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I don't understand the constant push to try and 'prove' the Book of Mormon through archaeology. No different than trying to 'prove' God exists (or doesn't exist) through science. Some things just lie on inherently different planes of understanding and 'never the twain shall meet'...

Yes, I sense the same dynamic at work in the Christian obsession with the Shroud of Turin.

"To say that Malaysia is as good a candidate as the "limited geography" Mesoamerican model or the "hemispheric" North American model is to admit that all hypotheses are equally unsupported."

But is this that shocking? Hasn't everyone at FARMS who've advocated a limited geography *explicitly* stated this? To be shocked that there is an argument for Malaysia seems to miss the point. The issue isn't whether geography alone is sufficient, but whether there is a limited geography that fits other items *external* to the text. i.e. can we reconcile a *possible* model with our requirements.

It seems like geographical models often get attacked due to misunderstandings of what FARMS claims.

Clark, I suppose it's not shocking to you, me, or FARMS, but it will come as something of a surprise to the average Mormon who thinks of the BoM as a historical text and has been led to believe that Mesamerican ruins and the hill near Joseph's house in New York are real-world links to it. And I disagree that FARMS people give substantive disclaimers to the effect that their tentative theories have no support. They may give boilerplate disclaimers, but people who actually think their theory has no substantive support don't publish it. So the fact that they pump out dozens of reviews, articles, books, etc., establishes they think they have some support for their arguments.

Of course, their disclaimers emphasizing the tentative nature of their arguments are also undercut by the vigor and certainty with which they deny any theory they perceive to be outside the boundary of the orthodox Mormon view.

Clark wrote: "The issue isn't whether geography alone is sufficient, but whether there is a limited geography that fits other items *external* to the text."

This is very much the point that I hint at in my discussion of this at Let Us Reason: internal evidence alone will not be able to establish geographical location. However, we may be able *rule out* locations based on internal evidence.

And the next question is: which external factors are the ones that any geography of the Book of Mormon would have to fit? I don't feel like we have a good idea of this.

I think there is a difference between attacking unorthodox (i.e. contradicting significant doctrines) and recognizing the tentativeness of their own positions.

But of course you know the BOM is none of the above.

It's an African geography.

No kidding--go ask this Eritrean:


Clark, I think maybe I was a little snippy earlier, sorry. I'll grant that my view of FARMS is based primarily on reading a fair sampling of their book reviews, which seem to bring out the worst in otherwise considerate scholars. However, IMHO, if they insist on applying the idea that the best apologetic defense is a good ad hominem offense, they are not likely to get the benefit of the doubt from any fair-minded readers. Their poor choice of rhetorical tone lends credibility to the other side. For me, their rhetoric obscures any clear indication of the degree of tentativeness they attach to their own theories.

I think the book reviews are the *worst* things FARMS puts out. Don't get me wrong. I'm often as critical of FARMS as the next guy. They are often so eager to "trump" their intellectual opponents that they get very careless. But I think if you ignore their review of books and some of the sloppy stuff that gets published, they make a lot of good points.

I'd be the first to say that FARMS hasn't lived up even close to their potential. But I think there is a guilt by association in which they are judged by their weakest and most polemic writings. I'm not sure that's fair.

Grashopper says; "However, we may be able *rule out* locations based on internal evidence."

I disagree, I don't think we can rule any locations out. There is always some clever way of reading or interpreting the text to make it fit whatever you want. And if all else fails, you can always assume something miraculous occured.

>>will come as something of a surprise to the average Mormon who thinks of the BoM as a historical text and has been led to believe that Mesamerican ruins and the hill near Joseph's house in New York are real-world links to it.<<

This could come off as smart aleky, but I read around the bloggernacle for exactly this sort of thing since I am in charge of teaching my children...What exactly should an above average Mormon think of the BoM? Is it allegory? Is it half-n-half?

And what is internal evidence?

Dave: I think that your sample of FARMS work is even more biased than you admitt. Most of the book reviews that they publish are not ad hominem or polemical. I agree with Clark that there are lots of criticisms that can be made of FARMS, but I think that many in the FARMS critics have more or less fixed their perception of the entire organization and everything it produces after reading a couple of articles by Bill Hamblin and the outraged responses by Brent Metcalfe. (Along with the threatened lawsuit by George Smith.) Should everything ever published in Sunstone and Dialogue be generalized about on the basis of Paul Toscanoe's screeds?

Should everything at FARMS be based on their worst? Well, as my momma said when Pete Rose was banned from baseball after breaking the all-time hits record and setting the bar for hustle on the field: "If you run with skunks, you come out smelling."

Yes. To both questions.

Nate and Clark,

Gentlemen, nice comments. Yes, it would be unfair to judge FARMS by their weakest or most polemical writings (although they generally focus on the weakest passages of any book they review rather than evaluating the work as a whole). I've read twenty or thirty of their book reviews, so I think it's a fair sample (and I can't think of a better method for evaluating them than to read what they write).

If your point is that all FARMS book reviews, as a class, are weak and polemical and therefore shouldn't represent FARMS as an organization, then why are they even published? Aren't editors of a scholarly institution supposed to screen out or upgrade weak, polemical articles?

FARMS writers want the respect and deference due scholars making scholarly arguments, but they don't respect the conventions of scholarly writing in the book reviews (fairly construing opponents positions and statement, acknowledging contrary arguments and evidence, avoiding ad hominem arguments). In the book reviews, they generally think and write no differently than the writers they criticize so freely, and their credibility suffers accordingly. It's not my fault they choose to proceed in that fashion.

Perhaps you might list two or three non-book review FARMS publications you consider strong and substantive as opposed to weak and polemical? I know they publish a fair amount, I would benefit from a recommendation or two.

Obviously, the best thing that they have ever published is:

Nathan Oman, "Out of Zion Shall Go Forth the Law," FRB, vol. 12, issue 1.

Other things to take a look at are:

Book of Mormon Authorship and Book of Mormon Authorship revisited. Two good collections of essays defending the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

Kieth Edward Norman, Deification: The Content of Athanasian Soteriology (Ph.D. disseration reprint)

King Benjamin's Speech: "That You May Learn Wisdom" -- an anothology containing a couple of nice articles.

Check out the Sorenson Feschrift, which has a couple of good papers. I especially like the one by Steve Olsen on the covenantal structure of LDS theology.

Also, the Madsen feschrift has a couple of good papers on Mormonism and Philosophy. Check out the one by Jim Faulconer as well as the one by Blake Ostler and David Paulsen. Also, Richard Bushman's article on Joseph Smith's theology of councils is interesting, especially when you juxtapose it with Quinn's interpretation of the evoluation of LDS ecclesiology.

The second Richard Lloyd Andersen festschrift has some nifty little articles on church history. As I recall, the one by Faulering on Oliver Cowdry got the best article of the year award from MHA.

Also, I thought the papers from their conference on the original manuscripts of the Book of Mormon were interesting. I believe that they got republished as a pamphlet.

Ann: Applying a non-sensical standard in an even handed way doesn't make the standard less non-sensical.

I think you're doing to FARMs what most members (who are aware of their existence) do to Sunstone/Dialogue--mischaracterization. I decided to do a quick count. They've put 24 issues of FRB, and I picked two at random. One had 17 reviews in it, one had 19. Seems to me like 30 is a small sample, especially if you're only reading the reviews of polemics, which are themselves polemical.

If you ever read the exmormon boards, their cry at everything is "ad hominem!" and then they don't deal with anything raised. Even in the most polemic (or rude/ad hominem/misguided/unchristian take your pick) review, there is substance.

Secondly, I think it's fairly common for scholars involved with religion to be more warm-blooded, if you will. Try reading some of Biblical Archaeology Review's controversial articles, in which the name-calling and accusations fly. That's not to say it's acceptable, just common.

I personally have enjoyed the give and take by reading FARMS reviews as well as the reviewed books/articles or responses. Sometimes the FARMS reviewer (since FARMS is not a monolith) is out of line. Sometimes the reviewed item is just bad scholarship. Sometimes there's a middle ground, as with Todd Compton's "In Sacred Loneliness." I thought the reviewers made some good points, but Compon's response was also quite interesting. http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Oracle/7207/
In essence, he was criticized by FARMs as being too secular and criticized by non-LDS reviews as being too apologetic....

I would second Nate Oman's suggestions. If all you're reading is the reviews, you're missing a good bit.

[Typos corrected, 5/6/04]

Sorry for the typos...

Ben, thanks for the comments and the link to Todd Compton's essay in response to the FARMS reviews of In Sacred Loneliness. He makes the same points I do, but much better and from the viewpoint of a participant rather than a mere observer.

I don't see how you can read Compton's remarks and not grasp what's so wrong about the FRB approach, but we all have our opinions. I see moderate Mormon scholars arguing for "truth, honesty, and moderation" in Mormon Studies, and FRB arguing against them in practice if not in theory. Worse yet, FARMS works to narrow the field, making their rather conservative view the only acceptable Mormon view rather than just the conservative end of a Mormon spectrum that includes liberal, moderate, and conservative views. Their characterization of Compton, who appears to be an active Mormon, is symptomatic of their habit of making criticisms of the book under review into criticisms of the character and motivations of the author. I see the Church as striving in many ways to become more ecumenical, while the rhetoric of FRB is moving the Church in the opposite direction.

Would anyone care to list what they believe to be some of the more egregious book reviews written by FARMS over the last few years? I'd be interested in specific citations.

Aaron B

Compton, in the response linked above by Ben, gives the following for the two FRB reviews of ISL: Farms Review of Books, Volume 10, Number 2, 1998, pp. 67-104 (first review) and pp. 105-137 (second review). Here are links:



I suspect these are representative rather than egregious, but since they review a book many are familiar with, concern an author generally accepted as moderate rather than "anti," and are written by responsible scholars, they are probably good examples of FRB reviews.

Heck, just to illustrate the non-monolithic nature of FARMs, Compton could be classified as a FARMS guy- He edited at least one of the Hugh Nibley Volumes, and contributed several articles to the nibley Festschrift as well as at least one article to the JBMS, "The spiritualit of the Outcast in the BoM" in which he argues, based on the BoM that the people most likely headed for hypocrisy and apostasy are 1) urban 2)educated 3) close to the center of organized religion. He contrasts that with "teh outcast."

Another "FARMS Guy" Kent Jackson, has publicly criticized Hugh Nibley's methodology in a FARMS publication. SEveral other FARMS volumes have come under criticism in FARMS publications.

I find it difficult to talk of a "FARMS perspective" given that it's not a monolith. Several of them have also published in Dialogue and/or Sunstone.

Link to Compton's JBMS article. Requires free login.

Abstract: In the Book of Mormon, despised outcasts, such as the Lamanites or the poor, often have a special aptitude for spirituality, and the richer, "civilized," and more overtly religious Nephites are often declining in righteousness. This phenomenon, with some characteristic specific themes, such as being excluded from a religious edifice, is found in ancient and contemporary cultures and religions. This theme points up the complexity of the Book of Mormon, which is not simple cowboys-and-Indians melodrama.

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