pdf Insights 13/1 (1993)  >  Insights: An Ancient Window

An Ancient Window

The Newsletter of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies January 1993

Elder Hanks Will Address Temple Studies Conference

Elder Marion D. Hanks, emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and former president of the Salt Lake Temple, will deliver the keynote address at the 1993 F.A.R.M.S. Annual Symposium, which will consist of a day-long series of presentations on “Temples in the Ancient World.” It will be held on February 20 in the auditorium of the Joseph Smith Building at Brigham Young University. Admission is free.

LDS scholars from BYU and elsewhere will discuss topics related to ancient temples, including their architecture, ritual, and symbolism; sacred aspects of space and time in the temple; the nature and significance of temple vestments; and the role of the temple in the ancient state. Presenters will include Hugh W. Nibley, John M. Lundquist, John A. Tvedtnes, John W. Welch, Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, William J. Hamblin, M. Catherine Thomas, Brian M. Hauglid, Daniel B. McKinlay, and Jay A. Parry. (A copy of the program can be obtained by using the order form.) Never in one conference have Mormon scholars brought together so many original contributions to our understanding of ancient temples.

We hope you will plan to attend. These presentations should help Latter-day Saints gain a greater appreciation for ancient temples, and at the same time come to understand more fully the temples of today.

The symposium will begin at 9:00 a.m. and continue until 5:00 p.m., with a break for lunch (the cafeteria in the Wilkinson Center is a short walk away). Ample parking is available in the lot adjacent to the law school (east of the Wilkinson Center) and in a lot on 800 East (down the hill from the Joseph Smith Building).

New Evidence about Book of Mormon Scribes

A copy of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon was made by Oliver Cowdery and two other scribes. This copy is called the printer’s manuscript, since it was the one normally used to set the type for the first edition. Oliver Cowdery transcribed about 85% of the copy. Most of the remainder is in the second scribe’s hand, with only a few pages by the third scribe, apparently in relief for the second scribe. The third scribe has been identified as Hyrum Smith by Dean Jessee. Until now the second scribe has been unidentified, but new evidence suggests that it is Martin Harris.

These three brethren were responsible for overseeing the printing of the 1830 edition. According to John Gilbert, the compositor for the 1830 edition, these three checked the manuscript when proofs were read, since E. B. Grandin, the publisher, supposed “these men could read their own writing as well, if not better, than any one else.” This implies that Oliver, Hyrum, and Martin had written the printer’s manuscript.

As part of his work on the critical text project of the Book of Mormon, Royal Skousen has examined over 70 copies of the 1830 edition. In one of these copies, he has found a brief inscription (appended to the name of the owner) that reads “A present from / his friend. / Martin Harris / May 2. 1831.” The signature agrees with other known signatures by Martin Harris; and the writing in nearly every instance agrees with the hand of the second scribe on the printer’s manuscript.

Skousen is currently making a detailed comparison of the second scribe’s hand with this brief inscription and, when finished, will publish the details of this investigation.

Vikings, Iron, and the Book of Mormon

The question of the relationship between Mesoamerican archaeology and descriptions of the use of iron and other metals in the Book of Mormon is a complex one. The Jaredites, Nephites, and Mulekites came from the ancient Near East, where metallurgy was a widespread, integral part of civilization. There is evidence from the Book of Mormon that some elements of Near Eastern metallurgical technology were brought to the New World.1

How does this evidence relate to Mesoamerican archaeological evidence? John Sorenson provides an extensive survey of metal objects discovered in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, showing that various types of metals were known and used in this region.2 Nonetheless, it seems that complex metallurgical knowledge and smelting techniques were not widespread in Mesoamerica during the Book of Mormon period. Why would Near Eastern metallurgical knowledge not have become more widespread in Mesoamerica? Could iron working technology have been introduced in the region, yet never have been fully adopted by the majority of the inhabitants?

A partial answer to these questions can be found by comparing the history of iron working in the Norse colonies of Greenland and Vinland (northeastern North America).3 The Norse colonies in Greenland lasted for five centuries from c. A.D. 986-1480. During this time they made occasional exploring expeditions to modern Canada and the northeastern U.S., establishing colonies lasting at least several decades in Labrador, and quite probably elsewhere in North America.

The Vikings were familiar with all forms of medieval European metallurgy. They brought iron smelting technology to North America by about A.D. 1000, as indicated by the discovery of a smithy and iron slag at the Viking site of L’Anse aux Meadows in Labrador.4 Yet, despite known contacts between the Vikings, Eskimos (Inuits), and Algonquian Indians,5 iron smelting technology was never transmitted from the Vikings to the Native Americans. In other words, the Viking experience in Greenland and northeastern North America provides an example of the introduction of iron smelting technology into a new region, but the failure of Native Americans to adopt that new technology.

This example is quite instructive for students of the Book of Mormon. Nephi was familiar with ancient Near Eastern metallurgical technologies, which he brought from the Near East to the New World. Metallurgy was known and utilized to a limited extent by the Nephites during certain periods. It is possible that the full range of metallurgical knowledge may have been lost at some point in time. When the Nephites migrated to new areas where ores were not readily available, knowledge of metallurgy could have been lost within a single generation. Similar pressures may have been exerted on Norse colonizers in the New World. Iron working apparently occurred under difficult circumstances in Greenland and Vinland; archaeologists have discovered an ax made from whalebone which was used in place of rare or costly iron axes.6

At any rate, precisely paralleling the experience of the Vikings in the New World, metal smelting technology did not spread beyond Nephite society to other peoples and regions of the New World. It apparently disappeared with the destruction of Nephite civilization, if not before, just as iron smelting disappeared in Greenland and northeastern North America with the collapse of the Viking colonies in the late fifteenth century.


1. Two important examples are found in 1 Nephi 17:9-16, Ether 7:9. Sorenson provides a listing of all references to metals in the Book of Mormon in “Metals and Metallurgy relating to the Book of Mormon Text” (F.A.R.M.S., 1992).

2. Ibid.

3. Two good sources on the Vikings in North America are Erik Wahlgren, The Vikings and America (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1986) and Gwyn Jones, The Norse Atlantic Saga, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford, 1986).

4. Jones, pp. 294-95; Wahlgren, p. 128.5.

5.  Jones, pp. 130-35; Wahlgren, pp. 14-16.

6. Wahlgren, figs. 21 and 22, p. 24.

Based on research by William J. Hamblin.

Four Gospels Harmonized, Plus All Changes Made by Joseph Smith

The four Gospels and the Joseph Smith Translation are now available in a new and innovative compilation. The Joseph Smith Translation of the Four Gospels, available on the order form, presents the four Gospels in a harmonized parallel format, with every change made by the Prophet Joseph Smith integrated into the text and highlighted. This format makes it easy to identify Joseph’s changes, to compare the text of all four Gospels and the Joseph Smith Translation (JST), and to make a comprehensive study of the life and teachings of the Savior.

The Joseph Smith Translation clarifies, explains, corrects, and expounds upon the King James text. Adding the Joseph Smith Translation gives a more complete view and therefore a better understanding of Christ’s life and teachings. This edition is ideal for personal scripture study, family scripture study, and for use with Sunday school, seminary, and institute classes.

Volunteer Needed for Library Work

F.A.R.M.S. could use a volunteer to help update the cataloguing and organization of the F.A.R.M.S. library and archive. Persons who could donate a few hours a week and are interested in helping with this project are invited to contact Brent Hall at the F.A.R.M.S. office.

Complete Body of Interviews with David Whitmer Presented and Analyzed

David Whitmer was the most interviewed of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon and the last surviving witness. His lifelong testimony, consistent in affirming the reality of his experience, is a rich resource for every student of Mormonism.

Whitmer gave his name to the world as one who had been shown the gold plates by an angel and had heard the voice of the Lord declare the translation correct. Yet by 1837 he had become disillusioned with the Prophet and the direction the Church was taking. He was particularly suspicious of Sidney Rigdon’s aspirations—he believed that Joseph Smith relied too much on Rigdon and that Rigdon was responsible for novel doctrinal and organizational notions.

Consequently, in 1838, Whitmer withdrew from the Church and relocated at Richmond, Missouri. Here he remained until his death in 1888. Here he entertained hundreds of visitors of whom many were believers, some were curious nonbelievers, and others were newspaper reporters on assignment. He told and retold his early experiences as a witness of the restoration—of seeing the angel and the plates and of hearing the voice of God.

These accounts give rich details of his experience and may provide insights into the life of Joseph Smith, the nature of the translation process, early church organization, and angelic messengers. The consistency and sincerity of the interviews show Whitmer to be a credible witness on the events he observed in 1829.

The author, Lyndon W. Cook, has written numerous articles and books about early Mormonism and teaches American history and government at Utah Valley Community College.

Eyewitness Accounts Give Historical Background on the D&C

Unlike other books of scripture, the Doctrine and Covenants contains very little historical narrative. The teachings in scripture take on added meaning as they are seen in the context of the needs and experiences of God’s people at the time. For the Doctrine and Covenants, more than for the other books of scripture, we must turn to outside sources for insights from the historical background.

Joseph Smith and the Doctrine and Covenants, by Milton V. Backman, Jr., and Richard O. Cowan of BYU, draws from over one hundred firsthand accounts from early Latter-day Saints who lived during the time of the Prophet Joseph Smith that shed light on the Doctrine and Covenants. Many of these accounts have never before been published. Together with the authors’ introductory materials, these quotations help the reader better appreciate the revelations in the D&C and their effects in the lives of the early Saints.

Dead Sea Scrolls Conference

Professor Norman Golb, Rev. Joseph Fitzmyer, and Professor Stephen Ricks discussed the Dead Sea Scrolls to a sold-out audience at Stanford University on November 20. A complete video of the conference, together with an interview with Hugh Nibley, is available on the order form. Fitzmyer, professor emeritus at the Catholic University of America, spoke on the relationship between the scrolls and earliest Christianity. While he believes that John the Baptist may have been acquainted with the community at Qumran (where he believes the Dead Sea Scrolls were written) and may have spent time there, he rejects any connection between Jesus, James, or Paul and Qumran.

Ricks, Associate Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages at BYU and Acting President of F.A.R.M.S., spoke on “Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?” (A copy is available on the order form.) He believes that at least some of the scrolls were written by a group known as the Essenes. Ricks cautions, however, that “if, by calling the writers . . . Essene—and a sect—it is going to dispose us to pay less attention to their ideas, beliefs, and practices, then we ought to use such a label with the greatest hesitancy,” since, “ultimately, the identity of a group is less important than the characteristics of that group.”

Golb, Professor of Hebrew at the University of Chicago, questioned the traditional identification of Qumran as the place where the scrolls were written and the Essenes as the writers of the scrolls, preferring a group or groups living in Jerusalem in the first centuries B.C. and A.D. During the question-and-answer session, Rev. Fitzmyer challenged Golb on both of these assertions.

Highlights of these papers will be broadcast on VISN (Vision Interfaith Satellite Network) in early 1993.

Nibley Repudiates Bogus Article

An article with Hugh Nibley’s name on it, but not written by him, has apparently been circulating in various parts of Utah and elsewhere. It is entitled “The Earth’s Temporal Existence.” Because Nibley and F.A.R.M.S. receive numerous inquiries about the authenticity of the article, he has allowed us to publish the following statement. In Nibley’s inimitable style, it makes clear his attitude to the article and the fuss it has created:

“Everybody keeps asking me personally whether I had anything to do with that article on ‘The Earth’s Temporal Existence.’

“This is to certify that I had absolutely nothing to do with it and have not the vaguest idea of who wrote it. Whether I agree or disagree with what it says, I strongly resent having my name put on it, which makes it a gross forgery. Whether it was done to add or detract from the credibility of the document, or to discredit anyone as insignificant as I am, I do not know. But like Lazarus of old, ‘It stinketh.’ ”


Hugh Nibley

From the Boardroom

Members of the F.A.R.M.S. board of directors continue to be on the move. Stephen Ricks was recently appointed to a three-year term as Associate Dean of General and Honors Education at BYU. He continues as the Chairman of the F.A.R.M.S. board of directors and as Acting President during Noel Reynolds’s academic year as Scholar in Residence at the BYU Jerusalem Center. Despite the distance, Noel has been in close contact with the board, especially in making arrangements for research in the Middle East.

Dan Peterson will leave in January for Jerusalem, where he will direct a group of students in an intensive Arabic language experience. During his absence, board member Bill Hamblin will edit the annual Review of Books on the Book of Mormon.

Don Parry has received an appointment to teach Hebrew in the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages at BYU. He is also organizing several F.A.R.M.S. research projects on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish studies, and the Temple—including the 1993 Annual F.A.R.M.S. Symposium, which will focus on the Temple (see the related story on page 1).

Beginning this month, Jack Welch, who continues editing BYU Studies, will return to active status on the F.A.R.M.S. board in order to facilitate his coordination of work on the publication of ancient texts relevant to Mormon interests.