William Hamblin is a professor of history at BYU. He recently wrote this blog post: “How BYU Destroyed Ancient Book of Mormon Studies”. Hamblin has spent many years trying to prove the Book of Mormon is a historically accurate book, but for some reason BYU isn’t interested in his or anyone else’s research on the topic. He complains that over the last 25 years, BYU never accepted a single one of his several Book of Mormon related topics, while accepting many of his non-Book of Mormon proposals.
My promotion to full-professor a few years ago was rejected by my college dean precisely because my Book of Mormon publications were not viewed by him as legitimate scholarship. I was informed explicitly by the dean that I needed more non-LDS-related publications to be promoted—despite the fact that I had two books and numerous non-LDS articles in my vita. (The dean’s decision was overturned by the university.)
So why doesn’t his college dean view Book of Mormon publications as legitimate scholarship? I would suggest it’s because the dean knows real research when he sees it, and he knows real research doesn’t help the Book of Mormon at all. Real scientific scholarship presents a hypothesis, and then you do the research, and you either prove the hypothesis correct or incorrect. And once you’ve done the scientific research, and once you’ve written your findings and your conclusions based on hard facts, you publish the paper to be reviewed by peers–in this case, by scientists outside the Mormon bubble. But Book of Mormon apologists come at things from a position where they say: “The Book of Mormon is true! What can we find to make it look as plausible as possible as real history?” That’s not research, it’s apologetics. Apologetics are fine, but not if you’re trying to publish scholarly papers to further the field of history.
There are zero archeologists, anthropologists, historians or linguists outside of Mormondom who take seriously the idea that the Book of Mormon could be historically accurate. The dean of the history department must realize this, and he’s not willing to call ancient Book of Mormon studies a legitimate field of scholarship. Unfortunately the LDS church has so pushed the “all or nothing” truth claims of the Book of Mormon that there is no room for members who see the Book of Mormon as 19th century inspired fiction. I say “inspired” because the Book of Mormon contains teachings that resonate with many, many people. These teachings can help people live better, more spiritual lives, even if the stories aren’t literally true. I wish that were enough for the LDS church, but right now it isn’t. But I give BYU a lot of credit for realizing what’s real scholarship and what isn’t.