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REVIEWING THE REVIEW: VOL. 6, ISS. 2 (1994)

Overview

This issue is the first “issue 2” in the Review’s history. After a first issue in 1994 dedicated solely to the review of a single book, I guess they felt that there were other important publications on the Book of Mormon that merited attention as well. This issue settles into the standard pattern seen up to this point. There are 16 reviews of a mix of topics, from pro-Mormon, anti-Mormon (including the now seemingly mandatory reviews of the Tanners work from Roper and Tvedtnes), and Mormon fiction. I have recommended 9 out of the 16 reviews/articles, and it is worth pointing out that 8 (one of which is not recommended) of the 16 reviews dealt with critical claims in some capacity—that is 50%! Other than the first issue of volume 6 (which was at 100%), this is the highest ratio. We maybe at a turning point, where the Review starts to find its identity. Still some fluff, of course, but the fluff has been considerably reduced (two of the none critical reviews are substantive enough to be recommended here).

Recommended Reading

Daniel C. Peterson, “Editors Introduction: Of Polemics,”pg. v–xi: After the first and (so far as I can tell) the only issue of the review dedicated 100% to responding to critics, Peterson addresses the question of why they engage the critics, and why they use polemics. (It should be noted that not all the reviews in 6/1, or previous issues that responded to critics were polemical, though some were.) Peterson discusses his rational for engaging in polemics as a means of defending the faith. Again, for those who have a desire to understand the ideological battles that have taken place over the years in the scholarly Mormon community, this is something that ought to be read. Whether one agrees with Peterson’s rationale (and, for what it is worth, I do), one should seek understand it before throwing accusations around about how “mean and nasty” the old “classic-FARMS” approach is (and my experience is that most who make such accusations understand precious little about the rationale, nor can even substantiate the accusation).

William J. Hamblin, Daniel C. Peterson, and George L.Mitton, “Mormon in the Fiery Furnace: Or, Loftes Tryk Goes to Cambridge,” areview of John L. Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644–1844 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pg. 3–58: Not everything published by reputable presses (like Cambridge) is, well… reputable. In this case, it appears that the venerable CUP made a major mistake. From the problematic, slippery use of terminology, to getting all kinds of basic facts about Mormon history terribly wrong, this review shows that Brooke’s book is a disappointment. Brooke lacks a solid command of the primary Mormon sources, and in fact has very little that can support his case. His study is methodologically lacking, and he tends to blatantly misread his sources. Hamblin, Peterson, and Mitton discuss these and other issues with Brooke’s argument, showing that it is Brooke, not early Mormons, who is obsessed with the occult.

Eugene England, “Orson Scott Card: The Book of Mormon as History and Science Fiction,” a review of Orson Scott Card, Homecoming, vols. 1–5 (New Tork: TOR,1992–1995); A Storyteller in Zion: Essays and Speeches (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1993); “An Open Letter to those who are concerned about ‘plagiarism’ in The Memory of Earth,” privately printed, 1994, pg. 59–78: England provides a thoughtful review of Card’s Book of Mormon related writings. In the process, England provides an excellent explanation for why the Book of Mormon is more powerful as history than as fiction. He also praises Card’s ability to use it as inspiration for sci-fi, and provide rich storylines. England is also quite impressed on how Card’s sci-fi version of the Book of Mormon story is infused with lessons on sexism, racism, and understanding for individuals with same-sex attraction. Some maybe shocked to read England chiding the use of ad hominem, etc. in their defense of the faith. (What? In the Review? Unbelievable!) Yet more evidence that the Review really is not what critics make it out to be.

John E. Clark, “The Final Battle for Cumorah,” a review of Delbert W. Curtis, Christ in North America (Tigare, OR: Resource Communications, 1993), pg. 79–113: Curtis’s earlier pamphlet was reviewed in an earlier issue of the Review by David A. Palmer. Now the gloves come off and Curtis’s book gets a thorough review from Clark, who, as I have said before, became quite the notorious “Book of Mormon geography critic.” Clark is fair, but tells it like it is. Although Curtis’s theory is basically irrelevant at this point, this is still very much worth reading. For starters, all of Clark’s reviews are must-read material for anyone interested in Book of Mormon geography. Clark provides clear and lucid reasoning on method and evidence in every single one, identifying pitfalls and strengths and explaining how arguments could be improved. Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, engaging with Clark’s analysis of this and any other model will sharpen one’s thinking and reasoning on the subject immensely. In addition, based on Clark’s review it seems that Curtis employs a set of arguments grounded on the supposed “prophetic” authority of certain sources external to the Book of Mormon. While Curtis and his model are irrelevant, these same kind of arguments are still employed by those who advocate for the so-called “heartland” model, and thus Clark’s review remains quite relevant to Book of Mormon geography debates.

Richard L. Bushman, “Just the Facts Please,” a review ofH. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters, Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (Salt Lake City, UT: SmithResearch Associates, 1994), pg. 122–133: This book remains significant in the realm of Mormon history, and Bushman’s review is evenhanded. The review largely revolves around the First Vision. Bushman critiques three key arguments made by Marquardt and Walters: (1) the timing of the move to from Palymra to Manchester; (2) a contradiction in Joseph Smith’s 1838 account; (3) the location where the Church was founded. Bushman competently argues the traditional narrative is sound on each of these points. More important, however, Bushman offers some significant comments on method and the interaction between “facts” and interpretation. Brief though it is, Bushman’s thoughts on this offer some important perspective for grounding one’s approach to Mormon history.

Matthew Roper, “A Black Hole That’s Not So Black,” a review of Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Answering Mormon Scholars: A Response to Criticism of the Book “Covering Up the Black Hole in the Book of Mormon,” volume 1, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Lighthouse Ministry, 1994), pg. 156–203: Roper, one of the Mormon scholars the Tanners were “answering” back in 1994, further critiques the Tanners’ central arguments. Roper comments on their overdeveloped sense of importance and sensationalism, the difficulties with their theories on how Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon (namely his supposed plagiarism of the Bible) and the primary sources on the translation, and several other topics. Roper points out several modern translations of texts that pre-date the New Testament, but which use KJV-NT language. There is also some interesting discussion of the law of Moses and the firstlings as sacrificial offerings. Roper also lists several parts of Mormon’s abridgement that suggest that the small plates were known among the writers of the Book of Mormon for most of the history. A lot of other topics are also covered.

John A. Tvedtnes, “Review of Answering Mormon Scholars, by Jerald and Sandra Tanner,” pg.204–249: Tvedtnes, also one of the scholars the Tanners were “answering,” adds another lengthy review of their response. Tvedtnes points out the inconsistency in the Tanners argument that Joseph Smith dictated pages and pages of the Book of Mormon by memory, and yet could not remember the details of the 116 pages, could not remember the details from other parts of the Book of Mormon already dictated, etc. Tvedtnes also offers some useful information on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon as he responds to the Tanner’s critique of this earlier work on the subject. He also discusses the “missing” festivals and reviews evidence that Mosiah 1–6 is a feast of tabernacles, the sacrifices issue, and “plagiarism.” For this part, he provides an interesting comparison between the Gettysburg address and the KJV Bible. He also shows that the Tanners were utterly mistaken about their only being one biblical name in the Book of Mormon. Several other topics also discussed.

Brian M. Hauglid, “Article Title**,” a review of Margaretand Paul Toscano, Strangers in Paradox: Explorations in Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990),pg. 250–286: I am pretty sure the “title” of this article is a mistake; something they put in as a place holder on the proofs but then never corrected or removed before going to printing. The Toscanos are like a cross between Kate Kelly and Denver Snuffer—Ordain Women meets fundamentalism, if you will. Given that Kelly and Snuffer, and their accompanying movements, are contemporary issues for Mormonism (Margaret is a behind-the-scenes force in OW), I think that there is a lot of value in Hauglid’s review of their book—which was a poor theological attempt at justifying the ordination of women to the priesthood. Certainly a timely topic.

Louis Midgley, “A Mormon Neo-Orthodoxy Challenges Cultural Mormon Neglect of the Book of Mormon: Some Reflections on the ‘Impact of Modernity’,” a review of O. Kendall White Jr., Mormon Neo-Orthodoxy: A Crisis Theology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1987), pg. 283–334:  As is typical of Midgley, he takes time to review the history of the ideas being advanced by White, and also reviews some of the history of White's publication itself—pointing out that it is only a marginally updated version of his essentially irrelevant master’s thesis from 1967! Midgley argues that White’s terminology is poorly defined and both his “traditional Mormonism,” which supposedly denied the atonement, and the “neo-orthodoxy,” are more figments of White’s imagination than anything else. Since White's ideas are heavily influenced by Stirling McMurrin, McMurrin’s work is also given some attention here.

Final Thoughts

While the entire last issue (6/1) was a must read, very little of this one is. Peterson’s introduction is a must read for those who are interested in understanding the rationale and thinking behind the use of polemics by “classic-FARMS” scholars. Clark’s review of Curtis’s now irrelevant geography is nonetheless a must read for anyone interested in studying the geography of the Book of Mormon. Bushman’s review is also a must read, for the portion on method and interpretation (the actual First Vision part offers nothing particularly unique). Other than that, nothing else is “must read,” though Hauglid’s review of the Toscanos is close—certainly an important contribution to the conversation on women in the priesthood, and I would recommend that those interested in that topic take a look at it. Midgley’s review, also admittedly repetitive at times (as are nearly all of his writings, to be honest), provides some important background on various strains of thought within Mormon intellectualism. The Hamblin, Peterson, and Mitton review provides a useful contribution to the discussion of the “occult,” and “magical” in early Mormon history.

Overall, this is another generally mediocre issue of the Review which does make some important contributions to Mormon scholarship amidst its many pages.


Rating: 3/5

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