FARMS Review Takes Up Nibley, DNA, Book of Mormon Origins
The latest issue of the FARMS Review (vol. 17, no. 1) is now available, offering its usual in-depth, incisive commentary on an array of recent publications and topics of interest to Latter-day Saint readers.
This is the first issue published since Hugh Nibley's death earlier this year, and Louis Midgley's tribute to this illustrious Latter-day Saint scholar has already proved to be one of the more popular contributions. The essay is essentially an intellectual autobiography in which Midgley (BYU professor emeritus of political science and associate editor of the Review) tells of his first encounter with Nibley, in 1949; his subsequent studies under Sterling McMurrin, a prominent philosophy professor at the University of Utah who dismissed the Book of Mormon out of hand; his dissertation on the work of theologian Paul Tillich, who viewed God not as a personality but as the ultimate ground of being; and of Nibley's profound influence.
"My encounters with Nibley, then McMurrin, and eventually Tillich," writes Midgley, "taught me that it is a grand mistake to turn the Christian story into theology bounded by ontological categories. My own efforts to defend the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon and hence also Joseph Smith's prophetic truth claims flow directly from these early insights."
Nibley's scholarship is also a key topic in the reviews of Martha Beck's Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith, by Kent Jackson (professor of ancient scripture, BYU) and Gregory Taggart (lecturer in the Honors University Writing program, BYU). Beck uses her book as a platform for attacking her father, Hugh Nibley, and his scholarship, although she does not mention him by name. Jackson notes there are "serious and insurmountable problems" with Beck's story of "a man in a tweed jacket" who supposedly approached her in a grocery store and claimed that as a source checker for her father's publisher he had discovered that at least 90 percent of Nibley's footnotes were complete fabrications. As Jackson (himself critical of Nibley's scholarship) points out, however, Beck's claims can easily be checked because Nibley's books are still in print and because the source checkers are listed by name in the publications and can be contacted. "Nowhere in my examination of [Nibley's] research and writing," writes Jackson, "did I find any hint of his making up sources for fictional references."
An anti-Mormon book that has shared the recent spotlight with Beck's Leaving the Saints is Simon G. Southerton's Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, which critics have employed to supposedly demonstrate that DNA research shows the Book of Mormon to be false. Southerton states that "the question of whether or not Jews or members of the Ten Lost Tribes anciently found their way to the New World is susceptible to examination using DNA technology" (Lost Tribe, 118).
In his review of Southerton's book, Ryan Parr, who holds a PhD in biological anthropology and is currently vice president of Research and Development at a Canadian biotechnical company, argues that such a proposition "indicates an ignorance of the complexities of population dynamics." He goes on to explain that "the ideal of obtaining samples from a continuous biological breeding population is rarely, if ever, met." Parr concludes that "nothing within the Book of Mormon precludes an Asian ancestry for Native Americans" and that "the insistence that the presence of small groups from the ancient Near East must absolutely be present in the current genetic record of Native Americans, as a means of testing the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, is an unrealistic expectation."
Two other books that have stirred their share of controversy are Clyde R. Forsberg Jr.'s Equal Rites: The Book of Mormon, Masonry, Gender, and American Culture (which views the Book of Mormon as a pro-Masonic tract) and Dan Vogel's Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (which views it as Joseph Smith's commentary on his troubled youth). Both are reviewed in this issue. Other reviews cover such topics as early accounts of Moroni's visits to Joseph Smith, the relationship between science and religious belief, and the fate of those who never learned of Christ during mortality.
Like Midgley's tribute to Nibley, Dilworth B. Parkinson's "We Have Received, and We Need No More," is a stand-alone article rather than a book review. Originally presented as a BYU devotional address, this engaging essay identifies several "important lessons by comparing the process of trying to learn a language to the process of trying to learn the gospel." Parkinson, a BYU professor of Arabic, concludes that "no matter how much progress we have made, . . . we need more. We need a firmer witness, a clearer and deeper understanding, and a more practical, heart-changing incorporation of almost any gospel principle we could contemplate."
For information on viewing this issue of the FARMS Review online (a benefit of subscription) or on purchasing a copy, visit the FARMS Web site (farms.byu.edu).