When Richard L. Anderson retired from the Religious Education faculty at Brigham Young University in 1996, the Department of Religious Education and FARMS agreed to sponsor a Festschrift (a compilation of essays written in honor of an individual) that would commemorate his distinguished academic career. The positive response from Anderson's friends and colleagues who wished to contribute to the publication has resulted in two volumes of scholarly articles.
The first volume, The Disciple as Scholar: Essays on Scripture and the Ancient World in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, features 18 articles grouped into three sections: "Book of Mormon Studies," "Old Testament Studies and Ancient History," and "New Testament Studies and Early Christian History." The soon-to-be-released companion volume is titled The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson (see the May issue of Insights for full coverage).
In the introduction to The Disciple as Scholar, Stephen D. Ricks (who shared the editing responsibilities with Donald W. Parry and Andrew H. Hedges) gives insight into Anderson's academic preparation and accomplishments: "His passion for history has profoundly influenced his scholarly career; his passion for order and system has shaped his missionary work and directed him into studying law; and his love for Brigham Young University and loyalty to its mission and destiny have, in sometimes unusual ways, guided his academic path."
John L. Sorenson's contribution to the volume, "Religious Groups and Movements among the Nephites, 200-1 B.C.," examines the conflicting religious interactions of what Sorenson calls the "multicultural, multiethnic" peoples of the Book of Mormon. For example, many of the people embraced the Mosaic code, gathering together to worship and sacrifice in the manner of ancient Israel in a temple-centered religion established early on by Nephi. However, many others joined the ranks of Nephite religions based on the pattern of the dissenter Nehor. Members of the prophet Lehi's family or original "Mulekites" could have-and likely did-bring pagan ideas and practices to the New World; it is one of these cults, Sorenson suspects, that led Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah away for a time. Moreover, various unofficial cults mentioned in the Book of Mormon may have been passed down from Jaredite times, and religion among groups such as the Zoramites, Zeniffites, and Lamanites influenced Nephite religious life and politics. Sorenson notes that it is in this context that Alma, Alma the Younger, Helaman, the sons of Mosiah, Captain Moroni, and others sought to preserve the blessings of religious liberty and establish the church of God.
Understanding the growth and development of the religious movements in the Book of Mormon illuminates the challenges of Book of Mormon leaders, the real issues they addressed, and the doctrines they taught. Sorenson insists that "it is not enough-indeed it is misleading-to suppose, as is often done now, that 'understanding' religion in the Book of Mormon consists of taking doctrinal statements from the book and relating them to teachings of today's restored gospel. Proper Book of Mormon scholarship must go beyond those mere comparisons to shed light on the thought world of the Nephites and Lamanites as such."
Andrew C. Skinner, in his article "Savior, Satan, and Serpent: The Duality of a Symbol in the Scriptures," analyzes the religious and symbolic significance of the snake in the scriptures in light of its manifestations in ancient cultures. The snake as an ancient symbol took two forms. The first form is a personification of resurrection and healing, typified by the Egyptian god Amun-Re, the Greek god Asclepius (from whom is taken the symbol of the medical profession, the caduceus), the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, and ultimately the Savior. Early in Israelite history, Moses placed on a pole a brazen serpent that healed those who looked at it (see Numbers 21:5-9). Jesus made it clear that this serpent represented him (see John 3:14-15). "The righteous peoples of the Book of Mormon understood the symbol of the serpent in exactly [this] way," Skinner notes, citing Helaman 8:13-15.
The second form the snake takes is exactly the opposite. It represents a leader of evil spirits and dissident forces in the councils of heaven and is personified by the Egyptian demon god Apophis, the snake of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Satan. Skinner proposes that "the ancient serpent myths of the Fertile Crescent and Mediterranean-based cultures are echoes of original divine truth." "The symbol of the serpent," he writes, "was usurped by Satan, and then, over time, its true meaning [as a symbol of the Savior, who would be lifted up] became corrupted and diffused through many cultures over the ages."
One article that is sure to become a classic is Daniel C. Peterson's "'Ye Are Gods': Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind." Latter-day Saints often use John 10:34 and Psalm 82:6 to support their doctrine of eternal progression, and Peterson responds to critics of the restored gospel who often contend that such arguments misrepresent the original context of the two texts. He considers "whether the Latter-day Saint understanding of the passages fits their apparent original sense and whether it does so as well as, or even better than, rival understandings." At the end of his careful, detailed discussion, Peterson concludes that "the Latter-day Saints are in a uniquely strong position to reconcile the original sense of Psalm 82 with the Savior's use of it in John 10," meaning that humans do share a divine nature with God and are capable of becoming gods.
Other contributions include a discussion of the last days by Hugh W. Nibley and an exquisitely illustrated presentation on inscribed plates in the Far East (with extrapolations to the restored gospel) by David B. Honey and Michael P. Lyon.