At nearly 500 pages, the latest issue of the FARMS Review (vol. 16, no. 1) continues its pattern of offering wide-ranging coverage and in-depth analysis aimed at encouraging reliable scholarship and helping readers make informed judgments about recent publications in the field of Mormon studies.
In the introduction, associate editor George L. Mitton notes the developing trend of "anti-Mormon writings deriving from the secular/agnostic/atheist wing rather than from sectarian sources" and the growing need to respond to those writings. He explains why, when evaluating publications critical of Mormonism, contributors to the Review consider not only the work itself but the author's past writings, preparation, and known prejudices and attitudes. From there Mitton reviews early attempts to discredit the Smith family (especially Joseph Jr.) and offers instructive correctives and comments.
Alan Goff responds to three essays in the controversial books New Approaches to the Book of Mormon and American Apocrypha that rely on the "Mosiah-first" theory of the Book of Mormon composition to support their claim that the book is of modern origin. These critics argue that after losing the 116 pages of manuscript, Joseph Smith wrote the books of Mosiah through Moroni and then wrote 1 and 2 Nephi last. The translation sequence is not in question, but the critics' application of it (which spares them the complex work of responsible textual analysis) is. For example, Goff refutes the idea that the Book of Mormon from Mosiah on shows no awareness of Nephi's prophecies of Christ's ministry in the New World because Joseph composed 1 and 2 Nephi last. He does this by demonstrating the integrity of the Book of Mormon's self-reference—its allusions to earlier passages that would have posed a major creative challenge had those subtleties been fabricated with nothing yet to allude to. Goff contends that "the evidence [for the Mosiah-first theory] ought to rely less on the ideological assumptions that there were no gold plates and that Joseph Smith composed a modern novel" and more on tools of textual analysis that revisionists conveniently ignore.
Daniel C. Peterson and Matthew Roper reveal Stan Larson's undersupported arguments regarding Thomas S. Ferguson's ventures in Book of Mormon archaeology. Ferguson was an amateur archaeologist who, critics claim, lost faith in the Book of Mormon after what they characterize as his expert research in the field. Larson's book on Ferguson, Quest for the Gold Plates: Thomas Stuart Ferguson's Archaeological Search for the Book of Mormon, is based on that claim. Peterson and Roper show the book to be flawed and inconclusive and its presentation of facts to be incomplete. For example, Ferguson's family contests the statement that he lost his testimony of the Book of Mormon. Moreover, if it is true that his faith was undermined, it was due to his shallow research and not to a lack of evidence. The reviewers also discuss Larson's choice to ignore the qualified research of Ferguson's contemporaries, the lack of credible proof in Ferguson's own work, and recent extensive research on pre-Columbian Mesoamerica that shows Larson's claims to be largely founded on assumption.
In another review, M. Gerald Bradford appraises From the Last Supper through the Resurrection, a book edited by BYU religion professors Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment. The book details new insights into key events of the last two days of the Savior's mortal ministry. Bradford notes the sometimes complex but always rewarding nature of the studies and then explains how the various contributors achieve a good representation of the diverse opinions on the subject matter while expressing their testimonies of the Savior. He concludes that this anthology will be valuable within and outside the Latter-day Saint faith because of its scholarship and unique perspective.
Two other reviews treat topics of unique interest. In his review of Gavin Menzies's book 1421, the Year China Discovered America, John A. Tvedtnes outlines current evidence for an early Chinese presence in the Americas and explains how those findings might contribute to Book of Mormon research. Gaye Strathearn reviews Jeffrey A. Trumbower's Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity, a volume from a non-Latter-day Saint writer documenting evidence of baptism and prayer for the dead in the early Christian church. Strathearn discusses and commends both Trumbower's research and his notes on the Latter-day Saint practices concerning salvation for the dead.
In addition to its 13 book reviews, this issue of the Review includes 6 essays of related interest, 15 book notes, the editor's rating of recent books, and an index to the 2003 issues. The freestanding essays deal with such topics as recent trends in Book of Mormon apologetics, secret combinations, and the New World Archaeological Foundation. To purchase a copy of the FARMS Review, use the enclosed mail-order form or visit the FARMS section (under "BYU Publications") of byubookstore.com.