Thursday, March 17, 2016

More from John Sorenson—Instant Expertise – Part I

A reader sent in part of an article written by John L. Sorenson, the Mesoamerican guru and professor emeritus of BYU and one time head of the Anthropology and Archaeology department at that University. 
    Sorenson wrote in “Instant Expertise on Book of Mormon Archaeology,” (BYU Studies, Vol 16 No 3, Spring 1976, pp429-432), regarding the credentials, so to speak, required to have valuable insights into the Book of Mormon.
    Now I realize this article is several years old and much has been written by Sorenson and others since, but we have decided to respond to our reader’s question based on the fact that this idea Sorenson writes about seems to be permeating those today who seek answers to the location of the Land of Promise, so they can enjoy their understanding and reading of the scriptural record by placing it into a physical setting as we can now do with the Bible, especially the location that Jesus walked and where he was when he did the things he accomplished. And for those who think we enjoy “Sorenson bashing,” let me suggest personally, that all of our writing is intended to make the scriptural record clearer and in the cases of other’s writing, to show where it does or does not agree with the scriptural record.
    John L. Sorenson’s article, which we will answer point by point in our “Response” portion of each listing, follows:
    Sorenson: “I do not presume to judge the motives of Farnsworth, West, Cheesman and others who publish in this vein. They seem to be zealous believers in the Book of Mormon. But zeal does not improve poor scholarship.”
    Response: “in this vein” has to do with Sorenson’s earlier comment which was: “At least from the time of George Reynolds the Saints have avidly bought books which claim to offer them inside information on this scripture, particularly on its geography or what are termed "external evidences." Some of these sources have actually been helpful to the serious reader. Many more, and these are the concern here, have harmed more than helped.”
For those unaware, George Reynolds (left shown in 1870s and in 1907) was born in 1842 in London, England, was baptized at age 14, and immigrated to Utah in 1865, married, and went to work in the office of Brigham Young. Over the years, he worked in the Office of the President as accounting clerk, correspondence secretary, ordinance recorder, and private secretary. He also served as a member of the Salt Lake City council, regent for the University of Deseret, and member of the governing boards of several business enterprises. Under Elder George Q. Cannon, he was an assistant editor of the Deseret News and wrote several articles for the Juvenile Instructor. He also spent a year in England as assistant editor of the Millennial Star and the Journal of Discourses.
Covers of two Juvenile Instructor magazines; bottom: How it was packaged and shipped, by wagon
    He was a polygamist, marrying his second wife in 1874, though the Morrill Act had been passed 12 years earlier. Still, Church leaders thought the Act was unconstitutional and needed to have a test case brought before the courts, which that of George Reynolds, who was asked to serve as the Church’s representative in the case, became. It went to court, Reynolds (and the Church) lost, Reynolds was sentenced to two years of hard labor in a federal penitentiary; though George Q. Cannon, got the hard-labor clause revoked, the sentence reduced to 18 months. Regarded as a “prisoner for conscience’,” prayers in his behalf were offered throughout the Church, and just before entering prison, President John Taylor pronounced a blessing on him. The Holy Spirit would rest upon him, promised President Taylor, to enlighten him and other Church members regarding scriptural understanding. While in prison he spent his time reading the standard works, read the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon arranged into chapters and verses by Elder Orson Pratt, and felt motivated to write about the book—about 80 articles published in all, most of them about the Book of Mormon. 
    Seated on a small stool with his notes nailed to the wall in front of him, he wrote in longhand on a small lapboard. Dust often blinded him, and the wind would flurry his papers over the yard during the miserably hot, dry summer. The winter was one of the coldest on record in Utah, with the temperature frequently dipping below zero, numbing George’s fingers. But he pressed relentlessly on. During the summer of 1880, in a depressed and frustrated mood, George stopped writing for a month. Then a brainstorm hit him: the Church could use a concordance to the Book of Mormon, similar to Alexander Cruden’s Complete Concordance to the Old and New Testaments.
    With renewed vigor, George plunged back into his work, transcribing passages from the Book of Mormon at the rate of as many as 350 per day. In October he was granted permission to work by day in the relative comfort of the guards’ dining room, which enabled him to work even more rapidly. By the time of his release on 20 January 1881, George had completed 25,000 entries in his concordance. But his monumental work would not be published until over twenty years later—in 1904.
After his release in 1881, and much encouragement of his friends, he put his writings into a book form, which was published in 1888 Story of the Book of Mormon, which appeared as the first complete—though unofficial—commentary on the text of the Book of Mormon (Bruce A. Van Orden, George Reynolds, Loyal Friend of the Book of Mormon, LDS.Org website, August 1986).
    Now what does Sorenson find faulty about this writing that provided a generation of the Church’s youth with their first training in the history and doctrines of the Book of Mormon, which was illustrated with forty-two beautifully drawn pictures of incidents from Book of Mormon history? George Reynolds was not a trained archaeologist. He evidently had the gall to analyze and investigate the proper names found in the Book of Mormon, tracing their possible roots, he gave serious attention to the geography of the Land of Promise (much of which is questioned today—it was not placed in Mesoasmrica), as well as attempt a detailed description of every city valley, hill, land and river mentioned. This evidently did not sit well with Sorenson and his “educated” buddies, for he said:
    Sorenson: Then what is the harm from such publications? First, they train the reader that serious, critical thought is unnecessary and may be even undesirable, that any source of information will serve no matter how unreliable, and that logical absurdity is as good as sound analysis.”
    Response: I wonder what George Reynolds might have said of Sorenson changing Mormon’s north-south map of the Land of Promise some 90º sideways into an east-west map?
    Sorenson: “Second, the reader gets the false impression that all is well in Zion, that the outside world is being forced to the LDS point of view, and that the only role LDS scholars need play in Book of Mormon-related studies is to use scissors and paste effectively.”
    Response: Well, it seems Reynolds’ relegated scholars to an unnecessary role in the people understanding the Book of Mormon. Evidently, Sorenson, the well-educated leader of anthropology and archaeology at BYU feels slighted that someone with no training was asked by two Presidents of the Church to serve them by endeavoring to make the Book of Mormon more realistic and understandable, especially to the growing youth of the Church. I wonder what Joseph Smith would have said about an untrained, un-educated person trying to make the Book of Mormon more meaningful.
Sorenson: “Third, the underlying complexity and subtlety of the Book of Mormon are masked by a pseudo-scholarship to which everything is simple.”
    Response: I love Nephi’s answer to this—“they shall cry from the dust; yea, even repentance unto their brethren, even after many generations have gone by them. And it shall come to pass that their cry shall go, even according to the simpleness of their words. Because of their faith their words shall proceed forth out of my mouth unto their brethren who are the fruit of thy loins; and the weakness of their words will I make strong in their faith, unto the remembering of my covenant which I made unto thy fathers” (2 Nephi 3:20) and also “For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3). I guess I fail to see the complexity involved—just simple language that all can understand, especially if they bend their minds to that understanding and not try to read the scriptural record like an adventure novel. “Search, Ponder and Pray,” is the title of a song from our hymnal (words Jaclyn Thomas Milne; music Carol Baker Black), which is fundamental to our understanding scripture-any scrsipture.
(See the next post, “More from John Sorenson—Instant Expertise – Part II,” for more on the article Sorenson wrote and its implications in locating and writing about the Land of Promise today)


  1. Del, has any of these BYU scholars commented on your work? I never did find any about Priddis's work. Do they just ingore it? Thanks, Ira

  2. What's crying out now is the stones. The stones from the great pyramids and many other great stone works around the world. The sons of God are the most likely candidates to have built them. Instead of trying to read the nephites and jaredites into them we would be better off looking in Ohio and tennessee for more evidence of Hebrews in the Americas and giving the Sons of God credit for mating with us, being able to present themselves to God along with Satan and building monuments to their 1000 year stay with us?

  3. Ira: Not that I am aware of. John Clark at BYU bought all four books a while back, I assume to review for then FARMS, but nothing ever showed up in print of which I am aware.
    Michael: In brief, the sons of God is a phrase found in the Hebrew Bible and the apocrypha and in referring to men does so to the righteous. In one sense, where the sons of god married the daughters of man, this had to do with the Priesthood bearers marrying outside of the lineage and forfeitting the rights of the priesthood to thier children. Where these sons of god who hold the priesthood are found and were led is not known to us, other than to the Land of Promise in the scriptural record. As far as Ohio and Tennessee is concerned, there were no Nephiters there that we know of from the scriptural record, and surely we do not believe in mating between gods and man in that sense, which is strictly a pagan concept.