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REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 16, ISS. 1 (2004)


Overview

            I’m still missing issue 15/2, but picking up again at 16/1, I should note that this is not on one of the issues I got from the FAIR auction (all of those issues were older than volume 14).

            The contents of this issue are noteworthy, featuring reviews and articles on a vast array of topics, including anti-Mormonism, ideology, method and theory, paradigms, Mosiah-first theories, “secret combinations,” Book of Mormon apologetics, archeology and Mesoamerica, limited geography theory, Enoch, salvation for the dead, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Thomas Stuart Ferguson and NWAF, and much more.


Recommended Reading:

            George L. Mitton, “Editor’s Introduction – Anti-Mormon Writings: Encountering a Topsy-Turvy Approach to Mormon Origins,” pg. xi-xxxii: It is a rare occasion in which Mitton, an associate editor for the Review, writes the editor’s introduction. In this piece Mitton provides a response to those detractors who assert that FARMS is merely engaged in ad hominem tactics. Mitton also discusses the reliability of early anti-Mormon sources such as Hurlbut and Howe, and Joseph Smith’s prophetic experiences as a sort of “ritual life.”

            Alan Goff, “Positivism and the Priority of Ideology in Mosiah-First Theories of Book of Mormon Production,” a review of Brent Lee Metcalfe, “The Priority of Mosiah: A Prelude to Book of Mormon Exegesis,” in Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1993): 395-444;  Edwin Firmage, Jr., “Historical Criticism and the Book of Mormon: A Personal Encounter,” in Dan Vogal and Brent Lee Metcalfe, eds., American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2002): 1-16; Susan Staker, “Secret Things, Hidden Things: The Seer Story in the Imaginative Economy of Joseph Smith,” in Vogal and Metcalfe, American Apocrypha: 235-274, pg. 11-36: Goff discusses ideology and worldview (specifically positivism) and the impact is has on each of these critics (and cultural Mormons in general), although he feels that many of them tend to be oblivious to the very presence of an ideology in their heads. He then addresses the Mosiah first theory, discussing why it is important to each of these authors, and argues that such a theory ultimately undermines the case of those who insist there are no gold plates. Indeed, the Mosiah first theory (which has been embraced by many faithful LDS scholars) may even be, in Goff’s view, untenable without the gold plates.

            William J. Hamblin, “Priced to Sell,” a review of Robert M. Price, “Prophecy and Palimpsest,” Dialouge 35/3 (2002): 67-82, pg. 37-47: Hamblin critiques Price’s arguments for the Book of Mormon as “inspired fiction” like the “pseudepigrapha.” Hamblin also feels that this article is dishonest in that Price writes about God, prophecy, and inspiration as if they are real, when in fact Price is an atheist and thus does not believe in God, prophecy, etc. Hamblin also, in one of his footnotes, provides a brief response to the argument that “spiritual” or “mystical” experiences are only chemical reactions inside the brain.

            Nathan Oman, “‘Secret Combinations’: A Legal Analysis,” pg. 49-73: Oman does not intend to offer a comprehensive response to the Gadianton/Mason debate. Rather, he attempts to deal with simply one aspect: the use of the term secret combination in the nineteenth century. Oman does offer the most comprehensive examination of nineteenth century legal documents with the term secret combination or a similar phrase, he also provides a good discussion on technical legal terminology, noting that not everything in legal documents is “legalese” (he is responding to arguments made by Vogal in this part). Oman also provides a good overview of the debate so far. To my knowledge, this remains the best, most update examination on secret combination in legal documents.

            Benjamin N. Judkins, “Recent Trends in Book of Mormon Apologetics: A Critical Assessment of Methodological Diversity and Academic Viability, pg. 75-97: This article is bound to perplex those who think that the FARMS is all about junk-science, suppression of criticisms, and confusion of issues. Judkins does not use the term “critical” in the title casually. Judkins discusses the tantalizing (and yet still largely unrealized) possibility that Book of Mormon scholarship/apologetics may very well find itself being engaged by the greater academic community. As such, he tries to assess how well it would stand up to such scrutiny, offering what I feeling is a scathing critique of Book of Mormon apologetics/scholarship. This is, in fact, the best critique of such work that I have seen – far better and more poignant than anything mustered up by anti-Mormons and other critics. In fact, I’m surprised that critics have not latched on to this “exposé” of methodological issues in Book of Mormon research. Judkins is not shy about criticizing FARMS authors/contributors and publications. I feel it is a testament to FARMS’s commitment to improving the quality of scholarship on the Book of Mormon (and other LDS topics) that FARMS would publish this paper. While I do not agree entirely with Judkins assessment (in fact, I should make it clear that I do not think his criticisms are fatal to the endeavors of apologetics, nor do they invalidate the previous work), he makes some very good, important, and thoughtful (and thought-provoking) points. The methodological issues and potential difficulties that Judkins discusses ought to be carefully considered by everyone who wishes to participate in LDS apologetics.

            Robert H. Briggs, “Sally Denton’s American Massacre: Authentic Mormon Past versus the Danite Interpretation of History,” and Robert D. Crockett, “The Denton Debacle,” both reviews of Sally Denton, American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September 1857 (New York, NY: Knopf, 2003), pg. 111-134 (Briggs), pg. 135-148(Crockett): Typically, when the there are multiple reviews of the same work in the same issue of the Review, I’ll recommend them separately (if I recommend more than one). But in this case, I recommend these two together because I strongly recommend that interested readers do just that: read these two reviews together. The reason I feel that way is because there is very little repetition between the two, and they prove to be very complimentary. With very little collaborative editing, these could have been published as one co-written review. Briggs supplies a good overview of the book’s content and presentation, and critiques Denton on her neglect of dozens of primary sources, and her poor, uncritical use of the sources she does use (both primary and secondary). Briggs offers a good discussion on how to critically evaluate the primary sources on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and also provides a useful bibliography of primary sources for readers and researchers interested in the Massacre. Crockett also provides a summary of the book, focusing on the “story” Denton is trying to tell. Crockett then takes time to critique specific claims made by Denton, demonstrating a lack of evidence, and also showing that neglected primary sources contradict Denton’s claims. Taken together, these reviews provide a good, overall review and critique of Denton’s version of the infamous Massacre.

            Craig L. Foster, “Doing Violence to Journalistic Integrity,” a review of Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of a Violent Faith (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2003), pg. 149-174: On my mission, when at the library on P-days (where we would go to e-mail family and friends), I would occasionally look to see what kinds of books on the Church they had on the their shelves. Not surprisingly, literature which places the Church in a negative light was disproportionally represented. Under the Banner of Heaven was one of the most prevalent books found at the various libraries I visited. I found Fosters review of the book useful in a number of ways. First, Foster surveys several reviews previously published on the book, and in so doing he points out several negative or critical reviews which were published in respectable, non-LDS publications. This is a good indication that the problems that he and other LDS have with the book are not merely figments of the Mormon imagination. Second, though his analysis is brief, he provides several sources that shed important light and historical context on issues such as violence, magic, and polygamy in the early Church. Third, he identifies various factual errors, some of which may have been deliberate.

            Daniel C. Peterson and Matthew Roper, “Ein Heldenleben? On Thomas Stuart Ferguson as an Elias for Cultural Mormons,” a review of Stan Larson, Quest for the Gold Plates: Thomas Stuart Ferguson’s Archaeological Search for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Freethinker Press and Smith research Associates, 1996), pg. 175-220: Peterson and Roper provide a critique of Larson’s presentation of Ferguson, noting that while it is likely that Ferguson did in fact loose his faith, there is contradictory evidence that  makes this issue somewhat ambiguous. They also note the tendency of critics to hold up Ferguson as an “expert” while ignoring his more professionally trained colleagues, all of whom retained their faith (after observing the same results Ferguson did). Being as Larson uses Ferguson’s critiques as a springboard for his own, Peterson and Roper provide useful responses to various issues regarding the historicity of both the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon. They offer particularly insightful analysis of the issues involving plants, animals, metals, and languages in the Book of Mormon, consistently noting the importance of approaching archaeology with caution – something Ferguson apparently lacked.

            Daniel C. Peterson, “On the New World Archeological Foundation,” pg. 221-233: Thanks to misinformed, or simply intentionally deceptive anti-Mormons, there is a lot of confusion about the New World Archeological Foundation (NWAF). Peterson provides a brief, yet informative, explanation and history of the NWAF. While there are more detailed treatments of the NWAF, Peterson’s article is useful as it makes the most basic information readily accessible, and it clarifies a number of issues which have been muddied. If you are confused about the NWAF, or you think the NWAF was established for the purpose of “proving” the Book of Mormon, then I highly recommend you read this article. 

            Kevin Christensen, “Truth and Method: Reflections on Dan Vogel’s Approach to the Book of Mormon,” pg. 287-354: If you have followed the previous dialogue between Christensen and Vogel, then this is obviously a must-read. But even without that background (which I, for one, didn’t have before reading this article), this is a very worthwhile read. Christensen presents a fascinating discussion of paradigms, and the theoretical and methodological issues that go along with it. Intermixed with this discussion is a defense of the Limited Geography Theory (cast in the light Christensen provides about paradigms), and some insightful comments from Brant Gardner on the Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.

            Louis Midgley, “The Signature Books Saga,” pg. 361-406: Midgley tells the story of Signature Books, focusing on things such that he feels provide justification for calling them anti-Mormon. Midgley carefully points out that such does not, and is not meant to, refute the ideology or claims being promoted by Signature Books, but only that by telling this story he offers an explanation of his (and presumably other faithful LDS scholars) perspective of Signature Books. Midgely provides clear evidence that folks at Signature Books are ideologically driven and perfectly happy to align themselves with that ideology when it is to their benefit; but when they are engaged in PR tactics among the faithful, they seek to downplay and distance themselves from it.

            Gaye Strathearn, “Did the Early Christian Church Seek Salvation for the Dead?,” a review of Jeffrey A. Trumbower, Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity (Oxford, Eng.: Oxford University Press, 2001), pg. 419-425: Although this review is brief, it is very insightful as it high-lights the portions of Trumbower’s work which would be most interesting to an LDS audience, including his mention and discussion of Joseph Smith and the LDS practice of salvation for the dead. 

Final Thoughts

            Overall, this was a very good issue, with a lot of useful essays. The articles by Oman, Judkins, Peterson and Roper, Peterson, and Christensen are, in my opinion, on the must-read level for those interested in their respective topics. Midgley’s is also very important, and ought to be read by anyone who has followed the tensions involving Signature Books and FARMS.

Rating: 5/5 

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