Four members of the Institute staff delivered papers at a conference on Book of Mormon evidences held in Provo on 17 and 18 August. The event was sponsored by the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR), an organization dedicated to defending LDS beliefs and practices with sound scholarship.
Speaking on Egyptian influences in ancient Israel, assistant research professor John Gee noted that an archaeological study showed an increase in Egyptian and Egyptianizing material in Israel between 750 and 600 B.C. He showed slides of Israelite seals from that same period that feature Egyptian iconography, including a number of seals belonging to members of the royal family of Judah.
Daniel C. Peterson, associate executive director of the Institute, surveyed the various theories put forth for the origin of the Book of Mormon, including the traditional explanation offered by Joseph Smith. Organizing these theories into eight general categories, he argued that every alternative to Joseph Smith's explanation runs into serious, and sometimes insurmountable, difficulties.
Research associate Matthew P. Roper reviewed elements in the Book of Mormon that were once the subject of ridicule by skeptics and unbelievers but now can be shown to correctly describe aspects of the ancient world that Joseph Smith could not have known about. He also discussed the tentative nature of empirical evidence for scriptural claims and the need for Latter-day Saints to exercise caution and patience in regards to it.
Senior research associate John A. Tvedtnes reported briefly on his recent trip to Israel to speak on Hebrew names in the Book of Mormon at the 13th World Congress of Jewish Studies. He then discussed changing attitudes in the non-LDS scholarly community about the validity of scholarly studies of scriptures and doctrines peculiar to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even when done from the perspective of faithful LDS scholars.
Other speakers from BYU were S. Kent Brown (who spoke on "Lehi and Sariah in the Desert"), Louis C. Midgley ("Reflections on Naturalistic Explanations of the Book of Mormon"), and Scott Woodward ("DNA and the Book of Mormon"). Additional speakers were Ross Baron, Brant Gardner, John Lynch, Ben McGuire, and L. Ara Norwood. FAIR plans to publish the proceedings of this conference. Those interested in obtaining a copy of the book can watch for further details by visiting FAIR's Web site at www.fair-lds.org.