Jenkins Response 4: Scholarship

There are about a dozen professional LDS Mesoamericanists who accept the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  A first glance that may not sound like very many, but we must remember that there are only a few hundred professional Mesoamericanists in the world—the annual Maya Studies meeting in Texas has an attendance of about 250—compared to 10,000 for the Society of Biblical Literature.  Mormons are represented in the discipline at or above their percentage in the population at large.  Furthermore, each of these scholars have far more knowledge of Mesoamerican studies than Jenkins.  

I maintain that these LDS Mesoamericanists are authentic scholars, not cranks as Jenkins implies.  As evidence for my argument I note the following:

1- They all have received Ph.D degrees from accredited non-Mormon universities in Mesoamerican studies.

2- Most teach Mesoamerican studies at accredited universities—some at BYU, but others at secular schools. 

3- They regularly attend and present papers at the professional meetings in the field.

4- Some lead—not just participate in—major archaeological digs in Mesoamerica.

5- They publish peer reviewed articles in the standard academic journals, edit books and journals, and publish university press books in their field.

These are all objective criteria by which we can determine that LDS Mesoamericanists are accepted and well respected in the discipline.  (This does not mean, of course, that their views on the historicity of the Book of Mormon are accepted.)  While the Book of Mormon may not be accepted as authentic history by non-Mormon Mesoamericanists, Book-of-Mormon-believing scholars are routinely accepted as authentic scholars by non-Mormon Mesoamericanists.  Because these LDS Mesoamericanists are accepted as authentic scholars in their field, their views on historicity of the Book of Mormon at least merit some degree of attention, if not respect.  They cannot simply be dismissed out of hand as if they were authentic scholars one moment, and driveling cranks the next.

Jenkins acknowledges this, but doesn’t recognize its implications. If secular Mesoamericanists accept LDS Mesoamericanists as professional, scholarly colleagues, what reason does Jenkins have to reject their arguments out of hand?  They may be wrong in their belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, but they certainly understand the issues and evidence relating to both the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican studies.  It seems clear that Jenkins is engaging in rhetorical posturing in order to marginalize LDS scholars, and thereby relieve himself of any obligation to actually read what they have to say, and respond to their actual arguments.  If is not published by secular journals, it can be safely ignored.  

Of course, it is still within living memory that Jews have been marginalized or even ostracized from scholarly circles precisely and only because they were Jewish.  Although I don’t know anything about Jenkins’ personal religious beliefs—I think he is an Episcopalian—he teaches at Baylor, a private Baptist university, which could perhaps be considered the Baptist BYU.  I mention this because Evangelical biblical scholars are often treated by secular biblical scholars precisely the way Jenkins treats Mormon scholars—they aren’t authentic scholars because of some particular religious beliefs.  Every so often we hear about secular scholars attempting to marginalize Evangelical participation at the Society of Biblical Literature because of their religious beliefs about the Bible.  The fundamental argument is that Evangelicals are not “true scholars” because they believe in X about the Bible—what precisely X might be can vary.  I suspect Jenkins would reject this argument when used to marginalize his Evangelical colleagues at Baylor.  Yet he proposes precisely the same argument in his attempt to marginalize LDS scholarship on the Book of Mormon. 

In my view there is only one this that is important in this discussion.  What is the evidence, interpretation, arguments and analysis brought to bear on the question of the historicity of the Book of Mormon.