Two recent magazine articles on topics of interest in Book of Mormon studies are available from FARMS as reprints (see the order form).
The first article, "Mounting Evidence for the Book of Mormon," by Daniel C. Peterson, appeared in the January 2000 issue of the Ensign magazine. The article explains the role of Book of Mormon scholarship, notes the tremendous surge in publications of that kind in recent years, and highlights secondary evidence that supports the book's claim to ancient origins and inspired translation.
Peterson points out, for example, that recent studies by several scholars indicate that Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon. It is simply too complex and rooted in the ancient world for an unlearned farm boy to get all the details right. Such details include chiasmus (a literary technique of inverted parallelism in ancient texts), the mention of a reformed Egyptian script (some ancient texts that have come to light were written in that manner), and distinct writing styles (wordprint studies of the Book of Mormon confirm its multiple authorship).
In addition, Peterson notes that modern discoveries have shown that the Book of Mormon names Nephi, Alma, and Sariah were in use in the Near East of Lehi's time. He also explains that Nephite monetary customs, the oath taken by Nephite soldiers in Alma 46:21-22, and rituals associated with King Benjamin's last speech reveal the book's origins in the ancient Near East. Peterson concludes, "While we will never 'prove' the Book of Mormon true, the trajectory of the evidence strongly suggests that it is exactly what it claims to be, a book worthy of our deep study, reflection, and serious personal prayer. . . . Much modern evidence supports the more powerful witness of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true."
The second article, "The Diffusionists Have Landed," by Marc K. Stengel (Atlantic Monthly, January 2000), reviews the status of the debate over possible transoceanic contact with peoples of the Western Hemisphere in pre-Columbian times.
The conventional position of many historians, anthropologists, and geographers is that New World civilizations before the time of Columbus developed essentially free of contact with cultures from the Old World. On the other hand, diffusionists believe that ample field evidence supports the idea of transoceanic cultural contact during the "prehistory" of the Americas.
Stengel discusses the possible influences of Norse, Chinese, and Phoenician culture on New World peoples. He includes a fair assessment of the diffusionist studies of Barry Fell, a Harvard biologist and epigrapher whose work has largely fallen into disrepute. Stengel also reviews John Sorenson and Martin Raish's two-volume work Pre-Columbian Contact with the Americas across the Oceans: An Annotated Bibliography (Provo, Utah: Research Press, rev. ed. 1996). Sorenson is an emeritus professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University and FARMS scholar, and Raish is an art historian and instructional librarian at BYU. Citing the authors' "laborious research" in the "herculean task of collating, summarizing, and indexing diffusion-related texts," Stengel concludes that the bibliography "represents . . . a dispassionate and comprehensive summary of the most serious diffusionist research and commentary to date." However, he notes that establishment scholars question the bibliography's objectivity, since "anything that connects ancient Mesoamerica with biblical-era Palestine lends that much more credence to the Book of Mormon" (yet he does not suggest even the slightest hint of any way that this agenda has affected the quality of the compilers' annotations).
Stengel goes on to discuss Kennewick Man, an ancient skeleton found in Washington state in 1996 whose alleged "Caucasoid" features are causing a heated dispute among archaeologists, the federal government, and Native Americans. The govern- ment has disallowed DNA tests of the skeleton because area tribes consider the tests intrusive, sacrilegious, and racist. The tribes resent the implication that, contrary to their oral history, the first inhabitants of the land may not have been their ancestors but a people who migrated from Siberia, Japan, or elsewhere.
After summarizing the main arguments and players in the diffusionist arena, Stengel concludes with the observation that the Western Hemisphere is unique because its history before the time of Columbus "is for the most part a mute record, consisting overwhelmingly of pottery shards, pointed flints, traces of dwellings, monuments, rock drawings-in short, of virtually every product of human imagination except alphabetic writing." Yet, Stengel notes, that silence is being broken by "the diffusionists' curious lettered stones and tablets, . . . inciting noisy protest from the curators of America's past even as they suggest that ancient Americans may have enjoyed the occasional conversation with visitors from afar."
LDS readers should enjoy seeing diffusionist claims given such credence in a national magazine like the Atlantic Monthly. Whether such attention will help change the conventional wisdom remains to be seen.