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REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 15, ISS. 1 (2003)


Overview

            I scored this issue of the Review while scouring the bookshelves at the DI. So, yes, it is used and little more beat-up, but I was glad to acquire this “priceless gem” for a meager 3 bucks (unfortunately, I was unable to obtain a picture of this volume's cover)

            It was this year (2003) it officially became the FARMS Review (rather than the FARMS Review of Books), and it inaugurates their publishing of non-review essays, or “free standing essays” as they call them, the first of which is the essay by John Welch featured below. This is also when they added “Book Notes” and changed to the present (as of 2010 – Lou Midgley has reported that 2011 will different) cover design (I should note that 2011 marks several additional changes for the Review, including its name, but these will be further discussed after I get and read my copy of the forthcoming issue).

            This issue features a number of classics, including Midgley’s introduction and Welch’s article on chiasmus. It also features additional responses to the New Mormon Challenge, building upon what they started in volume 14.  


Recommended Reading:

            Louis Midgley, “Editor’s Introduction: On Caliban Mischief,” pg. xi –xxxvii: In the first Ed. Intro. not written by Dan Peterson, Midgley offers some of his musing on various developments within evangelical anti-Mormonism.
  
          Randall P. Spackman, “Interpreting Book of Mormon Geography,” a review of John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Map (Provo, UT: FARMS), pg. 19-46: Add this to the list of required reading for Book of Mormon geography enthusiasts. I began reading this review half expecting one of the sometimes patronizing, FARMS-self-promotion type reviews occasionally published in the Review about something or other that FARMS has published. This, however, was not the case. Spackman examines the methodology and assumptions involved in this book, along with Sorenson’s Geography of Book of Mormon Events and John Clark’s “A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies,” comparing and contrasting the approaches of both Sorenson and Clark, and their strengths and weaknesses, and identifying specific area’s wherein more study is most needed. Spackman ultimately calls for a collaborative effort between qualified individuals to come up with an internal map that can more-or-less be agreed upon, thus allowing further research into the real world setting to proceed from some common ground.  
  
          John W. Welch, “How Much Was Known about Chiasmus in 1829 When the Book of Mormon Was Translated?” pg. 47-80: Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon continues to be a hot topic as advocates tend to use it as a key evidence, while critics brush it off as insignificant. Welch, who was the first to discover the form in the Book of Mormon back in 1967, remains the primary authority on the subject. Here, Welch discusses the possibility of Joseph Smith learning of the form from contemporary sources. He provides a useful history of the “discovery” of chiasmus in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and concludes that it is highly unlikely that Joseph knew anything of the form prior to translating the Book of Mormon.

           Kevin L. Barney, “A More Responsible Critique,” a review of Thomas J. Finley, “Does the Book of Mormon Reflect an Ancient Near Eastern Background?,” and David J. Shepherd, “Rendering Fiction: Translation, Pseudotranslation, and the Book of Mormon,” in Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen, eds., The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002): 337-395, pg. 97-146: Continuing what began in volume 14/1-2, this is the first in a series of responses to the The New Mormon Challenge in this volume. Barney starts off making some comments regarding Blomberg’s “Is Mormonism Christian?” essay (more fully responded to in volume 14) and then delves into the two essays under review, starting with Finley’s. Barney discusses details regarding writing on metals, Hebraisms, Book of Mormon names, and 1 Nephi geography. Moving on to Shephard’s, Barney discusses the complexity of the Book of Mormon translation.

            John A. Tvedtnes and Matthew Roper, “One Small Step,” a review of Thomas J. Finley, “Does the Book of Mormon Reflect an Ancient Near Eastern Background?,” and David J. Shepherd, “Rendering Fiction: Translation, Pseudotranslation, and the Book of Mormon,” in Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen, eds., The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002): 337-395, pg. 147-201: Tvetdnes and Roper offer another critique of Finley and Shepherd. They focus on many of the same issues, but provide a different approach. They also provide a greater amount of evidence and commentary on issues such as writing on metal plates, Book of Mormon names, and 1 Nephi geography,  likely because some of Finley’s remarks on those subjects dealt with the research that at least one of these two had done, sometimes work they had published together.

            Blake T. Ostler, “Evil: A Real Problem for Evangelicals,” a review of Carl Mosser, “Can the Real Problem of Evil Be Solved?” in Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen, eds., The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002): 212-218, pg. 201-213: Ostler responds to arguments made by Mosser that the problem of evil had already been solved and that the “real” problem of evil is for Latter-day Saints who believe in a God who is powerless to prevent evil.


            Larry E. Morris, “‘The Private Character of the Man Who Bore That Testimony’: Oliver Cowdery and His Critics,” a review of LaMar Peterson, The Creation of the Book of Mormon: A Historical Inquiry (Salt Lake City, UT: Freethinker, 1998); Robert D. Anderson, Inside the Mind of Joseph Smith: Psychobiography and the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1999); Dan Vogal, “The Validity of the Witnesses’ Testimony,” in Dan Vogal and Brent Lee Metcalf, American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2002), pg. 311-351: Morris tackles the various attempts to discredit Oliver Cowdery as one of the three witnesses in the above works. Inevitably, some of his arguments can be applied to the three witnesses in general, and some of the arguments he responds to are directed at all three witnesses. Most of the review is naturally directed at Vogal, since his essay deals with Oliver and the witnesses most directly. Morris provides a solid critique of the critical methods used by those attempting to dismiss Cowdery and a firm defense of the “Second Elder.”

            Kevin L. Barney, “Isaiah Interwoven,” a review of Donald W. Perry, Harmonizing Isaiah: Combining Ancient Sources (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001), pg. 353-402: In this “review” of Perry’s book, Barney goes above and beyond simply reviewing Perry’s book. Barney compares and contrasts the translation of Parry with that of Avraham Gileadi, noting the strengths and weaknesses of both; he discusses chiasmus and responds to some of Dan Vogel’s comments on that issue; he discusses the “translation” process of the Book of Mormon and JST, and he talks about the Isaiah variants in those works and responses to some of David Wright’s work on the Book of Mormon Isaiah variants. So he covers quite a bit of ground. All of that makes this an interesting and worthwhile essay to read, with a lot of useful information.  

Final Thoughts

            Overall, this is a solid issue, and one that I am glad I can have on my bookshelf. The essays by Midgley and Welch are, as already stated, “classics” and therefore must-reads in their respective subjects. Once again, the responses to the New Mormon Challenge (Barney, Tvedtnes and Roper, Bickmore, and Ostler) are must-read material for those interested in the dialogue between Mormons and Evangelicals, and that series of articles is what makes this an important contribution to Mormon Studies. I would also add Morris’s review as must-read for those interested in the Oliver Cowdery in particular, and the three witnesses (or all the Book of Mormon witnesses) in general, and Spakeman’s is right up there with all of Clark’s reviews on Book of Mormon geography as must-read material on that subject. That leaves us with Kevin Barney’s second contribution as the only “recommended reading” not deemed “must-read” in some capacity. One should not get the mistaken view, then, that this essay is not also very good and worthwhile for all interested in the subject matter.

Rating: 4/5 

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