This is another one of the older volumes I was able to pick-up from the BYU Bookstore. Somewhere between this issue (12/2) and the only older one I own (8/2), all of the stylistic problems I complained about were improved on. Thus, reading this issue was less of a burdensome process, and was more enjoyable in some respects.
Despite the fact that they were only reviewing 14 books, this is a large volume with 19 reviews (obviously, there is more than one review of some books). Adding the Editors’ Introduction to the count and this issue has a total of 20 reviews/articles (only the Ed. Intro. is a non-review article; as of yet , they hadn’t started putting non-review articles in the Review). The bulk of this issue (about half of the content) is consumed by the three reviews on D. Michael Quinn’s revised edition of Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview. Those three reviews span across about 230 pages, most of which is accounted for in Hamblin’s lengthy examination of the book (Hamblin’s review takes up about 170 pages).
The other half of the issue is spent on a variety of topics, such as Book of Mormon studies, ancient Christianity, Mormon philosophy/theology, LDS Temples, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The primary focus among these is still the Book of Mormon, with 9 reviews (of seven books) which deal specifically with the Book of Mormon. Other than the large amount of space dedicated to examining Quinn’s claims, Book of Mormon seems to have remained the central focus of the Review up to this point.
Daniel C. Peterson, “Editors’ Introduction – ‘What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem?’: Apostasy and Restoration in the Big Picture,” pg. xi-liii: Peterson compares and contrasts the way Latter-day Saints view their faith with those of other Christian denominations, noting the same similarities and differences existed in the Hebraic (LDS) worldview and the Hellenistic (Evangelical) worldview.
Alan Goff, “Scratching the Surface of Book of Mormon Narratives,” a review of Mark D. Thomas, Digging in Cumorah: Reclaiming Book of Mormon Narratives (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1999), pg. 51-82: It should be noted that despite Goff’s generally negative review, the review by Grant Hardy on this same book is generally positive, and Peterson (the Editor) includes Thomas’s book in his “Editor’s Picks.” I chose to recommend Goff’s review (rather than Hardy’s) not because I am necessarily more prone to his position (I have never read Thomas’s book, and therefore I have no opinion on it), but rather because I thought Goff included some important and interesting research and insights (Hardy’s review, in contrast, did not include much research at all, but rather just some thoughts on the book’s contents, which is fine, but isn’t worth recommending). Goff discusses various topics such as literary allusion and intertextuality, typology, and the role of ideology in interpreting a text. I found his research and analysis on these topics interesting and intellectually stimulating.
James McLachlan, “Knocking Over Straw Gods,” a review of Francis J. Beckwith and Stephen E. Parrish, See the Gods Fall: Four Rivals to Christianity (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997), pg. 119-158: In See the Gods Fall, Mormonism is only one religion the authors attack. As such, McLachlan, who teaches comparative religion classes, not only addresses the section on Mormonism but also notes problems with the authors overall approach and treatment of other religions; noting that the main problem is the authors tendency to reduce religions to philosophical/theological systems. Regarding Mormonism, McLachlan notes that the authors just rehash the same material that was already reviewed and critiqued by Blake Ostler, whom they acknowledge but do not actually respond to.
David Waltz, “A New Look at Historic Christianity,” a review of Barry R. Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church (Ben Lomond, CA: FAIR, 1999), pg. 165-180: Waltz is actually not a Mormon (I believe he is Catholic). This makes his generally positive review of Bickmore’s book rather surprising. Waltz has his disagreements and critiques of Bickmore, but nonetheless he feels that Bickmore makes a solid case, and in some cases even supplements Bickmore’s evidence with some of his own. Before anti-Mormons and critics attack the arguments Mormons make in regards to the early Christians, they should consider Waltz’s perspective, while Mormons seeking to make their case with early Christian evidence should also consider Waltz’s because he provides some insightful, non-polarized criticisms to a good, standard, LDS approach.
John Gee, “‘An Obstacle to Deeper Understanding’,” a review of D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1998: Revised and Enlarged Edition), pg. 185-224: Gee goes over some of the flaws in Quinn’s book, focusing primarily on his problematic use of the term “magic.”
William J. Hamblin, “That Old Black Magic,” a review of D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic Worldview (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1998: Revised and Enlarged Edition), pg. 225-393: Hamblin goes to great lengths to examine the claims made by Quinn, ultimately finding that close examination of Quinn’s sources undermines his overall case. Hamblin includes further discussion on the issue of Kabbalah, since Quinn tries to respond to some of Hamblin’s objections to Owens’ article. I think before anyone accepts Quinn’s work on early Mormon history, they must carefully consider Hamblin’s examination here. While this is a very long review, it is fairly interesting and engaging (in my opinion), and worth taking the time to read.
John A. Tvedtnes, “Shades of Darkness,” a review of “Dr. Shades’ review of FARMS Review of Books: How the Foundation of Ancient Research and Mormon Studies deceives their fellow Latter-day Saints by creating the false impression that all is well in Zion,” (Online article, www.connect-a.net/users/drshades/farms.htm), pg. 427-440: While most of this response has been superseded by a more recent and up-to-date (and more detailed) response to criticisms against FARMS by Peterson, this relatively short read is good for an insider explanation of FARMS, and a look at the humorous attempts at discrediting FARMS by the more desperate critics.
Overall, this was a pretty good issue. Although I would say that Hamblin’s article is the only “must-read,” the sheer weight of his analysis is enough to make this issue of the Review a good one. In addition to that, while I don’t think the rest are “must-read,” some of the others are very close. Waltz’s article is an important one in the study of Mormonism and early Christianity, because it is from the perspective of a non-hostile non-Mormon who is well informed on the relevant issues. Gee, also, brings some important information to the table regarding Quinn’s approach which should be given careful consideration by those who intend to follow Quinn’s theory in the future. McLachlan and Geoff also make some important points in their respective studies. While more than a decade old, most of the research in this issue is still (as far as I can tell) up-to-date and relevant in the field of Mormon Studies.