This summer, my wife and I are house-sitting for a friend in Dallas while I work in the city. This friend is a religious scholar (though not of Mormonism) and I enjoy looking at all the books on her shelves (I do this in almost every home that I visit). One day I noticed that she had a copy of the BoM in her apartment. Aside from being a scholar of religion, she is honestly one of the last people I would have thought would have a copy of the BoM.
Her copy is only a wee bit outdated. Its copyrighted 1960-something. For those familiar, its a paper cover with blue and clouds and a big Angel Moroni on the front. I picked it up to see if there was anything else different about the presentation and what I found within the first couple of pages was striking. There are several photographs of ancient Latin American relics and historical sites, all referring to episodes of BoM history. For those who have not looked in the missionary copy of the BoM lately, we know feature a couple of those old Arnold Friberg paintings of BoM scenes, and one of Joseph Smith. This got me thinking about the difference from a historical and sociological perspective. How is the experience of reading and praying about the BoM different now than it was when this was the version of the BoM in use? Now, we ask for people to accept the BoM as real history but only on the basis of a spiritual testimony, namely the promise found in Moroni 10. If you want some archaelogical evidence, you need to take a look at FARMS and some of the stuff they produce. But I doubt that more than 10% of investigators (or Church members at large) ever do. Did we ever expect investigators to believe the story of the BoM on the basis of historical evidence, either exclusively or primarily? Did the Church face the fact that such evidence was lacking and that they would be better served to go with the spiritual side? I remember a couple of chapters in the old Missionary Library that got into issues of BoM evidence on the basis of some old Native American/Latin American legends and myths. But I think that part of the Church has largely died out, except for the FARMS die-hards. I’ll admit that I am not current with the latest BoM research, but I don’t think that the physical evidence for BoM historicity has become overwhelming, nor do I expect it to become so in my lifetime.