7. Myth, Materiality, and the Book of Mormon Apologetics: A Sacred Text and Its Interpreters
Olav Hammer [+]
University of Southern Denmark
The historical narrative in the Book of Mormon matches the presuppositions of early 19th century audiences, but is seriously challenged by advances over the last century and a half in disciplines as diverse as anthropology, archaeology, genetics, and linguistics. In the face of such challenges, Mormon intellectuals attempt, in the words of Bruce Lincoln to “produce consequential speech, quelling doubts and winning the trust of the audiences whom they engage” (Lincoln 1994: 4). Doing so has made apologists engage with opponents on the latter’s turf. Mormon writers construct both defensive arguments and proactive claims that the story in the sacred text can be superimposed on what is known about pre-Columbian America. This article analyses the types of defensive arguments made in Mormon apologetic discourse, and their attempts to assert the authority of a particular reading of scriptural mythology over the scientific consensus. In the contemporary period, the rhetorical force of science is unparalleled. Numerous religions have therefore attempted to find an ally in science, or at least emulated its external characteristics. Mormon writers are found to be part of that historical trend. The article analyses the ways in which LDS Church members and secular readers differ, also in terms of their views of who is an authority and what constitutes authoritative discourse, and how secular and Mormon discourses concerning the past become radically incommensurable.