comes from the year 1588, and
attests to the following definition: “Less formally: Justification, explanation,
or excuse, of an incident or course of action.”
It is only with the third definition that we come to the sense of the word
apology that is familiar to most English-speakers
today: “An explanation offered to a person affected by one’s action that
no offence was intended, coupled with the expression of regret for any that
may have been given; or, a frank acknowledgement of the offence with expression
of regret for it, by way of reparation.” This third definition is illustrated
at its earliest by a sentence from the year 1594, also culled from Shakespeare.
It is not, however, illustrated by anything published by FARMS or in the FARMS
Review. We feel absolutely no need to “apologize,”
in that sense, for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, we see ourselves as,
however ineptly, endeavoring to continue an honorable tradition among the
Latter-day Saints that extends back far beyond B. H. Roberts’s aptly named
1907 apologetic work Defense of the Faith and the Saints to such nineteenth-century stalwarts as John Taylor
and the Pratt brothers.
Furthermore, those of us who edit the FARMS Review take very seriously the counsel given by Joseph Smith
in the jail at Liberty, Missouri, in March 1839,
to gather up the libelous publications that are afloat;
And all that are in the magazines, and in the encyclopedias, and all the
libelous histories that are published, and are writing, and by whom, and present
the whole concatenation of diabolical rascality and nefarious and murderous
impositions that have been practised upon this people— . . .
And also it is an imperative duty that we owe to
all the rising generation, and to all the pure in heart—
For there are many yet on the earth among all sects,
parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men,
whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth
because they know not where to find it—
Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our
lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know
them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—
These should then be attended to with great earnestness.
Let no man count them as small things; for there
is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon
You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited
very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways
with the wind and the waves.
Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully
do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the
utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.
(D&C 123:4–5, 11–17)
We believe it our duty to “earnestly contend for the faith which was
once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3) and to “be ready always
to give an answer [apologian] to every
man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and
fear” (1 Peter 3:15 KJV).18
The English theologian Austin Farrer, reflecting upon C. S. Lewis, put it
unimprovably well in what has long functioned as a kind of informal and unofficial
mission statement for some of us, in at least certain of our efforts:
Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What
seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability
to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief,
but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.19
That this comment was a favorite of Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s, too, is completely
appropriate in every regard.
Questions about the FARMS Review
One critic recently indicated, in a posting to an Internet message board,
the FARMS Review is unique because it spends most of its time trying
to shoot down points made by anyone and everyone who says something critical
of the LDS Church, and less time trying to “establish new research and
scholarship,” as is the case with most academic journals.
While his claim that the Review “spends most of its time trying to shoot down
points made by anyone and everyone who says something critical of the LDS
Church” is considerably exaggerated, he is correct in perceiving the
Review to be unique—it was designed to be such—and
in sensing that its principal function, unlike that of most academic journals,
is not to “establish new research and scholarship,” although it
has rather consistently done so. It is, as its title has always indicated,
even throughout its various permutations over the years, a review.
One doesn’t primarily turn to the New York Times Book Review or the London Review of Books or the many other periodicals that carry the name Review for cutting-edge new research. But these are often
very much worth reading. Moreover, it is a review that very deliberately and
quite consciously exists to provide a publication venue for a certain broadly
homogenous perspective—one that, while it allows for considerable disagreement
over details, is fundamentally united by its belief in the claims of the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that is not well represented (and
cannot, by its nature, be well represented) in mainstream secular academic
publications. It is sui generis. Had something like it already existed, we would have
felt no need to launch it.
Since the FARMS Review in particular, and FARMS in general, continue
to be controversial in certain circles, I think it worthwhile to take up several
questions about them that tend to recur over and over again.
1. Are FARMS materials peer reviewed?
Yes. FARMS materials are peer reviewed. We at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute
for Religious Scholarship strive to publish academically solid scholarship,
and we’re willing to take, and to see that the Institute takes, the steps
that are necessary to do that. That’s why we have a sound peer-review process
that facilitates quality control.
Here’s the basic process for the FARMS Review, which mirrors but is not precisely the process for
FARMS as a whole: Every manuscript that is submitted is carefully read and
commented upon (and either approved or rejected) by me (a PhD in Near Eastern
Languages and Cultures, UCLA), my two associate editors (PhD in political
philosophy, Brown; doctoral work in political science, Columbia), the Review‘s production editor (PhD in family sciences, BYU),
and the FARMS/Maxwell Institute publication director (MA in ancient Near Eastern
studies, BYU). Manuscripts are always offered for reading (and comment and
possible rejection) to other members of the FARMS/Maxwell Institute leadership
as well, which includes people trained in religious studies at UC Santa Barbara,
in Hebrew Bible and history at Harvard and the University of Denver, and the
like. Not uncommonly, when special expertise is required (for example, on
matters of genetics), we send manuscripts out to people possessing the required
expertise. In addition, every manuscript is subjected to meticulous source
This, I freely grant, is not peer review as it is practiced for, say, the
main articles section of the Journal of the American Oriental Society
or Analysis. (The rest of FARMS, along with the Maxwell Institute
as a whole, follows conventional peer review.) But the FARMS Review
is, first and foremost and by design, a collection of review essays—something
of an opinion journal—and so its review procedures are properly compared
to those involved with book reviews elsewhere, including, yes, the book review
sections of Analysis and the
Journal of the American Oriental Society.
To put it in perspective: I’ve written several academic book reviews for non-LDS
journals. To the best of my knowledge, none of them has been subjected to
peer evaluation (or even to readings by multiple editors) at all. My only
contact in these cases has been with the relevant book review editor and not
even with the overall editor of the journal. So far as I’m aware, book notes
and book reviews submitted to academic journals normally receive only copy
editing, not peer review. Essays published in the FARMS Review undergo a much more rigorous evaluation process than
I’ve personally experienced with book reviews appearing, for instance, in
such mainstream academic outlets as Al-Masaq, the Religious Studies Review, Al-‘Arabiyya, the Review
of Religious Research, The Medieval
Review, the Journal for the
Scientific Study of Religion, The
Muslim World, and The International
Journal of Middle East Studies. The article
review process for the FARMS Review is considerably more complex, demanding, and multilayered
than the analogous process for academic book reviews (the relevant comparison)
and opinion pieces generally.
In saying that the FARMS Review is “something of an opinion journal,” I do
not, incidentally, mean to suggest that it is not fundamentally an academic
one, as well. The expression of opinions is scarcely incompatible with scholarly
credibility. The two are not mutually exclusive. Book reviews are nothing
if they are not expressions of opinions; academic book reviewers are invited
to express their opinions of books precisely because they have scholarly credibility.20
The general FARMS peer-review process, for publications other than the FARMS
Review, is roughly as follows:
1. A manuscript is submitted.
2. The manuscript is forwarded to the appropriate editor.
3. That editor, probably with other members of the staff, gives the manuscript
a preliminary read, to determine whether or not it is worth taking further.
4. If the manuscript passes that initial review, the editor then identifies
minimally two or three people with relevant expertise and asks them for their
evaluation of the manuscript. Typically, this is done blind (that is, the
person who submitted the manuscript does not know who the reviewers are, and
the reviewers don’t necessarily know who the author of the manuscript is).
5. If the manuscript passes peer review, it moves to the next stage (very
likely with feedback included from the reviewers). If it fails peer review,
it is rejected (or sent back for suggested revisions). If the peer reviewers
disagree, further peer review is sought.
6. If it has survived, the manuscript then enters the editorial process,
where it is carefully read by professional editors, who go over it not only
for style but for cogency of reasoning and adequacy of documentation.
7. Next, it is subjected to source checking. Its quotations and references
are examined for accuracy. If any questions or doubts arise, it goes back
to the author for revision.
8. Finally, it is read again by the principal editor and by one or more people
on the staff or in the leadership of the Maxwell Institute. Even at this stage,
the piece may well be rejected. And anyone, at any stage, can suggest (or
9. If it has made it thus far, the manuscript goes back to the original author
for final alterations and final approval—he or she may well have seen
it at least once or twice already during the process—and then it goes
This is essentially the standard procedure for peer review in contemporary
academia. And it is no coincidence that this is so because the academics who
founded and established FARMS consciously followed the model of peer review
with which they were familiar.
Let me be very clear, however, about what I am not saying: Like other academic
publishers, FARMS certifies to its readership that what it publishes has been
checked for basic accuracy—my comment regarding the Review, that we do far more rigorous source checking, so far
as I am aware, than any other academic press or periodical does, holds for
the Foundation as a whole—and that the conclusions appear to follow
reasonably from the data presented. We do not, however, certify that what
we publish will ultimately prove entirely correct, and we do not expect that
every reader (nor, even, everybody affiliated with the Maxwell Institute)
will agree with the content of any given article or book. But neither does
the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
nor Speculum nor Oxford University
Press. Peer review ensures, simply, that minimum standards have been met.
That’s all. Peer review is not performed in order to lull readers of a journal
or a book into a false sense of security. It is performed for the sake of
editors, so that they can feel confident that what they are publishing is
not obviously flawed in a way that they, fallible mortals, may have inadvertently
failed to notice. It should not be fetishized or made into something that
it is not and was never intended to be.
As a matter of fact, the standard contemporary model of academic peer review
is not without its critics.21 When
it functions as it should, it is a helpful but limited tool for editors. When
it does not, it can result in, among other things, the silencing of new ideas,
the maintenance of an ossified status quo, or the conferral of an undeserved
imprimatur upon poorly conceived and sloppily executed—and, not rarely
enough, even dishonest—academic work.
Peer review does not guarantee that a work is good, and absence of peer review
does not demonstrate that a work is poor. Many of the greatest works of scholarship,
philosophy, and science in human history (such as the Republic
of Plato, John Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding,
Aristotle’s De anima and Poetics and Politics, Kepler’s Harmony of the World, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian Wars, Antoine Lavoisier’s Elements of Chemistry, the Analects of Confucius, Michael Faraday’s Experimental Researches in
Electricity, Euclid’s Elements, Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America,
Ptolemy’s Almagest, the Annals of Tacitus, the Enneads
of Plotinus, Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, St. Augustine’s Civitas Dei, the Chronicle of the Prophets and Kings of al-Tabari, Moses Maimonides’s Guide of
the Perplexed, the Metaphysics of Ibn Sina, David Hume’s Enquiry concerning
Human Understanding, the Summa
Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Fourier’s
Analytical Theory of Heat, the
Muqaddima of Ibn Khaldun, Galileo’s Dialogues concerning
the Two New Sciences, Sir Francis Bacon’s
Novum Organum and New
Atlantis, William Harvey’s On
the Circulation of the Blood, the Discourse
on Method of Descartes, Sir Isaac Newton’s
Principia, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, the De Revolutionibus of Copernicus, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations,
Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species,
and hundreds of other crucially important works) were produced long before,
and therefore without, modern academic peer review.
The great English poet Alexander Pope (d. 1744), whom devotees of Dan Brown’s
Da Vinci Code will remember, if they
know nothing else about him, as the pope who interred a knight (Sir Isaac),
wrote an epitaph for his friend that said,
Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.
But long afterwards, the British writer and editor Sir John Collings Squire
(d. 1958) responded with the couplet
It did not last: the devil, shouting “Ho.
Let Einstein be” restored the status quo.
Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein are united in one
thing, though: Neither one of them went through peer review.
Although they are generally considered, now, to have laid the foundations
of modern physics, not a single one of the four so-called Annus mirabilis
(“year of miracles”) papers that Einstein published in the Annalen
der Physik in 1905—neither “Über einen die Erzeugung
und Verwandlung des Lichtes betreffenden heuristischen Gesichtspunk”
(On a Heuristic Viewpoint concerning the Production and Transformation of
Light), for which he later received the Nobel Prize; nor “Über die von
der molekularkinetischen Theorie der Wärme geforderte Bewegung von in ruhenden
Flüssigkeiten suspendierten Teilchen” (On the Motion—Required by
the Molecular Kinetic Theory of Heat—of Small Particles Suspended in
a Stationary Liquid); nor “Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper” (On
the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies), which introduced the Special Theory
of Relativity; nor “Ist die Trägheit eines Körpers von seinem Energieinhalt
abhängig?” (Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?),
in which he suggested that E=mc2—received
anything even remotely resembling modern academic peer review. They were all
simply approved by the journal’s editor. Yet some folks think they were pretty
If FARMS publications were produced with or without any peer review, they would
still have to be judged on the basis of the quality of the evidence they adduce
and the rigor of the logic they employ, just as all works of science, medicine,
philosophy, and scholarship were judged until solidly into the twentieth century.
Just as, frankly, such works still have to be judged today. But FARMS publications
undergo peer review.
2. Are FARMS reviews always done “in-house,” within FARMS
or Brigham Young University?
No. We have never restricted ourselves to FARMS or BYU as a pool of potential
reviewers. It must be kept in mind, by the way, that FARMS employs only minimal
staff, and most of those are administrative, secretarial, or editorial workers.
By far the majority of the academic work of FARMS is done by people who work
for neither FARMS nor its parent organization, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute
for Religious Scholarship, nor at BYU.
We’re always looking for ways to benefit and improve our work. If we can think
of a non-BYU or even non-LDS scholar who is competent to evaluate a manuscript
submitted to us, we have absolutely no objection to soliciting peer review from
him or her. If we think it advisable, we will do so. We’ve done it in the past.
I have no reason to doubt that we’ll do it in the future.
3. Are FARMS reviewers always Latter-day Saints?
No. One objection that is commonly (but misguidedly) leveled against the
FARMS review process as outlined above is that that process typically, if
not inevitably, involves only scholars who are believing Latter-day Saints.
Why, it is demanded, do the benighted pseudoscholars affiliated with FARMS
not send their materials out to non-LDS archaeologists, geneticists, Semitists,
historians, and the like? As one Internet critic who seems never to have been
even remotely involved in the private FARMS peer-review process in any way
has revealed, “they want to stack the deck entirely in their favor.”
(For reasons that remain unclear, this individual appears to imagine that
positive reports submitted privately in a confidential peer-review process
would score public points in some sort of game.)
FARMS will continue to use, as it has in the past, non-Mormon peer reviewers
whenever it deems that advisable. Still, it is true that FARMS peer reviewers
are most often Latter-day Saints.
Apart from resting on a factual error, however, this complaint also appears
to me to arise out of a fundamental misconception of what FARMS is doing.
FARMS is not generally engaged, as such, in cutting-edge archaeology, genetics,
Semitics, ancient history, or similar enterprises—although those who
write for FARMS very often are, in their other work. (And, in such cases,
their archaeological, genetic, Semitist, historiographical, or other scholarly
work is published in mainstream non-LDS venues and is subjected to whatever
peer review those venues require. John Clark, Donald Parry, Stephen Ricks,
William Hamblin, John Butler, and others who have had essays published in
the FARMS Review have substantial records of publication in non-LDS journals
and books.)22 Rather, FARMS is engaged in the application
of already-existing perspectives in fields such as archaeology, genetics,
Semitics, and ancient history, to the Book of Mormon and related Mormon-specific
topics. Those already-existing perspectives have previously received and passed
standard peer review. The question for FARMS is whether they are being competently
and cogently applied to Latter-day Saint topics. And, to answer that question,
FARMS turns to peer reviewers competent both on LDS topics and on the subject
matter being applied to those topics. Unsurprisingly, the pool of such reviewers
is overwhelmingly LDS.
Although some of the claims made in FARMS publications could certainly be
termed “cutting-edge,” in the sense that they present new insights
into Latter-day Saint scriptures and beliefs, they rarely involve new discoveries
in the fields of biblical studies, archaeology, and the like, as such. For
example, my articles on Psalm 82, Moses 7, and 1 Nephi 11 draw upon essentially
mainstream work by non-Mormon scholars on, respectively, the subject of Asherah
and ancient Israelite goddess veneration, the “divine council” in
the Bible and ancient Ugarit, and ancient Mesopotamian city laments.23 Non-Mormon scholars would find little
new in either one of them, excepting my application of such ideas to a Mormon
context. But non-Mormon scholars would not be particularly well-equipped to
judge the cogency of my application (and might not be even remotely interested
in doing so).
George Lyman Kittredge (d. 1941), the legendary mandarin of the Harvard English
Department in the early twentieth century, when once asked why he had never
bothered to earn a doctorate, is said to have responded without any irony
by posing the counterquestion “But who would examine me?” His erudition
was so remarkably deep that, although cheeky, his reply was a legitimate one.
It’s also relevant, for analogous reasons, to this question of FARMS peer
review. Regrettably, non–Latter-day Saints, by and large, know and care
little about the details of Latter-day Saint claims. (My youngest son is currently
in Japan, attempting to change that.)
If we were aware of a substantial pool of non-LDS geneticists who had close
familiarity with the Book of Mormon and the literature and scholarship pertaining
to it, or of non-LDS biblical scholars or patrologists who had devoted serious
study to Mormon claims and doctrines, we would be delighted to hear of them
and would be more than willing to use them from time to time to referee essays
submitted to us. We have, in fact, occasionally used non-LDS peer reviewers
in the past, but my own sense is that the pool of such people (with the appropriate
qualifications) is quite small.
To illustrate, consider a group of hypothetical articles about the works
of Shakespeare. One article argues that certain poetic forms appear in some
of Shakespeare’s earlier plays, but not in other, later ones, and suggests
biographical reasons for this. Another argues that the description of a geographical
feature alluded to in Macbeth seems to have been modeled on a landscape that would have been particularly
familiar to Edward de Vere (1550–1604), seventeenth Earl of Oxford (and
probably the leading candidate proposed by those who question William Shakespeare’s
authorship of the plays of “Shakespeare”). Yet another argues that
As You Like It is actually a
political satire mocking an important member of Parliament during Shakespeare’s
The editor of the journal to whom these hypothetical articles have been submitted,
could, in order to assure that they are treated fairly and with no bias, submit
them for peer review to people who are unfamiliar with the life and works
of Shakespeare, who may, in fact, know him only by vague reputation or not
at all. But would this be wise, or productive, or prudent? In my judgment,
absolutely not. The first article should be submitted to someone who is familiar
with the poetic form in question and with the life and works of Shakespeare. The second
should be sent to someone who is familiar with the vicinity of Oxford, as
well as with the geography claimed in the play itself and with other alternatives
and, probably also, with literary conventions in topographical depictions—which
should certainly include solid knowledge of the works of Shakespeare and the
debate between “Stratfordians” and “Oxfordians” as to
their authorship. And the last one should,
ideally, be evaluated by someone well acquainted with the relevant period
of British parliamentary history and, yes, the life and works of Shakespeare.24
The hypothetical examples above are all, designedly, analogous to articles
that FARMS has published. The analogy raises a basic question: Why, if it
is important that a peer reviewer be familiar with Shakespeare’s life and
writings when it comes to articles about Shakespeare, is it somehow unreasonable
to prefer that a reviewer of FARMS articles be familiar with the relevant
facets of Mormon scripture, history, and doctrine?
This seems self-evident to me. For someone to be able to judge the validity
of a comparison, it is necessary to know both of the things being compared.
Anybody asked to judge the accuracy of a translation should know at least
both the original language and the target language into which the translation
has been made.
In order to evaluate a manuscript on genetics and the Book of Mormon, I will
prefer someone with expertise on both genetics and the Book of Mormon over
someone who knows only genetics or only the Book of Mormon. In order to review
a manuscript submitted on the relationship between the Book of Mormon and
pre-Classic Mesoamerica, my preference will go to someone well versed in both
pre-Classic Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, as opposed to someone who
knows only one of the two subjects. And, for purposes of evaluating a proposed
publication on Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon, I will, without hesitation,
favor somebody who knows both Hebrew philology and the Book of Mormon over
somebody who knows only the Book of Mormon or only Hebrew philology. Fairness
and relevant competence are the principal requirements. The peer in peer review refers to someone who actually knows the relevant topic.
But there is another consideration that should not be minimized. Not only
do most non-Mormon scholars lack the relevant expertise, but most lack the
relevant interest. Few of them would recognize the Book of Mormon’s River
Sidon, and very few of them would care whether it should be correlated with
the Rio Grijalva, the Rio Usumacinta, or Rio de Janeiro. And since, in keeping
with standard academic review practice, we don’t typically compensate peer
reviewers (except with a copy of the final book or journal when it appears),
and since, as Christians, we generally eschew violence and compulsion, we
have to rely on peer reviewers who are not only competent in the subjects
for which we require competence, but who are most likely to care about them.
Nevertheless, FARMS has not only used non-Mormon peer reviewers, but has published
non-Mormon scholars. Israeli scholar Ze’ev W. Falk’s Hebrew Law in Biblical
Times: An Introduction (2001), the two volumes of Terry Stocker’s New
World Figurine Project (1991, 2000), and Stephen D. Houston’s Thematic
Bibliography of Ancient Maya Writing (2001, done with Zachary Nelson) are
examples of this, as are the articles by Aziz S. Atiya, James H. Charlesworth,
Cyrus H. Gordon, Sharon R. Keller, Jacob Milgrom, Jacob Neusner, and Raphael
Patai that appeared in the two-volume 1990 FARMS Festschrift for Hugh Nibley,
By Study and Also by Faith.25
The FARMS Review itself has published articles by such non-Mormons as
the Roman Catholic David Waltz, the evangelicals Carl Mosser and Paul Owen,
the German Lutheran Ernst Benz, the Methodist Jan Shipps, and the Israeli Jew
4. Aren’t FARMS referees hand picked by FARMS Review editors?
Yes. They are chosen neither via random telephone calls nor a lottery. We editors
choose them because we think them qualified and likely to be helpful in our
work. We didn’t invent this procedure. We borrowed it from mainstream academia.
5. Why doesn’t FARMS reveal the names of its peer reviewers and publish
what they say?
A peer review is not intended to be seen by the outside world. It comes to
the FARMS editor who requested it in the form of a confidential memo. (Just
for the record, incidentally, the writing of book-jacket endorsements does
not constitute peer review, although they may sometimes be derived from peer-review
documents. Jacket blurbs are sought by publications marketers in order to
promote their products. They are advertisements.)
Some critics—a few of them perhaps even sincerely wishing to
help—have suggested that it would bolster the credibility of the claims
made in FARMS publications, as well as enhance the image of FARMS, if their
peer reviewers were, to some greater or lesser degree, non-LDS. As I’ve noted,
we have in fact used non-LDS peer reviewers . . . though I’m not
aware that this has significantly bolstered our credibility (with our critics
or with anybody else) or enhanced our image. Peer review is primarily a way
of assisting an editor in deciding which essays and books should be published.
So why don’t we just publish the names of our reviewers and share what they
have to say? Wouldn’t that be an easy way to improve our image? When I referred
to the confidentiality of the FARMS peer-review process during a recent Internet
discussion, my comment provoked the following fascinating response from a
vocal critic of FARMS and of the church (who, ironically, posts under a pseudonym):
I take this . . . as tacit admission on DCP’s part that FARMS peer
review consists of a bunch of Church “yes men” giving the rubber
stamp of approval. Here is also further confirmation of DCP’s desire to keep
the FARMS peer review process a big secret, probably because he knows that
“exposure” would reveal the small, cabal-like group that does the
Like other vocal critics of the FARMS peer-review process,
this person, so far as I can tell, has absolutely no personal experience with
or knowledge of the workings of FARMS and appears to lack any personal experience
with or knowledge of academic peer reviewing of essays and books.
Academic peer reviews, typically anonymous, are sent as confidential memos
to the editor who requested them. If they are sufficiently negative, the editor
will probably reject the manuscript that they treat. If, however (presumably
because the reviews are acceptably and sufficiently positive and they contain
helpful suggestions), the editor decides to go forward with publication, he
or she will almost certainly forward those suggestions (usually with no indication
of the name of the reviewer) to the author of the manuscript, to aid the author
in making indicated revisions. In either case, the peer review documents will,
with very, very few exceptions (if any), eventually be discarded. Unless,
perhaps, a passage can be saved from one or more of them for a jacket endorsement,
they will never be published. Nobody outside of the editorial office and,
perhaps, the author’s office, will ever read them.
This is not because they come from a “cabal” or from a group of
slavish “yes-men,” but because peer-reviewer anonymity and confidentiality
are essential to the integrity of the process. If a reviewer is, for example,
invited to evaluate a manuscript whose author he knows (whether because he’s
told the author’s name or because, despite a double-blind arrangement, he
is able to deduce who wrote it), he needs to be able to respond honestly,
without fear of damaging a friendship, endangering his relationship with a
colleague, or provoking the wrath of an offended or powerful figure in his
This is simply standard practice. FARMS didn’t invent it. Curiously, the
same people who falsely claim that FARMS doesn’t follow standard peer-review
practices commonly claim to see sneaky deception in the fact that it does.
Damned if you don’t; damned if you do.
The criticisms are actually quite comic, if one is in the proper mood:
Polyklazo: You wanna know why FARMS is a joke? Two words: No peer review.
Alethinos: But they do use peer review.
Polyklazo: Yeah? Well it’s not real peer review.
Alethinos: What’s not “real” about it? It follows the protocols
that are standard in academia today.
Polyklazo: So what? FARMS is still a joke, because their peer-review process
is confidential and private.
Alethinos: That’s standard practice for academic peer review.
Polyklazo: Well, they’re a joke because they don’t use non-Mormon peer reviewers.
Alethinos: FARMS has no policy against using non-Mormon peer reviewers, and
FARMS has, in fact, used non-LDS peer reviewers. No doubt it will use
them in the future.
Polyklazo: But they don’t use enough non-Mormon peer reviewers.
Alethinos: How can you possibly know that, since the identity of peer reviewers
is confidential? And what percentage of non-Mormon peer reviewers would be
“enough”? Who sets that standard?
Polyklazo: The identity of FARMS peer reviewers is confidential? That’s just
another reason why FARMS is a joke. Besides, their peer reviews aren’t
Alethinos: How can you possibly know that?
Polyklazo: Because they don’t use objective non-LDS peer reviewers.
Alethinos: Who says they don’t use non-LDS reviewers? We’ve been over this
before. And, anyway, what makes you think that non-LDS peer reviewers, and
only non-LDS peer reviewers, are “objective”? What do you
even mean by “objective”? Have you ever read Peter Novick’s
important 1988 Cambridge University Press book entitled That Noble Dream:
The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession?
Novick argues that the concept of “objectivity” is incoherent and
that it would be an undesirable quality in a historian in any case. He . . .
Polyklazo: FARMS is a joke.
Polyklazo: Because they don’t use peer review.
6. Doesn’t limiting participation in the FARMS peer-review process
to Latter-day Saints deprive non-Mormon scholars of a chance to examine FARMS
Some critics seem to imagine that, unless one or two anonymous non-Mormons
are recruited to provide a few lines of confidential feedback to a FARMS editor
about a manuscript prior to its publication, FARMS is hiding from real engagement
with non-Mormon scholars out of fear that its arguments can’t pass muster.
They also seem to believe that no distribution of the published product, no
matter how wide, will ever count because it can never overcome that initial
flaw. I confess that I cannot understand why anyone would believe that sending
an article out for a brief, anonymous, and confidential prepublication review
from some non-Mormon reader is more important, for overall academic dialogue,
than seeking to distribute our arguments and evidence to large audiences of
There is no requirement that FARMS must first have anonymous and confidential
reports from a couple of non-LDS peer reviewers in order to have a dialogue
with the broader scholarly community in any case. Peer review is no more than
a relatively effective quality-control method for ensuring that minimum standards
are met prior to publication. The real test of validity occurs after an article
or book is published, in the course of ongoing academic dialogue and debate.26
In fact, the most important “peer review” that a work can receive
comes when it enters the marketplace of ideas—and the FARMS Review,
though maligned by some who appear to want to poison the well of discourse
by directing attention to purported gaps in its editorial process (and alleged
character flaws in its authors) while ignoring (and encouraging others to
ignore) the substance of what FARMS publishes, deliberately plays a vigorous
role in that. The continued and enhanced conversation that a book (even a
bad one) may have started represents the academic world at its best. It is
the proper way to move the discussion forward.
In any event, as I’ve already said, participation in the FARMS peer-review
process is not limited solely to Latter-day Saints. We have used non-LDS peer
reviewers in the past, and we will presumably use non-LDS peer reviewers in
the future. However, since it is true that FARMS uses mostly Latter-day Saint
peer reviewers, I think that a modified form of this question is worth answering.
We make our books and journals as widely available as we can. Anyone is free
to read them and to comment upon them—as, for example, Dr. Michael Heiser
recently did, with regard to my essay on Psalm 82,27
at the annual national meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, in
Washington DC.28 (The New Mormon Challenge: Responding
to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement, a hefty volume edited by Francis J. Beckwith, Carl
Mosser, and Paul Owen, represents another recent example of a substantive
attempt by legitimate scholars—also evangelicals in this instance—to
rebut arguments put forward by mostly FARMS-affiliated authors.)29 They are available in the public market
of ideas. We don’t have to use our peer-review process in order for non-Mormons
to read our publications—and, since peer review typically involves only
a tiny number of scholars for any given piece (say, two or three to, at the
very rare most, four or five), and, even then, generally involves only anonymous
and private responses, peer review doesn’t seem a particularly effective or
efficient way of generating dialogue with the broader scholarly community.
Obtaining confidential peer reviews from a pair of anonymous non-LDS readers
(whose relevant qualifications may not even be particularly strong) would
do comparatively little to generate an academic conversation. As it is, like
other editors affiliated with FARMS, I seek peer review from the people I
believe most competent to offer it. I’m not inclined to institute a quota
system in which non-Mormonism would trump relevant qualifications for the
selection of reviewers. If a choice has to be made—as I contend that
it typically does—it seems to me that preference must be given to qualified
reviewers over unqualified reviewers, even if the latter are non-Mormons.
The real battle for minds takes place, to repeat an important but insufficiently
appreciated truism, not when two or three anonymous people are asked to provide
a few confidential impressions and recommendations regarding a manuscript submitted
for publication, but when and if that manuscript is actually published for the
7. Isn’t the FARMS Review‘s formula a pretty predictable and
stale one, of simply labeling everything it doesn’t like “anti-Mormon”
and then dismissing it without real argument?
Critics of the Maxwell Institute and FARMS and of the FARMS Review
in particular commonly make several claims. It is said that we offer neither
evidence nor analysis in support of our beliefs but simply declare our faith
or bear our testimonies. Honest readers of this number of the Review
(or, for that matter, any other number) and of other FARMS publications will
know how seriously to take that allegation. A related accusation commonly
leveled against us is that we routinely call everybody who disagrees with
us “anti-Mormon,” and then let that epithet do the heavy lifting
for us. Once we’ve branded an author “anti-Mormon,” rational argument
is unnecessary. Our ad hominem
label makes the author and her claims so radioactive that our work is done.
But this allegation can be quantitatively measured. And I’ve done it. I’ve
examined every essay in every number of the Review that has been published thus far in the twenty-first
century. Here are some of the results:
The high-water mark for occurrences of the term anti-Mormon (and derivatives like anti-Mormons and anti-Mormonism) in the FARMS Review during the current century to this point was reached
with FARMS Review 16/1. The
authors represented in its pages used anti-Mormon and cognate expressions 147 times over the course of
158,020 words. That’s a frequency of once every 1074.9 words—or, roughly,
once every 3.5 typed pages. Even so, half of the essays in 16/1, ten of twenty,
don’t contain any form of anti-Mormon whatever.
Yet, in FARMS Review 18/1 (2006),
anti-Mormon and cognate terms
appeared only 27 times in twenty-two articles totaling 177,789 words. That
yields a rate of just one occurrence per 6584.7 words, which is approximately
one occurrence for every 22–27 typical typed pages. Fully sixteen of
twenty-two essays in FARMS Review 18/1 (72.7 percent of them) contain not even a single
instance of anti-Mormon or any
directly related expression.
Overall, to this point within the twenty-first century, anti-Mormon, anti-Mormons, and anti-Mormonism have
appeared 599 times in the FARMS Review, scattered across 1,445,822 words. To put it another way, they have occurred
once for every 2413.7 published words, which is equivalent to one incidence
per 8–10 typewritten pages. Of the 164 articles surveyed, 102 (62 percent)
never use any of the terms, not even a single time. Moreover, of those 164
articles, 117 (71 percent) use anti-Mormon or a related expression once or less.
Further analysis readily reveals that occurrences of such terms as anti-Mormon,
anti-Mormons, and anti-Mormonism are concentrated in certain essays and are most common
with certain authors. Only 17 of the 164 articles published in the FARMS
Review thus far in this millennium—just
slightly more than a tenth of them—use such terms more than 10 times
each. Interestingly, over a third of the total occurrences (205 of 599) appear
in the writing of one particular author, the inimitable Louis C. Midgley,
who has singled anti-Mormonism and anti-Mormons out as particular objects
of his curiosity and attention.30 If
Professor Midgley’s essays are factored out, however, the volumes of the FARMS
Review published in the twenty-first century
feature only one occurrence of anti-Mormon, anti-Mormons, or anti-Mormonism every
3427.85 words or, approximately, one occurrence every 12–14 pages.
One very vocal critic, claiming to describe the FARMS Review,
recently told readers on a message board that “unlike the typical academic
journal . . . it provides a voice to any common Mormon Joe who wants
to spout his disdain for whatever anti-Mormon book he just read.” The
Review, he revealed, publishes “amateurs” and is
unfailingly hospitable to any “[irritated] member who read a book and
wants to vent his frustrations about it.” Really? I invite readers to
leaf through this number of the Review
and judge for themselves whether his claim is plausible. Or the prior number.
Or the number before that. Or, for that matter, the number before that. Or before that. Or before that. Or . . . well, you get the picture.
The phrase “any common Mormon Joe” doesn’t seem to accurately describe
such Review contributors as James Allen,
Lavina Fielding Anderson, Richard Lloyd Anderson, Marilyn Arnold, Mark Ashurst-McGee,
Kevin Barney, Davis Bitton, David Bokovoy, Richard Bushman, Allen Buskirk,
John Butler, John Clark, Todd Compton, Karen Lynn Davidson, James Faulconer,
Brant Gardner, John Gee, Daniel Graham, William Hamblin, Ralph Hancock, Klaus
Hansen, Steven Harper, Joel Janetski, Raphael Jospe, Michael Jibson, Larry
Morris, Hugh Nibley, Gary Novak, Charles Nuckolls, David Paulsen, Dilworth
Parkinson, Nathan Oman, Blake Ostler, Noel Reynolds, Stephen Ricks, Matthew
Roper, Frank Salisbury, Richard Sherlock, Jan Shipps, Gaye Strathearn, John
Tvedtnes, Ted Vaggalis, Walter van Beek, John Welch, Camille Williams, Diane
Wirth, David Wright, and many others. And how many “common Mormon Joes”
have really simply walked through the doors of FARMS and, merely because they
had a gripe about someone’s book, been given carte blanche
to publish in the Review? Answer: None.
It seems unlikely, in fact, given the relative rarity of the term anti-Mormon
(and derivatives) in its pages, that the approach taken by the FARMS Review
can be accurately summarized as “Simply dismiss the author as anti-Mormon
and then dispense with arguments.” To put it plainly, that formula does
not appear to represent empirical reality at the FARMS Review. (As the
saying has it, “There goes another marvelous theory, cruelly murdered by
8. Aren’t Latter-day Saint peer reviewers predisposed by their bias
to be uncritical of pro-Mormon manuscripts?
“All articles submitted for publication by FARMS or FAIR are indeed
peer-reviewed,” one Internet critic with no known experience with or
connection to the private FARMS editorial review process has confidently written,
“but there’s only one criterion for passing peer-review: If the material
supports the authenticity and validity of Mormonism, regardless of how unbelievable
or illogical, the article is suitable for publication.”
But it is a fundamental misconception to assume that Latter-day Saint peer
reviewers, merely by virtue of their being believing Latter-day Saints, will
always be predisposed to vote “Yea” on a manuscript submitted to
FARMS simply because such manuscripts generally argue, simpliciter, for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and of Mormonism.
The misconception flows from a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature
of what FARMS does. Critics commonly assume that FARMS and all of its writers
already set out with a predetermined conclusion and then simply build up cherry-picked
evidence to support it. People who know nothing whatsoever of the process
and have utterly no contact with FARMS confidently assure us that FARMS has
no peer-review procedure or—the law of noncontradiction often doesn’t
seem to apply to the critics—that the FARMS peer-review process has
absolutely no teeth or credibility because FARMS is nothing but an inbred
group of apologists who automatically nod their heads in robotic approval
of every manuscript submission that says “What you already believed is
Manuscripts submitted to FARMS for consideration tend, however, to argue for
conclusions much smaller and more specific than, flatly, “Mormonism is
true!” or “The Book of Mormon is true!” Rather, they argue (to
choose a few examples as illustrations) that Canaanite goddess imagery occurs
in 1 Nephi 11, that the Book of Mormon’s River Sidon should be identified
with the Rio Grijalva in Guatemala, that the original manuscript of the Book
of Mormon contained conditional sentences reflecting Hebrew conditional constructions
rather than acceptable English grammar, that Alma 36 is chiastic, and that ancient
Greco-Roman contracts are relevant to understanding the purpose of the sealed
portion of the plates. But a believing Latter-day Saint is under absolutely
no obligation to agree that ancient “doubled and sealed” documents
shed light upon the Book of Mormon plates, or to see chiasmus in Alma 36, or
to accept the claim that Hebraic conditionals appear in the original manuscript
of Helaman 7 and Moroni 10, or to prefer the Grijalva to the Usumacinta or any
other river, or to believe that Asherah is present in Nephi’s vision. A faithful
scholarly member of the church could quite easily reject one or all of these
claims. They are scarcely whispered into our ears at our baby blessings. And,
in fact, submissions to FARMS (overwhelmingly submitted by believing members
of the church) are quite commonly rejected.31
9. Does FARMS seek to keep its publications from outside scrutiny?
Absolutely not. Some critics claim that, in the words of one “expert,”
“Nothing written by FARMS circulates outside of BYU because it would
be laughed at.” Or, as another very independent “thinker” soon
responded, “Why aren’t the FARMS publications peer reviewed outside of
BYU? Because they would get laughed out of the room.” Their judgment
was almost immediately confirmed by yet another Internet “authority,”
who pointed out that “The peer review process at FARMS is designed specifically
to prevent non-LDS POVs [points of view] from dealing with the work.”
But this is flatly untrue.
FARMS circulates its materials as widely as it can and is happy to receive
feedback wherever possible. Our series of publications on the Book of Abraham,
for example, is distributed by the University of Chicago Press—arguably
the foremost academic press in the United States. Chicago carries the series
in its catalog and features and sells it in exhibits at relevant scholarly conferences
throughout North America. In fact, for a number of years (until quite recently),
FARMS itself exhibited and sold the full range of its publications at such academic
gatherings as the massive annual joint national meeting of the American Academy
of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL), which is probably
the largest relevant academic gathering in the world. Furthermore, FARMS-affiliated
scholars regularly present on FARMS-relevant topics at such gatherings (for
example, in various sessions at the AAR/SBL meeting held in Washington DC in
November 2006). On a smaller scale, I, for one, have been quite willing to cite
FARMS publications as references in my secular work, thus inviting them to be
read.32 Moreover, FARMS was very much
a presence in Terryl Givens’s path-breaking 2002 Oxford University Press book
By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion.
We’re scarcely hiding.
10. Why doesn’t FARMS publish its materials in mainstream periodicals
There is probably no journal in mainstream academia that is interested in
publishing works of explicit LDS advocacy, any more than mainstream scientific
or scholarly journals are interested in publishing works of Catholic or evangelical
apologetics. I can think of no instance where the Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche
Wissenschaft, the American Historical
Review, Antiquity, or any comparable academic journal has ever published
any work of expressly sectarian religious advocacy.33
This isn’t because such advocacy is inevitably and by nature inferior or unscholarly.
Religious apologetics is also very much beyond the pale at such gatherings
as the annual joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society
of Biblical Literature. Even the Society of Christian Philosophers wisely
bars denominational apologetics and polemics from its meetings. Why? It’s
part of the ethos of the modern academy. It facilitates calm, civil exchanges
by providing a congenial atmosphere in which academic arguments can be exchanged
with a minimum of overt party spirit. And I, for one, am quite content that
it be so. Nonetheless, the principal reason that FARMS was founded was to
publish a certain kind of scholarship, for which, otherwise, there was no
venue. (In this sense, the FARMS Review‘s
theological commitment isn’t an offense against scholarly diversity; it’s
an expression of scholarly diversity.)
Some critics seem to labor under a profound misapprehension of what FARMS
is about and what those affiliated with it think they’re doing. Consider,
for example, the liberal Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) historian Roger
Launius. In his review, for the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal,
of Richard Lyman Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Launius takes issue with Bushman’s understanding of
Bushman acknowledges that there is debate over the nature of the Book of
Mormon, offering synopses of arguments over its historicity and divinity.
He contends that “On point after point, the [modern] proponents answer
the critics and assemble their own evidence.” He also contends: “Unlike
the critics, they do not claim their case is conclusive, but they go on accumulating
support.” He is most assuredly misinformed on this point. If there is
one thing that Louis Midgley and the lords of FARMS are convinced of, it is
that their “case is conclusive” and that all should agree with them.34
Evidently with the same curious notion in their heads, some critics have insisted
that, if we’re really sitting on evidence that would totally rewrite the history
of the Americas, proving conclusively that light- and dark-skinned peoples fought
a cataclysmic series of battles for control of at least their portion of pre-Classic
Mesoamerica, that a small group of Hebrews colonized the New World during the
sixth century BCE, and that Jesus visited the Americas shortly after his resurrection,
mainstream scholars would be falling all over themselves to hear more about
these amazing proofs. Accordingly, our failure to publish our stunning evidence
in such outlets as the world-famous and immensely prestigious Internationale
Zeitschrift für Zweifellose Sicherheiten demonstrates, in their eyes,
that we have no such evidence.
They’re right. We don’t. In my capacity as (I suppose) one of the “lords
of FARMS,” I hereby declare that it is Roger Launius, not Richard Bushman,
who is “most assuredly misinformed” about FARMS. (And I have Louis
Midgley’s permission to say so.) So far as I can tell, all of those affiliated
with FARMS would sympathize with the words of evangelical Protestant philosopher
James E. Taylor, in his introduction to a book surveying Christian apologetics
for college students:
I have not discovered in these materials any proofs or demonstrations that
would compel all rational people to believe that God exists or that Christianity
is true. Instead, I have encountered arguments and evidences that have reassured
me that it is at least not irrational to be a Christian and, even more, that
the Christian worldview is more reasonable than its competitors.35
Although we think we’re doing quite well and that we’ve found some exceedingly
interesting and even powerful evidences in support of Latter-day Saint claims,
no one affiliated with FARMS thinks that we’ve got an evidentiary slam dunk,
and we never talk about “proving” Mormonism or “proving”
the Book of Mormon true. We certainly don’t imagine that we’ve done so. We
don’t think it’s in the cards, or even part of the divine plan. The gospel
is not to be “proven” by secular demonstrations from fallible mortal
scholars. (“No man can come to me,” said Jesus, “except the
Father which hath sent me draw him.” “But the natural man,”
explained the apostle Paul, “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of
God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because
they are spiritually discerned”; John 6:44; 1 Corinthians 2:14;
see Moroni 10:4–5.) Rather, to the extent that they’re engaged in positive
apologetics at all, FARMS authors are patiently accumulating facts and parallels
to make a cumulative case for the credibility of Latter-day Saint claims,
not purporting to have found the “mother lode,” scored a decisive
overall knockout, or hit a single, game-ending grand-slam home run.
And the construction of that painstaking, piecemeal case requires more publication
space than the mainstream secular academy is ever going to afford us. A closely
related but generally nonapologetic example should make the situation clearer:
Mainstream historical journals may well be interested in the occasional article
on Joseph Smith or the westward migration, but, by and large, they’re not
going to be particularly interested in the kinds of “small” studies
(for example, about the genesis of the ecclesiastical ward in Nauvoo, early
attempts to raise cotton in St. George, the settlement of Cache Valley, disagreements
between Erastus Snow and George Q. Cannon, the formative years of Charles
W. Penrose, or the memoirs of Jane Manning James) that are the warp and woof
of Mormon and Utah history. They simply have too many other subjects that
interest them more. That’s why outlets such as the Journal of the Mormon
History Association, Mormon
Historical Studies, the Utah
Historical Quarterly, and the John
Whitmer Historical Association Journal
have been established. Analogously, that is also one of the reasons FARMS
Having laid down the foregoing proviso, though, I must now point out that
FARMS-affiliated authors have long been more than happy to publish their materials
in mainstream venues. For instance, John W. Welch’s Chiasmus in Antiquity:
Structures, Analyses, Exegesis, was first published in 1981. It contains various essays,
such as Jonah Fraenkel’s “Chiasmus in Talmudic-Aggadic Narrative,”
Bezalel Porten’s “Structure and Chiasm in Aramaic Contracts and Letters,”
and Yehudah Radday’s “Chiasmus in Hebrew Biblical Narrative,” as
well as an introduction by the eminent Hebrew biblical scholar David Noel
Freedman (then at the University of Michigan). But it also contains an essay,
by John Welch himself, entitled “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon.”
Had Professor Welch, the founder of FARMS, been as terror stricken at the
thought of non-Mormon scholars examining his essay as some critics suggest
that he must have been, it seems unlikely that he would have published his
book with the academic press Gerstenberg Verlag, in Hildesheim, Germany.
Some other pieces with clear Mormon interest that have been published by
FARMS-affiliated authors in mainstream non-LDS venues include (but are not
John Gee. “Notes on Egyptian Marriage: P. BM 10416 Reconsidered.”
Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 15 (2002): 17–25.
John Gee. “Towards an Interpretation of Hypocephali.” In Mélanges
offerts î Edith Varga: “Le lotus qui sort de terre,” 325–34.
Budapest: Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, 2002.
John Gee. “S3 mi nn: A Temporary Conclusion.”
Göttinger Miszellen 202 (2004): 55–58.
John Gee. “Prophets, Initiation and the Egyptian Temple.” Journal
of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 31 (2004): 97–
Carl W. Griffin and David L. Paulsen. “Augustine and the Corporeality
of God.” Harvard Theological Review 95 (2002): 97–118.
David L. Paulsen. “Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen
and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses.” Harvard Theological Review
83/2 (1990): 105–16.
David L. Paulsen. “Reply to Kim Paffenroth’s Comment.” Harvard
Theological Review 86/2 (1993): 235–39.
Daniel C. Peterson. “Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani on Creation.” In Perspectives
arabes et médiévales sur la tradition scientifique et philosophique
grecque: Actes du colloque de la SIHSPAI (Société internationale
d’histoire des sciences et de la philosophie arabes et islamiques): Paris,
31 mars–3 Avril 1993, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 79, edited
by Ahmad Hasnawi, Abdelali Elamrani-Jamal, and Maroun Aouad, 555–67.
Louvain: Peeters and Institut du monde arabe, 1997.
Daniel C. Peterson. “Al-Kirmani on the Divine Tawhid.” In
Proceedings of the Third European Conference in Iranian Studies, Part
2, Mediaeval and Modern Persian Studies, edited by Charles Melville,
179–93. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 1999.
John L. Sorenson. “The Significance of an Apparent Relationship between
the Ancient Near East and Mesoamerica.” In Man across the Sea: Problems
of Pre-Columbian Contacts, edited by C. L. Riley, J. C. Kelley,
C. W. Pennington, and R. L. Rands, 219–41. Austin: University
of Texas Press, 1971.
John L. Sorenson. “A Reconsideration of Early Metal in Mesoamerica.”
Katunob 9 (March 1976): 1–18.
John L. Sorenson and Carl L. Johannessen. “Biological Evidence for Pre-Columbian
Transoceanic Voyages.” In Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World,
edited by Victor H. Mair, 238–97. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press,
Another potentially relevant example is my own very recent paper on “The
Tree of Life in the Qur’an,” which I presented at a FARMS/Maxwell Institute
symposium at BYU at the end of September 2006. It features several Mormon-related
aspects and will eventually be published by the Maxwell Institute. I delivered
a somewhat different form of that paper on 18 November 2006 at the annual
joint national meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of
Biblical Literature in Washington DC, and the chairman of the session has asked
that I submit it to the journal that he edits. This sort of thing is scarcely
unique to me and is far from uncommon.
11. Doesn’t the failure of FARMS arguments to attract interest or attention
from non-Mormon scholars demonstrate that they have no merit?
First of all, that alleged “failure” is by no means absolute. As
I’ve tried to illustrate here with a few examples (which could be multiplied),
non-Mormon scholars have begun to take notice of the materials published by
FARMS, and FARMS-affiliated scholars have been participating in the broader
Second, a failure to attract interest or attention means that, by and large,
FARMS arguments have not been seriously examined by non-LDS scholars. But, surely, someone who has not
seriously examined a complex argument and its supporting evidence is in no
position to pass judgment on its merits or lack thereof.
Why do so few non-Mormon scholars pay any attention to Latter-day Saint publications?
On the whole, they fail to pay attention because they have other interests
and because their time is limited. Most of them also don’t follow journals
of Presbyterian history or debates about the reliability of the gospel of
John. Moreover, serious, academically reputable Latter-day Saint historical,
archaeological, and scriptural scholarship is a rather new phenomenon. Mormonism
has, until relatively recently, been a marginal religious phenomenon, isolated
in the remote Great Basin.
In the beginning, it wasn’t about the history of an elite class, the kind
on which most historiography is focused, but the history of lower classes—fishermen,
farmers, craftsmen—”little people” who normally have no chroniclers.
. . . They formed a small, weak, much attacked, and “discredited”
fringe group in the society of the period . . . scarcely noticed
by the wider world and unremarked in its chronicles.36
But let us be frank. To most of those (particularly in the very secularized
world of contemporary academia) who have even a nodding acquaintance with
Mormonism, our claims simply don’t merit serious consideration or engagement.
Does this mean that Latter-day Saint beliefs are really, objectively, without
intellectual merit? No. If I thought so, I would not be where I am and doing
what I do. Yet I recognize, as the apostle Paul did, that the claims of the
gospel will seem to some a “stumblingblock” and mere “foolishness”
(1 Corinthians 1:22–23). It’s a matter of prior assumptions and
worldviews (what the Germans call Weltanschauungen). From within a given worldview, other worldviews may
look silly and completely implausible.
A little story created by John Stackhouse will perhaps serve to illustrate
what I’m saying. The famous anthropologist E. E. Evans-Pritchard conducted
research among the Azande of the Sudan in the 1920s. He found that the Azande,
along with other tribal peoples, believed that sickness and health were tightly
bound up with “magic” and “witchcraft.” Illness, they
were convinced, came as a result of having offended a spirit, or a shaman,
or, at any rate, somebody who could employ a shaman in order to obtain revenge
for the offense. Given this worldview, it made entirely rational sense to
them for a sick person to make things right with the offended party through
a consultation with a shaman or witch doctor (either the one responsible for
the illness or another who might be able to overcome or dissuade the one who
had caused the illness) by means of ritual, sacrifice, or compensation. Stackhouse
uses the Azande to make an important point about incommensurable worldviews:
Well, we know better, don’t we? So, blessed with our superior knowledge,
we fly over to Africa in our silver bird. We alight from the plane wearing
our priestly garments (lab coats) and greet the assembled Azande.
“O Azande!” we say. “We hear that
you understand sickness and health in terms of witchcraft.”
The Azande, a noble and patient people, respond,
“That is true.”
“O Azande!” we say again. “Have you
not heard of microbiology, of Louis Pasteur, of bacteria, viruses, and antibiotics?”
The Azande, a noble and patient people, respond,
“No, we have not.”
“O Azande!” we repeat, thoroughly caught
up in our role as saviors, “let us explain to you how wrong you are about
illness and how our way of understanding is better.”
The Azande, a people whose nobility and patience
is now being tried, continue to listen.
“You see,” we say animatedly, “there
are these teeny weeny bugs all over the place. You can’t see them;
you can’t smell them; you can’t hear them or feel them—but they’re
there! And they crawl over your skin and into your body through your nose
and ears and eyes and mouth and cuts in your skin. Once inside, they breed
and breed and breed until there are thousands of them, then MILLIONS of them,
then BILLIONS of them all over inside of your body.
“And that,” we conclude with a flourish,
“is what makes you sick.”
The Azande, a noble and patient people, look at
each other for a moment. Then the leader responds: “I think we’ll just
stick with the witchcraft paradigm, thanks.”37
Stackhouse then makes explicit the lesson that he wants his audience to learn
from such a tale:
The amusement we might feel in reading such stories
is exactly the point. The implausible explanations offered are not simply
unlikely, or difficult to believe. They are laughable. They don’t count
as even possible alternatives, worth a moment’s consideration. They
do not fall within the range of theories that, given one’s worldview, one
is disposed to entertain seriously. As Thomas Kuhn suggests in his influential
analysis of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, when one paradigm,
or overarching model, of science confronts over another, it doesn’t always
denounce it as merely inferior or even bad science: It tends to treat it as
not science at all. It is simply implausible, and thus not worth taking
We know (or think we do) that the germ theory of disease is far superior
to the Azande explanation. But the notion of billions of invisible “teeny
weeny bugs” would have seemed so silly on the face of it and so completely
implausible to the Azande, at least in the 1920s, that they would not have been
inclined to sit around while we made our case. Thus, its merits would have remained
unknown to them. (Support for this conclusion can be found in the fact that,
as I’m told, very few Azande shamans performed peer review for the Journal
of the American Medical Association in the twenties, and JAMA enjoyed
little circulation among the witch doctors residing along the Uele River, in
the districts of Rafaï, Zémio, and Obo, and in the southwestern
In This Number of the FARMS Review
For this number of the Review, Kevin Barney examines what I regard as one of the most important books
to have appeared regarding Mormon history in recent years, the 2005 anthology
edited by John W. Welch with Erick B. Carlson and entitled Opening
the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844. I’m convinced that it will strengthen the faith of
believing Latter-day Saint readers and even inspire them. On the other hand,
it will (or, at least, should) challenge unbelievers who honestly confront
the data it contains. It is, in my opinion, an indispensable book. Along with
a very small shelf including such earlier volumes as Richard L. Anderson’s
classic Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses—and, now, possibly including the new Maxwell
Institute anthology Oliver Cowdery: Scribe, Elder, Witness39—Opening
the Heavens presents information that
should be considered by anyone seriously concerned with the truth of the claims
of Mormonism. Attempts to dismiss crucial elements of the Restoration as merely
metaphorical, or as subjective to Joseph Smith, are blocked by powerful evidence
that those events occurred in the real, material world—rather than in
some mystical or metaphysical realm, whatever that might be—and that they are attested to by abundant
Egyptologist Kerry Muhlestein reviews an anthology of papers from the ongoing
Book of Abraham Project entitled Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant;
Louis Midgley probes for signs that the Southern Baptist Convention has moderated
the anti-Mormon stance officially set in place prior to and during its annual
convention in Salt Lake City in 1998—his negative conclusions raise
questions about the efficacy of continued conversations with those whose primary
interest is in securing the submission of the Saints; and David Paulsen and
Cory Walker examine a recent work on the Mormon view of salvation by Douglas
J. Davies of Durham University in the United Kingdom, one of the most serious
and well-informed outside commentators on Mormon faith and life.
Two substantial essays in this number consider the interface between Mormonism
and science. First, physical chemist Robert R. Bennett responds to a work
by a former Latter-day Saint written to demonstrate that Mormonism (often
poorly understood, and just as often taken in the most boneheadedly literalistic
way) and Latter-day Saint scripture (often sloppily misread) are incompatible
with science (sometimes just as poorly understood). Bennett demonstrates that
the book’s author has failed to interact with faithful Latter-day Saint scientists
and with believing scientific theists generally (of whom there are many),
who have been giving solid thought to the issues that the book raises for
a very long time.
Second, Utah State University philosopher Richard Sherlock examines the subject
of “intelligent design”—very controversial at the moment—from
the perspective of a believing Latter-day Saint. I expect that he will receive
considerable criticism for having written such a piece and that we will come
under attack, from some quarters at least, for the sheer act of publishing it.
That’s perfectly fine with me. Candidly, I’ve been astonished at the consistent
inaccuracy with which ID theory, as it’s sometimes called, has been depicted
in the press, and at the knee-jerk and caricaturizing negativism with which
some believing Latter-day Saint scientists have responded to it. It seems to
me, whether ID is ever shown to be correct or not, or whether it can even be
formulated as a truly scientific hypothesis or not, Latter-day Saints, of all
people, should not automatically dismiss it as a possibility. We have no obligation,
whatever the surrounding culture may say, to accept the notion that naturalism
is the default setting for scientific and scholarly discussion. Why hand such
an advantage to critics of the gospel and the restoration without even seriously
considering the question? Sometimes, it seems to me, we Latter-day Saints are
so terrified of being thought provincial and backward that we are much too quick
to signal our submission to reigning cultural and intellectual dogma. But such
submission will never convince any of our cultured despisers that we’re not
backward rubes . . . and a hasty and uncritical zeal to ape our “betters”
may only serve to confirm that we are, indeed, insecure provincials.
“Again we search for the little birdie”
Finally, a brief comment on Dan Vogel’s review of Richard Bushman’s Joseph
Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, in the most recent number of the John Whitmer Historical Association
Journal. “Richard,” writes Vogel,
“is quick to state that ‘pure objectivity is impossible’ when dealing
with ‘a character as controversial as [Joseph] Smith,’ but we all know that
‘pure objectivity is impossible.’ Period.”40
We may all know that now, of course (although, frankly, I doubt it), but we didn’t always know it. That a realization of the incoherence of the
concept of historiographical “objectivity” and even of its undesirability
has gradually begun to percolate through the community of historians writing
on Latter-day Saint topics is due, in large part, to the unremitting efforts
of Louis Midgley41—efforts that were
greatly aided by a 1988 book entitled That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity
Question” and the American Historical Profession, written by the University of Chicago historian Peter
Novick.42 (I was strongly tempted to title this
section of my introduction “Time Vindicates Louis Midgley.”) When
Novick, an agnostic Jew, was invited to address the Sunstone Symposium held
the year after his book appeared, he surprised many in the audience by plainly
siding not with his fellow historians but, instead, with the gadfly who had
already, by that point, been vocally criticizing ideological assumptions endemic
to the so-called “New Mormon History” for quite some time:
Louis Midgley, a BYU political scientist, though not himself an Old Mormon
Historian, has been the most prolific, the most sophisticated, the most incisive
critic of New Mormon History from what I think is fair to call the Old Historians’
perspective. I have been very impressed with Midgley’s work. I think he has
a much more sophisticated notion of objectivity than most New Mormon Historians
do. He is very familiar with recent literature on the subject. I think his
criticisms of some of the New Mormon Historians’ statements about objectivity
are very cogent. I think he has made merited criticisms of certain fudging
on some issues by New Mormon Historians. He has repeatedly insisted (in a
phrase that has been variously interpreted but has entered the language of
historical argumentation among Mormon historians) that there is no middle
ground—meaning there is no middle ground between Joseph Smith as prophet
and Joseph Smith as not prophet. You have got to choose which side are you
on. Your money or your life. “Under which king, Bezonian? Speak or die”
[William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2, 5.3.113].43
But neither Professor Midgley nor Professor Novick had any intention of opening
the floodgates to complete arbitrariness or whimsicality in the writing of
any history, including Mormon history. Neither believes (though Professor
Midgley has frequently been accused, by critics, of believing) that there
is no real past, and neither is a relativist with regard to the writing of
Arbitrariness, however, is what we seem to see in Dan Vogel’s own treatment
of Joseph Smith. “I will confess,” he writes, “that I found
Richard’s analysis most convincing when he was in agreement with mine, and
somewhat less persuasive when he disagreed.”45
There’s nothing especially surprising about such a confession. After all,
Ambrose Bierce has plausibly defined admiration as “Our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves.”46 But it’s difficult to repress a certain
frisson of amazement when one begins
to appreciate the pervasive significance of ideology in Vogel’s approach to
Joseph Smith and the bold manner in which he seeks to reduce views of the
founding events of the restoration that do not accord with his to the same
level of theory-drivenness, by insinuating that all speculations are created
equal. “Deciding to tell the story from the point of view of believers,”
he says, “specifically the one currently enforced through threat of excommunication
by the Utah-based LDS Church, is one thing, but presenting that point of view
as less speculative than that held by skeptics is another.”47
Thus, telling the story as believers hold it to have occurred is, from Vogel’s
perspective, merely one arbitrary decision among many other equally arbitrary
choices—although, Vogel rather churlishly insinuates, the view allegedly
held by supposed “believers” may actually be held insincerely in
some undetermined number of cases, under duress—and simply rests on
more or less unbridled speculation.
Whatever else can be said about him, Dan Vogel certainly knows speculation.
In an essay published in 2002, for instance, after nearly thirty pages in
which he attempts to demonstrate that the witnesses to the Book of Mormon
were merely hallucinating, he casually tosses in the suggestion that, perhaps,
maybe Joseph Smith possibly created some bogus tin plates in order to gull
his dupes. As I’ve remarked before, this odd throwaway passage suggests the
possibility that Vogel finds his hallucination thesis nearly as unpersuasive
and unsatisfactory as I do.48 And yet he’s stuck with
it, for theological (or, better, atheological) reasons: “‘How often have
I said to you,’ remarked Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson, ‘that when you have
eliminated the impossible [which, in Vogel’s case, is theism and “the
supernatural”], whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?'”49 If
you don’t think the Book of Mormon is history, Vogel has explained, “then
you have to look for naturalistic explanations for the experiences of the
witnesses no matter how difficult it seems.”50
The late atheistic historian Dale Morgan wrote a 1945 letter to Juanita Brooks,
a believing Latter-day Saint historian, in which he bluntly noted that
With my point of view on God, I am incapable of accepting the claims of Joseph
Smith and the Mormons, be they however so convincing. If God does not exist,
how can Joseph Smith’s story have any possible validity? I will look everywhere
for explanations except to the ONE explanation that is the position of the
“Richard [Bushman] should have recognized,” Vogel complains,
that my discussion of the plates did not begin with a wild speculation about
how Joseph Smith could have made them out of tin, but rather, as explained
in my introduction, with the assumption that the Book of Mormon is not real
history. Thus, to the extent that one believes the evidence points to a non-historical
Book of Mormon, it also points to something other than real gold plates under
the cloth. The two are inseparably connected.52
And, indeed, they are. Since Dan Vogel believes that
the Book of Mormon is “non-historical,” he needs to have “something other than real gold plates
under the cloth.” Hence, the tin. Or something. Whatever. Any ad hoc
device that will do the trick.
So, voilî, there were no gold plates
under the cloth. And (keep your eye on the magician’s hands here) because
Dan Vogel cannot allow real gold plates, nobody ever actually saw them. Ever.
Of the Book of Mormon, Vogel revealingly comments, “If the historian
decides it has no historical basis, then Smith’s claims about the angel and
gold plates cannot be taken at face value.”53 And, of course, neither can anybody
else’s. Whatever the witnesses may have said, and no matter how insistently
they may have said it, they really only saw something, perhaps tin plates,
under a cloth, never the plates themselves.54 Accordingly, building
upon that highly dubious claim, which tramples upon the explicit testimony
of the witnesses, Vogel goes for his real point: “Because the plates
were covered, the statements of Smith’s family and friends are only evidence
of their trust. Nothing more. In short, their testimonies cannot be used to
eliminate speculation altogether because they are themselves speculations.”55
As Vogel ironically comments about Richard Bushman’s much less ideological
approach, “This theory controls what is then quoted and what is left
out.”56 All is whimsy. Everything is relative.
For Vogel it’s just speculation.
“Secular historians are . . . more inclined than Mormons to
suppress source material from Joseph’s closest associates,” remarked
Richard Bushman himself in an eerily prophetic essay published in 1997. (He
could have been writing about Dan Vogel.) Since, Bushman said, quoting extensively
from the reminiscences of those closest to the events would tend to suffuse
a modern narrative with their own faith and would turn readers’ attention
to Joseph’s transparently sincere desire to obey God, “believing historians
are more inclined to be true to the basic sources than unbelieving ones.”57
But historiography severed from primary sources and faithless to the texts
that alone constitute its only real link to the past is most accurately described
as “wild speculation,” or, even, as historical fiction.58 And that seems precisely the proper
description for such flights of imaginative fancy as this one, from Vogel’s
biography of Joseph Smith:
[Lucy] related that her family stayed up late into the evening “conversing
upon the subject of the diversity of churches that had risen up in the world
and the many thousand opinions in existence as to the truths contained in
scripture.” Not an unlikely topic for a late Sunday night conversation,
but Lucy probably minimized the intensity of this discussion since young Joseph’s
reaction was more pronounced than usual.
Lucy noticed that seventeen-year-old Joseph seemed
withdrawn as if in deep contemplation. He was quiet but not unaffected. . . .
[U]ndoubtedly his parents’ religious turmoil . . . stirred him,
in the words of his mother, “to reflect more deeply than common persons
of his age upon everything of a religious nature.” Joseph more than any
of his siblings well understood the religious quandary in which his parents
found themselves. There was much that he could say, but in the swirl of emotional
debate, who would hear him? Besides, he was just a youth with little standing
or authority in such matters. More than anything, Joseph’s silence likely
resulted from his ambivalent feelings and the high emotional price of choosing
sides. Very little was resolved when the Smiths finally retired for the night.
As Joseph lay in his bed, likely troubled by his
family’s religious conflicts, he may have prayed for deliverance—perhaps
asking God to soften his parents’ hearts. He may have asked that God would
give him the words to convert his father, but he knew that words alone were
not sufficient to persuade. Joseph Sr.’s intellectualized approach to the
Bible and Universalistic beliefs seemed like impassible barriers to Joseph
Jr. From his failed attempt to persuade him in 1820/21 [the first vision],
Joseph knew that his father resisted visionary experiences. Joseph’s line
of authority with his father was his gift of seeing [money-digging]. Perhaps
for the good of the family and his father’s future welfare, Joseph might call
upon that influence to bring his father to repentance and give his family
the religious harmony they so badly needed. These were desperate thoughts,
but in Joseph’s mind, the situation would have called for decisive action.
And thus, Vogel suggests to his readers, the tale of Moroni was born, and,
with it, the Book of Mormon. “Shortly an ‘angel’ appeared at his bedside.”
“He would later claim,” Vogel says of Joseph, to have been thinking
about his own state before God. But Vogel knows better.59
“It is,” wrote Hugh Nibley in 1946, “simply another case of
the facts stating one thing and Brodie stating another, basing her assertions
on her own imponderable knowledge of Joseph’s inmost mental processes.”60
No. Wait a minute. That last quotation is about Fawn Brodie, not Dan Vogel.
But it sounds uncannily familiar, because Dan Vogel is scarcely original in
this sort of thing. Plus ça change, goes the French saying, plus
c’est la même chose—the more something changes, the more it
stays the same. Six decades ago, in his first publication on a Latter-day Saint
topic, Hugh Nibley pointed to very much the same approach in Brodie’s 1945 biography
of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History. “It will be seen that
Brodie’s argument throughout the whole period rests ultimately on nothing but
her own insight into the inner, nay the unconscious, mind of the Prophet.”61
“The young woman who can tell us with perfect confidence just what must
have happened and what would have happened is not one to be stopped by
uncooperative documents and recalcitrant sources; and she is most at home when
there are no documents at all.”62
The culmination of Joseph’s megalomania finds him without courage, “empty
of conviction when he needed it most.” Again we search for
the little birdie that tells little Brodie these things. “He stood
proudly before his men, betraying nothing of the tumult and anxiety racking
him within.” Since he betrayed nothing by look, word, or gesture of his
inner feelings, we take the liberty to report that he was really thinking
of a fishing trip made on his seventh birthday; there is no evidence for this,
but of course his thoughts were perfectly concealed, you know. Is this
history? To present as facts what a man might have or could have or even possibly
would have been thinking on an occasion when, far from revealing his thoughts,
he covers them up, is a good game; but a book built up of alternate layers
of psychological speculation and haphazard sources that only support them
if accepted with a certain peculiar interpretation—such a book is not
“My discussion of the plates did not begin with a wild speculation about
how Joseph Smith could have made them out of tin,” recalls Dan Vogel,
“but rather . . . with the assumption that the Book of Mormon is not
real history.”64 “I was convinced before I ever
began writing the book,” Fawn Brodie confided in a 1975 oral history
interview, “that Joseph Smith was not a true prophet.”65
And thus the ideological precommitment dictates the historical method—and,
so it is implied, justifies “wild speculation.”
When Joseph Smith faced Emma for the last time, “he knew that she thought
him a coward.” So Brodie knows that Emma knew that Joseph knew what Emma
thought! Is this history? There might be some merit in this sort of
thing if, like the invented speeches of the Greek historian, it took some
skill to produce. But, if anything, it is hard for the historian to avoid
the pitfalls of such cheap and easy psychology. The business of the historian
is to tell what happened, not what someone might have been thinking about
what was happening.66
“Oh, I had always wanted to write fiction,” Fawn Brodie told her
interviewer in 1975.67 But historical
novels must be sharply distinguished from real biographies. Docudramas are not
genuine documentaries. And “clairvogelance,” to use a term coined
by historian Andrew Hedges and psychiatrist Dawson Hedges in their FARMS review
of Dan Vogel’s Joseph Smith biography, is not a solid foundation for reliable
history.68 The Midgley/Novick critique
of objectivity in Mormon historiography is no carte blanche for
utter arbitrariness and “wild speculation.”
Editor’s Picks and Thanks
We do, however, feel the need to continue tradition by offering our “picks”
from among the items reviewed in this number of the FARMS Review.
As always, these ratings have been determined in consultation with the two
associate editors and the production editor of the FARMS Review and after reading what our reviewers have had to say. But the final responsibility
for them is entirely mine. Items that we review but that fail to appear in
this list have been omitted because we could not recommend them (which, in
certain cases, is putting it very mildly).
This is the scale, unavoidably subjective in character, that we use in our
**** Outstanding, a seminal work of the kind that
appears only rarely
*** Enthusiastically recommended
** Warmly recommended
From among the items considered, these are the books that we are willing
**** John W. Welch and Erick B. Carlson, eds., Opening
the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844
*** John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, eds.,
Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant
** Douglas J. Davies, The
Mormon Culture of Salvation: Force, Grace and Glory
And I not only need to but am happy to thank those who have made this number
of the FARMS Review possible. Clearly,
I need to thank the reviewers, who receive no payment for their work beyond
a free copy of the item they are reviewing—and, frequently, not even
that—and, eventually, a free copy of the Review when it appears. Louis Midgley and George Mitton, the
Review‘s associate editors,
share generously of their wisdom, knowledge, and experience, as well as of
their time and energy. Shirley Ricks, the Review‘s unfailingly competent production editor, actually
causes it to appear. Alison Coutts reads each review and article and offers
useful suggestions and comments. Paula Hicken does an outstanding job of overseeing
the source checking and proofreading and was aided in these tasks, this time,
by Brette Jones and Sandra Thorne. Jacob Rawlins typesets the reviews. Without
the efforts of these individuals, the Review would never appear.
1. For information
on these projects, see the Web sites for the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative
and the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts, two of the
constituent units of the Maxwell Institute along with FARMS, at, respectively,
meti.byu.edu and cpart.byu.edu (accessed 7 December 2006).
At the present time, unfortunately, the sites are not entirely current. Still,
they will give some idea of the scope and nature of Maxwell Institute efforts
in these areas.
2. See Royal Skousen,
ed., The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile
of the Extant Text (Provo, UT: FARMS,
2001); The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical
Facsimile of the Entire Text in Two Parts (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001); Analysis of Textual
Variants of the Book of Mormon, parts
1–3 (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2004– ). See also M. Gerald Bradford, Terryl
L. Givens, Robert J. Matthews, Grant Hardy, Kevin L. Barney, and Kerry Muhlestein,
“Recovering the Original Text of the Book of Mormon: An Interim Review,”
Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 15/1 (2006): 30–65. See also M. Gerald Bradford
and Alison V. P. Coutts, Uncovering the Original Text
of the Book of Mormon: History and Findings of the Critical Text Project (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002).
3. Anselm of Canterbury,
The Major Works, ed. Brian Davies and
G. R. Evans (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 87.
4. To choose just
one example, his famous “ontological argument” for the existence
of God (for which, I confess, I have no sympathy whatever) remains a subject
of vigorous debate among contemporary philosophers.
5. St. Augustine,
Sermo 43.7.9, in PL 38:258.
6. We plan, so
far as it is practicable, eventually to put all or most of the contents of
our books up on the Web site, too—for subscribers. But that will take
considerable time and effort.
7. See the appropriate
entry in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Unabridged).
8. I cannot deny,
of course, that he’s probably right about his beliefs.
9. As if to underline
my point, Les Temps Modernes 61 (November–December
2005/January 2006), the most recent issue I’ve seen, is largely given over
to a special section entitled “Pour Frantz Fanon” (pp. 58–189).
10. As is explained on the
inside back cover of the October 2006 issue (93/5).
11. Journal of Humanistic
Psychology 46/4 (2006): 381.
12. The eulogy to Professor
Galbraith appears in “Editor’s Corner” at the back of Journal
of Post Keynesian Economics 28/4 (2006):
13. See the appropriate entry
in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Unabridged).
14. Jonathan Z. Smith et al.,
eds., The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1995), 64.
15. Liddell and Scott, An
Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1968), 102.
16. See George C. Divry, general
editor, Divry’s Modern English-Greek and Greek-English Desk Dictionary/Μειζον Νεωτερον
Λεξικον (New York: Divry, 1961),
17. “Verteidiger eines
Bekenntnisses, einer Anschauung od. Lehre (bes. des. christl. Glaubens)”;
“(bes. in religiösen Auseinandersetzungen), Verteidigungs-, Rechtfertigungsrede,
-schrift, Verteidigung, Rechtfertigung.” These definitions are taken
from the relevant entries in Gerhard Wahrig, ed., Deutsches Wörterbuch (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Lexikon-Verlag, 1974), 423.
18. The crucial language reads
“To make a [or your] defense” (NASB or NRSB).
19. Austin Farrer, “The
Christian Apologist,” in Light on C. S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World,
20. Of course, because of the
very nature of our subject focus, not all of the books that we review are,
properly speaking, academic, and we’ve occasionally felt quite at liberty
to invite people who are not members of the academic club to review such books.
They have, however, been held to the same general standards of writing, evidence,
21. Even a cursory survey of
the Wikipedia entry for “peer review” will give some idea of the
criticisms that have been leveled at the standard procedures: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peer_review
(accessed 7 December 2006). See also the essay “Refereed Journals:
Do They Insure Quality or Enforce Orthodoxy?” by Tulane University professor
of mathematical physics Frank J. Tipler, in Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals
Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing, ed. William
A. Dembski (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2004), 115–30, which is also
available on the Web at www.iscid.org/papers/Tipler_PeerReview_070103.pdf
(accessed 7 December 2006).
22. For representative samples,
see such items as John E. Clark, ed., Los olmecas en Mesoamérica (Mexico City: Citibank, 1994); John E. Clark and Mary
E. Pye, eds. Olmec Art and Archaeology in Mesoamerica (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 2000 and
2006); John E. Clark and Michael B. Collins, eds., Folsom Technology
and Lifeways (Tulsa, OK: University of
Tulsa, 2002); Douglas Donne Bryant, John E. Clark, and David Cheetham, eds.,
Ceramic Sequence of the Upper Grijalva Region, Chiapas, Mexico, 2 vols. (Provo, UT: New World Archaeological Foundation,
2005); Donald W. Parry and Emanuel Tov, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls
Reader (Leiden: Brill, 2004–2005);
Donald W. Parry and Eugene C. Ulrich, eds., The Provo International
Conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls: Technological Innovations, New Texts,
and Reformulated Issues (Leiden: Brill,
1999); Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., Current Research
and Technological Developments on the Dead Sea Scrolls: Conference on the
Texts from the Judean Desert, Jerusalem, 30 April 1995 (New York: Brill, 1996); Stephen David Ricks, Lexicon
of Inscriptional Qatabanian (Rome: Editrice
Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1989); William J. Hamblin, Warfare
in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC:
Holy Warriors at the Dawn of History (London:
Routledge, 2006). For John Butler’s ever-growing professional resumé, see
his Web site at www.cstl.nist.gov/div831/strbase/butler.htm (accessed 7 December
23. Daniel C. Peterson, “‘Ye
Are Gods': Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind,”
in The Disciple as Scholar: Essays on Scripture and the Ancient World in
Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges
(Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000), 471–594; Peterson, “On the Motif of the
Weeping God in Moses 7,” in Revelation, Reason, and Faith:
Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen, ed.
Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen D. Ricks
(Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 285–317;
Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah: A Note on 1 Nephi 11:8–23,”
in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World: Studies in Honor of
John L. Sorenson, ed. Davis Bitton (Provo,
UT: FARMS, 1998), 191–243.
24. The Shakespeare-studies
analogy was suggested to me by Nathan Barrett, of Tucson, Arizona, during
an Internet discussion of FARMS peer review. My thanks to him for it.
25. John M. Lundquist and Stephen
D. Ricks, eds., By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W.
Nibley, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book and FARMS, 1990).
26. The conversation might
need to be just a bit more vigorous than that represented in the most recent
issue of the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, where Tom Murphy, one of the two most vocal critics
of the Book of Mormon with regard to Amerindian DNA, reviews the book by his
fellow Signature Books author Simon Southerton, the other most vocal critic of the Book of Mormon with regard
to Amerindian DNA. In the course of his three-page hymn of tribute, Murphy
repeatedly praises the “honesty” that “ultimately cost [Southerton]
his membership in the LDS Church,” whose “intolerance” Murphy
scolds, while thunderously denouncing “the poorly argued, intellectually
dishonest, ahistorical, and scientifically unsound apologetics” published
on the subject by FARMS. See Thomas W. Murphy, review of Losing
a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, by
Simon Southerton, John Whitmer Historical Association Journal
26 (2006): 325–27. (For links to those vile, pathetic, and incompetent
FARMS essays, go to farms.byu.edu/publications/dna.php?selection=dna&cat=dna,
accessed 7 December 2006. One wonders, by the way, what manner of peer
review Southerton’s book and other Signature publications undergo.) Book reviews
can be skewed—and not merely, or even particularly, in the pages of
the FARMS Review. For an example
of an analogous maneuver, see the Signature Books Web page, which currently
features an attack—entitled “FARMS Is At It Again”—on
David G. Stewart Jr.’s “DNA and the Book of Mormon,” FARMS
Review 18/1 (2006): 109–38, while
apparently pretending that John M. Butler’s essay on pages 101–8 of
the same number of the Review, “Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of
Mormon and DNA Research,” doesn’t even exist. The Signature Web page
is a parade example of ideological spin. Less than a year ago, it still featured
an admission from Simon Southerton that “In 600 BC there were probably
several million American Indians living in the Americas. If a small group
of Israelites, say less than thirty, entered such a massive native population,
it would be very hard to detect their genes today.” (Blake Ostler called
attention to Southerton’s admission in a superb and substantive letter published
in Sunstone. See Blake T. Ostler,
“Simon Says, But That Doesn’t Make It So,” Sunstone, November 2005, 4–8.) This admission effectively
concedes a major portion of what several FARMS authors have argued with regard
to Amerindian DNA and the Book of Mormon—so it has now, as far as I
can determine, utterly disappeared from the Signature Web page. In his discussion
of the work of Fawn M. Brodie in the FARMS Review of Books 8/2 (1996): 147–230, Louis Midgley demonstrates
how Fawn Brodie and her publisher sought to influence and to steer the reviews
of her biography of Thomas Jefferson and sometimes manipulated the use of
those that had appeared. This is not uncommon and, given the stakes for a
publisher, quite understandable. Usually it’s done fairly subtly. Sometimes
it’s not. Tom Kimball, the marketing director for Signature Books (a committed
publisher of revisionist books on Mormonism and especially on Mormon history),
who has no background as a scholar and no discernible record as a historian,
currently serves as book review editor for the Journal of Mormon
History. Intriguingly, too, the John Whitmer Historical
Association Journal has suddenly taken
on a very much more prosperous look than it has ever enjoyed before. Cui
27. Peterson, “‘Ye Are
28. Michael S. Heiser, “You’ve
Seen One elohim, You’ve Seen Them All?
A Critique of Mormonism’s Apologetic Use of Psalm 82,” presented at the
58th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Washington DC
on 16 November 2006. (Nobody should be surprised when I say that his
paper is unlikely to go without response.)
29. Francis J. Beckwith, Carl
Mosser, and Paul Owen, eds., The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the
Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002). Thus far, the FARMS Review has replied to this volume with responses from David L.
Paulsen, Benjamin I. Huff, Kent P. Jackson, Louis Midgley, and Kevin
Christensen in FARMS Review of Books 14/1–2 (2002): 99–221; from Kevin L. Barney,
John A. Tvedtnes, Matthew Roper, Blake T. Ostler, and Barry R. Bickmore in
the FARMS Review 15/1 (2003):
97–258; and from Blake T. Ostler in the FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 253–320.
30. It’s probably relevant
to note here that the name Louis is
derived from an Old German name, Hlutwig, that was created by combining hlut (famous) and wig (battle). Hlutwig denoted someone who had been made famous in battle.
The etymology of the name Louis
is still clearly evident in its modern German equivalent, Ludwig. My thanks to Mike Parker for bringing this significant
fact to my attention.
31. I myself have had at least
one manuscript rejected by FARMS. And a prior version of this introduction,
on a completely different topic, was rejected.
32. See, for example, Daniel C.
Peterson, “Creation,” in Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an, ed.
Jane Dammen McAuliffe et al. (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 1:472–80; Peterson,
“Muhammad,” in The Rivers of Paradise: Moses, Buddha,
Confucius, Jesus, and Muhammad as Religious Founders, ed.
David Noel Freedman and Michael J. McClymond (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
2001), 457–612; and Peterson, “Final Thoughts: Response to McClymond’s
‘Prophet or Loss?'” in Rivers of Paradise,
33. Antiquity has, however, published work from what is now the Maxwell
Institute. See Douglas M. Chabries, Steven W. Booras, and Gregory H. Bearman,
“Imaging the Past: Recent Applications of Multispectral Imaging Technology
to Deciphering Manuscripts,” Antiquity 77 (June 2003): 359–72.
34. Roger D. Launius, “Defending
the Prophet,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal
26 (2006): 317. The reference is to Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph
Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 93.
35. James E. Taylor, Introducing
Apologetics: Cultivating Christian Commitment
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 11.
36. Hans Küng, Das Christentum:
Die Religiöse Situation der Zeit (Munich:
Piper Verlag, 2003), 95, 97–98. Actually, Küng is describing the formative
first century or two of ancient Christianity, which went on, despite its initial
obscurity, to become somewhat important in subsequent years. But his portrayal
fits the first century or two of Mormonism quite nicely also.
37. John G. Stackhouse Jr.,
Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 39.
38. Stackhouse, Humble Apologetics,
39. John W. Welch and Larry
E. Morris, eds., Oliver Cowdery: Scribe, Elder, Witness (Provo, UT: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious
40. Dan Vogel, “Bushman’s
Rough Stone Rolling,” John
Whitmer Historical Association Journal 26 (2006): 322.
41. See Louis Midgley, “The
Myth of Objectivity: Some Lessons for Latter-day Saints,” Sunstone,
August 1990, 54–56; Midgley, “The
Challenge of Historical Consciousness: Mormon History and the Encounter with
Secular Modernity,” in By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in
Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, ed. John M.
Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS,
1990), 2:502–51 at 521–24, 544–47; Midgley, review of That
Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical
Profession, by Peter Novick, John
Whitmer Historical Association Journal 10 (1990): 102–4; Midgley, “More Liberal
Legerdemain and the Book of Mormon,” Review of Books on the
Book of Mormon 3 (1991): 261–311
at 291–95; Midgley, “George
Dempster Smith, Jr., on the Book of Mormon,” Review of Books
on the Book of Mormon 4 (1992): 5–12
at 11 n. 13; Midgley, “The Acids of Modernity and the Crisis in Mormon
Historiography,” in Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon
History, ed. George D. Smith (Salt Lake
City: Signature Books, 1992), 189–225 at 197, 209–13; Midgley,
review of The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past,
ed. D. Michael Quinn, John Whitmer Historical
Association Journal 13 (1993): 118–21
at 119–20; Midgley, “The Shipps Odyssey in Retrospect,” Review
of Books on the Book of Mormon 7/2 (1995): 219–52 at 228, 237–38; and Louis
Midgley, “Knowing Brother Joseph Again,” FARMS Review
18/1 (2006): xi–lxii at lx–lixx.
See also William J. Hamblin, “Time Vindicates Hugh Nibley,” Review
of Books on the Book of Mormon 2 (1990): 119–27 at 120; Massimo Introvigne, “The
Book of Mormon Wars: A Non-Mormon Perspective,” Journal of
Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (1996): 1–25
at 1, 8–9; and Alan Goff, “Positivism and the Priority of Ideology
in Mosiah-First Theories of Book of Mormon Production,” FARMS
Review 16/1 (2004): 11–36 at 12.
42. Peter Novick, That Noble
Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
43. This remark is taken from
a transcription of Peter Novick, “Why the Old Mormon Historians Are More
Objective Than the New,” a talk delivered at the 1989 Sunstone Symposium
held at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The Maxwell Institute purchased
a tape of this talk (SL89096), which is still available from the Sunstone
Web site, www.sunstoneonline.com (accessed 26 June 2006). One can also download
a free MP3 version from the same site. For background on the talk, see Midgley,
“Knowing Brother Joseph Again,” xlv–lvi. Incidentally, Professor
Novick’s laudatory remarks about Professor Midgley will no doubt come as a
shock to certain critics, for whom contempt, hostility, and loathing toward
Professor Midgley are bedrock elements of their anti-FARMS faith. Yet Professor
Novick’s positive comments are by no means unparalleled among genuine scholars.
I myself, with my very own ears (and in the presence of George Mitton and
David Paulsen), heard the prominent Protestant theologian Clark Pinnock, in
a conversation with Professor Midgley during a break in the first annual meeting
of the Society for Mormon Theology and Philosophy, held at Utah Valley State
College on 19–20 March 2004, expressly praise Professor Midgley for
the “kindness” and “charity” of his writing, considering
the offensive nature of the writings to which he had responded. Pinnock had
read Midgley’s “Faulty Topography,” FARMS Review 14/1–2 (2002): 139–92; and “On Caliban
Mischief,” FARMS Review 15/1 (2003): xi–xxxvii. Fortunately, no critics were present; paramedics
were, at best, several minutes away, and my cardiopulmonary resuscitation
skills are, to say the best of them, untested.
44. It would certainly be difficult
to sustain such charges against Peter Novick, the author of such careful and
highly regarded works as The Resistance versus Vichy: The Purge of Collaborators
in Liberated France (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1968) and The Holocaust in American Life
(New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999).
45. Vogel, “Bushman’s
Rough Stone Rolling,” 322.
46. Ambrose Bierce, The
Devil’s Dictionary (New York: Hill and
Wang, 1957), 6.
47. Vogel, “Bushman’s
Rough Stone Rolling,” 325.
48. See Dan Vogel, “The
Validity of the Witnesses’ Testimonies,” in American Apocrypha: Essays
on the Book of Mormon, ed. Dan Vogel and
Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 108. Literary
scholar and former Dialogue
editor Robert Rees has observed of this particular effort to discredit and
undercut the testimony of the witnesses that “Vogel’s piece is so shot
through with subjunctive qualifiers (if, probably, perhaps, seems,
might, assuming that, likely, probable, possibility, etc.) that it is difficult to take his argument seriously.”
Robert A. Rees, “The Book of Mormon and Automatic Writing,” Journal
of Book of Mormon Studies 15/1 (2006): 69 n. 32. See Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making
of a Prophet (Salt Lake City: Signature
Books, 2004), 98–99, for a more recent appearance of his tin-plate theory.
49. Arthur Conan Doyle, The
Sign of Four (London: Blackett, 1890),
93. I realize that I’ve used this quotation, and the following one from Dale
Morgan, on at least two previous occasions. They are, however, too perfectly
suited for this discussion to be omitted here.
50. Dan Vogel, in a note on
the Mormon Apologetics and Discussion Board (posted 9 December 2006).
51. Dale Morgan to Juanita
Brooks, 15 December 1945, at Arlington, Virginia. Transcribed in Dale Morgan
on Early Mormonism: Correspondence and a New History, ed. John Phillip Walker (Salt Lake City: Signature Books,
1986), 84–91. The quoted passage occurs on page 87. I am grateful to
Gary Novak for first calling my attention to it.
52. Vogel, “Bushman’s
Rough Stone Rolling,” 325.
53. Vogel, “Bushman’s
Rough Stone Rolling,” 323.
54. For a response to Vogel’s
revisionism by the preeminent authority on the witnesses, see Richard Lloyd
Anderson, “Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses,”
Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/1 (2005): 18–31.
55. Vogel, “Bushman’s
Rough Stone Rolling,” 324.
56. Vogel, “Bushman’s
Rough Stone Rolling,” 323.
57. Richard Lyman Bushman,
“The Recovery of the Book of Mormon,” in Book of Mormon Authorship
Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed.
Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997), 24, 26.
58. For striking examples of
purported history as fiction, see Bernard Lewis, History—Remembered,
Recovered, Invented (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1975).
59. Vogel, Joseph Smith, 43–44.
60. Hugh Nibley, “No,
Ma’am, That’s Not History,” in Hugh Nibley, Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding
Brass (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and
FARMS, 1991), 23.
61. Nibley, “No, Ma’am,
That’s Not History,” 20.
62. Nibley, “No, Ma’am,
That’s Not History,” 35. For someone deservedly well-known for his work
on the primary sources in Mormon history, Vogel too adopts a surprisingly
cavalier attitude toward them when his ideological approach requires it. See
Larry E. Morris, “Joseph Smith and ‘Interpretive Biography,'” FARMS
Review 18/1 (2006): 321–74.
63. Nibley, “No, Ma’am,
That’s Not History,” 26–27, first emphasis added.
64. Vogel, “Bushman’s
Rough Stone Rolling,” 325.
65. Fawn M. Brodie, “Fawn
McKay Brodie: An Oral History Interview,” Dialogue 14/2 (1981): 106.
66. Nibley, “No, Ma’am,
That’s Not History,” 34.
67. Brodie, “Fawn McKay Brodie:
An Oral History Interview,” 104.
68. See Andrew H. Hedges and
Dawson W. Hedges, “No, Dan, That’s Still Not History,” FARMS
Review 17/1 (2005): 205–22 at 211.
See also Alan Goff, “Dan Vogel’s Family Romance and the Book of Mormon
as Smith Family Allegory,” FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 321–400; and Morris, “Joseph Smith and ‘Interpretive
Biography,'” 327–74. Several other useful essays in the FARMS
Review have focused on other works by
the prolific Dan Vogel. They may all be found online, via maxwellinstitute.byu.edu.