In my goal to collect and read every back issue of the Review, I am excepting to buy a lot of used copies of the older issues. Nonetheless, I was recently fortunate enough to pick up brand-new copies of several older back issues, which I suspect are out of circulation at this point, from the BYU Bookstore. For all but one of these, I grabbed the last copy on the selves. I consider myself quite lucky (though I doubt anyone else thinks I got much of a treasure buying old books with old articles, which are in some ways dated and are available online for free). This issue was one (the oldest one) of those purchases.
One of the first things I noticed with this older issue was that the cover and binding were stiff, making it difficult to hold the book open while reading. Also, the font size, style, and spacing (along with other styling issues) sometimes (after longer periods of reading) caused some strain on my eyes. All of these problems made “casual” reading comparatively difficult. These are all just minor complaints that have been corrected in the more recent style of the Review.
As far as content goes, this issue is quite different from the more recent issues. As was customary back then, all the essays are reviews of something. There is also a predominant focus on the Book of Mormon (with 8 of the 16 reviews dealing with publications which directly involve the Book of Mormon), which probably has something to do with the fact that they just barely made the transition from the Review of Books on the Book of Mormon to the FARMS Review of Books that year (1996), so there was still a bit of an emphasis on the Book of Mormon. Still, there are some reviews which focus on the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith, and anti-Mormonism in general.
While I felt like I approached the reading differently (knowing that it was written 15 years ago), and although I had read many of these articles previously online, I found a number good reviews contained in this issue.
John E. Clark, “Two Points of Book of Mormon Geography: A Review,” a review of Paul Hedengren, The Land of Lehi (Provo, UT: Bradford & Wilson, 1995), pg. 1-24: Clark reviews the arguments Hedengren makes for the New York Hill Cumorah. While he is ultimately not persuaded, he does highlight a number of positive aspects in Hedengren’s approach. Clark is a bit of a “Book of Mormon geography critic” of sorts, and has written many critical reviews of both Great Lakes theories, and Mesoamerican theories. I recommend this and all his other reviews to anyone interested Book of Mormon geography, regardless of which model one prefers. Much can be learned from Clark’s analysis about what others have done right, and where improvement in argumentation and evidence is still needed to better support a given model.
John A. Tvedtnes, “What’s in a Name? A Look at the Book of Mormon Onomasticon,” a review of Joseph R. and Norrene V. Salonimer, I Know Thee by Name: Hebrew Roots of Lehi-ite Non-Biblical Names in the Book of Mormon (Independence, Mo.: Salonimer, 1995), pg. 34-42: Tvedtnes goes over some of the problems with the Salonimer’s approach, and also indicates that their knowledge of Hebrew may be too basic for the ambitious project undertaken in their book. In the process he also goes over some of their etymologies, and discuses some of his own propositions for Book of Mormon names and other possibilities.
John W. Welch, a review of Richard E. DeMaris, “Corinthian Religion and Baptism for the Dead (1 Corinthians 15:29): Insights from Archaeology and Anthropology,” Journal of Biblical Literature 114/4 (1995): 661-82, pg. 43-45: Welch briefly reviews the article by DeMaris, which argues that the Corinthians were indeed practicing baptism on behalf of their deceased ancestors, but that Paul did not approve to this practice. Welch notes parallel’s in DeMaris’ view with that of the Latter-day Saints, and responds to his arguments on points of departure with the LDS understanding.
John Gee, “Telling the Story of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” a review of James R. Harris, The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham: A Study of the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri (Payson UT: Harris, 1990); David P. Silverman, ed., For His Ka: Essays Offered in Memory of Klaus Baer (Chicago, Ill: Oriental Institute, 1994); H. Donl Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham: Mummies, Manuscripts, and Mormonism (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1995), pg. 46-59: Gee reviews three different publications which discuss the history of the Joseph Smith Papyri (JSP). He feels that all three have major flaws, but the first (Harris) is the worst, while the one by Peterson is the best (and I believe it has remained the most important work on the history of the JSP in the last 15 years). The other volume (Silverman, ed.) is a collection of essays dedicated to Klaus Baer, one of the more famous Egyptologists for do some work with the Joseph Smith Papyri. As such, some of the essays deal with that work. Gee commends it as the best work on the history of the JSP available in the general Egyptological community, though it still contains many errors and problems. Gee points out several factual errors Egyptologists have made about this history, and hopes that this work will help Egyptologists be better informed about the JSP.
Daniel C. Peterson, “Constancy amid Change,” a review of John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Behind the Mask of Mormonism (Eugene, Ore: Harvest House, 1992), pg. 60-98: In this witty review, Peterson examines and exposes some of the tactics used by Ankerberg and Weldon. An interesting study for those trying to understand how anti-Mormons respond to those who provide counter-arguments/evidence.
Blake T. Oslter, a review of Francis J. Beckwith and Stephen E. Parrish, The Mormon Concept of God: A Philosophical Analysis (Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1991), pg. 99-146: Great philosophical analysis and defense of LDS concepts involving God and the relationship between God, man, and salvation. Also provides some insightful scholarly and biblical references which support LDS interpretations.
Louis Midgley, “F.M. Brodie ‘The Fasting Hermit and Very Saint of Ignorance’: A Biographer and Her Legend,” a review of Fawn McKay Brodie, No Man Knows my History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1995, paperback reprint of the second revised and enlarged edition), pg. 147-230: This is a very long, and sometimes difficult read. It is meticulous, and sometimes tedious. Sometimes I had to get up and take a break from reading. Still, it is a very important read, and will reward the diligent reader. It is a review of No Man Knows my History in name only. In reality, it is more of a critical commentary on the then fifty-year saga from when the book was first published. Drawing on the many reviews, personal letters and interviews of Brodie’s, and other sources, Midgley provides a bit of an intellectual history on the discussion (referred to by Midgley as the “Brodie legend”) that has been launched by Brodie’s “landmark” biography.
D. Charles Pyle, a review of Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend: Challenging the Claims of Latter-day Saints in a Constructive Manner (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1994), pg. 231-250: Pyle goes through and addresses some of McKeever and Johnson’s arguments, all of which are pretty much just standard, run of the mill anti-Mormonism.
William J. Hamblin, “‘Everything is Everything’: Was Joseph Smith Influenced by Kabbalah?,” a review of Lance S. Owens, “Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection,” Dialogue 27/3 (1994): 117-194, pg. 251-325: Hamblin demonstrates that upon closer examination, the case Owens makes for Joseph Smith having been influenced by Kabbalah and other esoteric traditions is a weak argument with very little supporting evidence. Anyone who wishes to argue that Joseph Smith was influenced by Kabbalah and related occult traditions must deal with the arguments Hamblin makes here. Be warned that this is also (like the Midgley review) very long and time consuming.
Matthew Roper and John A. Tvedtnes, “‘Joseph Smith’s Use of the Apocrypha’: Shadow or Reality?,” a review of Jerald and Sandra Tanner, “Joseph Smith’s Use of the Apocrypha,” Salt Lake City Messenger 89 (December 1995): 1-14, pg. 326-72: Roper and Tvedtnes illustrate that a strong case can be made the Joseph Smith did not have access to, and was not familiar with, the apocrypha during the period in which he produced the Book of Mormon. They also illustrate that the so called parallel’s to the Book of Mormon find better, stronger parallel’s in other sources (such as the Old Testament). Also includes a good discussion on the Tree of Life.
Though older, and a little dated, this issue contains some good reading. In my opinion, the reviews by Clark, Gee, Ostler, Midgley, and Hamblin are must-reads on the respective topics which they cover. The Roper/Tvedtnes review is also an important read for those who follow the work being done by the Tanners. While this issue is older, overall it has stood the test of time.