September 15, 2008

Gardner's Book of Mormon Myths: Number 4

Likening With Care, part 5
Continuing with Gardner's top five myths or misconceptions regarding the Book of Mormon, the next involves the problem of excessive modern assumptions.


The fourth myth would be almost any statement that begins with "the Book of Mormon should. . ." 

Gardner intends this myth to refer largely to ethnocentric or modernist assumptions. He explains:

Most who make that statement are reading the text according to a modern preconception that doesn't describe many ancient texts. 
One of the places where we see this is when people assert: "the text should tell us about 'others' if they were there." That is a nice modern assumption, and a modern author would certainly not fail to do so. However, it doesn't describe the way in which ancient histories were written, particularly of the kind we have from Nephi.

We forget that Nephi wrote this as a second type of "history" that was expressly for a different purpose from recording the more "historical" information. The internal logic of the text actually tells us that his need to use the text as a document of ethnogenesis dictated what was and was not in the text. The overriding concerns were different from those we impose upon it when we think it "should" tell us about the "others."1

Thus Gardner argues in his series Second Witness that the Book of Mormon indicates the presence of others in the New World upon the arrival of the Lehites without explicitly naming them. They soon fall under the generic socio-political title of "Lamanites." In his 2001 FAIR Conference address "A Social History of the Early Nephites," Gardner discussed the textual indicators in the Book of Mormon which point to the presence of others. Gardner is not the first or only person to present this view, either.2

Still, some have criticized this position, mainly on the premise that if there were "others," the Book of Mormon should say so in a way that makes it clear to the understanding of the critics. Gardner argues this is a modern expectation and that saying "the Book of Mormon should" is often a problematic approach when it doesn't take into mind what should be expected of an ancient record like the Book of Mormon claims to be.

See myth number 5 here


Brant Gardner, person email in possession of author, Sept. 1, 2008.

See for example, John L. Sorenson, "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1:1; Matthew Roper, "Nephi's Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations," FARMS Review 15:2. Others include Anthony Ivins, Hugh Nibley, and even Bruce R. McConkie. See Jeff Lindsay, "Does DNA Evidence Refute the Book of Mormon."


Anonymous said...

The old testament talks about "others" all over the place.

Lack of "others" in the BOM doesn't prove anything, but it's just yet another thing that makes the book seem inauthentic.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Quite the contrary, actually. The Biblical account is problematic in the same sense the Book of Mormon is, only in different degrees. It discusses "others" but hardly in a way that is substantiated by current archeology, especially in the Old Testament. For example, the Biblical account of the exodus (and the prior enslavement to the Egyptians) doesn't really match what the archaeologists etc. are saying, from what I understand. Another example of this disconnect concerns the depiction of the Canaanites.

It is all too simple for people to assume the Bible is well-substantiated in many instances when it actually isn't.

First, I suggest you take a look at the actual arguments in behalf of "others" in the Book of Mormon provided at the end of this blog post.

Second, I encourage you to look into the Biblical history itself where you will quickly find a sandier foundation than you appear to expect. See, for example, William Dever's Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? and Did God Have a Wife? Archeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel.

Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Um, you are arguing against an position I didn't take.

I'm not saying the OT is especially accurate. But I suppose we'd agree that it is an authentically ancient redaction of some even more ancient records and traditions.

The point is that the OT mentions "others" all the time. So does any authentic history I've ever's all full of messy, complicated references to mysterious things happening just outside the main frame. (Even "The Lord of the Rings" manages to capture some of this feeling, that's why Tolkien was a genius.)

The BOM just doesn't seem authentic in that way to me. Your mileage may vary.

signed, Anonymous from before
(p.s. - great blog)

LifeOnaPlate said...

My point is the "goodies" and "badies" in the OT are structured in a similar way to what we find in the Book of Mormon. In neither case does the archeological record directly match the "groups" listed in either case. In addition, the Book of Mormon quite simply does refer to "others" implicitly, though you counter that it does not. Ironically, you are falling under the rubric of myth #4 here in saying what the BoM "should" do if there really were others. If you do not believe the book allows for the presence of others, please look over the papers I linked to in this post and provide some substantive responses. Otherwise they stand as they are.

Thanks for the discussion, anonymous.

Brant said...

The problem of "others" in the Bible and Book of Mormon is partly due to differences in the continents and more to our assumptions. The real difference is that the Old World had developed kingdoms by this time and therefore we see nations described by a collective name.

The New World did not have nations when the Lehites arrived, but continued the pre-nation habit of referring to other peoples by their city or by a gentilic indicating all outsiders ("gentile" for the Hebrews). That is the situation we find in the Book of Mormon, the collective for the outsiders (generically "Lamanite," not a lineage term), or by the city.

As for the earliest chapters of contact where we think they "should" have been mentioned, we forget that we have a very different record in 1 Nephi (and no idea what mention might have been made in the book of Lehi, depending upon Mormon's editing). Nephi was creating a new people and had little interest in "others" because that was a divisive possibility and he was building a community. This was a second document expressly written for other purposes.

For other New World historical documents which do not mention "others" even when others are known to have been there, see the Popol Vuh and the Annals of the Cakchiquels.

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