A Bit More with Regard to My Appearance in This Morning’s New York Times



On an aggressively hostile and contemptuous ex-Mormon message board where I browse from time to time, one poster has published the text of an email that s/he claims to have sent to the reporter, Sheryl Stolberg, who interviewed me for this morning’s article in the New York Times:


total fluff piece. you forgot to mention that Denial was recently fired by FAIRS, because mormon hierarchy was considering his mormon apologetics an embarassment as mittens was entering the national arena.

head mo’s threw Denial under the bus. Have you read some of his considered works in defense of the Book of Kolob? Horses were actually tapirs? Chicken in backpacks? Chariots were actually travois? and of course, who can forget wooden submarines.

further, mormons were NOT persecuted. They were prosecuted, because everywhere they went, they broke local laws, offended local mores and tried to oust the locals. Denial’s great-great-great-great grandfather was little more than a tithe-paying thug for Joe the Ho. Still playing the victim card?


I would imagine that Ms. Stolberg gave this note the degree of serious attention that it deserved.


It does, however, provide me with an excuse to explain, yet again and for the hundredth time, some of the actual facts about my expulsion, this past summer, from the Maxwell Institute (the successor organization to FARMS or the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) and to provide a couple of very small corrections to Ms. Stolberg’s excellent and quite sympathetic article.


First of all, I wasn’t “fired by FAIRS.”  I wasn’t fired at all.  I still have my job at Brigham Young University, where I’m a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic and the editor in chief of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative; my salary is unchanged.


Moreover, there is no such thing as “FAIRS.”  Presumably, the author of the note has confused FAIR (the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research), which is an independent organization based in California, with FARMS, which ceased to exist as a separate organization quite a few years ago but survives, in a (recently much reduced) sense, in the Maxwell Institute, based at BYU.


As for the poster’s claim that “mormon hierarchy was considering his mormon apologetics an embarassment as mittens was entering the national arena.  head mo’s threw Denial under the bus,” I have to repeat, yet again, that I know of absolutely no evidence suggesting that the General Authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were involved in my banishment from the Maxwell Institute, and that I have direct personal knowledge that the Brethren neither ordered it nor approved it in advance.  Since what the poster claims to have occurred didn’t actually occur at all, it scarcely needs to be said that his or her explanation of the motive behind my expulsion is pure imaginative fiction.


“Have you read some of his considered works in defense of the Book of Kolob?” writes the poster, who then helpfully offers purported examples of my arguments:  “Horses were actually tapirs? Chicken in backpacks? Chariots were actually travois? and of course, who can forget wooden submarines.”  The trouble is that such ideas, to the extent that they actually exist — what in the world is meant by “chicken in backpacks”? is it like a “pig in a blanket”? perhaps some kind of barbecue meal? — are associated with other people (e.g., John Sorenson) far more than with me.  I doubt that the poster would be able, if pressed, to accurately restate these hypotheses, and I doubt that he or she has read much, if anything, of the relevant literature.  I’ve simply become such a bête noire for certain critics that, knowing far too little to be able to recognize their error, they attribute every idea or argument of Mormon apologetics — however badly they misunderstand it — to me.


Finally, I was surprised to see my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Joseph Knight Sr., described as “a tithe-paying thug.”  A “thug“?  I’ve never seen even the slightest suggestion from anybody, anywhere, that Father Knight ever inflicted violence on anybody.  But the poster has confident hostility on his or her side; historical facts would just confuse the portrait he or she is attempting to sketch.


But enough of such nonsense.  I want to offer just a couple of corrections to Ms. Stolberg’s protrayal of me:


1)  I didn’t actually ‘gr[o]w up hearing stories about the persecution of [my] ancestors, beginning with [my] great-great-great-great-grandfather.”  My father was a non-member until the night I was set apart as a missionary, and my mother was only marginally active in the Church until roughly that same time.  To the extent that I was active in the Church, which was only sporadic until I went to high school, I heard the usual stories of persecution and pioneers, but it was only shortly before my marriage that I learned that I was a descendent of Joseph Knight Sr. through Joseph Knight Jr.


2)  “Dr. Peterson,” wrote Ms. Stolberg, “vividly remembered his father telling him about a church in their hometown, San Gabriel, Calif., that brought in ‘a fire-breathing anti-Mormon minister’ who warned that Mormons were trying to take over the country.”  It’s a trivial thing, and she can’t be blamed for not knowing the real situation, but, by this time, after I had left home for college, my parents had actually moved from San Gabriel, California, to Whittier, California, and my Dad’s experience occurred next door, in La Mirada.  He was genuinely unnerved by it.


Rather innocently, I’m sure, Ms. Stolberg’s account of me overemphasizes the “persecution” and “opposition” that I faced as a student in California.  They really weren’t overly significant, though they weren’t entirely absent, either.  (How bad could they have been?  After all, for what it’s worth, I was elected student body president at my high school, and voted both “Best Student” and “Most Likely to Succeed,” and then, at the University of California at Los Angeles, the faculty in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures nominated me for, and I won, UCLA’s “Outstanding Graduate Student” award.)  So I don’t want it to be thought that I’ve grown up paranoid, or with a persecution complex.  I’m simply a realist, and I have, in fact, encountered derision, negativity, and opposition from time to time that came, very plainly and explicitly, on account of my religious convictions.



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  • Erich Zann

    I’m absolutely shocked by your response to this gentleman’s e-mail, Mr. Peterson. Chicken in backpacks is the very bedrock of my testimony, and yet you seem to dismiss the concept entirely. I daresay you may be a heretic.

  • http://doctrineofthekingdom.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1 TJ

    Clearly we are dealing with a well educated individual here.

  • Michael J. Fisher

    I remember something I read about 40 years ago in a parish magazine – the Vicar, who wrote the article, said about the Book of Mormon, “…discovered by Joseph Smith, on a hill in Jerusalem, 600 BC…”
    So I am not surprised at all.

    • danpeterson