005: John Sorenson on Book of Mormon Historicity

We are proud to present this brilliant interview by Sarah Collett of Dr. John Sorenson. Dr. Sorenson is an emeritus professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University, and a renowned expert of Book of Mormon archeology and geography. His seminal work An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon popularized the Limited Geography Theory within LDS culture and scholarship, and has been the primary reference point for both apologetic and critical approaches to the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Since his retirement from BYU, Dr. Sorenson has dedicated over two decades of research into the body of work that will be released in his upcoming book Mormon’s Codex, which will be published through the Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship.

In this interview, Dr. Sorenson provides insight into his backstory and how he became enthralled with Book of Mormon archeological research. Here he also provides us a brief teaser of his upcoming book which serves as his last stand on the issue of Book of Mormon historicity. In this interview, Dr. Sorenson shares some information about contemporaneous evidence of metalwork, horses, elephants, and inscribed sheets of gold consistent with the understood Book of Mormon chronology. We hope this episode of A Thoughtful Faith will serve as a great introduction to Dr. Sorenson’s upcoming book, and further the scholarly discussion about this important issue.

Many thanks to Dr. John Sorenson for his willingness to share his experiences, research, and wisdom through our podcast.

Links:

John Sorenson’s Overview of Mormon’s Codex
John Sorenson’s Amazon Page
An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon
An Open Letter to Michael Coe

17 comments for “005: John Sorenson on Book of Mormon Historicity

  1. Robert F. Smith
    September 19, 2012 at 9:37 am

    Thank you so much for this very interesting podcast.
    Even though I have known John Sorenson for over 40 years, I learned a great deal from this interview (expertly conducted by Sarah Collett). I am always touched by the humor and compassion of that great man.

  2. Scott Mitchell
    September 20, 2012 at 12:12 am

    Excellent interview. Kudos to Sarah Collett for drawing out such informative, thought-provoking responses from Dr. Sorenson. Oh that all of Mormondom, along with anthropologists and religious seekers everywhere, would listen in!

  3. Joe Tippetts
    September 20, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    John Sorenson’s comments didn’t strike me as scientific. Scientists, and academics gain credibility by doing exactly what he’s not doing: Having his work reviewed and independently verified by peers. Then published in a reputable journal.

    Perhaps he’s a lone voice in the wilderness with a breakthrough idea that the world is too proud to accept. More likely, he’s a former BYU professor that has never doubted (in his own words) the Book of Mormon since gaining a testimony as a child.

  4. Fred Kratz
    September 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Dr. Sorenson wrote a rebuttal letter to an interview done on Mormon Stories with Dr. Coe, the eminent Central American anthropologist/archeologist and expert on the ancient Maya civilization. This letter was published on the Interpreter site and was quite critical of Dr. Coe.

    One statement that stood out to me, was this:

    Dr. Coe-
    Joseph Smith “sees the incredible people like the Comanche and the Sioux and Cheyenne and people like that. . . . That probably would have influenced him a lot. He had to have horses.” [Part 1, 37:30]

    Dr. Sorenson writes-
    Patently impossible. Nothing was known in the eastern United States about horse-using Plains Indians in Joseph’s day, the 1820s. In any case, the Book of Mormon never suggests that horses were ridden by anybody.

    Perhaps Dr. Sorenson failed to consider the “Journey of Discovery” of Lewis and Clark in 1805 and subsequent publication of information from this incredible journey in papers and articles even in Europe. Knowledge of the Plains horse culture predated even that.

    The peer-reviewed “Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture”, published this letter with this exchange included. In the interest of historical accuracy, someone should offer an explanation as to why Dr. Sorenson believes such a thing.

    • Sarah Collett
      September 21, 2012 at 7:27 am

      Though the journals were published they were generally ignored and their accounts would have circulated mostly in newspaper article form. How many newspaper articles do you read that were published before or around the time of your birth. And J.Smith didn’t have the internet. He would have had to do some serious library searches. All I’m saying is that the critics don’t have much to go on with this argument. Either way, I think that 28 years of research would have required J. Sorenson to consider arguments that I just barely encountered in one google search. Give the man a little credit. I think he knows the criticisms better than we do as he has had to face them his whole career. I’m not saying he is right or wrong but I know he isn’t dense.

      Wikipedia says, “References to Lewis and Clark “scarcely appeared” in history books even during the United States Centennial in 1876 and the expedition was largely forgotten.[9][10] Lewis and Clark began to gain new attention at the turn of the century. Both the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, in St. Louis, and the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, in Portland, Oregon, showcased Lewis and Clark as American pioneers. However, the story remained a relatively shallow tale—a celebration of US conquest and personal adventures—until the mid-century, since which time the history has been more thoroughly researched and retold in many forms to a growing and appreciative audience.[9]”

      Abebooks says, “Only it was not to be, at least during Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s lifetime. Lewis committed suicide in 1809. Clark went on to serve in various army posts and as a superintendent of Indian affairs. When he died in 1838, the Corps of Discovery was a fading memory. At the end of the 19th century, the great historian Henry Adams devoted four volumes and nearly 2,000 pages to Jefferson’s presidency. Lewis and Clark got five sentences.

      An unsuccessful bear hunt, depicted in the 1810 illustrated edition of Journal of Voyages and Travels

      Adams’ lack of interest capped 80 years of indifference. There had been an initial flurry of attention to the expedition after the men returned. Patrick Gass, the Corps’ carpenter, published the first and bestselling account of the adventure, Journal of Voyages and Travels, in 1807. It went through four American, a British, and a French edition in the first five years. But by the time the Lewis and Clark’s official report was published in 1814, reader interest had evaporated.

      A new edition of Lewis and Clark’s journals would not appear in the United States until 1842, when nearly everyone involved was dead. The Lewis and Clark legend revived only in the last 100 years, and with that new interest came a fascination for Sacagawea, the pregnant, sixteen-year-old Indian girl who served as their translator on the expedition. Hundreds of books have been devoted to the feats of the Corps of Discovery, and after two centuries, the public shows no signs of losing interest in their story.”

      • Fred Kratz
        September 21, 2012 at 8:37 am

        First, I never wrote that Dr. Sorenson was dense and my only point was that he was incorrect in saying that nothing was known of the Plains Indian horse culture in the Eastern United States. That culture had evolved for many decades prior to Joseph Smith’s birth and if you look at a distribution map, you’ll quickly discover how widespread and far reaching it was. For example, by the mid 1700′s, most of the Great Plains tribes had horses.http://www.thefurtrapper.com/indian_horse.htm#horses

        There were all manor of traders and trappers that used the Missouri river who were well aware of the Plains Indians and their horses. Anyone in the East who was planning a journey West, would have certainly considered these cultures. To say otherwise ignores the entire history of a people. Even Lewis and Clark knew they would have to rely on obtaining horses when they set out from St. Louis since they brought none with them.

        • Sarah Collett
          September 21, 2012 at 10:20 am

          Yes. You’re right. I should not have implied that you were calling Dr. Sorenson dense…

          • January 14, 2013 at 5:56 pm

            Really bad sound here and there guys. lets all chip in a buck to get these guys decent mic’s. Why not have an aazmon link available like the ldsliberty guys have? I have used that many times to send a few bucks their way. It’s better than the support methods you currently DONT have going on :).

        • September 26, 2012 at 12:31 pm

          I’m still looking forward to Dr. Bill Hamblin’s “Joseph Smith: The Cambridge Years,” his humorously proposed intellectual biography and roundup of everything the critics claim he read in order to write the Book of Mormon.

  5. Pedro A. Olavarria
    September 20, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Props to the people of Mormon Stories for having John Sorenson on. I’m listening, right now.

  6. Laura
    September 22, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Thanks so much for interviewing Dr. Sorenson. I had no idea that the idea of a limited geography dates to a son of Brigham Young and even was mentioned in Times and Seasons in Joseph’s day. For some reason I thought that line of thought was much more recent. Really looking forward to purchasing “Mormon’s Codex.” Thanks again for this great interview. The line of questioning in this podcast, (aka letting believers speak their peace without having to deconstruct everything,) really fills a void for me that other Open Stories pod casts haven’t met. (Of course there’s a place for deconstruction as well.) Thanks! Excited to listen more.

  7. danithew
    September 23, 2012 at 4:39 am

    I very much enjoyed listening to this podcast with John Sorenson. Thank you for making this happen. I’m expecting that “Mormon’s Codex” will be a fascinating read.

  8. Chriccha
    October 25, 2012 at 7:46 am

    I have a really hard time believing that there would exist some kind of anti-(Book of)Mormon conspiracy among archeologists, anthropologists, historians, etc.
    I accept that the artifacts as mentioned in the BOM are problematic for TBMs, when viewed from a truly scientific perspective.
    But rather than believing in conspiracy theories, we may have to accept that objective science has an anti-Mormon slant… hence Boyd K. Packer’s attacks on intellectuals/scholars.

  9. Ty
    February 25, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Reminds me a bit of Noam Chomsky. Academic establishment can be rigid.

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