Early LDS history seems to take center stage in this issue, with two reviews on Nauvoo polygamy and a review and an article related to the Mountain Meadows massacre and the Utah War. It also features articles on the relationship between reason and faith, scholarship and discipleship, science and scripture. Book of Mormon geography theories are explored, Hugh Nibley is venerated, and the purpose behind “debating evangelicals” is explored.
Louis Midgley, “Editors Introduction – Debating Evangelicals,” pg. xi-xlviii: Midgley articulates why debating with Evangelicals is futile, even though some maybe cordial. I believe the most important observation Midgley makes is that by focusing on theology in such debates, Evangelicals manage to sidestep the issue of the historicity of Joseph Smith’s theophanies and of the Book of Mormon. Doing so consistently puts LDS on the defensive and gives Evangelicals the upper hand, but it is a problematic approach; because if Joseph Smith really saw God and Jesus Christ, if the Book of Mormon really is ancient, then theological quarrels are all moot – such debates are hollow and meaningless. The debates over theology truly amount to nothing but “he said/she said” affairs, but something like the authenticity of the Book of Mormon would settle matter. If God has really spoken to prophets – our prophets, to be precise – then it doesn’t matter what arguments can be mustered to counter our doctrinal points of view.
Gregory L. Smith, “George D.Smith’s Nauvoo Polygamy,” a review of George D. Smith, Nauvoo Polygamy: “…but we called it celestial marriage” (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2008), pg. 37-123: First off, don’t get confused by the similarity in names between author and reviewer. Second, this is a must read. Running on for over 80 pages, GL Smith repeatedly demonstrates problems with GD Smith’s presentation of history. The most egregious of errors, however, is the blatant manipulation and misrepresentation that occurs on the very first page, where GD Smith heavily edits (through ellipses) a letter Joseph Smith wrote to make it out to be a scandalous letter pleading for a midnight tryst with his plural wife. In reality, the letter was to the whole family, and there was nothing scandalous about it. There is a lot of valuable information about early Mormon polygamy discussed throughout the article and important historical context which is missing from many other sources that treat this issue (including the book under review).
Brant A. Gardner, “This Idea: The ‘This Land’ Series and the U.S.-Centric Reading of the Book of Mormon,” review of Edwin G. Goble and Wayne N.May, This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation (Colfax,WI: Ancient American Archaeology, 2002); Wayne N. May, This Land: Only One Cumorah! (Colfax, WI: Ancient AmericanArchaeology, 2004); Wayne N. May, This Land: They Came from the East (Colfax,WI: Ancient American Archaeology, 2005), pg. 141-162: In the interest of disclosure, it should first and foremost be pointed out that Goble no longer affiliates with May, and does not hold the views expressed in the volume which he co-authored. Gardner notes this, and reproduces an email Goble sent him in full, without any editing. With that said, Gardner seems to have become the new “Book of Mormon Geography critic,” filling in the role the John E. Clark once frequently filled. Gardner points out geographic and cultural problems with May’s geography, problems which Rod Meldrum has inherited as he became the new leader (and perhaps even hero) of the so-called “heartland movement.” He also shows that the Michigan artifacts have been quite conclusively demonstrated to be forgeries.
Duane Boyce, “Of Science, Scripture, and Surprise,” a review of Trent D.Stephens and D. Jeffrey Meldrum, Evolution and Mormonism: A Quest for Understanding (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2001), pg. 163-214: Boyce discusses the importance of having a nuanced view of science and it works, which isn’t always as smooth as the ideal. He uses the work of Stephen Jay Gould, a paleontologist to illustrate the problems in the practice of science and stresses the importance of realizing that science gets things right eventually, not necessarily always or “constantly.” He concludes by saying that he thinks eventually there will be another explanation for life that does not invoke evolution, and he thinks the theistic evolutionists are in for a surprise. Regardless of what one thinks of his conclusions, the article is a must read for understanding the complex relationships that exist between science, scripture, and truth.
Robert H. Briggs, “A Scholarly Look at the Disastrous Mountain Meadows Massacre,” a review of Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley Jr., and Glen M.Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows: An American Tragedy (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008), pg. 215-235: Briggs provides a summary of the contents of what is currently the definitive work on the Mountain Meadows massacre. He then offers his evaluation, noting both what he thought were strengths and weaknesses of the analysis.
William P. MacKinnon, “The Utah War and Its Mountain Meadows Massacre:Lessons Learned, Surprises Encountered,” pg. 237-251: MacKinnon (who I believe is a non-Mormon) discusses various matters related to the Utah War and the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Shirley S. Ricks, “A Sure Foundation,” a review of Ronald V. Huggins,“Hugh Nibley’s Footnotes,” Salt Lake City Messenger 110 (May 2008): 9-21, pg. 253-291: Ricks responds to the accusation’s leveled at Nibley’s scholarship, particularly regarding his use (or fabrication) of sources. Drawing on the experience of those to meticulously verified Nibley’s notes, Ricks argues that all things considered Nibley was pretty darn good.
I would venture to say the GL Smith and Boyce give us the only two must-read pieces in this collection. The introduction by Midgley, and reviews by Gardner and Briggs also make for important contributions is their respective fields.