As usual, a number of topics get some treatment in this issue of the Review. Book of Mormon timelines, Mesoamerica, ancient bee-keeping, and the “common-sense” approach to the Book of Mormon. The relationship between faith and reason, modern and postmodern, the Joseph Smith Papyri and the Book of Abraham. Mormon culture, the “armor of God,” deification, and seventeenth century prophets. Plus responses to the “new atheism” and the old and worn out sectarian anti-Mormonism. Yup, this issue’s got plenty of variety, and something is sure to be of interest to you.
Geogre L. Mitton, “Editor’s Introduction – Concern for the Things of Eternity,” pg. xi-xxxi: This is only the second time Mitton has written the ed. intro. While it is somewhat disappointing not to get some thoughts from Dr. Daniel C. Peterson – who has long been my favorite apologist and who has produced some of the truly brilliant introductions to the Review, Mitton nonetheless offers some worthwhile thoughts. Mitton explores some alleged prophecies and revelations from the seventeenth century which he finds fascinating, even inspiring and, it would, perhaps even genuine, legitimate prophecy. He reflects on these revelations and the experience of those who had them and their proponents, and provides comparisons to the experience of Joseph Smith and the early Saints. Of particular interest is one of the prophecies that includes a “golden book” and was interpreted to symbolize the spreading of the gospel to the world. Could one of these prophets of the 1600s have foreseen the coming forth of the Book of Mormon some 200 years later? Either way, the thoughts offered by Mitton are well worth the read.
Terryl L. Givens, “‘Common-Sense’ Meets the Book of Mormon: Source, Substance, and Prophetic Disruption,” pg. 33-55: The brilliant article originally appeared as a chapter in the volume Revisiting Thomas F. O’Dea’s The Mormons: Contemporary Perspectives, edited by John P. Hoffmann and Tim B. Heaton. In his ever-so-gifted way, Givens argues that the “common-sense” approach that the Book of Mormon is simply a product of Joseph Smith’s contemporary religious culture does a major disservice to the text, which displays so much power to evoke discipleship. In the process, Givens skillfully reviews major turning points in Book of Mormon scholarship.
Ronan James Head, “A Brief Survey of Ancient Near Eastern Beekeeping,” pg. 57-66: Head reviews ancient beekeeping practices which may shed some light on the brief mention of beekeeping in Ether. A while this article little application or impact on Book of Mormon studies (it is really on tangentially related to the Book of Mormon), it is nonetheless and interesting and worthwhile read.
Richard N. Williams, “Faith, Reason, Knowledge, and Truth,” pg. 99-112: Williams offers some reflections on the relationship between faith and reason in obtaining knowledge and truth. He laments the traditional model for reconciling faith and reason, feeling that it subordinates faith to reason. He proposes an alternative way of viewing the relationship and they each lead to knowledge, and the kind of knowledge they lead to.
John Gee, “Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri,” pg. 113-137: Gee offers some very useful comments about the Joseph Smith papyri. He provides some background, puts forward some rudimentary calculations on the papyri length (a more recent study suggests the papyri was significantly shorter, but those conclusions have been challenged), provides some very fascinating background on the original owner (Horos) of the papyri, and discusses some matters related to the vignettes (facsimiles 1 and 3). He also puts the Book of Abraham debates in perspective by pointing out how it plays a relatively minor role in the present manifestation of Mormonism.
Greg L. Smith, “‘Days of Miracle and Wonder’: The Faith of Sam Harris and the End of Religion,” a review of Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York, NY: WW Norton, 2004), pg. 147-173: Greg Smith has since become an editor for the Review, but this is his very first contribution. This is also, interestingly, the first article I’m recommending from this issue that is actually a review. Smith counters Harris’s argument that terrorism, and specifically suicide terrorism, is the result of religious faith, noting that groups with a purely secular ideology have also produced suicide terrorists. Smith also takes issue with Harris’s characterization of all faith as irrational, all religion as dangerous, and notes the double standard manifest as Harris accepts mysticism yet rejects revelation, and as Harris manifests a distinct faith in science. He also turns much of Harris accusations of “danger” right around on Harris, pointing out that Harris demonstates an irrational fear, and justifies – and perhaps even advocates – taking action, including violent action, against people for their “irrational” (i.e., religious) beliefs.
L. Ara Norwood, “Still Losing the Battle…Still Not Knowing it: An Open Letter to Hank Hanegraff,” a review of Hank Hanegraff, The Mormon Mirage: Seeing Through the Illusion of Mainstream Mormonism (Charlotte, NC: Christian Research Institute, 2006), pg. 175-193: In this “open letter” Norwood is kind and cordial, which is, in my opinion, more than Hanegraff deserves. It is by no means a comprehensive response, but addresses a few matters, some of which are of minor import. The largest section responds to Hanegraff’s five points made against the Book of Mormon. No novel arguments, pretty standard apologetic, but nonetheless an interesting read.
Tom Rossen, “Deification: Fulness and Remnant,” a review of Daniel A. Keating, Deification and Grace (Naples, FL: Sapientia Press, 2007), pg.195-217: Rossen looks at a Catholic take on human deification (the belief that men can become gods) and compares it with the Latter-day Saint doctrine of exaltation. Rossen also offers some counter to Keating’s argument that the biblical and early church deification was limited.
James E. Faulconer, “The Myth of the Modern; The Anti-Myth of the Postmodern,” pg. 219-236: Faulconer discusses the relationship between modernity and postmodernism, noting that the purpose of the postmodern is not to replace the modern but provide the appropriate counter-weight to the assumptions of modernity, thus allowing modernity to persist but better pursue the “third way.”
Though I’ve recommended 9 of 15 articles, there is nothing stellar about this issue. The only must-read article is Gee’s analysis on the Book of Abraham, which needs to be read by anyone interested in the Book of Abraham or the Joseph Smith Papyri. After that, Givens is very close to “must-read” and a very important analysis of the secular approach to the Book of Mormon. The articles by Mitton, Head, Williams, Smith, and Faulconer also deserve high marks.