I would remiss not to acknowledge that I got the hard copy of this issue from my good friend Stephen Smoot, who just gave it to me out of his good graces, when I most certainly did not deserve such a gift.
This issue of the review features a number of articles on history and remembrance in the Church and gospel, off-set from the rest of the volume by a sub-section introduction from Louis Midgley. This issue also features a number of reviews on Mormon historical subjects, like polygamy and the Mountain Meadows massacre. Other subjects taken up in this issue include such wide ranging topics as the new atheism, Book of Mormon geography, New Testament scholarship, baptism for the dead, and the Joseph Smith Papyri. As usual, this variety ensures that this issue includes something of interest for nearly every connoisseur of Mormon studies.
Daniel C. Peterson, “Editor’s Introduction – God and Mr. Hitchens,” pg. xi-xlvi: Peterson entertainingly rips to shreds the book god is not Great, by the late Christopher Hitchens. Readers will notice that this is not too different from the review of Hitchens book later published (and already recommended in an earlier edition of “Reviewing the Review”) by William J. Hamblin. That is probably because Peterson and Hamblin were working together on a book length response to Hitchens, and both used the material put together in the effort in their separately published critiques of Hitchens work.
Lawrence L. Poulsen, “The Light is Better Over Here,” a review of V. Garth Norman, Book of Mormon Geography – Mesoamerican Historic Geography (American Fork, UT: ARCON/Ancient America Foundation, 2006), pg. 11-19: Poulsen identifies a few problems with Norman’s geography and provides a good, albeit light, discussion on Mesoamerican directions. Also makes a potential connection in the meaning of Tehuantepec and the meaning of Hermounts in the Book of Mormon.
Steven L. Olsen, “The Theology of Memory: Mormon Historical Consciousness,” pg. 25-36: Olsen discusses the important role that history plays in Latter-day Saint conceptions of theology and covenant keeping, and reflects on the role of memory in defining the historical beginnings of the Church.
Gary Novak and Louis Midgley, “Remembrance and the Past,” pg. 37-65: Novak and Midgley stress the importance remembrance and preserving the sacred narratives of the LDS past by using the Jews as a case study on the adverse affects that modernity and its historical assumptions have on historically grounded faiths.
James E. Faulconer, “Remembrance,” pg. 71-88: Faulconer discusses memory/remembrance and distinguishes between memory and recollection and relates his discussion to the role memory in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Larry E. Morris, “Sister Brodie and Sister Brooks,” a review of Gary Topping, Utah Historians and the Reconstruction of Western History (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2003), pg.99-116: Topping, a reputable historian of the American west, comments of five influential historians from Utah, three of which have Mormon roots (the third is Dale Morgan, mentor to Fawn Brodie). Morris focuses on Toppings sections of Fawn Brodie and Junita Brooks, noting that Topping apparently has an axe to grind regarding Mormonism and how it taints what otherwise would have been a very commendable book.
Allen L.Wyatt, “Plural Marriage and the Half-Empty-Glass School of Historiography,”review of B. Carmon Hardy, Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy, Its Origin, Practice, and Demise (Norman, OK: Clark, 2007), pg. 117-136: Wyatt highlights another otherwise valuable historical work which is unfortunately tainted by biases against Mormonism. This time, the work in question is on polygamy. Wyatt points out that Hardy consistently focuses on negatives without providing context, misrepresents certain things unique to Mormon polygamy when in fact they were common characteristics of marriage in general during that era, and skews sources on obedience to God’s commands to make them seem as if they necessitated polygamy specifically. There are a few other things that Wyatt discusses, but Wyatt also makes clear, at the end, that it is a good resource on polygamy, but because of its one-sidedness it cannot be recommended as beginners primer or at fair overview of the topic. Rather, it is probably best utilized by those already familiar with the topics, who can use discernment to parse between the good and the bad.
Craig L. Foster, “Massacring the Truth,” review of Christorpher Cain, prod., September Dawn (Black Diamond Pictures, 2007) and Carole Whang Schutter, September Dawn (AuthorHouse, 2007), pg.137-176: When I was on my mission, the coming release of the September Dawn movie was creating quite the buzz; so much so that my mission president passed on a correspondence by Terryl Givens (who lived within my mission boundaries) to use as a response to any questions about the Mountain Meadows massacre. The movie, thankfully, flopped terribly, as Foster points out, and so many reading this may not have any idea what I am talking about. (I say “thankfully” because, as Foster points out, it was not very historically accurate and clearly was driven by an agenda against the Church.) Despite the irrelevance of the movie itself, after only five years, the review possesses some good information on the Mountain Meadows massacre which makes it worth reading today.
John A. Tvedtnes, “The Quick and the Dead,” review of Michael F. Hull, Baptism on Account of the Dead (1 Cor 15:29): An Act of Faith in the Resurrection (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), pg. 215-238: Hull is a Catholic scholar who argues for reading 1 Corinthians 15:29 not as baptism for the dead, but rather as regular baptism. In this review, Tvedtnes summarizes Hull’s arguments and provides some brief responses.
John Gee, “New Light on the Joseph Smith Papyri,” pg. 245-260: An adaptation of Gee’s remarks at an Egyptological conference, Gee explains that the vast majority of the commentary on the Joseph Smith papyri, from Mormons, anti-Mormons, and professional Egyptologists, is a bunch of nonsense. Much of it is demonstrably untrue and flawed. Gee identifies specific issues and discusses them and highlights some of the commentary that is actually useful, and ultimately warns all Egyptologists that if they wish to comment on the papyri, they must realize that they are stepping into the middle of a battlefield and anything they say will be seized upon by one side or the other for polemical purposes, and that they will likely be “sucked in” (my term, not Gee’s) and hence end up making the JSP a lifetime study. Gee stresses that any Egyptologists needs to consider whether it is worth all that before venturing even the most off-handed remarks on the papyri.
All of the articles in the sub-section on history and memory should be read by anyone interested in Mormon historiography, especially the papers by Olsen, Novak and Midgley, and Faulconer recommended here. In addition to those, Gee’s remarks on the JSP also should be read by anyone wanting to study the papyri, the Book of Abraham, or anything related to them. After that, although probably not of the “must read” level, Peterson’s introduction and the papers by Poulson, Morris, Wyatt, and Foster are important and valuable contributions on their respective topics.