Of Faith and Reason: 80 Scholarly Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith
Michael R. Ash
Blair Dee Hodges
Cedar Fort, 2008
Michael Ash's apologetic articles have been appearing online and in LDS
publications for over a decade. What offensive thing could he possibly
do to require such a lengthy apology? Actually, Ash isn't "sorry,"
rather he considers himself an "apologist" in the original sense of the
word; a "defender of the faith." Ash has been busy researching and
answering criticism against the LDS Church and his latest offering is
Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith,
a collection of eighty-plus bite-sized examples of Joseph Smith "getting
things right" in spite of the odds against him. Clocking in at under 200
pages, the book is a breeze-through which needn't be read cover to
cover; readers can take any sections in any order. This is a "greatest
hits" mix-tape and the reader can put it on shuffle or go straight through.
Ash doesn't provide (or expect to find) unequivocal proof that Joseph
Smith's revelations and translations are authentic because "faith —
which entails humility and a heart aligned with the teachings of the
Savior — is necessary for true conversion" (Ash, xii). Instead, he hopes
a collection of "secular evidences" will assist in the process of
conversion by "provid[ing] an atmosphere where a spiritual witness can
flourish" (xiii). Such evidences can support, not replace, faith.
Rather than providing new research, Ash has borrowed from an
already-burgeoning LDS scholarship that has been adding up since Hugh
Nibley got the ball rolling (relatively speaking). Readers who are
familiar with much of what Nibley, FARMS, and FAIR have produced will
recognize most of Ash's included evidences. Ash says these available
resources have remained unknown to many Latter-day Saints — including
Nibley's work ("relatively few members have actually read his writings,"
[xiv]). To Ash, Latter-day Saints could profit greatly by spending less
time watching TV or surfing the web and more time learning about
exciting new discoveries (xv). Perhaps some readers are simply unaware
of LDS scholarly sources, or maybe they're bored or discouraged by
technical language and length. Ash hopes to make discoveries more
accessible: "The purpose of this book is to share some of the evidences
for the prophetic abilities of Joseph Smith, the antiquity of many
unique LDS doctrines and practices, and the fascinating support for the
authenticity of the LDS scriptures. While I rely on the research of top
LDS scholars, the data is presented in short snippets that should make
it easier to both read and digest. For those whose appetites are teased
by the summaries in this book, the endnotes will lead to more in-depth
To give readers an idea of how far scholarly evidences have come, Ash
cites anti-Mormon literature spanning from the 1830s to today; many
criticisms have lost ground as new information is discovered. The
original laughter over Joseph Smith's strange invention of "reformed
Egyptian" has faded as examples of such a script have multiplied
(38-40). Strange descriptions of the early Lehite journeys through the
Old World wilderness turn out to be accurate descriptions of real
locations unknown in Joseph Smith's 1830 surroundings (pp. 53-54, 62,
65). In all, Ash cites evidence regarding Joseph Smith's prophetic
career, the Book of Mormon's Old and New World shadows, the Book of
Abraham, and various uniquely-LDS doctrines. An appendix describes
ancient documents like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library
to familiarize Latter-day Saints with some of the material he cites
throughout the book (181-189).
I believe Latter-day Saints can benefit by becoming more familiar with
much of what Ash includes. Some of Ash's evidences are stronger than
others — I seem less impressed with "word-print" studies, for
instance, and his section on the Book of Abraham is too skinny.
The largest problem I see is that the book does not discuss the nature
of parallels or describe any method of evaluating (or even discovering)
them. Instead, he emphasizes the "how could Joseph have known" angle.
Such parallels can easily become enmeshed in ideological battle over
whether the Book of Mormon is an actual ancient record (now translated
into Joseph Smith's idiom), or a 19th-century inspired forgery, or a
fraud of some kind (or something else!). Parallels from the 19th century
would trump those Ash advances for some readers, and such parallels are
often presented in a similar style — that is, quick soundbites like
Ash's without good discussion of method. Can the approach help "even
out" the discussion for a person who is confused about criticisms of the
Book of Mormon, or inspire readers to "give place" for the possibility
the Book of Mormon is an ancient and authentic record? There have been
interesting discussions in the pages of Dialogue, the FARMS Review,
and elsewhere that discuss the use of parallels. Ash's book certainly
isn't geared for an audience interested in such meta-discussion,
however. (Perhaps my talking about it in this review has already caused
some boredom or desertion!) His effort should be judged by his goal,
which is to hook otherwise disinterested or uninformed readers on
learning more about scholarly discoveries and Joseph Smith's claims.
Ideally, readers will be hungry for more and not be satisfied with his
book alone. Perhaps Ash could have included Nibley's characteristic
insistence that he not be held responsible for "anything I wrote more
than three years ago. For heaven's sake, I hope we are moving forward
here." Such comments led Nibley's former student David Rolph Seely to
explain: "I have always assumed Nibley would be delighted for us to read
his work critically, and statements such as the above should be taken as
invitations to join the fray." Hopefully, Of Faith and Reason
encourages readers to become more interested in the overall conversation.
Ash has a talent for making difficult, academic subjects accessible and
engaging to the average reader. His book traverses a lot of
already-covered ground, but he hopes to bring many of these evidences
out of obscurity and darkness to help readers better appreciate the
valuable revelations of Joseph Smith.
 See Blair Dee Hodges, "A New Book of Mormon Wordprint Analysis,"
LifeOnGoldPlates.com, 8 December 2008.
 In Ash's first book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One's
Testimony In the Face of Criticism and Doubt he spends more time
discussing the apologetic issues involved with the Book of Abraham. In
my estimation, Shaken Faith is the better of the two books.
 For example, see Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of
Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Signature Books 1993) and
Kevin Christensen's response, "Paradigms Crossed," FARMS Review 7:2,
144-218. Another interesting exchange is Douglas F. Salmon,
"Parallelomania and the Study of Later-day Saint Scripture:
Confirmation, Coincidence, or the Collective Unconscious," Dialogue: A
Journal of Mormon Thought, 33:2, 129-156 and William J. Hamblin, "Joseph
or Jung? A Response to Douglas Salmon," FARMS Review, 13:2, 87-107.
Finally, an important addition to the conversation is Benjamin McGuire,
"Parallelomania: Criticism of the Textual Parallels Theories,"
 Hugh Nibley, "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham: A Response,"
Sunstone, December 1979, 49.
 David Rolph Seely, review of Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester
3, by Hugh Nibley, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5 (1993): 195.
Footnotes 4 and 5 taken from Hamblin, "Joseph or Jung," FARMS Review,