| LDS apostle Neal A. Maxwell once told me in his personal office in the LDS Church Administration Building that the there is a very real and discernible difference between independent researcher Brent Metcalfe's approach to Book of Mormon research and that of BYU professor of English and linghisitcs, Royal Skousen.
By way of some background, Metcalfe is a former LDS Church security employee who was excommunicated for his writings on Book of Mormon authenticity (or lack thereof). His most noteworthy contribution to Book of Mormon critical literature is "Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology" (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1993). The work billed itself as an outline of "the broad contours of contemporary scholarship which continue to examine issues of antiquity . . . from the standpoint of physical and cultural anthropology, geography, linguistics, demographics, literary forms, liturgical context, theology, and evolution of the original manuscript to published work," front flyleaf).
Skousen is a go-to favorite for Mormon Church apologists, whom . Maxwell described to me as being in "the intellectual wing of the Church."
Maxwell said that the difference between Skousen and Metcalfe is like "the difference between seagulls hovering over garbage thrown overboard and seagulls that know how to fish." Maxwell said that, unlike Metcalfe's critique of Book of Mormon authenticity, Skousen's treatment of the Book of Mormon was "deep."
Maxwell's attack on Metcalfe was part of Maxwell's personal attempt to defend to me the Book of Mormon's alleged historicity as a supposedly translated ancient document. In that effort, Maxwell invoked Skousen's name and "scholarship" in the ares of what he called "critical textual analysis."
Maxwell informed me that the first critical textual analysis of the Book of Mormon was soon to be published by Skousen, At the time Maxwell told me this (September 1993) Skousen, according to Maxwell, was in the process of examining the original English "translation" of The Book of Mormon, based on the surviving 28% of the original manuscript held in the historical archives of the Mormon Church.
(For a recent "Desert News" update on Skousen's progress in that regard, see: "BYU Professor Royal Skousen Concludes His Discussion on Changes to the Book of Mormon Original Text," by Sarah Petersen, "Deseret News," 19 March 2013, at:
Whatever Maxwell claimed to appreciate about Skousen's purported skills in "critical textual analysis" of the Book of Mormon, Maxwell obviously didn't know much about the skills of seagulls, which he favorably compared to the skills of Skousen.
For one thing, despite their wings, seagulls are not part of the "intellectual wing" of the Mormon Church; rather, they are Mother Nature's winged garbage collectors.
Contrary to Maxwell's bird-brain description of a good and decent seagull, a primary role of a standard-operating predatory seagull is to consume junk, skim the surface for easy pickings and make off with stuff that isn't theirs.
Which sounds exactly like Joseph Smith.
Therefore, in keeping with Maxwell's admiring description of Royal Skousen as a good seagull who knows how to both fish the Book of Mormon out of trouble and defend Joseph Smith at the same time, these birds will hereafter in this examination be referred to as Joseph Smith Seagulls.
Proceeding, now, with a description of what Joseph Smith Seagulls do and how they do it, as detailed in the bird literature:
"The [Joseph Smith] Seagull is perhaps best known as being a scavenger.
"It is most often seen in large, noisy flocks congregating wherever food is available.
"They can almost always be found around fishing boats, picnic grounds, parking lots and garbage dumps. Many people consider the [Joseph Smith] gull to be a nuisance, but they actually perform a very valuable service.
"They are garbage men (sanitation engineers for the politically correct) with wings. They scavenge up great numbers of dead animals and organic litter which could pose a health threat to humans."
(see: "Information About North American Seagulls," from "Bird News Network--American Bird Conservancy," at: http://www.spwickstrom.com/seagull/)
Further explanation of what Joseph Smith Seagulls also do well--namely, digging in dirt searching for prey:
"[Joseph Smith] Seagulls fly around shores and wait on the shoreline for their food to wash up. . . .
"Some oceanic creatures . . . live inside the dirt upon the shores--the most common being small clams. [Joseph Smith] Seagulls use their beaks as a digging tool to prey on these clams . . . ."
Joseph Smith Seagulls also hunt for, pick on and eat small unsuspecting creatures by poking their victims from above or by skimming along in search of easy catches that are found just below the surface of bodies of water:
"[Joseph Smith] Seagulls . . . often scavenge for small fish swimming in the water, using their sharp vision to focus on potential prey.
"If a [Joseph Smith] Seagull sees something it wants, it uses 'dipping" to dive and go into the water, quickly pulling out its prey. 'Skimming' allows it to fly nearly horizontally, only inches above the water, preying on sea-creatures extremely close to the surface."
Joseph Smith Seagulls are impressively well-suited for identifying and processing human garbage:
"If all else fails on the food front, [Joseph Smith] Seagulls are scavengers of raccoon-quality.
"They have no reservations about picking up scraps or going through garbage bins--which are some of the main reasons why [Joseph Smith] Seagulls often inhabit areas populated by humans."
Joseph Smith Seagulls are also well-practiced at swooping in and grabbing people's stuff:
"[Joseoh Smith] Seagulls also operate as thieves; if you leave food in the open, there's a good chance one will at least attempt to come and take it."
(see: "How Do Seagulls Get Their Food?," by Steve Johnson, at: http://www.ehow.com/info_8779353_do-s...)
In summary, when comparing Joseph Smith Seagull-defending Royal Skousen to excommunicated anti-Book of Mormon apostate Brent Metcalfe, Neal Maxwell declared that Skousen is in "the intellectual wing of the Church" and that the difference between Skousen and Metcalfe is like "the difference between seagulls hovering over garbage thrown overboard and seagulls that know how to fish."
Earth to Neal: Seagulls naturally hover over and fish for garbage, using their wings to do so.
This does not necessarily mean, however, that seagulls have "intellectual wings." It all depends on how one defines what Maxwell calls an "intellectual."
So, just how intelligent is a winged seagull?
Well, that can be a bit tough to say:
"Intelligence is difficult to measure in animals since humans cannot communicate with them. However, scientists shed some light on intelligence by observing animals."
OK, let's try this--How intelligent are "intelligent-winged" seagulls?:
"Gulls are thought to be intelligent birds."
Interesting. How do seagulls demonstrate their intelligence?:
"Two particular observations of intelligence are their strategy development and problem solving skills.
"Gulls use strategy to figure out ways to steal food from other animals.
"They also have found an interesting way of eating hard-shelled fish. To gain access to the meat inside the hard-shelled surface, gulls fly up in the air and drop the hard-shelled fish. They repeat this process over and over until the shell is broken."
("Are Seagulls Intelligent?," posted by "Tribune Books," 11 August 2011, at: http://stanleyseagull.blogspot.com/20...)
So, Joseph Smith Seagulls swipe stuff from others--like when he stole his ideas for the Book of Mormon from Ethan Smith's "View of the Hebrews," just as Mormon General Authority B.H. Roberts said he did. Similarly, don't forget how Smith also swindled his Kirtland followers out of their money.
(see "Unholy Cow, and How!--How the Mormon Church Created the Cowdery Myth," by Steve Benson, "Recovery from Mormonism" discussion board, January 2012, at: http://www.google.com/url?q=http://ex...; and "Bank on This from Joe and Ollie: Smith's Kirtland Financial Scam and Cowdery's Infatuation with a Local Kirtland 'Seeress' While Smith Was Fleeing from Fleeced Mormons," by Steve Benson, "Recovery from Mormonism" discussion board, 27 January 2013, at: http://exmormo n.org/phorum /read.php?2,776 512,776512#msg-776512)
Joseph Smith Seagulls also break things to get what they want--like when he broke anti-polygamy laws to get to young females he was lusting after.
(see "Polygamy Was Illegal," under "Polygamy," at: http://www.mormonthink.com/joseph-smi...; and "History, not Mystery: Joseph Smith was a Pedophile (as confirmed by even Mormon sources)," by Steve Benson, "Recovery from Mormonism" discussion board, March 2012, at: http://exmormon.org/d6/drupal/taxonomy/term/21)
In conclusion, just how intelligent is Royal Skousen's own good-Mormon-seagull effort to produce a compelling "critical text" of the Book of Mormon?
Let's just say it's having a hard time getting off the ground--and it's been some 20 years since Maxwell told me Skousen was about to commence his "critical textual analysis" of the Book of Mormon.
During this stretch of time, Skousen has been involved in attempting to intepret changes made ny scribes in words they wrote from Smith's dictated "translation" of the Book of Mormon. Skousen has attempted to make sense of what the scribes were doing by employing a system of various symbols to denote what kind of corrections were being made by a scribe to a particular word or to particualr letters within in a word.
Unfortuantely, this tactic suffers from a simple, central--and ultimately fatal--flaw:
"If Skousen's symbols mean what he . . . say[s] that they mean, then Skousen's work is worthless as a critical text, because in any particular instance, we do not know what letter the scribe actually wrote, and therefore, we can not know whether it is a copying error or merely a correction of bad penmanship."
Damn, Royal. All that work for nothing.
("Evidence from the Book of Mormon Manuscript" at: http://www.mormonthink.com/mormonstud...)
Moreover, as religion writer Stephen Prothero observes in his review of Skousen's textual analysis:
("Revelation Revised," by Stephen Prothero, "Wall Street Journal," 2 October 2009, at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001...)
As they say, birds of a feather flock together: Seagulls, garbage and Mormon "scholarship."