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REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 2 (1990)


Overview

Although this is only the second issue, here you can already see the Review taking the form for which it was known for by 2000s. Don’t get me wrong, this issue still consists mostly of standard, run-of-the-mill book reviews, but I was surprised at how many I found containing some valuable insight, giving it merit entirely independent of the book under review. I have recommended here 13 of the 30 articles this issue contains. While a lot of these are still just short reviews of a book (5 of them are under 5 pages in length), several of them are much more than that. There is also plenty of good apologetics in here, with a couple lengthy reviews of anti-Mormon books, or books that seek to explain the Book of Mormon in naturalistic terms. There are also reviews, primarily of Hugh Nibley books, that offer important reflections on the methodology for studying Book of Mormon historicity. A handful of the reviews also cover Book of Mormon geography in a number of ways. Then a number of random reviews of scripture helps and “scriptural fiction” and what-not round out the volume.

Recommended Reading

            Daniel C. Peterson, “Editor’s Introduction – By What Measure Shall We Mete?” pg.vii-xxvi: The introduction to the inaugural issue was more or less what you might expect from an editor’s introduction. With this introduction to the second issue, DCP takes the occasion to opine on matters that he feels are important or relevant, a practice that would become a hallmark of the Review in years to come, when some would characterize it as his “bully pulpit.” In this essay, Peterson argues that the beliefs and teachings of the LDS Church merit consideration, based on the fact that many intelligent, well-informed people have found those beliefs compelling. Despite this, Peterson notes the non-LDS scholarly indifference toward the Book of Mormon (which is beginning to change, but is still more or less true today), giving particular focus to the fact that opinion can vary on matters of quality and style of the books writing, just as they have with many books which have since come to be regarded as “classics.” As Peterson points out, however, in the final analysis, it is not the beauty of the book, but its truth that really matters. And truth can be stated well, or poorly, but is still truth nonetheless. 

            Richard Dilworth Rust, “Annual FARMS Lecture: The Book of Mormon, Designed for our Day,”pg. 1-23: Rust gives what I believe was the first annual FARMS Lecture, though I maybe be mistaken on that point. Rust uses the purposes of the Book of Mormon stated in the title page and analyzes various passages in the Book of Mormon in light of those stated aims, with particular focus on how the passages literary structure (i.e., “design”) helps reinforced the intended message. Rust also works in a short analysis of the Book of Mormon as an epic.

            Daniel C. Peterson, “Review of Mormonism: The Prophet, the Book and the Cult, by Peter Bartley,” pg. 31-55: The book under review is a classic anti-Mormon book, and responding to such polemical books with equally polemical reviews is likely what served to shape the image of “classic FARMS.” In this review, Peterson discusses others in the Americas during Book of Mormon times, Hebrew in Pre-Columbian America, Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cities, and weaponry and warfare in the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica, and translation issues.

            David A. Palmer, “Review of The Land of the Nephites, by Delbert W. Curtis,” pg. 67-73: While the book by Curtis is not particularly influential today (though, unfortunately, it is not entirely irrelevant either), Book of Mormon geography is an ever present topic of debate, and those wishing to enter the foray ought to familiarize themselves with ground already tread. While not presenting the ultimate “key” to evaluating Book of Mormon geographies, as Clark set out to do in the first volume of the Review, Palmer’s review does provide a useful summary of the criteria he sets out in more detail in his book, and a short synopsis of the archeology of New York with a brief explanation as to why it does not fit the Book of Mormon description of peoples and cultures.

            Daniel B. McKinlay, “Review of A Hermeneutic of Sacred Texts: Historicism, Revisionism, Positivism, and the Bible and Book of Mormon, by Alan Goff,” pg. 86-95: McKinlay provides the reader with a short summary and evaluation of Goff’s master thesis, a much appreciated glimpse since the thesis is even to this day not widely available. According to McKinlay, Goff challenges notions of revisionism and positivism and their naturalistic assumptions, questions the possibility of “objectivity,” and speaks of the need to be up front about implicit assumptions. Goff also tries to apply various hermeneutic approaches to the Book of Mormon and yields various insights into stories like the stealing of the dancing Lamanite daughters (Mosiah 20), Nephi’s broken bow (1 Nephi 16), and the exodus, flood, and creation motifs of 1 Nephi.

            John Gee, “Review of By Grace Are We Saved,by Robert Millet,” pg. 100-106: Gee gives an overwhelmingly positive review of Millet’s book, but more fascinating for our purposes is Gee’s exercise in definitions for the Greek term charis, commonly translated as “grace.” Gee notes that there is a wide variety of definitions, and points out over 40 of them. With such wide variance of the meaning, the common Evangelical arguments about what it means to be “saved by grace” are seriously undercut. It simply cannot be said that “saved by grace” means doing nothing in conjunction with that.

            William J. Hamblin, “Time Vindicates Hugh Nibley,” a review of Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, THE COLLECTED WORKS OF HUGH NIBLEY: Volume 6 (Salt Lake City/Provo, UT: Deseret Book/FARMS, 1988), pg. 119-127: Hamblin comments on a number points in which Nibley proved to be ahead of his time, making claims about the ancient Near Eastern world during the era in which the Book of Mormon emerges which were then (the mid to late ’80s)  gaining acceptance among scholars. Hamblin also draws attention to both the strengths and weaknesses of Nibley’s methodology.

            Stephen D. Ricks, “Review of Lehi in the Deseret,THE COLLECTED WORKS OF HUGH NIBLEY: Volume 5, by Hugh Nibley,” pg. 128-142: Ricks also discusses Nibley’s methodology, focusing primarily on the strengths of Nibley’s method, and noting the lack of methodological rigorousness of critics of the Book of Mormon. Ricks discussion transcends the limitations of simply being a book review, and becomes a very good methodological discussion in its own right. Ricks also responds to a few criticisms of Book of Mormon origins, focusing on common arguments he had heard. Among those included is a great discussion of anachronisms, the question-begging such arguments involve, and the fact that texts always have more to offer than what archaeology itself can tell us. Ricks also discusses the fragmentary nature of the archaeological record.

            David B. Honey, “Ecological Nomadism versus Epic Heroism in Ether: Nibley’s Works on the Jaredites,” review of Hugh Nibley, The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites, THE COLLECTED WORKS OF HUGH NIBLEY: Volume 5 (Salt LakeCity/Provo, UT: Deseret Book/FARMS, 1988), pg. 143-163: Honey reviews and critiques the approach taken by Hugh Nibley in his works on the Ether, though he still gives Nibley high marks and recommends his work. As such, this review could be considered as some supplementary reading to go along with Nibley’s discussions of Jaredite history.  

            Daniel C. Peterson, “Review of The Prophetic Book of Mormon, THE COLLECTED WORKSOF HUGH NIBLEY: Volume 8, by Hugh Nibley,” pg. 164-174: Peterson reviews the diversity of the collection, and through Nibley, he critiques the arguments of the “environmentalists” (those who argue for naturalistic origins for the Book of Mormon). Peterson notes the methodological problems with the approaches of “environmentalists,” not withstanding the elitist attitude they take toward those who argue for the book’s antiquity. Peterson also argues that the believers approach is actually more methodologically sound.  

            John A. Tvedtnes, “Review of Since Cumorah, THE COLLECTED WORKS OF HUGH NIBLEY: Volume 7, by Hugh Nibley,” pg. 175-181: Like others, Tvedtnes highlights both some strengths and weaknesses of Nibley’s work and offers supplementary material, focusing on the Olive tree in ancient sources.

            L. Ara Norwood, “Review of Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon, by David Persuitte,” pg. 187-204: Persuitte argues that the View of the Hebrews was the ultimate, and primary, source for the Book of Mormon. According to Norwood, he even makes the most convincing case to date for that theory (and I have my doubts that a better case has been made since 1990). The problem is, it is still not very convincing. Norwood points out several of the flaws with Persuitte’s method and arguments. Most significantly, Norwood points out that when you count by the number of verses cited as parallels to VotH, Persuitte is only able to account for 4.5% of the Book of Mormon. So where did the other 95.5% come from, especially if VotH is the primary source? If that is the best VotH proponents can do, well, then that ain’t good enough.

            Kevin Christensen, “Review of Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon, by Dan Vogel,” pg. 214-257: In the longest review of volume 2, Christensen provides an absolutely essential discussion of paradigms and choosing between them, and the issue of adequacy, suggesting that Vogel does not adequately justify the choice of his paradigm over that of others. Christensen then reviews 10 non-empirical assumptions made by Vogel (as part of his paradigm), and points to data that indicate their inadequacy in explaining the origins of the Book of Mormon. These include topics like: the pre-1830 intellectual environment as a source for the Book of Mormon, Nephites and mound builders, the Wentworth letter as a guide to the text, others in Book of Mormon lands, the priority of tradition when interpreting the Book of Mormon, the hemispheric geography, the translation process, and anachronisms. Christensen has valuable thoughts on all of these points. Christensen also questions Vogel’s mastery of the Book of Mormon text, using his denial of the existence of the temple ceremony in the Book of Mormon as the prime example. Christensen then goes on to compare various Book of Mormon passages (mostly from 3 Nephi) to what non-LDS scholars have said about the ancient Israelite temple drama. Lots of very interesting and worthwhile stuff is covered on that topic. Vogel and Christensen end up going back and forth in the wake of this review, with two more responses from Christensen being published in the Review 5 and 14 years later.

Final Thoughts

Here in this issue we see the beginnings of the classic FARMS image. Peterson’s review of Peter Bartley’s anti-Mormon polemic was the first of many polemics to be published in the Review. While it still has lots of “fluff,” much of this volume is worth reading. In particular, Peterson’s intro and his Nibley review both make salient points that were rather timely for me as a reader, with current discussions raging about the so-called “apologetics of richness” and the strong push, by certain LDS intellectual elite, against studying the Book of Mormon and other LDS scripture in an ancient context. I would even go so far as to say these two pieces from Peterson are must-reads thanks to the remarks he makes on those issues. I also think Ricks review of Nibley is must-read for its valuable discussion of methodology (of all the papers that discuss it, his is the best), and Christensen’s lengthy review is a must-read for the discussion of paradigms. Christensen has been stressing paradigms ever since, and his thoughts on the matter are much needed. Far too many are ignoring the significance of competing paradigms in regard to Book of Mormon historicity and how one weighs the evidence. Beyond those, Honey’s review should probably be read and taken into consideration by anyone who reads Nibley’s works on the Jaredites.

Though it still has, as I said, “fluff” in the form of now pointless book reviews, overall this is a pretty impressive second effort.

Rating: 4/5

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