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REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 16, ISS. 2 (2004)


Overview

           This is my first time offering a review of both issues from a given year. Once again, this issue of the Review features a diverse subject matter. There are essays and reviews dealing with Book of Mormon geography, specifically the LGT, DNA, linguistics, the Old World setting for the Book of Mormon, Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, LDS theology, religious and biblical symbolism, the Big Bang and quantum mechanics, Church history, the Book of Abraham, Egyptology, and the Counter-Cult movement.


Recommended Reading:
            Daniel C. Peterson, “Editor’s Introduction – ‘In Hope that Something Will Stick’: Changing Explanations for the Book of Mormon,” pg. xi-xxxv: Peterson examines the broad trends in counter-explanations of the Book of Mormon, noting that no single universal explanation for the Book of Mormon has ever managed to gain a consensus among Book of Mormon detractors. Peterson also points out various theories – which are published together in a single critical volume – that involve conflicting details making them mutually exclusive. Peterson also makes a few comments regarding the LGT and clarifying its implications about who are and are not “Lamanites.”

            John E. Clark, “Searching for Book of Mormon Lands in Middle America,” a review of Joseph L. Allen, Sacred Sites: Searching for Book of Mormon Lands (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2003); James Warr, A New Model for Book of Mormon Geography (www.mormongeography.com, accessed May 3, 2011): The notorious Book of Mormon geography critic strikes again! Last time, Clark dealt what I feel are fatal blows to several LGL theories. Here, Clark critiques both Warr and Allen (supplementing the lack of detail in the pronounced book by Allen being reviewed, Sacred Sites, with Allen’s earlier publication, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, where Allen lays-out his full argument for his model), and also touches on the details of several other Middle American models, including ideas set forth by E.L. Peay, B. Keith Christensen, Jerry L. Ainsworth, Patrick L. Simiskey, and of course John L. Sorenson. The majority of the time, however, is focused on Warr and Allen, with substantial time spent holding their models up to Sorenson’s as the “industry standard” among all LGT models. More time is spent critiquing the merits of Warr’s model geographically than any other, while Allen’s arguments are the only ones dealt with in regards to culture. Several of the models are given fairly balanced attention on the issue of demographics. While none of these models are as deftly critiqued as the LGLs in Clark’s previous review, the results are still devastating for most. The degree of devastation, of course, is on a per-model basis, and to some extant will depend on how much one agrees with Clarks own assessments (for example, while I think Clark leaves both Allen’s and Warr’s proposals in critical condition, I think Warr’s comes off looking better than Allen’s in the end, while Clark himself seems to think the exact opposite); nonetheless, Sorenson’s model is left by Clark as the only one standing.  Note: For Warr’s model, I have updated the web address (the one given by Clark is no longer correct).

            Kevin Christensen, “The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament,” a review of Melody Moench Charles, “The Mormon Christianizing of the Old Testament,” in Dan Vogel, ed., The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1990), 131-142, pg. 59-90: Christensen responds to Charles arguments about the Book of Mormon pre-Christian era references to what seem to be distinctly Christians concepts by pointing to recent scholarship, principally by Margret Barker, which illustrates that many Christian themes were originally known and taught in ancient Israel, but were subsequently edited out of the biblical text during the Deuteronomist movement. Christiansen notes that the picture in the Book of Mormon fits the pre-exilic Israelite understanding remarkably well.

            John A. Tvedtnes, “Reinventing the Book of Mormon,” a review of Brent Lee Metcalf, “Reinventing Lamanite Identity,” Sunstone (March 2004), 20-25, pg. 91-106: Tvedtnes responds to Metcalf attempt to argue for an empty (meaning no others), hemispheric view of the Book of Mormon. Lightly addresses the DNA issue at the end.

            A. Don Sorensen, “The Problem of the Sermon on the Mount and 3 Nephi,” a review of William D. Russell, “A Further Inquiry into the Historicity of the Book of Mormon,” Sunstone (September-October, 1982), 20-27, pg. 116-148: This paper is actually twenty years older than the date of this publication, being a presentation given by Sorensen at a meeting of the Mormon History Association in May 1984. Nonetheless, Sorensen’s arguments are still quite poignant. Sorensen argues that Russell’s critique of the Book of Mormon’s inclusion of the Sermon on the Mount is begging the question on a number of levels: (a) it assumes a fluid-tradition theory when that theory remains controversial, with many prominent Biblical scholars opposing it, and even its proponents admitting that it lacks real evidence; (b) the fluid tradition theory itself begs the question, since it assumes naturalistic explanations and automatically rules out the supernatural claims in the New Testament; and (c) because the Book of Mormon says that its purpose in coming forth in the last days to be a second witness of the Bible in a time when the latter would be “transfigured” through interpretation, to simply illustrate that because biblical scholarship and interpretation is at odds with the Book of Mormon is question begging.

            John A. Tvedtnes, “Isaiah in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon,” a review of David P. Wright, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon: Or Joseph Smith in Isaiah,” in Dan Vogal and Brent Lee Metcalf, American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2002), 157-234, pg. 161-172: Tvedtnes addresses Wright’s argument that Joseph Smith made changes based on the italics in the KJV by showing that statistically most changes are unrelated the italics. He also shows that some of the supposed translation errors of the KJV which are present in the Book of Mormon are actually correct, it is just that modern English no longer uses the words used in the KJV the same way. Tvedtnes also incorporates some of the findings of Royal Skousen and the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project, noting that all previous studies (both pro- and anti-LDS) on the Isaiah variants of the Book of Mormon will need to be reevaluated based on the research now becoming available through that project. To date, as far as I am aware, no comprehensive study has yet been done that accomplishes this.

            Brant A. Gardner, “An Exploration in Critical Methodology: Critiquing a Critque,” a review of Earl M. Wunderli, “Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events,” Dialogue 35/3 (2002): 161-97, pg. 173-223: Gardner critiques Wunderli’s critique by showing that he makes several contradictory statements, imposes his assumptions on the Book of Mormon text, and makes assertions where arguments should be. He illustrates that the spatial requirements of the text are indeed limited, and that Wunderli’s critique ultimately fails to deal with the issues of travel distances.

            Matthew Roper, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations,” pg. 225-276: While anti-Mormons the world over claim that the Limited Geography Theory is contrary to tradition and revelation, and is an ad hoc, desparate, last ditch effort by apologists to save face in light of growing evidence against the Book of Mormon – specifically DNA evidence – Roper illustrates here that historical precedence for limited geographies was set in the nineteenth century, with fully-complete LGTs emerging in the early twentieth century. He documents the various opinions (regarding Book of Mormon geography) of leading nineteenth century Mormons, including Joseph Smith, Orson and Parley Pratt, John Taylor, John E. Page, George Q. Cannon, W.W. Phelps, and others, illustrating that they had a diversity of opinion on central geographic issues – including the size and scope the main Book of Mormon territory. He deals with alleged “revelations” and documents various statements by leaders of the Church in the twentieth century which make it explicitly clear that there is no official Church position on Book of Mormon geography. He also discusses the Cumorah question. This paper demonstrates conclusively, in my opinion, every aspect of Book of Mormon geography is open for discussion and debate, no view or opinion can be seen as being the “official” position of the Church, nor can any view be seen as being “contrary” of the “divine edicts.”

            Davis Bitton, “I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church,” pg. 337-354: Originally given as a presentation at the 2004 FAIR Conference, in this paper Bitton discusses why knowing all the nitty-gritty aspects of Church history doesn’t affect his testimony. He talks about having realistic expectations of history and not being surprised when revered men and women of history prove to be very human. Discusses how having such a perspective has enriched and enhanced his testimony rather than destroyed it. 

            Larry E. Morris, “The Book of Abraham: Ask the Right Questions and Keep On Looking,” a review of Robert K. Ritner, “The ‘Breathing Permit of Hôr’ Thirty-four Years Later,” Dialogue 33/4 (2000): 97-119, also published as “The Breathing Permit of Hôr’ among the Joseph Smith Papyri,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 62/3 (2003): 161-177, pg. 355-380: Morris commends Ritner for his translation and commentary, but has much criticism for the way he blithely inserts his views regarding Joseph Smith, the Church, the Book of Abraham, and the work of scholars such as Hugh Nibley and John Gee. In this regard, Morris notes that Ritner is giving an opinion regarding controversial issues and ongoing debates which he has not been involved in and seems to know very little of. He notes that all of this is in sharp contrast to the professional manner in which Egyptologists such as Klaus Baer and John A. Wilson have conducted themselves in limiting their commentary to the JSP alone. He notes that Ritner’s remarks demonstrate that he is not a dispassionate scholar on this issue, but displays a degree of contempt for Joseph Smith and the Church. Morris also discusses Ritner’s neglect of the ancient and medieval parallel’s for the Book of Abraham and discusses some of them, including the Egyptian iconographic connections of some Abrahamic traditions.

Final Thoughts

            This is, overall, a very good issue. Many of the studies are interesting and worth the time of interested readers. Of course, the study by Clark is a must read for connoisseurs of Book of Mormon geography, and I think Bitton’s paper is fundamental reading for all those who are beginning to study Church history. The most important piece in this issue, in my opinion, is Roper’s essay on the history of the Book of Mormon geography among the Saints, as it dismantles numerous arguments advanced by anti-Mormons which are meant to bind Latter-day Saints to a hemispheric view of Book of Mormon geography. Each of those three are on a must-read level. The papers by Sorensen, Gardner, and Morris are also important contributions to Mormon studies, with Sorensen’s being very near to the must-read level.

Rating: 4/5

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