The Olivewood Bookstore in Provo has done it again! After February’s fireside featuring John Sorenson, for an encore they brought in another prolific Mawell Institute scholar, Daniel C. Peterson. Dr. Peterson did not disappoint, but if you missed it, don’t fret as it was captured on video and I have updated this blog now that it has been made available on YouTube. The event was well attended. John Clark and John Sorenson were in the audience. Bill Hamblin arrived late, but seeing that no anti-Mormon contingent had materialized to disrupt the event as they had threatened, did not stay long. I met a few personalities who I originally became aware of over the internet, but I don’t know if they wanted to be outed in this space.
From what I hear, Dr. Peterson is a busy man these days. I don’t know how he managed to squeeze in time to do the fireside in between all the globe trotting he does, all the time he puts in as a bishop over a student ward, all the time working on four book manuscripts, etc. So it is understandable that he constructed his presentation from previous writings. He gave us a dramatic reading of portions of a essay covering the miraculous translation process of the Book of Mormon that draws on the observations made by Royal Skousen and early witness accounts. Dr. Peterson insisted the challenges he has brought up have not got the serious attention they deserves from critics, so it is worth repeating and disseminating to give them a better opportunity.
But whether critics respond or not, I think it is important to educate the Saints on such matters. From the question and answer period, it was clear Joseph’s later translation method that involved a seer stone placed in a hat but did not involve a curtain or the plates being physically present was news to some of the audience members. Peterson’s response to this persuasively flips such concern around and makes it a selling point of the Book of Mormon’s authenticity. I remember lurking on a message board when Dr. Peterson originally made this point:
A knowledgeable academic friend who does not believe in the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon once asked me, since it seems that the plates were not actually necessary to the translation rocess and were sometimes not even present in the room, what purpose hey served. I responded that I did not know, exactly, except for one thing: They are an indigestible lump in the throats of people like im who contend that there were no Nephites but that Joseph Smith was nonetheless an inspired prophet. If the plates really existed, somebody made them. And if no Nephites existed to make them, then either Joseph Smith, or God, or somebody else seems to have been engaged in simple fraud. The testimony of the witnesses exists, I think, to force dichotomous choice: true or false?
Dr. Peterson talked about some his favorite evidences (not proofs!) of the Book of Mormon. He told us the story of how he got interested on reading about guerrilla warfare tactics as a young man and how Book of Mormon authors illustrate the problems that occur when guerrillas try to start occupying territory prematurely. He contrasted that to Joseph Smith and his culture had romantic notions of military, just picture the Nauvoo Legion parades.He explained his belief that the Gadianton Robbers correspondences more to guerrillas than they do 19th century Masons.
Dr. Peterson talked about the presence of if … and conditionals which make good Hebrew, but is not typical of any known English dialect. He also mentioned a statistical study of chiasms, or literary structures that use inverted parallelisms, in the Book of Mormon that concluded the probability of them being unintentional was virtually nil. He discussed the significance of the Nahom find. He brought up a subject that one Gospel Doctrine teacher got excited about, with Jacob’s long allegory pending in Church curriculum. He discussed the paper he did with John Gee on olive tree culture entitled (bad puns intended) “Graft and Corruption,” which unfortunately is not available over the internet. Dr. Peterson contended that Lehi was a refuge from the Northern Kingdom and that Zenos would have been right at home with the olive tree culture which had its origins there before spreading.
It was fun listening to Dan as he stayed late to do some book signings and continued to answer questions. I got to talk to John Clark about his Hickman lecture. Apparently about 20 or so of his slides are being worked to add footnotes and before long they will be available through a department secretary. We also talked about some of the difficulties overzealous Great Lakes geographers are causing. Eventually those of us who still remained got the hint that we needed to leave, because the bookstore manager started packing up the refreshments.