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Quest for the Gold Plates Paperback – 1997
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About the Author
Stan Larson received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Birmingham, Birmingham, England. He is the editor of "Prisoner for Polygamy," "My Continuing Quest," "A Ministry of Meetings," "The Truth, The Way, The Life," "Modern Echoes from Ancient Hills," "Working the Divine Miracle," and "What E'er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part." He has also published articles in the "Ensign," "BYU Studies," "Dialogue," "Sunstone," "Journal of Mormon History," and "Evangelical Quarterly."
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Some Mormons have unfairly maligned Ferguson, arguing that he was naive and jumped ship unusually quickly. What the Book of Abraham affair reveals, however, is how much Ferguson wished to hang on. He had the papyri translated by four separate Egyptologists. He spent two years soul-searching, where there is a complete absence of letter-writing. He read Hugh Nibley's LDS apologetics, desperately hoping to find an answer. But ultimately, he was unsatisfied and ceased to believe. Thus begins a shameful period of Ferguson's life, where he pretended to believe in Mormonism but did not. His family was apparently deceived, leading his son to republish his early work on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon after his death. He continued to play the part of the LDS apologist at firesides, where he gave historical argumentation he knew was invalid. Larson tries to justify Ferguson's actions, and I suppose that on a naturalistic framework, they were neither right nor wrong, because ethics is subjective. Ferguson wanted to maintain the personal relationships he had developed in the LDS faith, and I can understand that. But the truth is that Ferguson spent the last 13 years of his life actively deceiving others- he went to these firesides and gave these talks, and lied to his family about what he believed to be true.
My one other quibble with the book is Larson's dismissiveness towards the work of John Sorenson, John Clark, and other Mormon Mesoamericanists. I am not a Mormon, and I do not believe in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. I think many of the arguments Larson makes in the final chapter are valid. But Sorenson is more than an apologist: he is a distinguished scholar of ancient America, and his work deserves respect and consideration for that reason. And on one count, the Mormon apologists are right: if the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction, then Mormonism is doomed, the claims of liberal Mormons not withstanding. If the Book of Mormon is a novel written by a 19th century farmboy, why should I spend my time looking for "meaning" in it? What about all the other 19th century novels? Regardless, Larson's book is an excellent survey of the faith-journey of a key figure in LDS history.
Stan Larson is a Latter-day Saint who has published articles in the Ensign, BYU Studies, Dialogue, Sunstone, and the Journal of Mormon History. He wrote in the Preface to this 1996 book, "Though our personal contact was minimal, I feel confident that Ferguson would want his intriguing story to be recounted as honestly and sympathetically as possible. The torturous odyssey of Thomas Stuart Ferguson deserves to be told."
Here are some quotations from the book:
"I hesitantly mentioned that I had heard that he had reached some very critical conclusions concerning the Book of Mormon... Ferguson agreed with this statement and openly discussed with me his present skepticism about the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the lack of any Book of Mormon geography that relates to the real world, and the absence of the longed-hoped-for archaeological confirmation of the Book of Mormon." (Pg. xiv)
"Ferguson felt that his work in life was to be an instrument in verifying the historical claims of the Book of Mormon through archaeological excavations in Mesoamerica... Expressing an expectation of important archaeological discoveries in the next three or four years, Ferguson excitedly wrote to (Milton) Hunter that this work would 'shake the entire world to its foundations.'" (Pg. 57)
"Ferguson was still 99.99 in favor of the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and even seriously considered the possibility that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God in 1829 when he translated the Book of Mormon, but had become a fallen prophet by 1835." (Pg. 92)
"Ferguson used this strong language to express his anger and disillusionment. In this period of severe disappointment, he also called Joseph Smith 'a fake.'" (Pg. 135)
"Ferguson told them the following: 'People must believe in something... Mormonism is probably the best conceived myth-fraternity to which one can belong... Belonging with my eyes open, is actually fun, less expensive than formerly, and no strain at all. I am now very selective in the meetings I attend, the functions I attend, the amounts I contribute, etc., etc., and I have a perfectly happy time." (Pg. 151-152)
"Ferguson said that the LDS Church had 'the best available brand of man-made religion,' and that he did not ever plan to leave it... (he) still felt that 'the evidence against certain supernaturals in the Church' had grown to such a degree that it would be unwise for leaders of the Church to risk a public debate on these issues." (Pg. 157)
"(Ferguson) had devoted a lifetime to his public stand in favor of the historicity of the Book of Mormon and found it difficult to publish a reversal during the last years of his life. In fact, several of his friends---who were aware of his change of attitude---counseled him not to publish his 'bombshell' manuscript which was strongly critical of the Book of Mormon. His disappointment was acute and the resulting changes in his attitude were monumental. However, he continued to speak on both sides of the issue." (Pg. 163)
"Ferguson's 1975 listing of problems remains unanswered twenty-one years later. Thus, these points still stand as serious obstacles to authenticating the Book of Mormon. In his study Ferguson remarked that no one 'from Joseph Smith to the present day, has put his finger on a single point of terrain that was a Book of Mormon geographical place." (Pg. 211)
"In spite of the fact, as one Mormon scholar said, that 'there have been no spectacular finds (from the Book of Mormon point of view), no Zarahemlas discovered, no gold plates brought to light, no horses uncovered, and King Benjamin's tomb remains unexcavated,' still Ferguson's key involvement with NWAF will be his lasting accomplishment." (Pg. 216)
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When the "Book of Abraham" papyri translated by Joseph Smith came to light in...THESE EARLY AMERICANS External Evidence of the Book of MormonBy the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion