Historical Book of Mormon under Siege

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_Kishkumen
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Historical Book of Mormon under Siege

Post by _Kishkumen »

Thanks to Professor William Hamblin's entertaining blog, Enigmatic Mirror, I had the pleasure of reading a series of thought-provoking critiques of the view that the Book of Mormon describes the actual history of a civilization that unfolded here in the Americas. The critiques are written by a professor of History at Baylor, Philip Jenkins.

Many of the criticisms are already familiar to us, but Professor Jenkins is an extraordinarily effective communicator, so I recommend reading his posts.

The issue follows his musings on ancient America in the following post:

The Monte Verde Principle

Then he uses the Book of Mormon as a test case for marginal claims about ancient America:

Mormons and New World History
Wandering over the Plains of the Nephites
Ordinary Faith and Extraordinary History
What Scholars Do
Myth-History and Real History
Academic Heresy and Atlantic Ice
Historians' Fallacies
Nahom Follies

In response to the usual shitload of apologetic bellyaching in the comments section, Jenkins sums up his view of his accomplishment thusly:

I engaged in this process to make points about history and pseudo-history, and I believe I have done so. My views are out there for anyone who wishes to read them. In my view, what I have said about the total and absolute lack of evidence in the New World utterly destroys any vestige of plausibility the Book of Mormon may claim as a historical or archaeological source. What else is there to say? If anyone makes any claims about vaguely plausible new evidence, linguistic, archaeological or genetic, I'm happy to respond. I am just not going round the same circles endlessly.

There comes a point of frustration dealing with these issues where it really becomes hopeless. Either you enter the obsessions of the true believers, or you make your point, and leave it. I had planned to finish with these columns last week, but the frequent resort to Nahomism just called forth this last one.


Professor Hamblin uses the whole episode to make another swipe at the new Maxwell Institute:

Professor Hamblin wrote:Note that Jenkins believes that the “subsuming” of FARMS into the “highly respectable Maxwell Institute” is a good thing precisely because the new Maxwell Institute is no longer hampered by “literal-minded apologists.” In other words, Jenkins clearly see the new Maxwell Institute as rejecting the (for Jenkins) untenable historicity of the Book of Mormon. This is what makes it “highly respectable.” In other words, a highly intelligent, though casual observer of things Mormon thinks it obvious that the new direction of the Maxwell Institute represents a marginalization of the question of Book of Mormon historicity by BYU and the official Church. So my question is: Is this the impression that BYU and the Church want to give? It is clearly what most casual observers will make of it.
Last edited by Guest on Mon Jun 15, 2015 2:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Kishkumen
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Re: Historical Book of Mormon under Siege

Post by _Kishkumen »

I too have said the following a few times, though less eloquently:

Philip Jenkins wrote:Let me begin with a basic principle of using evidence. I have no obligation to disprove the Book of Mormon, or indeed any religious text, because logically, nobody can prove a negative. I do not need to pick through the book and highlight every anachronism or error, sparking trench warfare with apologists who have built up elaborate defenses against every charge and cavil. Rather, it is up to anyone who believes in that Book to justify its authenticity, by producing positive arguments in its favor. If you are basing statements on the evidence of mystical gold plates that are not available for scholarly examination because they were taken up to Heaven, then you are making utterly extraordinary claims that demand extraordinary evidence. I am open to the concept of miracle, but the burden of proof clearly rests with the person making the claims.


I don't buy into his idea of the necessity of producing "extraordinary evidence," when evidence will do. Otherwise, he is spot on.

See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2015/05/mormons-and-new-world-history/.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Kishkumen
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Re: Historical Book of Mormon under Siege

Post by _Kishkumen »

Oh this stuff is just too fun not to quote:

Philip Jenkins wrote:To find the aggressive and really outlandish defenses of the Book and its literal historicity, you have to go to one of the several free-standing apologist groups, which have a very strong Internet presence, and produce a quite astonishing body of convincing-looking materials.


Here's another classic passage:

Philip Jenkins wrote:Although many Mormons had long hoped to find support for “scriptural archaeology,” a new trend began in 1979-1980, at exactly the same time that conservatives were on the upswing in other denominations, including the Southern Baptists. A new generation of Mormon scholars tried to use more sophisticated archaeological and historical methods to support the apologist cause – in my view, with a total lack of success. The relationship of the official church to the more literal-minded apologists is long and controversial. You can get a sense of the whole saga by tracing the history of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), which over the past decade has been subsumed into the highly respectable Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University.


This passage is what really set off Professor Hamblin, who, in quoting it, managed to leave out the part about "a total lack of success."
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_zeezrom
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Re: Historical Book of Mormon under Siege

Post by _zeezrom »

Just as a refresher, here is my original question: “Can anyone cite any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from the New World that supports any one story found in the Book of Mormon? One sherd of pottery? One tool of bronze or iron? One carved stone? One piece of genetic data? And by credible, I mean drawn from a reputable scholarly study, an academic book or refereed journal, not some cranky piece of pseudo-science.”

Cue: deafening silence, tumbleweeds blowing through the empty streets, coyote in the background ....

Let me offer a follow up. Assume for the sake of argument that the Nahom link is genuine, and this is a verifiable Book of Mormon site. (It's not, but let's pretend). So why do all, absolutely all, the Book's claims for New World materials fail so totally? So we have an oasis's worth of verification and a continent worth of falsehood. What do you think of a book with a thousand demonstrably false statements and one conceivably true?

If the Nahom link was more substantial, I would tend to dismiss it as a lucky guess, but it isn't even that, is it?
Philip Jenkins comment (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousben ... qus_thread)
Oh for shame, how the mortals put the blame on us gods, for they say evils come from us, but it is they, rather, who by their own recklessness win sorrow beyond what is given... Zeus (1178 BC)

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_Kishkumen
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Re: Historical Book of Mormon under Siege

Post by _Kishkumen »

Philip Jenkins wrote:I offer a question. Can anyone cite any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from the New World that supports any one story found in the Book of Mormon? One sherd of pottery? One tool of bronze or iron? One carved stone? One piece of genetic data? And by credible, I mean drawn from a reputable scholarly study, an academic book or refereed journal, not some cranky piece of pseudo-science.


What sort of pseudo-science could he be referring to?
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Kishkumen
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Re: Historical Book of Mormon under Siege

Post by _Kishkumen »

Philip Jenkins wrote:Trying to explain the lack of archaeological corroboration, modern apologists argue that the Book’s settings are in a part of the Americas not yet investigated by science, but I have no idea where that extremely large unexplored region must be. One convenient defense of at least some apologists is that the doings in the Book of Mormon need only have taken place in a small area, some odd corner of Central America (say), rather than being spread over the continent. That contradicts the claims of other defenders of the Book, who see Middle Eastern influences all over the place, including for instance among the Olmecs. It also demands some explanation as to how those “localized” immigrant tribes found their way to upstate New York to fight in the Battle of Cumorah. Upper New York state is a very well investigated region that assuredly has not produced any evidence of ancient civilizations of the kind Smith imagined.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Kishkumen
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Re: Historical Book of Mormon under Siege

Post by _Kishkumen »

Zeez,

In the Nahom comment you linked, I found this part especially humorous reading:

Philip Jenkins wrote:Reading what I have on the subject from Mormon sources on Nahom (eg in the FARMS publications), I have been repeatedly appalled to see how assumptions about Book of Mormon veracity have so dominated their interpretations that it is difficult to extract anything of value or plausibility. Even when they are trying for something like academic objectivity, they can't let go.

My coincidence argument stands, as do my comments about later maps.

Nor do I see anything that affects my basic point that Nahom is an unbelievably weak resource on which to build any defense of Book of Mormon archaeology. If I was a true believer, I am sure I would find those arguments deeply convincing.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Kishkumen
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Re: Historical Book of Mormon under Siege

Post by _Kishkumen »

In his follow up post, Dr. Jenkins makes the following wonderful observation:

Philip Jenkins wrote:In my last post, on the Book of Mormon, I asked a question: Does the Book contain a statement or idea about the New World that Joseph Smith could not have known at the time, but which has subsequently been validated by archaeological or historical research?

I mention this point because the apologist literature includes a good number of flat mis-statements about what Smith could or could not have known, eg he supposedly could not have known that there were cities and civilizations on American soil. But that is simply wrong. Anyone growing up in the US in the early nineteenth century knew perfectly well about the ancient lost cities that lay under the new nation. Exploring that point tells us a great deal about how Smith’s generation viewed the world.


See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2015/05/wandering-over-the-plains-of-the-nephites/
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Kishkumen
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Re: Historical Book of Mormon under Siege

Post by _Kishkumen »

This bit is especially devastating:

Philip Jenkins wrote:I can’t emphasize this too strongly. In most ways, the Book of Mormon apologists are harmless enough, but in this particular, the whole literature is deeply unsavory. The core idea, frequently repeated, is that there is a Great Mystery about the origins of New World remains, whether we are dealing with North American mound cities or Central American temple complexes. Who could this mysterious lost race of builders have been, the ones who were there before the Indians?

This harks back exactly to the core racist theme of nineteenth century pseudo-scholarship, the idea that simple savage Indians could not have done such wonderful things, so it just remained to find the civilized people who really did it. A dead giveaway in such apologias is the suggestion of a lost pre-Indian race. It’s precisely the same mindset that led generations of white academics to debate for generations which lost people build Central Africa’s spectacular Great Zimbabwe remains, before concluding that, of course, black Africans themselves were responsible.

To say things as simply as possible: no, there is not the slightest mystery in assigning credit for any New World remains, which were built by Native peoples, First Nations or, if you prefer, Indians.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Kishkumen
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Re: Historical Book of Mormon under Siege

Post by _Kishkumen »

Philip Jenkins wrote:As a historical source on the ancient Americas, the Book of Mormon is worthless.


http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2015/05/ordinary-faith-and-extraordinary-history/
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
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