A recent article by two evangelical scholars will be of interest to FARMS subscribers. "Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?" evaluates contemporary Latter-day Saint scholarship and finds it erudite, sophisticated, and rigorous, providing a robust defense of the Mormon faith-and thus meriting serious attention from the evangelical community.
In a fair-minded effort to assess the aims and achievements of LDS scholarship, Carl Mosser and Paul Owen surveyed LDS publications on biblical studies, Christian church history, and the Book of Mormon. They published their findings in the fall 1998 issue of the major evangelical publication Trinity Journal. LDS readers will find the article refreshingly well-informed in its appraisal of Mormon scholarship that defends LDS beliefs as well as contributes to biblical studies in general, such as the notable work of Latter-day Saints on the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In debunking four myths about LDS scholarship, the authors deny, for example, that Latter-day Saints trained in areas like theology and biblical languages invariably discard their beliefs in the historicity of the Book of Mormon and the prophetic stature of Joseph Smith. Such myths are "based upon ignorance and selective reading," the authors assert. "Evangelicals who wish to be responsible must abandon them." They argue further that LDS scholars have effectively responded to criticism of their beliefs, that "no books from an evangelical perspective . . . responsibly interact with . . . LDS scholarly and apologetic writings," and that the "sophistication and erudition of LDS apologetics has risen considerably while evangelical responses have not."
Discussing Hugh Nibley's pioneering work in LDS scholarship, the authors describe him as a "scholar of high caliber" and note that his writings have gone unchallenged by evangelicals because they presently lack the academic training and tools needed to enter that arena. The significant work of other LDS scholars in identifying textual elements in the Book of Mormon that reveal its ancient Near Eastern background is highlighted as well.
In citing Wilfred Griggs's "The Book of Mormon as an Ancient Book" as an example of a notable scholarly defense of the Book of Mormon "worth considering," the authors seem impressed with his numerous examples of religious texts written on gold, silver, or bronze tablets, such as the fifth-century-B.C. Orphic gold plates, which, to quote Griggs, "appear to have an Egyptian origin which agrees in time and content with the Egyptian associations of the Book of Mormon."
The authors list other notable contributions to LDS scholarship, including John W. Welch's work on chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, Donald W. Parry's work on Hebrew poetic structures in the Book of Mormon, Roger R. Keller's study demonstrating that the Book of Mormon is the product of several ancient writers, John Tvedtnes's work on Hebraic elements and Isaiah variants in the Book of Mormon, and Stephen D. Ricks's identification of ancient Near Eastern ritual elements in Mosiah 1-6. Mosser and Owen conclude that "LDS academicians are producing serious research which desperately needs to be critically examined from an informed evangelical perspective."
Mosser and Owen also discuss the role of LDS scholars in advancing understanding of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Pseudepigrapha, and the Pearl of Great Price. For example, they point out that the international team of scroll editors includes four LDS scholars and that FARMS and BYU have sponsored international conferences on the scrolls. LDS research on the scrolls "is readily accepted by the larger academic community," the authors note, "and Mormons are increasingly asked to collaborate on, contribute to, or edit books with non-LDS scholars."
After citing several LDS studies that demonstrate proficiency in biblical scholarship and buttress points of Mormon doctrine, the authors conclude their report by calling for a higher level of professionalism among evangelical writers.
Although the purpose of Mosser and Owen's praise of LDS scholarship is to encourage evangelical scholars to do a better job of countering LDS claims and thereby clarify and strengthen their own doctrinal position (the authors say "both Mormonism and evangelicalism claim to be the church which Christ founded," but "both cannot be correct"), the article provides an interesting perspective on the work of FARMS and the status of LDS scholarship in general. It can be ordered using the enclosed order form.