In this, the final issue of the FARMS Review (before the name was changed to the Mormon Studies Review), the shifts in emphasis (which prompted the name change) are quite apparent. Much less book-review-centric, and not burdened down by any sort of commitment to review everything (which, I think, is the mentality which produced the much larger volumes of old), this issue offers a modest collection of essays, most of which are on the Book of Mormon. Rod Meldrum’s heartland theory remains on center stage as it is scrutinized in two reviews (recommended together below) by Matt Roper. Other topics in this issue are LDS apologetics, letters in the Book of Mormon, the promised land covenant in the Book of Mormon, Book of Mormon historicity, and social trends among America’s youth.

Recommended Reading:

            Daniel C. Peterson, “Editor’s Introduction – An Unapologetic Apology for Apologetics,pg. ix-xlviii: With such a punny title, how could I resist recommending this one? Here, Peterson addresses the concerns of those who object to the practice of apologetics, including those who are members of the Church. By the end, however, this essay morphs into a call to action for all Latter-day Saints to get engaged online and not let our enemies define who we are on the web. Having started this blog before this article was published (and before he presented the bulk of this paper at the 2010 FAIR Conference, of which I was in attendance), I could give myself the proverbial pat on the back for already doing my part. (Never mind that this blog is virtually ignored by the world!)

            Matthew Roper, “Joseph Smith, Revelation, and Book of Mormon Geography,” and “Losing the Remnant: The New Exclusivist ‘Movement’ and the Book of Mormon,” both reviews of Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America (New York, NY: Digital Legend, 2009), pg. 15-85, 87-124: Roper delves into the background assumptions of Porter and Meldrum, and examines various of their crucial claims, namely the meaning of the terms “this land,” “this country” and “this continent,” and the question of whether any revelation has been provided offering insight into Book of Mormon geography. Roper also examines the value of various documents, such as the Wentworth letter, Zelph accounts, etc., and then discusses the additional statements from Joseph Smith that include Central and South America as a part of the Book of Mormon lands. Included here is a discussion of the 1842 Times and Seasons articles and what role Joseph Smith may have played in them. Roper briefly discusses new wordprint analysis that suggests Joseph Smith as the principal author of those editorials. Roper then discusses the prophecies and promises that Porter and Meldrum cite from the Book of Mormon text, and demonstrates that they are not exclusive to the United States. Finally, Roper outlines the history of the LDS missionary work to the “Lamanites,” showing that this has encompassed all of the Americas, and also cites several dedicatory prayers of Temples throughout the Americas that make reference to the children of Lehi and the fulfillment of the Book of Mormon prophecies.

            Robert F. Smith, “Epistolary Form in the Book of Mormon,” pg. 125-135: Smith briefly examines the letters found in the Book of Mormon, illustrating that they follow the form of ancient Canaanite letters, rather than the later Hellenistic form, as some have asserted. At the very end he makes some interesting notes regarding the use of Egyptian by Israelite scribes.

Steven L. Oslen, “The Covenant of the Promised Land: Territorial Symbolism in the Book of Mormon,” pg. 137-154: Building on the paper published in just the previous issue of the Review, Olsen explores the way “land” is used in the Book of Mormon to express concepts and realties beyond the mere geographic realities and holds symbolic significance in the covenants of the Book of Mormon.

            Kevin Christensen, “Hindsight on a Book of Mormon Historicity Critique,” a review of William D. Russell, “A Further Inquiry into the Historicity of the Book of Mormon,” Sunstone (September-October,1892): 20-27, pg. 155-194: Christensen uses this old critique of Book of Mormon historicity to assess the trends in Book of Mormon scholarship. Christensen discusses paradigms, and how one’s paradigm will typically dictate how one deals with “puzzles” or “counter-instances.” He then looks back at Russell’s critique and shows (1) that Russell didn’t even take all present scholarship into consideration, and (2) that as time has gone on, many of Russell’s objections have been resolved, while others are trending in a direction that looks better for the Book of Mormon. Thus, in hindsight, Russell’s reasons for abandoning faith in the Book of Mormon do not seem to be well grounded. This, in my view, underscores the problem with the “critical approach,” namely that it asks (and even sometimes demands) that the we make an absolute determination on the Book of Mormon’s authenticity on the basis of tentative and incomplete information. It is no wonder this approach does not fare well nearly thirty years later.

            John Gee, “On Corrupting the Youth,” a review of Christian Smith, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, with Patricia Snell (Oxford, Eng.: Oxford University Press, 2009) and Mark D. Regnerus, Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford, Eng.: Oxford University Press, 2007), pg. 195-228: I ended up enjoying this paper far more than I thought I would. Gee discusses how Latter-day Saint youth have fared in comparison with their other religious counter-parts, noting mostly good news, but also seeing some area’s for improvement. Gee also discusses the negative impact on society that more secular attitudes toward sex and marriage have had, expanding beyond the two studies under review. While Gee (who is an Egyptologist) does a nice job of summarizing the data, the complaint I have is that they did not enlist someone with more specific expertise in the social services to comment. Such a person may have been able to offer some additional insights and/or critiques.

Final Thoughts

            All but one of the essays has been recommended. I think Roper’s reviews of Meldrum and Porter are must read material, and between him and Greg Smith, I think they essentially dealt death blows to Meldrum’s theory – which unfortunately continues to circulate. (Please share these reviews with anyone you can, the problems need to be known, and if Meldrum is to maintain any credibility they need to be addressed.) Christensen’s review is very near the must read level, and Gee’s survey of social trends makes an important contribution as well. In the end, though I think the review has seen better days, this is without a doubt a valuable contribution to the studies of Mormon themes.

Rating: 3/5