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REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 19, ISS. 1 (2007)


Overview

Although this issue contains a substantial number of articles/reviews (20), it’s overall number of pages is more comparable to the thin vol. 18/2 than the thick 18/1 and other previous issues. Nonetheless, this issue offers a wide variety of quality reading material for those interested in Mormon Studies. Topics include, automatic writing and the translation of the Book of Mormon, Native American legends and the Book of Mormon, reformed Egyptian, sacred writing on metal plates, Joseph Smith and early Mormon history, theology, the tensions of new religious movements with the mainstream, a scholarly exchange on the Israel’s divine council, the great apostasy, the Book of Abraham, and Mormon Studies itself.


Recommended Reading:

            Daniel C. Peterson, “Editor’s Introduction – Reflections on the Reactions to Rough Stone Rolling and Related Matters,” pg. xi-liv: After giving tribute to Davis Bitton, who had recently passed away, Peterson muses over the question of whether Mormonism is academically respectable. More specifically, he is asking if writing about Mormonism from a faithful perspective is acceptable in the broader academic community. He then uses Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling as a “test case,” excerpting from reviews of the book, and from Bushman’s honest and revealing reflections on those reviews and other reactions.   

            Richard N. Williams, “The Book of Mormon as Automatic Writing: Beware the Virtus Dormitiva,” a review of Scott C. Dunn, “Automaticity and the Dictation of the Book of Mormon,” in Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, eds., American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2002): 17-46, pg. 23-29: Although brief, Williams offers a useful response to the charge that “automatic writing” can explain the origins of the Book of Mormon by pointing out that such an attempt is really a non-explanation, and question begging. 

            William J. Hamblin, “Reformed Egyptian,” and “Sacred Writing on Metal Plates in the Ancient Mediterranean,” pg. 31-54: In these two articles Hamblin offers a short summary of the evidence for “reformed Egyptian” and writing on metal plates. While far from comprehensive, both articles sufficiently demonstrate that the claims made by the Book of Mormon in these matters are well attested in the cultural environment in which the book claims to have emerged.

            Louis Midgley, “Two Stories – One Faith,” a review of Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (NewYork, NY: Knopf, 2005), pg. 55-79: Only Lou Midgley can write a book review that you can read and come away feeling like you learned nothing about the contents of the book. At the same time, only Lou can write a book review with some much unique insight, perspective, and interesting background information. In this review, as with many other written by Midgley, you will learn a great deal about the man responsible for the book under review, that is Richard Bushman. Midgley tells about Bushman’s training, career, and of course his faith – and Bushman’s struggle to balance these competing parts of his life. While Midgley has a few criticisms, it seems clear that Midgley has a great deal of respect for Bushman, and also really likes his biography on Joseph Smith, despite its short comings. This review complements the thought provoking look into Bushman (through his published diary) started in the introduction to this issue.

            Alyson Skabelund Von Feldt, “Does God Have a Wife?,” a review of William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eardmans, 2005), pg. 81-118: Von Feldt summarizes the case Dever makes, adding some of her own insights, and the insights of other Latter-day Saints. Von Feldt also makes it clear that although this is particularly interesting for LDS, it is clear that ancient version of Heavenly Mother was far more theologically interrogated than she is presently in LDS thought.

            M. Gerald Bradford, “The Study of Mormonism: A Growing Interest in Academia, pg.119-174: Bradford briefly surveys the literature that has been published on the LDS Church by major academic presses, noting the growing interest in Mormonism. Bradford then discusses the need to have a method to the academic study of Mormonism, and thus lays out the what he thinks needs to be done and identifies aspects of the faith that have, as of yet, not received significant attention. Bradford uses a general modal for religious studies as his guide.

            James E. Faulconer, “Rethinking Theology: The Shadow of the Apocalyse, pg. 175-199: Faulconer discusses various types of “theology” and considers their place within the LDS Church. Ultimately, he argues for “apocalyptic theology,” which he defines as revealed knowledge, or simply “revelation.” In the last part of his paper, he discusses how his thoughts on theology can be used to approach the problem of theodicy (the problem of evil).

            Terryl L. Givens, “New Religious Movements and Orthodoxy: The Challenge to the Religious Mainstream,” pg. 201-220: Givens takes a look and the interplay between mainstream religion and new religious movements, using Mormonism as a case study of sorts. Givens reflects on just what it is about the NRMs that make orthodox religions so uncomfortable, but yet tend to draw in converts in large doses.

            Michael S. Heiser, “You’ve Seen One Elohim, You’ve Seen Them All? A Critique of Mormonism’s Use of Psalm 82,” pg. 221-266: Yes, you read that title correctly. This article is direct critique of how LDS scholars have used Psalm 82 and John 10 to support LDS unique doctrine. Just a little over 45 pages, Heiser (an Evangelical) doesn’t play patty-cake with the issue, either. His arguments are coherent and forceful, though clearly cordial. Heiser provides, in my view, a model for how critics ought to engage Mormon topics (at least, if they don’t want to be branded as anti-Mormon). This is not simply because Heiser is presenting to a Mormon audience; in fact, to the contrary, Heiser’s paper was originally presented at the 58th annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. I don’t imagine such a group consists of many Mormon sympathizers. Heiser argues, first, that the “gods” of Psalm 82 are, undoubtedly, real “gods,” not idols or human judges. Second, Heiser takes issue with the work of scholars (which Latter-day Saints have accepted) who have argued that El (the “Most High” God) and Yahweh (the God Israel) were originally two distinct gods, and that Second Temple Judaism shifted toward strict monotheism. Heiser then proceeds to critique how LDS use the divine council passages, and argues for the “species uniqueness” of Yahweh in contrast to the other “gods.” Again, I must say, that this was a thoughtful, cordial critique, and although Heiser inevitably has some misunderstandings of LDS doctrine (specifically regarding the Godhead), those are understandable (anyone on the outside looking in is bound to misunderstand something about how the insider views his religion). Of course, why this was published in the FARMS Review is undoubtedly a mystery to many, since it directly contradicts the supposed mission of FARMS to only publish stuff that upholds the doctrines of the church and to “suppress” anything that contradicts it (which "must" be anti-Mormon).

            David E. Bokovoy, “‘Ye Really Are Gods’: A Response to Michael Heiser concerning the LDS Use of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John,” pg. 267-313: Naturally, there is a reply published alongside the critique. Bokovoy defends what I believe is the majority position among divine council scholars, that is, the position that El and Yahweh were originally two separate gods, who later got conflated in Israelite theology. He also responds to the argument of “species uniqueness,” noting that none of Heiser’s five reasons create a species gap, unless one assumes creatio ex nihilo. And, of course, Bokovey defends the way that Psalm 82 and John 10 have been applied to Latter-day Saint doctrine by LDS scholars.

            Michael S. Heiser, “Israel’s Divine Council, Mormonism, and Evangelicalism: Clarifying the Issues and Directions for Future Study,” pg. 315-323: Heiser is given the last word in the exchange, and he graciously makes a few points of clarifications, briefly responds to a few of Bokovoy’s points, and states where further research (and dialogue amongst the two faith traditions) are needed.  

            John Gee, “A Method for Studying the Facsimiles,” a review of Allen J. Fletcher, A Study Guide to the Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2006), pg. 347-353: Gee notes that the book under review is methodologically unsound, and thus briefly outlines four steps that ought to be taken in any approach to the Book of Abraham facsimiles. The guidelines only briefly laid out here were originally (and more thoroughly) published by Gee in a professional Egyptological journal. Anyone interested in trying to discern the meaning of the facsimiles, should consult this brief methodological guide.

Final Thoughts

            The highlight of this issue, in my opinion, is the back and forth exchange between David Bokovoy and Michael Heiser. This is a good example of how Mormon and evangelical dialogue (or debate, if you will) should be done. It was polite and cordial, and yet Heiser was clearly under no delusion that he was going to be able to “talk” Mormonism into submission to evangelicalism, as some are wont to think. The exchange is, in my view, a must read. Although short, Gee’s methodological guide needs to read by anyone who wishes to undertake a study of the Book of Abraham facsimiles. Pinning down LDS theology is hard to do, and I think Faulconer’s essay is a must read for insight into that issue. While that is the extent of the must read material, I believe a person would be cheating themselves if they chose to ignore the fine essays by Givens and Bradford, the review by Von Feldt, and Peterson’s introduction. Midgley’s review of Bushman is also insightful.

Rating: 3.5/5

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