Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

John Sorenson on Book of Mormon pseudoscholarship

Dr. John L. Sorenson (1942-2021) I’m saddened by the passing of Dr. John L. Sorenson on December 8, 2021. The quality and quantity of his work cannot be understated. It’s largely because of him that the Book of Mormon has been firmly established as a historical text of a real people who lived in ancient America.

(You can read his obituary here and see a list of his publications here.)

Jonathan Neville has heaped criticism on Sorenson’s work, even though he has yet to actually engage the evidence and arguments that Sorenson collected and published.

In a review he wrotes for BYU Studies in 1976, Dr. Sorenson criticized the kind of junk pseudoscholarship on the Book of Mormon that has found full flower today in the Heartland hoax, including what Sorenson described as “the naive use of sources, logical inconsistencies, cut and paste quotations, and harmful effects on the Church.”
Many Mormons are willing to spend money for instant evidence of knowledge rather than to labor for the knowledge themselves. The result is consumer demand for intellectual loot. This is especially true about scholarly study of Book of Mormon archaeology.… The Saints have avidly bought books which claim to offer them inside information on this scripture, particularly on its geography or what are termed “external evidences.” Some of these sources have actually been helpful to the serious reader. Many more…have harmed more than helped.…

I do not presume to judge the motives of [those] who publish in this vein. They seem to be zealous believers in the Book of Mormon. But zeal does not improve poor scholarship.

Then what is the harm from such publications? First, they train the reader that serious, critical thought is unnecessary and maybe even undesirable, that any source of information will serve no matter how unreliable, and that logical absurdity is as good as sound analysis. Second, the reader gets the false impression that all is well in Zion, that the outside world is being forced to the [Latter-day Saint] point of view, and that the only role LDS scholars need play in Book of Mormon-related studies is to use scissors and paste effectively. Third, the underlying complexity and subtlety of the Book of Mormon are masked by a pseudo-scholarship to which everything is simple. This third effect encourages critics…to set up a straw-man Book of Mormon to attack based on what Mormons have said about it instead of what it says itself.… If we are willing to settle for surface reading and shallow study, why should a non-Mormon scholar expend energy to dig seriously into the Book of Mormon?…

As with ancient art for the ignorant rich, the “demand” from large numbers of Saints for easy explanations of difficult subjects which they are unwilling to pay the price to understand lies behind the exploitation represented by these volumes. Ancient Israel insisted Samuel give them a king, and with equal impatience. LDS readers today bring down on their heads the kind of books that serve them right.
My condolences go out to Brother Sorenson’s family.

—Peter Pan


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