What remains of the old-guard Maxwell Institute that now hails from the blog Mormon Interpreter, condemns the new Maxwell Institute for not taking the Book of Mormon seriously "as history". They charge that the new MI walks a fine line between "bracketing" the Book of Mormon as real history, and embracing what the old-guard contemptuously calls "The Inspired Fiction Theory" -- the idea that the Book of Mormon, like Moby Dick, is merely fiction.
If there is any truth to the saying "whoever smelt it dealt it", then it should come as no surprise that ironically, it is the FARMS apologists themselves who have laid more tar on the road that leads to a fictional Book of Mormon than anyone. But let's be clear: we Fictional Studies students don't accept the false dichotomy that FARMS and many critics alike assume, that a fictional Book of Mormon undermines the foundational claims of the Restoration. It is clear to us, that old-school FARMS Mopologetics forges its way to fiction in order to vindicate an angelic and miraculous production of the Book of Mormon. We do understand that some fiction theories feel more like hollow attempts to "secularize" Mormonism, but not all fiction theories do so, and the holy grail of fiction that the apologists may one day claim for themselves will not be a resignation to the secular, but a triumph of fundamentalism.
Expert Hint: If you don't want the Book of Mormon to be fiction, then steer clear of any attempt to understand it as history.
The Fork of Symmachus
The most direct route to a faith-promoting, fictional Book of Mormon follows from a quandary known to some as the Fork of Symmachus. Apologists haplessly stumble into the fork as they conflate an "ancient" text with a "historical" one:
Daniel Peterson wrote:I’ve been watching a small handful of overeager critics of the Church with amusement. They’ve been peering desperately at the distant horizon, hoping for a sign, any sign, that the Church is abandoning its longstanding claim that the Book of Mormon is an authentically ancient record...they devoutly hope, to its eventually abandoning the historicity of the Book of Mormon altogether
Symmachus wrote:Peterson's response itself leaves some ambiguity, whether he intends it or not, as a result of the dichotomy between "ancient" and "historical." He says that it is an "authentically ancient document" (so are the Testament of Abraham and the Sibylline Oracles and Gospel of Peter, but they're not primary documents from Abraham, the Sibyll, and Peter).
The clearest case study of the Fork comes from John Gee's work on the Book of Abraham. Gee insists the Book of Abraham came from a now-missing long scroll lost in the Chicago Fire:
Fence Sitter wrote:if all the missing sections of the papyri were to suddenly be found, somewhere on them would be a hieratic text containing the Book of Abraham we have today plus a bunch more. Whether or not that text actually represented an exact copy of something Abraham himself wrote or was simply a reproduction of a pseudepigraphal Ptolemaic scroll is not part of his [Gee's] argument as far as I can tell.
Since a "historically accurate" autobiography from Abraham himself would be utterly anachronistic, as no reputable scholar asserts Abraham ever even existed, if Joseph Smith really did get the Book of Abraham from a longer scroll now missing, then like the extant Joseph Smith papyri, it is of a class of manuscript the real world actually knows about. If the Book of Abraham really is ancient, then it is almost certainly "fiction". The upshot is that although the rook is lost, the queen is preserved: if such a pseudepigraphal text were uncovered one day and proved to contain the story found in the Book of Abraham, then Joseph Smith is vindicated as translator and as the apologists say: "how could he have known!" Fictional Studies students such as myself believe that the old-school FARMS Mopologists are confused when they erupt in anger over suggestions that the Book of Mormon is fiction. We do not believe they really care if the Book of Mormon is fiction, they care if the foundational events of the Restoration happened. It does not logically follow, as the apologists demand, that if the Book of Mormon is fiction, that the Angel Moroni didn't appear to Joseph Smith. The Angel Moroni very well may have appeared to Joseph with a stack of Gold Plates and the Book of Mormon may very well be a work of fiction. Also non-negotiable for the FARMS apologist: the production of the Book of Mormon must be miraculous. While FARMS itself blazes the trail to a fictional Book of Mormon, the concessions in terms of historicity are always, unequivocally, made to preserve the miracle of the text's production.
While it is possible to say that a "pseudepigraphal Ptolemaic scroll" might one day be proven to be substantially historical by a discovered authentic Abraham Autograph, that is such a fanciful and anachronistic hope as such a thing has never happened, that one might as well just believe the text burned in the fire was the preserved Abraham Autograph itself. Look at it this way: All of the "bringing forth of ancient texts" is really a way to establish Joseph Smith as prophet. if a pseudepigraphal manuscript were uncovered that matched the Book of Abraham, the discovery would be so earth-shaking that further discoveries of an original Abraham Autograph with links to the pseudepigraphal manuscript would end up as footnotes.