Bare Record: The Nephite Archivist, The Record of Records, and the Book of Mormon Provenance

Abstract: This paper looks at the Book of Mormon through the lens of library science and the concept of archival provenance. The Nephites cared deeply about their records, and Mormon documented a thorough chain of custody for the plates he edited. However, ideas of archival science and provenance are recent developments in the western world, unknown to biblical authors or to anyone at Joseph Smith’s time. Understanding this aspect of Mormon’s authorship and Joseph Smith’s translation provides additional evidence to the historical validity of the Book of Mormon. Continue reading

Creating a List of “Standard Works” on Book of Mormon Authenticity

Cross-posted with permission from Studio et Quoque Fide

In a recent blog post for Interpreter, Stephen O. Smoot remarks,

“If the work of Mormon scholars in the past 50 years has proven anything, it is that a rigorous defense of the Book of Mormon’s historicity can and has been made in such a compelling manner that one must confront this body of scholarship and adequately account for it before one can propose any Inspired Fiction reading.”

In light of this remark, a mutual friend of ours approached Smoot about a proposed “canon” on Book of Mormon historicity. Smoot brought me into the loop, and we bashed our heads together and came up with this list.

Before presenting the list, a few points of clarification. First, not all of these are related to “historicity,” strictly speaking. Some deal with antiquity, or the dating of the text, while others deal with the original authorship, meaning who wrote the text, while others are related to the original language the text was written in. These matters tend to get conflated in Book of Mormon arguments, and understandably so as they are inseparably connected in important ways. For example, Joseph Smith can’t be the author if the original language is Egyptian or Hebrew, and it can’t be modern yet be historical. Nonetheless, they are not identical and it is important not to confuse arguments for one as arguments for the others. I use “authenticity” as an umbrella term for these issues. So, this is a list of “standard works” on Book of Mormon authenticity, and not just historicity. Continue reading

The Imperative for a Historical Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon must be read as an ancient, not as a modern book. Its mission, as described by the book itself, depends in great measure for its efficacy on its genuine antiquity. —Hugh Nibley1

To many non-Mormon readers, the Book of Mormon’s insistence on its historicity is troublesome. Modern scholars are quite comfortable in safely doting over quaint and long-forgotten religious texts that are considered neither genuinely historical nor scriptural by modern believers. The Book of Mormon, by contrast, claims to be “an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites . . . [and] an abridgment of the Book of Ether,” that was “written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation” (Book of Mormon Title Page). This has created an extremely awkward situation for religious historians who, in the words of Terryl Givens, “want to salvage Joseph Smith’s prophetic role . . . by avoiding what they see as the embarrassing ramifications of his naked prose or the fragility of the book’s historical claims.” This awkwardness makes these uncomfortable historians “hard-pressed to devise nonliteral readings” of the Book of Mormon. Why so? “Joseph’s prophetic writings [are] grounded in artifactual reality, not the world of psychic meanderings. It is hard to allegorize—and profoundly presumptuous to edit down—a sacred record that purports to be a transcription of tangible records hand-delivered by an angel.”2 Continue reading

  1. Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd ed. (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), 3. 

  2. Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2002), 80. Givens has reiterated this point elsewhere. “In a particularly pronounced way, the meaning and value of the Book of Mormon as a religious text are tied to a specific set of historical claims.” Terryl Givens, “Foreword,” in John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), xiv. 

Some Notes on Book of Mormon Names

The Book of Mormon as an Ancient Document:
Proper Names as a Test Case

Abstract: This study considers the Book of Mormon personal names Josh, Nahom, and Alma as test cases for the Book of Mormon as an historically authentic ancient document. Continue reading