Reexploring the Book of Mormon  >  Introduction


In December 1984, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (F.A.R.M.S.), based in Provo, Utah, issued its first monthly Update. That one-page bulletin announced the discovery of domesticated barley in the Americas before Columbus. That finding was significant since Alma 13 says that barley was a Nephite crop. Before that discovery, however, no evidence existed of cultivated barley in ancient America.

Since that first Update, researchers have written and circulated a steady stream of innovative findings and insights. This book collects all those Updates, together with similar studies from the F.A.R.M.S. newsletter. Encapsulated here is a decade of exciting and fruitful exploration about the Book of Mormon.

The Updates are brief, readable reports of new research on the Book of Mormon, aimed at a general audience. They set forth the essence of a research topic and new discoveries that bear on it. They represent ongoing studies from a variety of fields. They report intriguing ideas and developments that emerged while reexploring the Book of Mormon from many perspectives.

Most Updates shed new light on a particular passage or concept in the Book of Mormon. This book arranges these short studies in the order that those key passages or concepts appear in the Book of Mormon. In addition, new illustrations and charts have been included.

These Updates were written by many people but were originally published as unsigned articles because they emerged from collaborative research efforts. No Update has been released without close scrutiny by several scholars. Notes have now been added at the end of each chapter to identify the principal researchers and to refer the reader to other more recent, related material. In many cases, the Updates were the leading edge of new discoveries that were subsequently developed, expanded, debated further, and published in scholarly articles or books.

At first, F.A.R.M.S. wanted to communicate the developments to a small audience of donors and researchers. However, the Updates proved so popular that they were soon distributed in annual packets. Eventually the demand became so great that they became a regular feature of the F.A.R.M.S. newsletter.1

The eighty-five chapters in this book chronicle some of the ongoing Book of Mormon research of the 1980s and early 1990s. Not all Book of Mormon research projects lend themselves to short Update treatment, but in many cases a topic can be opened up to the public by such a report. Often they remain the most useful, concise statements available on the topic or issue.

In many ways the Updates have changed the face of Book of Mormon research. No longer are new scholarly insights into the Book of Mormon held in remote corners of cluttered file cabinets. Approaches taken and discoveries made by Hugh Nibley and others a generation ago2 have expanded in type and number. Respect for the Book of Mormon has grown.

These Updates will interest all people who want to know what’s new in Book of Mormon research. They will be informative to inquisitive minds—old and young—who want to know the questions that many scholars are asking, researching, and answering. They will appeal to minds that enjoy thinking about novel approaches and prospecting for new information. They will appeal to all who enjoy learning more about the Book of Mormon—its messages, language, and setting; its astonishing details, miraculous existence, and incomparable mission.

Believers of the Book of Mormon as ancient scripture, however, realize that human ingenuity will never be enough to answer all questions about its origins and contents. But people can separate the questions that cannot be answered (either in whole or part) from those that can. Then they can work on the viable ones, gather relevant information, and propose and evaluate possible answers as far as current knowledge will allow.

Thinking this way about Book of Mormon issues has been a part of Latter-day Saint intellectual history since the days of Joseph Smith. After reading an extract from Stephen’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, the Prophet commented: “We can not but think the Lord has a hand in bringing to pass his strange act, and proving the Book of Mormon true in the eyes of all the people. . . . The world will prove Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence, in experiments, as they did Moses and Elijah.”3 Thus, to probe and ponder the circumstantial evidences of the scripture’s truthfulness is one of the purposes of Book of Mormon research.

Circumstantial evidence, however, is not the primary source of knowledge that the Book of Mormon is true. Perhaps the clearest statement to this effect was published by B. H. Roberts in 1909. His classic comments embrace both the primary evidence that comes from the Holy Ghost and all other forms of evidence, which, although secondary, may still be of first-rate importance:

It is frequently the case that a proper setting forth of a subject makes its truth self-evident; and all other evidence becomes merely collateral, and all argument becomes of secondary importance. Especially is this the case when setting forth the Book of Mormon for the world’s acceptance; in which matter we have the right to expect, and the assurance in the book itself that we shall receive, the co-operation of divine agencies to confirm to the souls of men the truth of the Nephite record; that as that record was written in the first instance by divine commandment, by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation; and, as it was preserved by angelic guardian-ship, and at last brought forth by revelation, and translated by what men regard as miraculous means, so it is provided in God’s providences. . . that its truth shall be attested to individuals by the operations of the Holy Spirit upon the human mind. . . .

This must ever be the chief source of evidence for the truth of the Book of Mormon. All other evidence is secondary to this, the primary and infallible. No arrangement of evidence, however skilfully ordered; no argument, however adroitly made, can ever take its place; for this witness of the Holy Spirit to the soul of man for the truth of the Nephite volume of scripture, is God’s evidence to the truth. . . .

To be known, the truth must be stated and the clearer and more complete the statement is, the better opportunity will the Holy Spirit have for testifying to the souls of men that the work is true. . . . [However,] I would not have it thought that the evidence and argument presented in [here] are unimportant, much less unnecessary. Secondary evidences in support of truth, like secondary causes in natural phenomena, may be of firstrate importance, and mighty factors in the achievement of God’s purposes.4

All who have given their time and talents to the task of researching and writing these Updates echo these convictions and perspectives of Elder Roberts.

In addition to thanking those who have contributed their research over the years to these Updates, my colleagues and I gratefully acknowledge the many people who have helped produce and circulate them, especially Janet Twigg, Brenda Miles, Shirley Ricks, and Melvin Thorne, and, for her work on this book, Carolyn Cannon. The preparation of this volume for publication, especially the addition of the illustrations, was made possible by a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Robert Grow, in honor of their children. All royalties from the sale of this book are dedicated to the ongoing work of Book of Mormon research.

John W. Welch


1. Anyone interested in receiving the newsletter, now issued six times a year, is invited to contact F.A.R.M.S. at P.O. Box 7113, University Station, Provo, UT 84602.

2. See especially volumes 5-8 on the Book of Mormon in The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company and F.A.R.M.S., 1987-88).

3. Joseph Fielding Smith, ed. and comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 267.

4. B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1909), 2:vi-viii.