This yearâ€™s FAIR conference has come to a close. I attended for the second time and quite enjoyed myself. Next yearâ€™s conference will be 2 and 3 August 2007, so mark your calendars.
I offer you a short overview of this weekâ€™s presentations. (My notes are minimal, so if any of this sounds interesting or, more likely, confusing, transcripts and/or recordings of the presentations will be available on the FAIR site in the coming weeks.)
The two-day event began with Mike Ash speaking on the Book of Abraham. He discussed a number of issues and concerns that are out and about. For example, if the papyri date from about 200 BC, how could they contain the teachings of Abraham, who lived approximately 2000 BC? Much like any other manuscript, such as those from the Bible. The papyri could be copies of much earlier manuscripts. He also discussed the facsimile restoration and evidence that Joseph Smith was not as wrong as critics would like us to believe. In addition, as far as the facsimiles mean, the question is not what the figures represented in 2000 BC, but what they meant to 200 BC Jews who did the drawing or copying.
Steve Mayfield and George Throckmorton, police investigators who were involved in the Mark Hofmann investigation, spoke on the myth versus reality of the Hofmann case. At the beginning of their presentation, they stated so it was clear that the Church was not involved in the decision to plea bargain. That was a decision solely by Yoacum. In addition, many have the idea that the Church was buying the various manuscripts to hide them, but since the majority of the documents had nothing to do with anything that could be considered faith-affecting, why would they do that? If the Church was really that sinister, that is why there are matches and paper shredders. Why even keep them? Additionally, the Church never owned the Spaulding letter. The owner, Steve Mayfield, the speaker, owned it and donated it to BYU in 2004. Mark Hofmann was very good at lying. There is a lot of contradictory info out there, and a lot of it can be traced to Hofmann himself.
Next up was Brian Stubbs, who spoke on language correlations between Uto-Aztecan, the root language of a number of languages in the Americas, and Egyptian and northwest Semitic. He currently has about 1000 words that show they are related languages, and he went through around 100 of them, showing words that were the same or where sounds had consistent changed so they could be correlated. When asked if 1000 words would be sufficient to show language relationships, he said that 50 words can be used in linguistic studies to show a relationship. So he seems to have quite a good case, and I found it absolutely fascinating.
Marcus Martins next spoke, offering reflections on race in the restored gospel. It was an interesting speech best tracked down and read rather than poorly summarized by me. Though not yet there as I type this, he said his essay would be available on his website.
Kim Ostman spoke on opposition to Mormonism over the years in Finland. This seemed like a very obscure topic, but it turned out to keep my attention. (Kim posted info related to his FAIR presentation at BCC.)
Matt Roper spoke on Adam in ancient texts. He discussed traditions and writings about Adam, providing more about Adam that I have ever before heard. I took no notes and plan to seek out his transcript or recording as soon as it comes out.
The first day concluded with Joseph Bentley discussing the legal trials of Joseph Smith. Over his life, Joseph had about 175 cases, an average of 12.5 per year. He defended about 50 criminal cases but was never found guilty of any charge. Joseph Bentley briefly covered the cases and types of cases in each of the states as Joseph and the Saints moved around.
Wayne Arnett began Fridayâ€™s presentations with an Apologetics 101 lecture. I hope a transcript will be available online at some point, as I would like copies to just hand out to friends and other people I cross paths with who say, â€œApologeticsâ€¦? Um, what is that?â€ I totally agreed with his point that an argument or defense cannot create faith, but it can create a climate where faith can flourish. If something cannot be defended, it is cast aside by a rational mind. He offered D&C 123:12–15 as an explanation of why apologetics is so important.
Next up was David Stewart, who is clearly insanely brilliant, who spoke on DNA and the Book of Mormon. It hadâ€¦ a lot of information, so I will offer you his conclusion: â€œThe recent explosion of molecular DNA data has led to a considerable increase on knowledge about our roots. However, some individuals have drawn and widely publicized conclusions far beyond those validated by existing data. The claims of critics that DNA evidence disproves traditional LDS teachings about Native American ancestry are based in a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of science and ignorance of history and scripture. There is still much we do not know about the genetics of ancient and modern populations, but careful study demonstrates that the teachings of LDS prophets are fully consistent will existing DNA data.â€
Matthew Brown (www.josephsmithstudies.com) then spoke on Joseph Smithâ€™s foundational stories: the first vision and the visit of Moroni and acquisition of the plates. What I found particularly interesting was patterns that Matt Brown pointed out. Joseph Smith seemed to incorporate Biblically-related passages to tell of his experiences, perhaps in hopes (mostly in vain) that they would be accepted by those around him. He picked pieces from when the Father and Son appeared to Stephen, when Christ appeared to Paul, and when the angels appeared to the shepherds. In addition, there are parallels to Psalm 31 in his 1838 version, and many repeating patterns in his 1832 version. I never thought there was much more to Josephâ€™s accounts that simply telling his story, but now I wish to do more studies. They seem to have more depth than I suspected.
Brant Gardner then spoke on New World evidence for Book of Mormon historicity. He spoke on geopolitical, chronological, cultural and productive convergences between Book of Mormon people and events and Olmec and Maya people and events. This was my favorite lecture. It was incredibly fascinating and I plan to acquire the DVD as soon as it is available.
Next up was Claudia Bushman, who spoke on the lives of Mormon women. This is another transcript best read than poorly summarized. Her talk was definitely a crowd favorite, and supposedly her remarks will be on the FAIR website soon; she said she would provide a transcript quickly. Two pieces that remain in my memory were suggestions that Relief Society by split by ages like the Priesthood, and that single women-only wards be instituted, with women providing all organization, and occasional visits from the Priests for the sacrament.
Alan Wyatt spoke on the changing marital state of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith Young. He provided evidence that everything was not as subversive and unethical as critics claim, though I personally believe it remains confusing.
Brian Hauglid spoke on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. He spoke on what manuscripts came first, and what manuscripts contain the same ink for text and symbols, and why they were more likely copies of copies rather than working papers.
The conference concluded with Daniel Peterson speaking on the Book of Mormon witnesses and what they experienced and what happened to them.
And thus the two days came to an end. I found the presentations fascinating and enlightening, and I managed to escape after buying only six books (yes, I am weak around all those great-looking books). I enjoyed visiting briefly with my cousin, Ben. Though I feel seriously out-brained, which makes me very shy and tongue-tied, I enjoyed being around all the people who said hello and chatted with me; they were all kind and gracious despite my shyness. I already look forward to next year.
I highly recommend it.