In his introduction to the latest FARMS Review of Books (vol. 12, no. 2), Daniel C. Peterson argues that Latter-day Saints and other Christians differ in the way they think about their faith. Rooted in Semitic traditions rather than Greek philosophy, LDS religious science is history, not theology. Accordingly, this edition of the Review features commentary on several books about the Book of Mormon and Mormon studies, most of which shed additional light on the historicity and geography of the Nephite record.
In addition to reviewing books about Mormon and Moroni and new evidences of the events and authorship of the Book of Mormon, reviewers also look at books about the literary and narrative messages of the scriptures. Other books treated cover the ancient world and early Christianity as compared to the restored church. This volume also features three extended responses to a controversial book that attempts to connect the early leaders of the LDS Church to folk magic and occult practices.
In the longest section of this Review, John Gee, William J. Hamblin, and Rhett S. James tackle the 1998 revised edition of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, by D. Michael Quinn. The book, which LDS scholars found very controversial in its first edition, claims that 19th-century Americans were influenced in many things by a folk magic and occult revival. Quinn alleges that the Prophet Joseph Smith and his family practiced magic and that occult sources had a great effect on the formation of the LDS Church. All three of the reviewers thoroughly address Quinn's claims and his attacks on their personal scholarship and integrity.
In the first response to Quinn's book, John Gee criticizes Quinn's use of the word magic. He writes that Quinn "has made a most unfortunate choice in the term magic, which he then defines in a deceptive, unhistorical, and fundamentally dishonest way." Gee accuses Quinn of employing the word magic as "a term of opprobrium used contrary to its historical context." He then notes that Quinn deliberately excludes from his definition of magic precisely the sense that predominated in Joseph Smith's day. Quinn's work is thus founded on the logical fallacy of equivocation where key terms are allowed to shift meanings so that conclusions seem to follow when they do not. Gee also discusses historical aspects of the term magic that show that Quinn's use of the term magic actually becomes "an obstacle to deeper understanding."
William Hamblin provides the most extensive of the three reviews of Quinn's book. With careful detail, Hamblin examines the book for methodological problems and then studies three of Quinn's topics specifically. Hamblin points out, as did Gee, the problem of using 20th-century terms in a 19th-century setting. He also shows how Quinn misuses other language in confusing ways. Then Hamblin points out weaknesses in Quinn's research, logic, and reliability and shows that Quinn's extensive use of footnotes merely keeps the reader from learning where the information is documented. Hamblin then identifies specific weaknesses in methodology in three of Quinn's topics: the accessibility of occult books, Joseph's alleged ties to magic artifacts, and the influence of Kabbalah (a set of Jewish mystical beliefs).
The final review of Quinn's book, written by Rhett James, begins by offering praise for Quinn's tight writing style and extensive research. But James, too, shows that despite the quantity of information, Quinn's book is misleading and flawed. James continues by showing that not only did the early leaders of the LDS Church not condone the use of folk magic, they specifically taught against it. He also contends that Quinn's explanation that the magic in the social environment prepared people to accept the gospel is not supported by the evidence.
In addition to the reviews of Quinn's book, this edition also covers more positive approaches to Mormon studies. Barry R. Bickmore, author of Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity, states, "I have endeavored to make this book exactly the kind of book I would like to have read when I first became interested in comparing Mormonism to early Christianity." Although reviewers Robert L. Garrett and David Waltz are clearly not new to the study of the doctrines of the LDS Church or the writings of the early church fathers, each finds merit in this new volume.
Robert L. Garrett notes that Bickmore does not maintain that the ancient church of Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are identical but rather seeks to "identify and locate some of the early characteristics of the primitive church of Christ and to investigate whether or not the beliefs and practices that Joseph Smith restored were truly found in early Christianity." Restoring the Ancient Church provides information helpful to both LDS and non-LDS readers, giving historical and theological background information to aid each group.
David Waltz hopes to "offer a unique review of Bickmore's book" since he is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but is extremely interested in studying the ancient Christian church. After praising the contributions of Hugh Nibley to the study of early Christianity, Waltz recognizes Bickmore's book as a significant addition "to the renaissance of patristic studies." Waltz feels that Bickmore gives a clear presentation of LDS thought concerning the Godhead and its parallels in early Christian writing. Concerning the doctrine of deification (i.e., that humans may become like God), he remarks that as someone who is not LDS, he has been "somewhat troubled by the immense number of passages in the church fathers that promote the doctrine of deification." He says the "honest reader must seriously look at either the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the Eastern Orthodox Church as maintaining the truly 'historic' teaching on this doctrine."
Waltz is less convinced by Bickmore's parallels between Mormon doctrine and early Christianity concerning baptism for the dead, the Aaronic Priesthood, and temple worship. Still, he concludes, "It is my sincere hope that Bickmore's book will encourage all Christians to study the early church fathers, along with the scriptures, and that continued dialogue will occur among those who take up this noble pursuit."
In another review, David Seely highlights various sections of S. Kent Brown's From Jerusalem to Zarahemla. Seely notes that Brown's book competently applies methodologies common to biblical studies to the text of the Book of Mormon. Based mostly on word studies, Brown's methodologies "'set out the dimensions and complexities of the Book of Mormon record' without being 'attempts to finalize what can or cannot be known about a subject.'" As Seely notes, From Jerusalem exposes "much evidence in the narrative of the Book of Mormon that may not have been noticed by careful, inquisitive readers."
One of Brown's insights comes from probing "the meaning and purpose of [Lehi's] 'sacrifices and offerings' in light of the law of Moses." Considering the context of these sacrifices yields insight to our understanding of the family's migratory experience.
Seely also reviews Brown's study of Psalms-like laments in the discourses of Samuel the Lamanite. He notes that Samuel's inclusion of prophecy within his laments is a tack not common to biblical literary tradition but evident in the Thanksgiving Hymns from Qumran. Another of Brown's studies makes the surprising suggestion that while in the wilderness, Lehi's family may have experienced a "period of servility." In all, Seely surmises that From Jerusalem "will stimulate and challenge the reader and, significantly, will invite the reader back to the text of the Book of Mormon, where there is much to be learned."
This edition of FARMS Review of Books also includes reviews of 10 other books on the scriptures and Mormon studies and a bibliography of the books written about the Book of Mormon in 1999. (For purchasing information, see the enclosed order form or visit the catalog section of the FARMS Web site.)