Questions for Brent Metcalfe

John Dehlin Mormon Stories 42 Comments

metcalfeI am very excited to announce that I will soon be interviewing Brent Metcalfe.  Brent is a fascinating interview for Mormon Stories for many reasons, including:

  1. He knew forger and bomber Mark Hofmann personally.
  2. He worked directly for Steven Christensen (son of Mr. Mac), one of Mark Hofmann’s victims.
  3. He went on to author/edit New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, which examined in-depth the historicity claims of the Book of Mormon.
  4. Brent was ultimately excommunicated for editing/authoring this book.
  5. Brent has become one of the foremost scholars in understanding the Book of Abraham.
  6. Brent is generally a giant in Mormon Studies, and is a great guy.

Please post your questions for Brent here.  Thanks!

Comments 42

  1. I’d like to hear Mr. Metcalfe address the character, integrity and morals of LDS apostles and prophets with regard to the books of A and M.

  2. Regarding the recent essay published by the LDS church regarding the Book of Abraham; what does he think they got right and what does he think is wrong?

  3. Are you generally satisfied with the way the Mark Hofmann affair has been portrayed in the media and in the various books?

    If you were to write a book, what aspects of the Hofmann story would you focus on? How would it be different from other books that deal with the same subject?

  4. There is a newish movement who rejects that the book of mormon ever occurred in South America. They claim that it occurred here in the USA siting scriptures and other things Joseph smith said. I think that the group is called FIRM, lead by Rod Meldrum, Jake Hilton, and Wayne May. They even go so far as to claim that Zarahemla was directly across the river from Nauvoo, and that the waters of mormon are Big Springs, MO. They use evidences such as paintings from the 1600s showing native americans using temple signs/tokens, apparent cuneiform writings being discovered that spell Yod Hey Va, and that the Hopewell/Adena Indians are the Nephites/Jaredites. Can you offer any insight to this?

      1. Thank you, I didn’t know about that info. However, they still mention other things in their presentations (if you can stand to listen to them; I don’t particularly like Jake Hilton’s rhetoric, but Wayne May is pretty interesting to listen to)that are pretty fascinating and almost convincing.

      2. Quote: “More recent studies conducted by Professor of Anthropology Richard B. Stamps, of the Michigan Historical Museum, indicate that the artifacts were made with contemporary tools.[3] Current historians tend to agree that Scotford and Soper joined forces to sell the fake relics for personal profit.” There´s the answer.

  5. Before Mark Hoffman was exposed as a forger, was there anything that made you wonder how he managed to make so many great finds? Do you have any idea what his views are now about the church, what he did, etc.? I was with one of his relatives the day he was charged with the bombings, and she was totally shocked & absolutely certain he had nothing to do with it. He remains an enigma.

  6. You’re one of the few secular critics of the church that can offer a really long perspective on challenges to Mormonisms truth claims.

    How have things changed over the decades?
    What do you think about the DCP/Hamblin FARMS implosion?
    Why have you distanced yourself from actively publishing and engaging topics on forums as you did in years past?

  7. What academic qualifications does Mr. Metcalfe have to authoritatively speak on subjects like the historicity of the Book of Abraham?

    What academic publications does Mr. Metcalfe have to his name that qualifies him to be called “one of the foremost scholars in understanding the Book of Abraham”?

    Why didn’t Mr. Metcalfe publish his long-anticipated book disproving the Book of Abraham?

    (These are sincere questions, FWIW.)

    1. http://egyptianalphabetandgrammar.blogspot.com/

      Yes, because remember that the paradigm speaking through Mike’s words is not just representative of him. It’s the same adhominem from his whole establishment that shows how much they think they own the intellectual world. It shows how establishment Apologists from FAIR and Interpreter and the rest of the former FARMS crew only care about your academic achievements even if you actually do do serious research on the Book of Abraham. Because researchers like me are not taken seriously by them, even if we have serious and significant contributions. They have proven time and time again that that is all they care about. They have shown time and time again that that is all that matters to them. So yes, Brent, please comment on this phenomenon.

  8. Dear Brent and John,

    I will start my question with a short story to add some perspective.

    When I was on my mission in the early 70’s, we were encouraged to show a film called “Ancient America Speaks”. When we taught the Book of Mormon story, it was part of our presentation. We Elders thought this was powerful truth, to compliment the claims of the Book of Mormon, “to convince the Jew and Gentile”. I understand the church spent large sums of money on BYU professors and private research to bolster the Book of Mormon claims through archeological discoveries….unfortunately they have not found what they had hoped for. I am quite sure, that film is no longer shown. I’m glad the church and BYU tried and I don’t blame them for making the attempt to shore up the Book of Mormon. They are in a tough spot. Now, along with all of the other historical and literary problems, including DNA evidence, we are suppose to accept it on feelings and the “spirit”….like all religions do with their own faiths….and be excited about sharing this book with our friends! I’m not excited anymore. I am “war weary” defending truths that just don’t appear true anymore. The Book of Abraham was a problem on my mission too, but we had to just ignore that issue, and wait for an answer. We were not suppose to discuss the Temple, Blacks and Priesthood, and of course definitely not curtain parts of the church history such as polygamy and polyandry. Over the years you just reason, that a faith shouldn’t be that complicated. End of my short story.

    My question is: please discuss this shift or emphasis away from evidences and honest research (“study it out in your mind”), to just feelings, in regards to determining truth. Isn’t that a dangerous and at least weak and “anything goes” approach, especially for fanatical groups? It seems there is some serious self deception that is required to work around these problems that are creating riffs in families, as well as individual conflicts of spiritual dissonance for good members and leaders of the church. Please share your feeling about this observation as well, and how this may affect future missionary work, growth of the church and most importantly the individual peace of mind of its members.

    Thank you!

  9. If you were to interview Mark Hofmann, what would your top questions be? Do you think he will ever come completely clean?

    Looking forward to the interview! Thank you both in advance.

  10. What is your spirtuality/worldview like post-Mormonism?
    Did you ever suspect there was something not quite right with Mark Hoffman?
    On Wiwikipedia, it mentions that in a hit piece done by Dan Peterson, that he encodeds the message, “Metcalfe is a butthead.” What were your qurarrels like with FARMS?

  11. 1) In your opinion, which group is currently winning in their arguments regarding the truth claims of church, the critics or the apologetics?

    2) It seems to me that most of the critiques in the 21st century aren’t recent developments, rather they already existed for sometimes decades (credit to Brodie and the Tanners for that). As Jeremy Runnells (a la Kirby Ferguson) has said, “everything’s a remix”. I would include many of the arguments given by the critics as well. What would you say are the most significant developments in the critiques of the church in the past 20 years that didn’t exist beforehand?

  12. Wouldn’t it have been more humorous to wait until *after* the issue was mailed out before bringing the “Metcalfe is Butthead” acrostic to the attention of FARMS authorities?

  13. What advice does Brent have for aspiring Mormon historians? What historical issues does he think are most worthy of exploration, and how would he suggest young aspiring researchers go about gathering and parsing primary and secondary sources?

    1. Let me clarify. This is the part I’m most interested in:

      “…how would he suggest young aspiring researchers go about gathering and parsing primary and secondary sources?”

  14. Since unit growth of the church is now in decline and growing slower than U.S. and world population growth, how do you see the future of the church and its doctrines? What do you attribute this decline to?

  15. Why do you think it is that the church is so fearful of discoveries such as the letters by Mark H ?
    Surely, anyone who was even moderately sure of themselves in this case would have responded such as this : ” We have no idea where this letter came from, there’s absolutely no truth in it and we disregard it completely….we maintain Josephs account to be true ”
    That’s what I expected from church leaders….I mean…Salamander spirit !!!C’mon…instead, they were duped… arranged for major amounts of $ to buy the letter up,bury it and then lie.
    They buried the Mclellin diaries also….similar thing…didn’t like the content.
    I suppose the precedent was set by Joseph himself in burning down the Nauvoo Expositor because he didn’t like the content, and labelled it “anti Mormon”…it wasn’t even, William Law was a believer, who could no longer take Joseph’s hypocrisy. Joseph didn’t go ” like a lamb to the slaughter” in burning down personal property he broke the law in a major way. All he had to say publicly if there was really no truth in it, was… ” it’s simply not true” and leave it at that.
    Why do you think the church is so fearful, silencing members and burying facts ? Long question, sorry !

  16. Brent,

    Near the end of a presentation you gave for the ExMormon Foundation, you said something to the effect of: “People ask me how Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, how he pulled it off, how it all came about. That’s something each person must decide for themselves, but I’ve made peace with my own interpretation.”

    You didn’t elaborate on that interpretation. I thought your essay in New Approaches was excellent, and certainly complicates traditional understandings of the Book of Mormon; you obviously don’t believe the BoM is historical in any way, but I’d also guess you would acknowledge the impressive complexity of it. Given that, do you think that Joseph Smith deliberately plotted, prepared, researched, drafted, re-drafted the book over several years, or did it flow spontaneously from his subconscious mind in ways even he didn’t understand? What scenario for the book’s origins have you constructed over your many years of study?

  17. Since you worked for Steven Christensen, could you shed any light on the main reason why Steven purchased documents from Hoffman — was it just to donate documents to the church? What was the arrangement and the special ‘business relationship’ Steven had with the Church in this regard?

    Why didn’t the church just pay for their own documents? Were they hiding behind Christensen for some reason? How was Christensen reimbursed or rewarded by the Church for his document ventures?

  18. John – Are you done interviewing faithful members or promoting faithful stories? Or even presenting the center view? Has been quite a while since you had a podcast that wasn’t left of center. I did enjoy the balance that your podcast once stood for; miss the balance.

  19. Robert Ritner, Egyptologist, wrote a recent book “the Joseph Smith Papyri” in which he acknowledges your encouragement for that project. How did you encourage this masterpiece which, in my opinion, decimates the church’s past claims on the BofA? And how was it working with Mr. Ritner?

    1. Oh, that would be great! If Krakauer can interview Dan Lafferty, it might be possible. Hoffman was Lafferty’s cell mate.

  20. Do you still attend LDS church? Does your wife and/or children? What has been the ramifications to your excommunication among other family members? Do you still believe in God, and what type of God? Do you attend church anyplace else?

  21. During the first part of his interview, usually John will ask a question about gaining a testimony while in the Mormon church or have spiritual experiences and then pairing those experiences with the Mormon narrative. My question to Brent is during or after authoring/editing New Approaches to the Book Mormon, did he have other or similar spiritual experiences that confirmed the historical facts (which may be viewed as counter experiences to those earlier in the church)? Is having spiritual experiences while doing what some may view as critical research on the Book, when you know there may be opposing views to your work, grounds for also having these feelings? It seems to me that going with what you may think everyone around knows is right (even if it isn’t) more easily allows for these kinds of experiences more than realizing there are differences of opinion and thought and then vying for spiritual confirmation. I’m sure this applies to other beliefs as well. I’m not saying you need to have spiritual experiences to validate your work by any means if the facts are facts, but a higher power confirmation always helps.

  22. Brent,

    Growing up in the Eleventh Ward, you seemed very different than the Terry, Larry and Scott group. For one thing, you were damn good at martial arts. I still remember the demo you and your friends gave in the Rec Hall for Mutual. Do you believe that your martial arts and mental training has contributed to your belief system and the independence from the crowd?

  23. In the past, we often got snippets of information in The Church News,
    at firesides, etc about some new discovery somewhere that was about to put to rest the concerns about the BOM’s historicity. Examples would be projects at the Serpent Mounds in Ohio, linguists studying things like Native Americans singing in a language that seemed close to Hebrew,archaeological digs in latin America that were obviously BOM related, etc.

    Did any of these projects or research ever prove anything?

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