The death of Book of Mormon antiquity research?

Book of Mormon antiquity research has changed a lot since since the late 1990s. Not so long ago, it appeared that the future looked bright for the project to authenticate the BoM. Even in 2005 Richard Bushman could write, “the proponents [of an ancient BoM] are as energetic and ingenious as the critics in mustering support for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. On the whole better trained, with more technical language skills than their opponents, they are located mainly at Brigham Young University and associated with the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS). As a loosely coordinated group, they are as assiduous in demonstrating the historical authenticity of the book as the critics are in situating it in the nineteenth century” (Rough Stone Rolling, 92-93). But of course today FARMS with its university backing no longer exists, the quality of apologetic work produced through its intellectual successor The Interpreter has deteriorated, and the general sense is no longer onward and upward.

Nevertheless, in my view the most significant development that occurred during this period with long term implications for BoM apologetics is not the dissolution of FARMS and subsequent reorganization of the Maxwell Institute, but rather the failure of this earlier generation of scholars to convince people in my generation who went into biblical and ancient studies more generally to continue the struggle, not only that this was a fight worth having and sacrificing for but that it was grounded in the best available methodologies and scholarly bodies of knowledge. If you can’t build up supporters from those with the relevant professional training to say something informed about BoM historicity, then you have already lost. No matter how many articles you publish by enthusiastic layperson students of the BoM, the scholarly discourse is eventually hollowed out and devitalized and its credibility diminished. As with organic life, intellectual traditions can wither and die.

This, I would submit, is what is happening with traditional BoM antiquity research. I am aware of no one of relatively recent professional training in historical methodology or biblical or ancient studies who has attempted to give any kind of evidence-based justification for belief in a historical BoM or provided a competent response or accounting for the many ways in which our present knowledge of the Bible and its historical development militates strongly against a literal understanding of the BoM story. So either people have the requisite training but choose not to use it for this purpose or they bring their training to bear in only a very selective, limited, uncritical, and one-sided fashion.

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