I am a FARMS Hugh Nibley Fellowship recipient (as are other Bloggernaclers Ben and Melissa). The Nibley Fellowship, "named in honor of Hugh Nibley…provides financial aid to students enrolled in accredited PhD programs in areas of study directly related to the work and mission of the Institute, particularly work done under the name of FARMS’ studies of the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, the Old and New Testaments, early Christianity, ancient temples, and related subjects."
I just looked at the list of recent recipients and find their subject areas to be quite instructive:
- Hebrew/Old Testament: 7
- Religious Studies: 2
- New Testament: 2
- Judaism: 2
- Old World Archaeology: 1
- Ancient Near East: 1
- Classics: 1
- Mesoamerica: 1
Note the massive Old World weighting. Only one Fellow is studying Mesoamerica (Mark Alan Wright, University of California, Riverside.) In a way this is odd. Book of Mormon apologetics is arguably FARMS’ main concentration and is not the Book of Mormon a New World book? Why, then, is our Mesoamerican scholarship so poorly represented?
Other examples of Mesoamerica-phobia: BYU’s foremost Mayanist in recent years has been Stephen Houston who is not LDS. John Sorenson, who has probably done more work on the Mesoamerican Book of Mormon connection than anyone else, is a social anthropologist not a Mayanist and only came to the subject after retirement. A glance through the FARMS Updates of the 1990s shows that only about 10 of 69 reports use Mesoamerican evidence.
We can attribute this imbalance to Hugh Nibley. Professor Nibley was an Old World scholar, and his books such as Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites provided a rigorous and plausible portrait of the Old World culture that lies behind the Jaredites, Nephites and Mulekites. It is largely upon his legacy that current Book of Mormon scholarship is based, and FARMS has succeeded in making the Book of Mormon a believable Old World work. We have even found Nahom!
Surely our scholarly attention must now turn to the New World. Sorenson has laid a foundation, and hopefully the next generation of Nibley Fellows will feature more than just one student of Mesoamerica. After all, the Book of Mormon is American. Isn’t it?
[I should note that my own Book of Mormon research is decidedly Old Worldian: the technology of beekeeping in the ancient Near East. I find it interesting that when I decided I wanted to be a scholar of things ancient it never occurred to me to study ancient America. This is perhaps because I was more impressed by Nibley than by Ancient American Speaks.]