What FARMS and LDS scholarship mean to me….

On a group I’m on, a major scholar in the Church asked if we would begin to compile stories on how FARMS, Nibley’s writings, or other scholarly LDS research has changed our lives for the positive.

For the request by the scholar, I wanted a post here on it, as we have a large and faithful following.  I’m not interested in attacks or negative stories on any of these.  Just positive experiences that have helped you.  Any negative stories will be deleted.

I joined the Church in 1975, at 16 years of age. I discovered Hugh Nibley after my mission.  I joke that while reading the first two books (A New Approach to the BoM, and Lehi in the Desert), I had uncontrollable nose bleeds.  Eventually, Nibley’s writings rewired my brain. I believe for the good.

He helped me see the gospel and scripture in ways that no one else was doing. From him, I began reading FARMS publications.  About 20 years ago, I joined Bill Hamblin’s Morm-Ant list serv (the first email list focused on Mormonism and Antiquities).  I became an ardent student of LDS scholarship.  In doing my own research, many of these scholars have welcomed me with open arms, many commenting positively on articles I’ve posted on my blog, here, and Feast Upon the Word blog, etc.

Most of you know that I consider myself a gospel student, eager to learn and share new things. Perhaps some of you have read the Gospel Doctrine lessons I provide at my personal blog: joelsmonastery.blogspot.com.  It all begins with Nibley, Welch, Sorenson, Peterson, Hamblin, and FARMS .

I continue to be astounded at how much there is to learn about the Book of Mormon.  New things that I haven’t seen, or things I discover that help others to take a new look.  I’m on my high council, and the stake president asked me a couple weeks ago about our stake’s focus.  I discussed with him my understanding of the atonement and grace, much of which has come to me from great scholars in FARMS and in the LDS community. He called me later to get more thoughts on it, and used it as the foundation for his talk at last week’s Youth Conference.  That would not have happened had it not been for quality scholars doing quality research and sharing it with me.

To this day, “Approaching Zion” is in my top 5 LDS books, and I reread it frequently.  If it wasn’t for FARMS, we would not have easy access to Nibley’s writings today.  We wouldn’t know about the Limited Geographic Theory.  We wouldn’t know about chiasmus.  We wouldn’t know about Nephi’s Asherah.  We would have no answers to the Church’s critics.  We would see many more people streaming out of the Church today, because no one would have answers to all the Ed Deckers in the world today.

I thank Hugh Nibley, John Welch, John Sorenson and all those others who have provided such a great work and service to the Church and its members. Let’s hope that continued scholarship continues, perhaps with a rebirth of FARMS as part of the great Internet work now being done by FAIR, SHIELD, Temple Studies, SaltPress.org, and so many other wonderful blogs and websites.

So, how has FARMS, Nibley, etc., improved your life?


6 thoughts on “What FARMS and LDS scholarship mean to me….

  1. Thanks for posting this Ram. My story is very similar. I discovered Nibley on my mission. I even wrote in my journal that I would like to contribute to FARMS someday. I rediscovered FARMS during my first semester of graduate school when I read Sorenson’s Ancient American Setting. That is when I started to look at the BoM in a new and vibrant way. I compare it to moving from black and white television to color.

    When I got to the point that I could contribute and publish it seems that FARMS wasn’t interested. Ironically, it was their disinterest in publishing individual articles, combined with a good presentation at a Claremont conference on war that inspired me to write my first book. I’ve received some private correspondence which suggests my material would have been published during the 90s heyday. But of course, they are heading in a different direction so my book will be published somewhere else.

    So FARMS has inspired much of my research into the BoM. It is sad to see the vision that inspired me change to something else that, frankly, seems far less inspiring. I deal with a bunch of ivory tower elitists all the time. Their research that negotiates this, or contexualizes that, or whatever jargonistic crap they spew is rather boring and does nothing to inspire passion or faith. I would like to abandon that elitist snoozefest, and the snobbery they have towards apologetics, with faithful scholarship which supports the authenticity of the BoM.

  2. Ram, before I answer the question posed here, I am wondering if you could respond to my own post here. In some ways it sort of answers this, but with a different viewpoint on how much good it has done altogether.

  3. I made this comment on another thread, but I’ll repeat it here:

    I would like to add two quick testimonies about apologetics. When I first joined the Church, I faced an unrelenting campaign from “friends” trying to argue me out of it, telling me I had joined a cult, etc. It really was quite extraordinary — people who hadn’t talked to me in years called me up and started arguing with me. They sent me anti-Mormon books and articles, etc. I did not have answers for some of the charges made, and I suffered through some tough weeks wondering if maybe they had a point or two. It was FARMs and Jeff Lindsay’s apologetics pages on the internet that saved me.

    The second testimony involves my wife, who used FARMS articles in her anthropology class. She discussed how it was completely reasonable to accept the idea that some early Americans came here by water rather than just the Siberian land bridge (this was in the 1990s, before such ideas were more widely accepted). She got an A-plus on her paper, and the professor said she had made him think more about the subject.

    So, I believe in the power of defending the Church, and I hope FARMs is reconstructed to continue its role.

  4. Jettboy,
    I’ve responded on your post. I agree that some apologetics do not touch the spirit. That is not the purpose for some apologetics. Some apologetics just provide an intellectual door, to help people overcome their intellectual issues, prior to gaining a conversion. Missionaries do this often: a person has an issue regarding something. The missionaries help to resolve the issue. Then they seek the spiritual confirmation.

    For me, many of these studies do not increase my spirituality. However, not all apologetics are directly focused on polemics or even on a direct defense of the gospel. SaltPress.org offers great books that have helped me understand portions of the Book of Mormon in ways I did not, nor could not, appreciate on my own. They expanded my understanding – and allowed me to search the scriptures in new ways that were previously closed to me. John Sorenson’s Ancient American Setting helped me read the Book of Mormon on a new level, giving new meaning to the issues and teachings within it.

    I see most Mormons just skimming across the scriptures, as if they were novels. Serious students of any topic will read a variety of scholarly works on the subject, in order to understand it better. FARMS and other apologetic organizations have provided great articles that have helped me do just that. Without others helping me along (both LDS and non-LDS in my studies), I could not have written my dozens of lessons on the Gospel Doctrine classes. Many now study them to prepare to teach or learn in their Sunday School classes. They benefit, because I’ve benefited.

  5. The influence that scholars associated with FARMS have had on my life is complex. There are lots of positives that I likely do not give enough thought to. For better or worse, I can say with no exaggeration but plenty of cliché that I would not be where I am now without these scholars and their work.

    My story begins the same as countless others. I discovered Hugh Nibley as a missionary. I read Temple and Cosmos over and over. It made everything come alive for me. I carried it to district meetings, zone conferences, cross-referenced my scriptures with passages from it and vice-versa, until the binding boards warped and the pages grew discolored. I read Temple and Cosmos like a mystagogical primer, as I think it was meant to be read. Believing that in it were the keys to understanding everything from the undisclosed sections of the Book of Abraham facsimiles to the endowment ceremony to how the pre-mortal Christ became a god and humans could become the same, it got me out of bed early each morning to allow for extra study. I studied all day on preparation days if possible, making no distinction between intellectual euphoria and personal revelation. I felt that I belonged to the inner circle of initiates. It was not long before I began to write my own esoteric missives to other elders, family, and friends. The time sped past, and I was happy.

    When I returned home, I read other Nibley books, in no particular order. Two stand out. If Temple and Cosmos was my mystagogical primer, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri was the epopteia. That is was out of print and hard to come by made the religious experience of reading it all the more revelatory. But it was Approaching Zion that had the greater and irreversible effect on me. I was at that impressionable age when returned missionaries need to figure out what to do with their mundane lives. No one seemed to have the answer for me. I could do this or that; either one would turn out fine. But I was certain that there must be careers that are more divinely acceptable than others. Plus providence would not leave my life to chance, including something as arbitrary as my own choice. As I recall, on my reading Nibley was charting a course for me personally in Approaching Zion. During the millennium and beyond there would be no need for doctors, lawyers, bankers, etc. The only thing that would matter then, and that matters now, is understanding the scriptures and the gospel, which presupposes a knowledge of ancient history, biblical languages, and so on.

    I enrolled in Hebrew and Greek classes. I declared a major along those lines, which allowed me to study all day every day what I was passionate about and considered to be of eternal value. When I got to the point of using specialized references, I was given the code to the Nibley ancient studies room, that sanctum sanctorum, where I benefited from the collection of books that he had seen to it the library acquire and that he had used in his own writings. I got to study with professors who shared a similar devotion to Nibley. Without them I would not have succeeded in getting into graduate school. I owe them a lot and hope that when I express criticism of the Nibley or quote unquote FARMS approach it will not be taken as a sign of ingratitude. I remain grateful, even as the humanness of a few of them in particular has become more apparent, and even as for largely other reasons I have come to see things in a different light than I did when I was guided by providence and the Nibley genius.

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