Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mormon's Codex Available

John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book, Salt Lake City: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship & Deseret Book Company, arrived on bookstore shelves along the Wasatch Front today, September 11, 2013. 826 pages in length, this is Sorenson's magnum opus, the result of more than 60 years of disciplined research into the Book of Mormon text and things Mesoamerican.
Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book
by John L. Sorenson
This handsomely illustrated weighty volume, suggested retail price $59.99, significantly extends John's earlier works "The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Codex," Newsletter and Proceedings of the S.E.H.A. (Society for Early Historic Archaeology) No. 139, December, 1976 and An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company and F.A.R.M.S. (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies), 1985.

Congratulations to Dr. Sorenson, now 89 years old, for a superb contribution to Book of Mormon studies. This volume will likely remain in print for decades as John's landmark 1985 work has done.

Morgan Deane has published an online review here. My brief Amazon review is here. The book has an index, but no scripture index, so John Gee compiled one available online here.

Sorenson followed a model used successfully by William G. Dever in his influential What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001. Dever describes an apparent similarity between the text and the archaeological record as a "convergence." Sorenson prefers the term "correspondence." Similarities are not equally convincing. Many traits are universal or nearly so. Some, though, are so arbitrary and precise they seem to establish beyond reasonable doubt an historical connection between the text and an artifact or cultural trait. We are not dealing with "proof." which is an unattainable standard. We have a spectrum in the balance of probability from "unconvincing" to "possible" to "probable" to "beyond reasonable doubt." Similarity can't prove anything.

On Monday, October 21, 2013 about 20 people gathered in the Dean's Conference Room in the Joseph F. Smith Building on BYU campus. The occasion celebrated the publication of Mormon's Codex and allowed John L. Sorenson to meet William G. Dever. Discussion centered on ways to adequately review John's book. Both Dever (80) and Sorenson (89) were delightful. Dever was in town prior to his participation in the 2nd annual Temple Conference co-sponsored by the Academy for Temple Studies and the Utah State University Religious Studies program. Some notes from the meeting:
  • During Dever's career, his field has been re-named twice. It began as "Biblical Archaeology" but that died out because it was too amateurish. It then became "Syro-Palestinian Archaeology" and now goes by the name "Levantine Archaeology."
  • Sorenson's task was more complex than Dever's. We know where the Bible took place. Dever studies what the Biblical writers knew and when they knew it. Sorenson also had to deal with the uncertain spatial element.
  • Sorenson believes he has documented 400+ correspondences, many of them so arbitrary and precise the balance of probability must be deemed "beyond reasonable doubt."
  • In Dever's case, any pre-exilic convergence fit his paradigm. Sorenson used anything pre-Columbian.
  • Kenneth Kitchen published On the Reliability of the Old Testament, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003 using the same convergences model.
  • Dever has another book that will be appearing soon, An Archaeological History of Ancient Israel and Judah. He is neither a minimalist (nothing in the Hebrew Bible pre-dates the Persian Era ca. 500 B.C.) nor a maximalist (the Bible is inerrant or nearly so). His conclusion in his new book will be that much of the Hebrew Bible is fiction, but it does contain some good history that can be externally corroborated.
  • Dever considers himself in a line of succession from William F. Albright.
  • Dever: post-modernism scholars, particularly in Europe, hate the Bible. There is a strong strain of anti-Semitism in their work.
  • Sorenson cites Michael D. Coe 25 times.
  • Mark Wright has agreed to author a review of Mormon's Codex for Interpreter.
  • The list of LDS mesoamericanists is small: Mark Wright, Brant Gardner, John Clark, Kerry Hull, Allen Christenson.
  • Suggestions for reviews of Mormon's Codex
    • Convene a symposium & publish the papers
    • Invite a Biblical scholar not of our faith
    • Invite a Mesoamericanist not of our faith
    • Determine what purpose the reveiws hopefully accomplish
    • Determine how well the 826 page book fits the 531 page book (the Book of Mormon text)
    • Rate each correspondence unconvincing, possible, probable, and beyond reasonable doubt
    • Compare and contrast John's book with Brant Gardner's 7 volume series Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Draper, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007
    • Convene a discussion about the mesoamerican archaeology in the volume
    • Review the work as a grand narrative, a book that will launch 1,000 ships
    • Compare and contrast the various extant Book of Mormon geography models 
Article last updated October 22, 2013.