As described by founder John W. Welch, The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies was established in 1979 as a clearinghouse to reprint and distribute articles written about the Book of Mormon and to promote more academic-minded studies of this foundational Restoration scripture. Welch emphasized that FARMS aimed to perform rigorous research to achieve a better understanding “both intellectual and spiritual” of the Book of Mormon text. Welch emphasized the importance of analyzing the book as an ancient text and issued a call for an interdisciplinary approach:
“The more you understand about the ancient world, the more the Book of Mormon makes sense and the more meaningful it becomes. . . . A great number of diverse disciplines needed to be brought together. The Book of Mormon should be studied with literary, historical, religious, political, military, legal, social, economic, and just basic textual concerns in mind.” ((n.a., “Scholars Seek Understanding of Book of Mormon,” California Intermountain News, Thursday, November 22, 1984, n.p.))
Within a few years, FARMS grew from issuing reprints via catalog order form to facilitating and publishing original scholarship in a variety of books and journal articles. In the pre-Internet days it served as a magnet attracting interested Latter-day Saints who could enjoy the offerings or pitch in their own research. FARMS began publishing a newsletter while also compiling and distributing “Working Papers,” “Preliminary Reports,” “Study Aids,” and other materials, some of which lead to more honed articles published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. All of this was done to stimulate more Book of Mormon research, to better appreciate the text’s richness, understand its origins, and comprehend its messages. Most of this was also (mind-blowingly!) done in the pre-word processor days.
Through the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies we’ve been working throughout the year to make more classic FARMS materials more widely available than ever in order to honor these devoted students and scholars of the Book of Mormon. The PAST PUBLICATIONS page on the Institute’s website features a new PRELIMINARY REPORTS section. It houses over two hundred Papers, Study Aids, Transcripts, and other ancient-but-not-that-ancient documents listed in chronological order.
FARMS Preliminary Reports were said to consist of “tentative papers reflecting substantial research [that was] not yet ready for final publication.” Although some of them have never been publicly released until now, most of them were available via catalog order “to be critiqued and improved and to stimulate further research.” ((Prelim. Report coversheets in my possession.)) The Willes Center offers them now in that same spirit. Some are very outdated—having been surpassed or still awaiting update by subsequent researchers (see a few anti-evolution pieces, for instance)—while other inclusions will prove just as useful today as they were when they were first created (such as John Tvedtnes’s exhaustive survey of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon). And even more documents and ephemera will periodically be made available on the site in the future.
Although their quality is uneven, they represent the energy and zeal of those who sought to enrich understanding of LDS scripture over the past several decades. The Willes Center continues to support approaches to the Book of Mormon with “literary, historical, religious, political, military, legal, social, economic, and just basic textual concerns in mind,” just as FARMS-founder Welch described back in 1984. ((See footnote 1.)) Also, as the latest issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies demonstrates, the Book of Mormon’s translation and reception contexts will also receive closer attention going forward in order to flesh out the life of the its inception, transmission, and reception—from the ancient world through the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Enjoy! ((My thanks goes to Caitlyn Ainge, Sarah Skriloff, Anela Menezes, John W. (Jack) Welch, and Robert F. Smith, each of whom assisted me in locating or scanning various pieces in this collection. If you possess copies of any Preliminary Reports not listed in our archive, please contact me at blairhodges [at] byu [dot] edu so we can arrange inclusion.))