The past eight issues of Sunstone (March 2004 through November 2005) have hosted a spirited discussion about Book of Mormon historicity. Our decision to put together a Sunstone issue with several views on the subject was prompted by notoriety over DNA findings challenging Mormon assumptions about Amerindian origins that was enjoying a renewed news cycle in late 2003 and early 2004 because of the near-excommunication of Thomas Murphy, who first reported on these findings and suggested that these conclusions would force a reconsideration of LDS belief and understanding about the Book of Mormon.
We weren’t anticipating that the energy created by the articles and column in the March 2004 issue would spur the number of responses—in letters to the editor as well as fresh essays and articles—that it did, lasting until our most recent issue where I made the decision to end the discussion in the magazine and move it to SunstoneBlog.com. I chose to invoke a moratorium based on a significant number of trusted friends and advisors who were saying “enough already,” but also because letters and submissions were becoming far more technical and narrowly focused than the earlier pieces, challenging specifics from previous pieces and assuming that readers would have read (and remember in detail) the article or essay they were problemetizing. Blogging seems to me to the perfect medium for discussions of very specific points, but I’m very open to publishing more on the Book of Mormon controversy in the magazine when fresh new ideas and approaches to the question arise—something that I hope will happen in the conversations here.
In order to facilitate the discussion, I’ve created links to pdfs of all the Sunstone articles, essays, columns, editorials, and letters to the editor that are part of this discussion of Book of Mormon historicity. I hope many of you will read, enjoy, and want to comment on these discussions and related issues.
Links and a quick guide to each:
March 2004 Sunstone:
Reframing the Book of Mormon. A one-page introduction to the articles on the Book of Mormon that follow
Reinventing Lamanite Identity. This short article by Brent Lee Metcalfe is, in essence, a query as to whether the “tail is wagging the dog” when it comes to current views of the Book of Mormon within the Church. In other words, are FARMS scholars and others who are trumpeting limited geography/small population models creating new doctrine that flies in the face of the book’s own understanding of itself as well as past prophetic understanding of it?
Now What?. In this short article, Trent D. Stephens problemetizes some of the assumptions about the scope of the DNA challenges to the Book of Mormon. Are the conclusions based on testable hypotheses? And if so, how might one weigh the evidence they find compelling? What limitations are there on science and religion that might come into play as one deliberates over the evidence?
A Malay Site for Book of Mormon Events. In an attempt to show that not everyone is convinced by the Mesoamerican, limited-geography model, we chose to present in very brief form the interesting work of Ralph A. Olsen, who believes that one should look to the Malay Peninsula as the location of Book of Mormon events. Olsen’s much larger study can be found here.
The Book of Mormon as Symbolic History: A New Perspective on Its Place in History and Religion. Our introduction to this article by C. Jess Groesbeck: “Deeply influenced by Jungian psychology with its ideas about archetypal patterns in human experience, and by his own lifelong interest in shamanism and ancient healing practices, Groesbeck advances a grand theory of the Book of Mormon as “symbolic history.” In dialogue with historians of religion and students of mythic structures, Groesbeck’s article lays the groundwork for understanding the Book of Mormon as powerful and true in the most important ways while explaining the limitations facing all approaches that attempt to fix the Book of Mormon in any literal historical or social setting.”
Inventing Galileo. This essay is Thomas Murphy’s explanation of events surrounding the publication of his essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon in the book American Apocrypha and what he considers to be misrepresentations of his work, especially in relation to the idea that he considers himself the “Mormon Galileo” and whether the DNA/Book of Mormon controversy is a “Galileo event” in Mormon history.
May 2004 Sunstone:
Letters to the Editor and On Wagging the Dog. Letters regarding the pieces in the March 2004 issue by Preston Bissell, Gary Rumler, and Dan Vogel (with a response by Trent D. Stephens), plus a response essay to Brent Lee Metcalfe’s article by Kevin Christensen.
“A Real Fight.” Editorial on why I enjoy vigorous exchanges on issues like Book of Mormon historicity.
July 2004 Sunstone:
Letters to the Editor. Letters by Clair Barrus, Benjamin H. Layman, and Dan Vogel.
December 2004 Sunstone:
Assessing the Logical Structure of DNA Arguments against the Book of Mormon. This short essay by Blake T. Ostler really reinvigorated the discussion. In it, Ostler, like Stephens did earlier, problemitizes the strength of the DNA evidence contra Book of Mormon historicity but with philosophical assessments of the logic the arguments used.
March 2005 Sunstone:
Letters to the Editor. An onslaught of letters in response to Ostler’s challenge, with Ostler responses to each. Letter writers are: Thomas W. Murphy, David H. Bailey, Steve Oakey, Michael J. Barrett, Doug Ward, and Ralph A. Olsen.
On the Death of Nephi. Editorial on why I’ve decided that I don’t want to rush to judgment on the Book of Mormon historicity question.
Is a “Paradigm Shift” in Book of Mormon Studies Possible?. Dan Vogel’s critique of what he sees as misuse of Thomas Kuhn’s notion of “paradigm shifts” by Book of Mormon apologists.
May 2005 Sunstone:
Letters to the Editor. Letters and responses by Robert A. Rees, Tom Kimball, David H. Bailey, and Roger Terry. (This article features Tom Kimball who is in violation of our code of conduct. For more info on Tom Kimball and his history, click here for the January 14, 2023 statement.)
DNA Strands in the Book of Mormon/The Ancient Book of Mormon as Tribal Narrative. Part II of Blake Ostler’s contribution to clarifying what he believes are the salient issues regarding DNA and historicity. Instead of logical structure and philosophical issues, this article focuses much more directly on scriptural exegesis and ways one might approach discrepencies between what the text says about itself and what science shows to be pretty much incontrovertible and the teachings of LDS leaders. This article also contains a short piece (run as a sidebar) by D. Michael Quinn in which he tells the story of his own journey with the Book of Mormon and how he came to read it as a “tribal narrative” much in the same way he reads the Bible. We ran Quijnn’s piece within the same article because Ostler tells of a similar tale to Quinn’s of his own coming to view the Book of Mormon, especially the Book of Ether, as a ” dynastic history.”
September 2005 Sunstone:
Letters to the Editor. Letters by Dan Vogel and David A. Anderson (with a response by Ostler to the Anderson letter).
DNA Uber-Apologetics: Overstating Solutions—Understating Damages. Simon Southerton’s response to arguments of Ostler and Quinn, defense of misrepresentations of his intent in writing Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, and his parsing of the current dilemma facing the Church with regard to the Book of Mormon.
November 2005 Sunstone:
Letters to the Editor. Letters by John D. Gustav-Wrathall (tangentially connected to Ostler and the arguments at play in recent Sunstone issues), Larry Morris, and Blake T. Ostler (responding to Southerton’s September 2005 article).
Determining What is “Real”. As stated in an earlier blog post, this piece by Kevin Christensen began primarily as a response to Dan Vogel’s essay on Thomas Kuhn and the notion of ‘paradigm shifts’ (Sunstone, March 2005), but through the editing process became much more an account of his journey through Book of Mormon studies and the kind of epistemology he applies. It shares examples that illustrate why it might be wise to never rush to judgment when the latest science or history or archaeology upsets one’s previously held sense of things.
Toward a New Reading of the Book of Mormon. As stated in that same earlier blog post, this article by Dennis Potter is a bit more technical than is typical for Sunstone, dealing with how different theories of truth operate in different discourses and how difficult it is to talk across the divide between them. Potter explores scientific realism and logical realism?¢Ç¨Äùand gives objections to both. He then suggests new ways to look at the Book of Mormon?¢Ç¨Äúmost notably, a ‘post-liberal’ approach, which he defines as one that lets the book be judged on its own (not scientific, not logical) criteria. It reminds us that it is a serious matter to favor one worldview and its methodologies and logic and forget that it’s not the only set of questions for approaching things.