Available for the first time fifty years after the author’s death, Studies of the Book of Mormon presents this respected church leader’s investigation into Mormonism’s founding scripture. Reflecting his talent for combining history and theology, B. H. Roberts considered the evident parallels between the Book of Mormon and Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews, a book that predated the Mormon scripture by seven years. If the Book of Mormon is not historical, but rather a reflection of the misconceptions current in Joseph Smith’s day regarding Indian origins, then its theological claims are suspect as well, Roberts asserted.
In this and other research, it was Roberts’s proclivity to go wherever the evidence took him, in this case anticipating and defending against potential future problems. Yet the manuscript was so poorly received by fellow church leaders that it was left to Roberts alone to decide whether he had overlooked some important piece of the puzzle or whether the Mormon scripture’s claims were, in fact, illegitimate. Clearly for most of his colleagues, institutional priorities overshadowed epistemological integrity.
But Roberts’s pathbreaking work has been judged by the editor to be methodologically sound–still relevant today. It shows the work of a keen mind, and illustrates why Roberts was one of the most influential Mormon thinkers of his day. The manuscript is accompanied by a preface and introduction, a history of the documents’ provenances, a biographical essay, correspondence to and from Roberts relating to the manuscript, a bibliography, and an afterword–all of which put the information into perspective.
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Brigham Henry Roberts, born in England in 1857, was president of the LDS First Quorum of the Seventy and assistant church historian. His numerous historical (A Comprehensive History of the Church; Joseph Smith, The Prophet-Teacher; Life of John Taylor; The Missouri Persecutions; The Mormon Battalion, Its History and Achievements; Outlines of Ecclesiastical History; The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo; Succession in the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and theological works (A New Witness for God; The Mormon Doctrine of Deity: The Roberts-Van der Donckt Discussion; The Seventy’s Course in Theology; Studies of the Book of Mormon; The Truth, The Way, The Life: An Elementary Treatise on Theology) which are still considered authoritative, earned him the epithet “defender of the faith.” He died in 1933.
Brigham D. Madsen is Professor Emeritus of History and past vice president of the University of Utah, recipient of a Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award, as well as the Distinguished Service Award from the Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters. He is the author of Glory Hunter: A Biography of Patrick Edward Connor (Utah State Historical Society Best Military History Award), North to Montana! Jehus, Bullwhackers, and Mule Skinners on the Montana Trail (Westerners International Best Book Award), The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre (Westerners International Best Book Award), Studies of the Book of Mormon (John Whitmer Historical Association Best Book Award), and other volumes, including his own popular autobiography, Against the Grain: Memoirs of a Western Historian.
Western Historical Quarterly, Richard Sherlock
Here for the first . . . time a Mormon [leader] and first-rate historian is wrestling with the most sensitive subject possible for his church: to what extent is the Book of Mormon a nineteenth-century product and/or an actual record of some of the peoples of ancient Mesoamerica. . . . Roberts’s work points the way that an intellectually honest faith most go, and for that we must still read these now sixty-year-old studies, as others will do in another century.
Sociological Analysis, Gordon Shepherd
The Roberts manuscripts represent a compelling case study of the age-old tension between religious faith and rational thought. The Roberts era of Mormon history is instructive of the way in which successful religious movements eventually seek . . . to consolidate, systematize, and rationalize the inconsistencies of the founding beliefs.
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