Jenkins Rejoinder 4: Game Over

Jenkins Rejoinder 4: Game Over June 22, 2015


This is a belated response to Dr. Hamblin’s opening column in his series of posts.

He says that “Jenkins is woefully uninformed regarding ancient Book of Mormon studies…. [nothing] provides the slightest evidence that he understands ancient Book of Mormon studies, and is therefore qualified to engage the issue,” I respond that there is no such thing as “ancient Book of Mormon studies,” at least in terms of a vaguely credible field of academic study, any more than say, “Elvis Survival Studies.” In order to substantiate my opinion, I will need to call on an expert witness, namely William Hamblin himself.

I will address Dr. Hamblin:

You have said repeatedly that Ancient Book of Mormon Studies is an important field demanding study and attention. Obviously, such a topic would not be explored in a secular university, such as Penn State, but oddly, I do not see where and how this study is pursued in Brigham Young University, the Mormon flagship school.

As I have noted in recent comments, it certainly is not pursued in your terrific Anthropology department, which includes Archaeology (John Sorenson is listed as Emeritus there, but he is now in his 90s). And that absence is all the more marked given the strong representation of Mesoamericanists in that unit:…

The strong BYU History department has several people studying Mormon history but all, I believe, in the post-1830 period. So in which academic department is Ancient Book of Mormon Studies taught and studied at BYU? Where can an interested person take courses or pursue an advanced degree – or even an undergraduate minor? Where can they take a course? As I noted, the Maxwell Institute does not appear to be an academic teaching department – am I wrong about that?

Nor is it just a matter than a specific field called “Ancient Book of Mormon Studies” is not listed under that title, but I see no coursework in related areas. (The Religion department website makes it impossible for me to draw conclusions about the work done there.)

But if Ancient Book of Mormon Studies is not cultivated in mainstream academic units at BYU, what does that say about the university’s attitude to that field? If they took it seriously, presumably they would hire people in it and set up graduate programs. But they don’t. Is that because of BYU’s notorious anti-Mormon prejudice, I wonder? Or do they regard “scriptural archaeology” as a non-academic matter that is a matter of personal faith rather than of authentic scholarship? Something for a Religion unit, at most, and clearly not for History or Archaeology?

You know BYU well, so here is a serious question. How would your History department, say, react if someone volunteered to teach a course on Ancient Book of Mormon Studies? Has no one attempted such a thing in recent years? Have you? You don’t list it among your impressively diverse areas of expertise in teaching and research.…

In contrast, a mainstream Christian school like Baylor teaches many, many courses on all aspects and eras of Jewish or Christian history, scripture and archaeology, founded on the analysis of the Old and New Testaments. Oddly, in the context, so does a strictly secular school like Penn State, where such issues are repeatedly touched on in the study of mainstream history and archaeology. As a subject for secular scholarship, the Bible (Old and New Testaments) is viewed not just a legitimate mainstream topic, it is essential for anyone trying to understand the ancient world.

Why does BYU not treat the historical claims of the Book of Mormon similarly?

Or to take another criterion, academic departments place different values on different kinds of publication, with the most respect being accorded to high-prestige and high visibility outlets, and that is where they want their faculty publishing. In History, for instance, that means internationally valued journals like AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW, or in archaeology, that would mean something like AMERICAN ANTIQUITY. The more you publish in high profile journals, the greater the rewards for the individual professor, and the higher the prestige for the academic unit.

So how seriously do BYU departments take what I would call “Book of Mormon apologist” journals and books, like the recently defunct FARMS REVIEW? In fact, they give them nothing like the respect that they would to “real” mainstream secular journals in History or Archaeology, to the point that they actively discourage their professors from publishing there. Or that, at least, is what I read in your own powerful comments on this very ENIGMATIC MIRROR blog from 2013:…

Specifically, you mention that BYU administrators look poorly on a faculty member publishing with such outlets, and that this has been “the consistent policy of both my department and college for a quarter of a century.” As you say yourself, “publishing with FARMS and now INTERPRETER is considered unscholarly by BYU.” From the administrative perspective, you remark, “publications count as scholarly only if published outside the BYU bubble.” If I am misquoting you, or quoting out of context, do please set me right.

When I have myself criticized certain journals like the INTERPRETER as not scholarly, apologist commenters have rebuked on the grounds that these are actually refereed journals, and therefore demanding respect. But if BYU itself treats these outlets as unworthy and non-respectable, why should a non-Mormon writer such as myself act any differently? Maybe the apologists should take their complaints up with BYU, not me.

So here is my bottom line. If Ancient Book of Mormon Studies is not cultivated at BYU – indeed, seemingly, it is despised – where does it exist as an academic subject? And if not at BYU, why should anyone else care about it?

In the words of a modern day authority commenting on scholarly argument: You got to know when to hold them, and know when to fold them. Book of Mormon apologists really, seriously, need just to fold. If there ever was an argument about Book of Mormon historicity, it is long settled.

Game over.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!