The Calculated Suppression of Mormon Apologetics:
The Case of William Schryver
A little over two years ago I had just completed the preparation of what would become my presentation at the 2010 Annual Conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR).1 The presentation was a brief preliminary report of my examination and analysis of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (KEP), a little known set of early Mormon documents related to the Book of Abraham and the papyrus scrolls that were purchased in Kirtland, Ohio in early July 1835, at the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The analysis presented was the product of my initial comprehensive examination of many of the relevant source documents. Previous to this time, very few people were even aware of my entry into the nascent field of Book of Abraham studies. It is therefore in order, I believe, to provide a brief account of the salient events of my history in relation to these things.
In early April 2006, during the course of some unrelated research on a question of Mormon history, I stumbled upon the FAIR website for the first time, previous to which I was unaware of that organization, nor of the message board that they hosted. Having previously been a casual student of Book of Abraham-related issues, I was immediately drawn to discussions on the FAIR board that dealt with that topic. I became involved in debates with a gentleman by the name of Brent Metcalfe, an ex-Mormon of some notoriety, and, at that time, one of very few people in the world with access to the source materials, in the form of a set of photographs (and original set of negatives) he had obtained in the mid-1980s.2
Sometime in the summer of 2006, I received a private message from a board member going by the name "Al Ghazali." He identified himself as BYU Professor Brian Hauglid, and he wrote to commend me for my argumentation during an online debate with Mr. Metcalfe—a debate concerning certain questions about one of the Book of Abraham manuscripts. Professor Hauglid provided me with his email address, and there commenced a voluminous correspondence between us that was to continue uninterrupted until August 2010. Previous to this time, I had never heard of Brian Hauglid, nor had I previously had contact with anyone associated with BYU, FARMS, or the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.
Professor Hauglid informed me that he was directing a recently inaugurated formal academic study of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, and notwithstanding my status as a non-academic (I am a software engineer), he subsequently invited me to serve as an informal research assistant to him in this project. Pursuant to that end, he provided me with medium-resolution scan images of two of the Abraham manuscripts, which I immediately began to examine with great interest.
Over the course of the next few years I identified several significant elements of text-critical evidence in the two manuscripts Hauglid provided me. I was also brought into contact with BYU Professor of Egyptology John Gee, who was working in concert with Hauglid in this study of the KEP. One thing led to another; my apparent knack for text-criticism was manifest; and as the number of important findings I made increased from month to month, Professors Hauglid and Gee ultimately invited me to prepare the manuscript of a book-length analysis of a portion of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers that was to have become a volume in the Studies in the Book of Abraham series, published by the Maxwell Institute.3
Given my lack of experience in scholarly circles, I frequently sought out my only acquaintance in the world of academia: my good friend Dallin D. Oaks, Professor of Linguistics at BYU.4 I distinctly recall a conversation with Dallin as my involvement in these matters increased. He told me to be extremely cautious and to document thoroughly all the findings I made; to create a "paper trail" of these things such that it could never subsequently be disputed that it was I who had made the discoveries. My initial reaction to this counsel was to express disbelief that anyone at BYU would try to "steal" my research and call it his own. But Dallin was adamant that such things do happen—even at BYU—and that I would live to regret it if I did not take steps to prevent the misappropriation of my research. Therefore, from that moment forward, I heeded his counsel to carefully document the various findings consequent to my research. Little could I have anticipated how prescient that counsel would turn out to be.5
Furthermore, as my research into the KEP proceeded, I began to see that it would no longer be expedient for me to do so as an unofficial research assistant to Professor Hauglid. Therefore I prepared a detailed research proposal of my own, in which I described my findings to date and specifically requested to receive my own complete set of the digital scan images of the Joseph Smith Papyri and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. I mailed this research proposal, dated November 18, 2009, to the Church Historian, Elder Marlin K. Jensen.
In late December 2009, I was notified by Glenn Rowe, Director of Special Projects for the Church History Library, that my research proposal and request to receive the images had been received favorably by Elder Jensen, but that it would require the authorization of his supervisors in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (at the time, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Russell M. Nelson), as well as the First Presidency.
In January 2010, Elder Jensen notified me via email that the First Presidency had approved my request. The first week of February 2010 I traveled to the Church History Library in
, and after affixing my signature to a detailed research contract, I was permitted to download to my laptop hard drive the image files of the Joseph Smith Papyri and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers.6 Salt Lake City
The research proposal I had submitted to Elder Jensen also contained a request for Professor John Gee and I to perform specific forensic measurements of the Joseph Smith Papyri, pursuant to calculating the original length of the scroll of Hor, one of the papyrus scrolls included in the collection obtained by the Church in 1835. Those measurements were performed the same day (February 5, 2010) that I received the digital image files of the JSP and the KEP.
Previous to obtaining the high-resolution images of the KEP, I had been conducting a comprehensive analysis of a typographic transcription of the portions of the KEP called the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language.7 This analysis resulted in the development of my primary thesis concerning the Kirtland Egyptian Papers: that they derive from a pre-existing text of Joseph Smith's original revealed translation of the Book of Abraham. This thesis became the basis of the presentation I prepared for the 2010 FAIR conference.
Strangely enough, no sooner had my name and the title of my presentation been posted on the FAIR website, than several members of the FAIR Board of Directors were bombarded with demands that I be removed from the conference agenda! These demands originated from people who participate (most of them anonymously) at the Mormon Discussions message board—an online forum dominated by critics and enemies of Mormonism. The premise of their demands was that I am (allegedly) vulgar, sexist, misogynistic, etc., and that I consistently engage in what they characterize as "vicious ad hominem attacks" towards the women with whom I have participated in online debates of issues related to Mormonism.8
Very few, at the time, appeared to note (or even recognize, it would seem) the irrelevance and irony inherent in the attempt to suppress my presentation on the premise of my being a purveyor of vicious personal attacks. Nevertheless, these transparently ad hominem allegations failed to achieve their objective, and I was permitted to present at the conference, notwithstanding the continuing threats which were made to "take these things to the media." My presentation was considered by many observers to have been the highlight of the 2010 conference, and it was widely reported in print and online media.9
Unfortunately, one of the consequences of my having "branched out on my own" in terms of my research into the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, and having obtained my own set of the high-resolution images of the source materials, was that my previously collegial relationship with Professor Hauglid steadily deteriorated from that point forward.
My FAIR presentation also ignited a veritable firestorm of anti-Schryver activity on the Mormon Discussions message board. At one point in November of 2010, I counted over one hundred threads there dedicated, in one fashion or another, to the objective of discrediting me personally. Many more have followed since then, and although I am still unaware of any substantive counter-arguments to the primary thesis of my presentation (that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers are dependent on a pre-existing text of the Book of Abraham), a pervasive même has evolved such that it is now the received wisdom, in anti-Mormon circles, that not only is William Schryver the single most offensive LDS apologist on the planet, but that the Schryver thesis of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers was comprehensively "destroyed" within days of its original presentation. Of course, no one can tell you precisely how the thesis was destroyed, but there is now a universal consensus among the participants at Mormon Discussions that "all qualified scholars" have rejected my thesis as a ridiculous apologetic imposture.
A little over a year ago, I had just completed the final revisions of an article entitled The Interminable Roll – Determining the Original Length of the Scroll of Hor. This article had been submitted to and approved for publication by the Church Historian, and I had been informed by Professor Paul Hoskisson, editor of the Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, that it would appear as the "cover article" of the next issue (20:2, as I recall). In addition, Professor Hoskisson had been enthusiastically encouraging and soliciting from me a series of articles for subsequent issues of the JBMORS, treating upon my ongoing analysis of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers.
At some point in early 2011, I made mention of these forthcoming articles in an online message board post. Not long after this announcement, the same group of people who had attempted to suppress my FAIR conference presentation the previous year resurrected their scheme, and posted on their message board a seemingly well-researched exposé entitled Mormon Apologetics and Misogyny: The Case of William Schryver.9
In addition, this same group of militant anti-Mormon activists11 began to secretly plot to have my forthcoming articles removed from the publication agenda of the JBMORS. They were aided by two or more individuals with close association to the Maxwell Institute, as well as an influential member of the FAIR Board of Directors, who, on this second attempt, was apparently persuaded that the allegations against me had merit: to whit, that I am a notorious misogynistic thumper who has made vicious ad hominem attacks upon women a staple of his online literary oeuvre. They framed their presentation as a sincere concern for the welfare of the women involved in "Mormon Studies," should they have the misfortune of being ambushed by me on the field of rhetorical combat.
Prior to May 2011, I had no idea that this group of people had been in contact with Dr. Gerald Bradford, the Executive Director of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Studies, or anyone else at BYU. Indeed, I was entirely convinced that no one associated with the Maxwell Institute was interested in, let alone persuaded by, these outrageous ad hominem attacks. My research and writing had continued unabated. I had met with Professor Hoskisson on multiple occasions to discuss the future publication agenda for the series of articles I was preparing, and therefore, when he requested another meeting for May 16, 2011, I assumed its purpose was to further discuss these matters. I drove from
Cedar City to that morning for a lunch meeting with him. I arrived at the Maxwell Institute offices about noon, and was invited to join him in his office. There he succinctly informed me that Dr. Bradford had ordered that my scroll-length article be removed from the forthcoming issue of the JBMORS. He also informed me that Dr. Bradford had taken steps to prevent my being published by any journal associated with BYU, and that I was no longer welcome in the offices of the Maxwell Institute. Provo
Needless to say, I was stunned. I inquired as to the reasons for this sudden decision, and was told that it was prompted by the allegations made against me by the anti-Mormons at the Mormon Discussions message board. I requested that I be permitted to defend myself against these allegations. My request was denied. I categorically denied the veracity of the allegations. Dr. Hoskisson replied, and I quote: "It doesn't matter if they're true or not. If we publish you, they will take these things to the media and bring disrepute upon the Maxwell Institute, BYU, and the Church." I expressed shock that the Maxwell Institute would permit itself to be intimidated and manipulated by a group of mostly anonymous anti-Mormons associated with an obscure internet message board. Hoskisson expressed sympathy for my cause, but indicated he could do nothing. He then showed me the door, and that was that.
I drove home to
Cedar City from in stunned silence. Upon my return, I contacted a close friend who works in the Maxwell Institute offices, and inquired as to his knowledge of what had happened. He informed me that certain individuals at the Mormon Discussions message board had persuaded Professor Hauglid to deliver their allegations to Dr. Bradford, and to vouch for their truthfulness. Provo
This had all taken place while Professor Daniel Peterson, editor of the Mormon Studies Review, was traveling in
Europe. Dr. Peterson was one of the few people at the Maxwell Institute who was aware of the nature of the MormonDiscussions.com message board, as well as my posting history on that forum. He and I were among the mere handful of faithful Latter-day Saints who had ventured to that site over the years to defend the Church against the attacks made upon it by the anti-Mormons that dominate the discourse there. I made contact with him while he was on a cruise ship outside of . He replied with outrage over what had happened, and assured me that, as soon as he returned, he would attempt to set matters straight. However, in the meantime, someone associated with the Maxwell Institute intentionally leaked the information concerning my discommendation to the people at Mormon Discussions. This information was promptly made public as a triumphant preface to the message board thread that contained the allegations against me. Naples, Italy
There immediately ensued (as those familiar with the place can well imagine) a veritable orgy of jubilant celebration at Mormon Discussions. They had set out to silence an important new voice in Mormon apologetics, and they had succeeded far beyond their wildest expectations.
Of course, this "leak" from the Maxwell Institute was orchestrated with the simple purpose of setting the decision in stone before Dan Peterson could return and attempt to reverse it. (Only much later would I come to understand that I was merely a pawn in a much larger political struggle occurring within the Maxwell Institute.)
At any rate, I authored a description of the affair, from my perspective, and sent it via email to Dan Peterson, Glenn Rowe, and Elder Marlin K. Jensen, the Church Historian (who had already been making public mention of the findings associated with my scroll-length article). In this email, dated May 18, 2011, I made the following predictions:
- The mob will not be placated, but rather emboldened. Having brought down one of their primary targets, they will turn their full attention to others. And they will be certain to employ the same methods on subsequent targets that they have on me (successfully) and on you (unsuccessfully, to date). Their power to intimidate through threat—whether credible or not—will be greatly augmented. Their prestige among fellow critics will be greatly enhanced. Their ability to attract new converts will be greatly strengthened.
- As you well know, the prime directive at MormonDiscussions.com is to destroy the effectiveness of LDS apologetics in general. They want to replace what they perceive as the current direction of LDS apologetics with one that will work to effect things such as the abandonment of the Book of Abraham; the formal acknowledgement of what they are convinced is the ahistoricity of the Book of Mormon; the formal renunciation of things they find objectionable in church history; etc. As a result of the Maxwell Institute having submitted to their intimidation in this instance, they will perceive weakness (and rightly so), and they will attack it relentlessly and with much more confidence of success.
Now, a little more than one year later, my predictions have proven accurate in virtually every respect. Furthermore, it has become apparent that it is not only the anti-Mormon critics of the Church who seek to suppress Mormon apologetics, but also a substantial number of the LDS intelligentsia who oppose apologetics per se, and who instead advocate a purely secular approach to Mormon studies—an approach that will necessarily entail the rejection of traditional faithful defenses of the restored gospel.12
1 My presentation, entitled "The Meaning and Purpose of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers," is available online in video format: The Kirtland Egyptian Papers - Part 1; The Kirtland Egyptian Papers - Part 2
2 These photographs of the Joseph Smith Papyri and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers were authorized by the Church; commissioned by the late Steven Christensen, who was the first bombing victim of the notorious anti-Mormon forger, Mark Hofmann. Metcalfe had worked closely with both Hofmann and Christensen during this period. Definitive information is at a premium when it comes to this episode in Church history, but I have yet to see any reason to doubt Metcalfe's claim that he was the rightful recipient of one of the four sets of photographs produced at the time.
3 Professors Hauglid and Gee are the editors of the Studies in the Book of Abraham series of books, published by the Maxwell Institute.
4 Dallin and I were in the same MTC group of twelve missionaries ("La Dozzina Sporca") called to
in 1979. We served together in several areas, returned together in August 1981, and have remained close ever since. Italy
5 I was rather chagrined to discover that, in his recent book A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions, Professor Hauglid has presented, without proper attribution, some important findings that originated in my research. Interestingly, since the publication of the book, he appears to have tacitly authorized a friend to, on multiple occasions now, claim (via posts on the mormondiscussions.com message board, such as this one) that John Gee compelled him, in some fashion or another, to include those particular findings in the book, and that he does not agree with them.
6 One of the stipulations of my contract with the CHL is that anything I desire to publish, if it employs any of the copyrighted images of the KEP or JSP, must be submitted to and authorized for publication by the Church Historian, his direct supervisors in the Quorum of the Twelve (currently Elder Russell M. Nelson and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland), and the First Presidency. It should be clearly understood that "authorized for publication," in this context, does NOT constitute endorsement.
7 This typographic transcription had been executed by Jerald Tanner and H. Michael Marquardt, and published as The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers, a portion of which is available online here: Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language.
8 I categorically deny these allegations.
9 For example, Deseret News, August 7, 2010: Secret Mormon Codes and Egyptian Papers
10 The allegations contained in this message board post authored by Bridget Jeffries are a pastiche of forgeries, gross exaggerations, deliberate misrepresentations, and otherwise out-of-context citations.
11 This characterization would be met with feigned disbelief and explicit denial by those involved in this matter. There is what one might call a "core group" of anti-Mormon personalities at mormondiscussions.com. It consists of a relatively diverse group of: ex-Mormons; many ostensibly "active Mormons" who maintain varying degrees of a patina of faithfulness in terms of their church and family relationships, but who are apostate in virtually every significant way in terms of their online expressions. (There is even a currently serving bishop who makes no pretense of his apostasy in the form of his online persona, but who continues to act the role of bishop to his ward. He posts anonymously, as do the overwhelming majority of the posters there.) There is even a surprisingly significant number of non-Mormons, most of whom have a Mormon spouse, or otherwise some familial relationship to Mormonism.
12 I highly recommend Professor William Hamblin's examination of these issues as contained in recent blog posts he has made here, here, and here.