Quest for the Gold Plates:
Thomas Stuart Ferguson’s Archaeological Search for the Book of Mormon
This is an absolute “must have” book for any LDS (formerly or currently believing). A sort of quasi-biography on perhaps the most famous “thinking” Mormon. This is the first book I've read that could fall into the “anti-Mormon” category (although the book is very pro-Mormon people and pro-many a Mormon doctrine) that didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth. There is none of the mean spirited sensationalism that exists in the Tanners’ works, and there isn’t any of the Christian propaganda that is woven into Charles Larson’s (no relation to Stan) book. The book has a chapter that is very similar to Charles Larson's book however, but it deals exclusively with the literal translation problem in the Book of Abraham. Although Stan would probably like to live out the rest of his life living as Ferguson did, he may be excommunicated for writing this honest book. Probably about the best book you could give as a “first book” to a member who wants to really start thinking about the church in an objective, rather than purely apologetic, manner.
from the publisher:
Anyone interested in the Book of Mormon will be fascinated by the amazing story of Thomas Stuart Ferguson. The reader plods along with Ferguson on his exploratory journeys to Mexico and Guatemala in search of the archaeological remains of Book of Mormon peoples. Ferguson established the prestigious New World Archaeological Foundation to excavate in Mesoamerica, assisted through the generous funding provided by the LDS Church. Ferguson was convinced that these scientific excavations would bring forth startling archaeological confirmation of the Book of Mormon.
His faith was sorely tested, for the evidence was not forthcoming. Also, Ferguson was deeply disturbed by the discovery and translation of the Joseph Smith Egyptian papyri, since these ancient documents were shown to have nothing to do with either the Book of Abraham or the little-known Book of Joseph. Ferguson became what is known as a closet doubter, but his letters during this period illustrate how he resolved the difficulties to his personal satisfaction.
Ferguson analyzed how the archaeological evidence compared with the claims of the Book of Mormon. This book provides up-to-date information on the status of the Book of Mormon.
Stan Larson is the curator for the Utah History, Philosophy, and Religion Archives at the Marriott Library, University of Utah. He is the author of Quest for the Gold Plates: Thomas Stuart Ferguson’s Archaeological Search for The Book of Mormon; co-author of Unitarianism in Utah: A Gentile Religion in Salt Lake City, 1891-1991; and editor of A Ministry of Meetings: The Apostolic Diaries of Rudger Clawson, Prisoner for Polygamy: The Memoirs and Letters of Rudger Clawson at the Utah Territorial Penitentiary, 1884-87, and The Truth, The Way, The Life, An Elementary Treatise on Theology: The Masterwork of B. H. Roberts. Through his own imprint, Freethinker Press, he has recently edited and published Ray R. Channing’s My Continuing Quest: Sociological Perspectives on Mormonism and Marvin and Julia Bertoch’s Modern Echoes from Ancient Hills: Our Greek Heritage.
See also the review the Tanners gave here.
The following is a Mormon apologist's response when someone asked about the book on an "Uncontentious" LDS mailing list. It is fairly typical of the responses generated when one is abandoned by one of 'their own'. My comments are in [italicized brackets].
Stan Larson, as I understand him, is a very old story in that he was a very rigidly conservative Saint who went away to grad school and under the often incredible social pressures that can exist there, bought all his non-LDS professors' paradigms. In any case, he came home with an entirely different set than those with which he left. As is so often the case with rigid personalities, when a snap occurs we tend to see movement in an equal and opposite direction, to the other extreme. And that seems to characterize his writing in recent years. Ideas that were old a generation back, a ho-hum style of New Testament criticism that allows him to reject the Book of Mormon (someday the anti-Mormon Tanners may realize that those they love to quote are far more dangerous to biblical Christianity than any believing Mormon ever can be!). [I can agree with him on something at least ;)] I've not seen anything from him worth the price, of late. The Tom Ferguson story is VERY old non-news, of course, and the only reason to re-hash it is polemical, despite protestations to the contrary. I certainly wouldn't fork out cash for such a bash. Then again, for perspective, I won't buy ANY Signature book either (whoever "Freethinker Press" may be), simply because I am not willing to subsidize the enterprise. I'll read much of what comes from there if I come across it--no fear of pollution as such--just no willingness to give financial aid and comfort to the publisher and his comrades. Same holds true for Dialogue and Sunstone. (Note: I value some of these publications' authors, but question their judgment in using such outlets.)
[Thus far he has told us nothing about Stan except that he is open minded enough to change. When I talked with Stan he indicated that he has changed his thought process (from apologist to what apologists would call a "fringe-Mormon" or critic) for no other reason than because he felt more honest telling the truth than trying to weasel around everything as the apologists do. The author has also hinted that anything that is old news must be irrelevant for some reason. Taking that line of reasoning, the author must not think very highly of the VERY old GAs. What does he think of the old news Book of Mormon or the even older Bible? Why is it that apologists can't apply their reasoning consistently?
He also won't read something that might possibly shed light on a topic. Only people with something to fear (the truth) are afraid to read their critics.]
I realize this is a review of the author rather than the book (that is what the person requested). But let us not forget the differences between ad hominem and ad personam arguments ...
Concerning a review of the author, as my favorite anthropologist writing on "primitive religions" put it in a book M. Quinn would have done well to master before writing on magic:
... If one is to understand the interpretations of primitive mentality and religion they put forward, one has to know their own mentality, broadly where they stood; to enter into their way of looking at things, a way of their class, sex, and period.
[This is exactly what Stan Larson does in the book, but he hasn't bothered to read it before asserting that Larson has done the opposite.]
Note that this approach, from 1962, pre-dates "deconstruction" and, it should be noted, the nihilist agenda that accompanies so much of that, but nevertheless hits the movement's one most viable nail--on which all else hangs--right on the head. Ideas do not exist independent of the individuals who "frame" them. Ideology can control thinking.
... As far as their religion goes, they all had, as far as I know, a religious background ... To mention some names .who are crucial in the 19th and 20th century study of religion. ... Tylor had been brought up a Quaker, Frazier a Presbyterian, Marett in the Church of England, Malinowski a Catholic, while Durkheim, Le'vy- Bruhl, and Freud had a Jewish background; but with one or two exceptions, whatever the background may have been, the persons whose writings have been most influential have been at the time they wrote agnostics or atheists. Primitive religion was with regard to its validity no different from any other religious faith, an illusion. ... They sought, and found, in primitive religions a weapon which could, they thought, be used with deadly effect against Christianity. If primitive religion could be explained away as an intellectual aberration, as a mirage induced by emotional stress, or by its social function, it was implied that the higher religions could be discredited and disposed of in the same way. .E.E. Evans-Pritchard, *Theories of Primitive Religion* (Oxford, 1965):14-15, based in lectures given in 1962..
Yes, knowing an author's agenda [Larson's only agenda is to tell the truth and he'd realize that if he only bothered to read the book] is crucial to analyzing his/her writing. It is NOT a logical error to judge a work, or even whether it is worth a read in the first place, based on what we know about the writer. [So should we dismiss FARMS without reading them since we know that they are interested in apologetics first instead of an objective look at the evidence?] Those who say I should take precious time to read yet another denier of the Holocaust, for example, are fools. Simply knowing who supports or purveys a work may be sufficient grounds to disqualify it from serious consideration. If the other work you sell is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, there is absolutely nothing intellectually dishonest about refusing to waste my time on your expose' of the Illuminati or the Trilateral Commission. [Hmmmmm... sounds like he is saying that once he has thought, the thinking has been done for us too.]
All that said, don't look for me to run out and buy Larson's latest book. His track record of late makes him -- as a writer -- profoundly uninteresting to me.
[After reading this guy, many thinkers may be more likely to go out and read this book.]
In the June 1996 "Brigham Young Magazine" (which is distributed to all BYU alumni), Stan Larson is listed in the "profiles" section which lists accomplishments of BYU alumni. It mentions his completion of this book. The editor must not have read the book, or I think Stan would have been conveniently edited out of the magazine.