Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Beware of the Experts—They Often Have an Axe to Grind Part II

John L. Sorenson (born 1924) is an emeritus professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University and closely involved with the Foundation of Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) for twenty-eight years, including five years as editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. He has published more than two hundred books and articles, including An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, as well as Mormon’s Map and Images of Ancient America, published by FARMS at BYU.

The first book has become the premier publication on Book of Mormon geography and considered to “contain criteria that cannot be ignored when searching for the geographic setting of the Book of Mormon.” In fact, BYU Anthropology Professor John E. Clark, claimed in an evaluation of another historian’s book on this subject not long ago, that if any author of such material is to be taken seriously, they “have to compare their ideas to Sorenson’s work, or show where he is wrong” since he is considered the “guru of Book of Mormon geography,” and one of the most prolific contributors to Book of Mormon publications.

This is the reason for many of the posts that appear in this blog, and this current series about so-called experts on Book of Mormon Land of Promise geography. Frankly, it is not difficult to show where Sorenson is wrong in numerous areas when comparing his statements and beliefs against the scriptural record.

Sorenson, who holds a Ph.D from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), first did archaeological work in Mesoamerica while pursuing a masters degree at BYU. From January until June 1953 he was involved in the New World Archaeological Foundation's initial fieldwork in the state of Tabasco in Mexico. He began teaching at BYU in 1963, and he later established the BYU's anthropology department, and has authored or co-authored some 200 books.

It is claimed that Sorenson, “while being a proponent of the historicity of the Book of Mormon, has also attacked the shoddy scholarship that some have used in defending the Book of Mormon.” This, in fact, is an interesting comment about Sorenson, since his work, itself, is often “shoddy scholarship” when it comes to his ideas and statements about the Book of Mormon geographical settings and historicity, as this and following posts show (as well as many others, especially those found in the book “Inaccuracies of Mesoamerican and Other Theorists”).

This post and those following are our responses to his lecture on “Mormon’s Sources.” A paper presented to students at Brigham Young University during the Second Biennial Willes Center Book of Mormon Lecture, Sept 8, 2011, at the BYU Hinckley Center Assembly Hall. His statements appear following his name, and our comments following “Response."

Sorenson: " like Nephi before him, Mormon likely used temporary, perishable materials for initial drafts before inscribing the plates.” And “Mormon probably wrote his book first on perishable material before daring to put it on metal."

Response: There is no suggestion or intimation that Mormon wrote everything down first, then wrote it on the plates. Such an endeavor would have taken a great deal of time, effort and energy and would have seemed unnecessary at the time. He more likely looked over the records, envisioned the story line, decided how he would write it, and without any constraint of the Spirit, wrote it down on the plates. It might be why, in several areas, the words “In other words…” are used, to restate or clarify the first statement written.

Sorenson: "Mormon edited his summary or abridgment of the archival sources available to him during the four-year preparation for the final battle with the Lamanites, after which he buried those sources, and now had a portable set of plates for him and his son, Moroni."

Response: Mormon was seventy-five years of age at the time of the final battle (Mormon 6:5). Four years earlier would make him about 71. It is unlikely that Mormon would have waited until he was 71 years old to begin his compilation of the Book of Mormon. He was told about the records by Ammaron when he was ten years old, and told to take the plates of Nephi when he was 24 years old and write about the Nephites in his time (Mormon 1:2-4). In the year 375, when he was 65 years old he obtained all the records Ammaron hid (Mormon 4:23), and hid them again in the year 385, when he was 75 years old, consequently, he had in his possession all the records for ten years before hiding them for the final time and keeping out a few he gave to Moroni (Mormon 6:6). In ten years, it is likely he could have read all the records in question.

(See the next post: “Beware of the Experts—They Often Have an Axe to Grind Part III,” for more of Sorenson’s remarks at the Second Biennial Willes Center Book of Mormon Lecture, Sept 8, 2011, at the BYU Hinckley Center Assembly Hall)                

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