Susan Easton Black and Andrew C. Skinner, eds. Joseph: Exploring the Life and Ministry of the Prophet. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005. xiii + 448 pp., with bibliography and index. $23.95.
In this edited volume, thirty-three Latter-day Saint scholars examine the life and mission of Joseph Smith in thirty-nine essays. Enhanced by artwork from numerous artists, these essays are organized in a generally chronological fashion to inform readers how various events prepared Joseph for his greatest trials and accomplishments. The companion DVD, available separately, features six episodes, currently being aired on television, highlighting different eras from Joseph’s life. In reflecting on the recent bicentennial year of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s birth, readers can gain insights into the scriptural prophecies that foretold Joseph Smith’s mission and even his name as well as the circumstances of the Smith family that drew them to the area of New York where Moroni had buried his sacred record. Further topics include continuing revelations to the Prophet, the outward persecutions and internal struggles of the fledgling church, and the martyrdom of Joseph and his brother Hyrum. This book is intended to nourish testimonies of Joseph’s works as a prophet and of the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
E. Douglas Clark. The Blessings of Abraham: Becoming a Zion People. American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2005. 331 pp., with appendix, chart, abbreviation lists, and bibliography. $29.95.
This is not E. Douglas Clark’s first publication on Abraham. In addition to two previous books on other gospel-related topics, he wrote the entry concerning the great patriarch in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992), furnished the foreword for the revised and expanded FARMS second edition of Hugh Nibley’s Abraham in Egypt (2000), and contributed a chapter to the most recent volume in the FARMS series Studies in the Book of Abraham, Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant (2005). An Arizona lawyer who has devoted decades of study to this subject, Clark draws not only on the Bible but on the uniquely Latter-day Saint scriptures, rabbinic texts, early Christian materials, the Qur’an, scholars ancient and modern, and the prophets of this final dispensation to tell the story of Abraham and to draw out for today the principles to be learned from the life of the ancient “friend of God” (James 2:23), commonly called “the father of the faithful” (D&C 138:41; compare Romans 4:11). This book comes impressively recommended, with jacket-cover endorsements from John A. Tvedtnes, Robert J. Matthews, and M. Catherine Thomas and a foreword by Truman G. Madsen. For Latter-day Saints, who understand themselves to be children and heirs of Abraham (D&C 84:34; 86:9) who have been called to do “the works of Abraham” (John 8:39; D&C 132:32), few lives could possibly be more worthy of serious and sustained reflection.
John R. Conlon. Mormonism: A Christian Response. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2002. 96 pp., with 2 appendixes, glossary, and bibliography. $9.99.
This slim book is the work of a Nazarene who is currently an assistant pastor in Spokane, Washington. He also pastored in Utah, where he came to believe that he faced demonic forces—”a pantheon of spiritual influences” (p. 16). He believed that he was deeply involved in “spiritual warfare” (p. 45). He is not, however, “saying that individual Mormons are demon possessed any more than we may say that of any other group of people” (p. 45). However, he thinks it likely that “Joseph Smith and others were indeed visited by beings masking their true identity” (p. 15). Hence, for him, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a very dangerous cult (pp. 13-14 and elsewhere) that challenges “mainstream Christianity” (pp. 14, 22). “Why does the LDS movement,” he agonizes, “sustain such rapid growth, even in areas that are hostile to their cult? Why are Evangelical Protestants unable to plant a church under similar circumstances in the heart of Mormon Utah?” (p. 73).
Conlon does not, however, attribute everything done by the Saints to evil spirits. During those seven lean years in Utah he developed, in addition to an overpowering resentment, much envy. He admits that “the most flagrant failure” among mainline Christians “is a dereliction in following Christ’s admonition to love and support one another” (p. 51), and he also noticed that “the wards [in Provo, Utah] looked out for everyone in the neighborhood, not just the LDS faithful” (p. 74), and hence “what they are doing is not just a cult thing, but a Christian action that has long been absent in many Christian churches and neighborhoods” (p. 74). But, with what we might call the fear factor, Conlon insists that there is a “threat of a Mormon flood sweeping over the heart of professing Christendom” (p. 44). Latter-day Saints threaten “world domination,” very much like Islam, as “Mormon missionaries sweep across the civilized world,” harvesting, of course, mostly “professing Christians” (pp. 75-76).
Conlon grants that “we are not called to bash and batter Mormons” (p. 16). “Few Mormons,” he senses, “will be won over by bashing their beliefs, picketing their temples, or trashing their neighborhoods with tracts” (p. 56). But his book is filled with bashing. For example, he claims that “LDS doctrine and structure parallel that of the end-time apostate church known as the beast of Revelation” (p. 76), though “whether or not there is a parallel between Mormonism and the beast of Revelation will only be realized by history, but the earmarks of the end-time religion are solidly implanted in LDS structure and theology” (pp. 76-77). And he insists that “the Mormon god is not the God of the Bible” (p. 22); “a Mormon god is a man who has human weaknesses” (p. 21). He holds that Latter-day Saints worship a “god” who “is nothing more than a hindrance to the human potential of achieving godhood” (p. 19). And, much like what can be found in many anti-Mormon handbooks, he claims that the Saints believe that “Jesus came only to pay for Adam’s sin” (p. 33). Unfortunately, during his years in Utah he learned little about the faith of the Saints; hence, what he reports is offensive, inaccurate, or garbled.
Richard D. Draper, S. Kent Brown, Michael D. Rhodes, eds. The Pearl of Great Price: A Verse-by-Verse Commentary. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005. xi + 447 pp., with index. $27.95.
This resource fills the need for an up-to-date commentary on the Pearl of Great Price that draws on both ancient and modern sources. Employing the latest research on the Book of Abraham and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, the editors have assembled an excellent resource for scholars and students. The scriptural text is broken up into logical sections, each followed with verse-by-verse notes, comments on the entire section, and suggestions for further reading. The book draws heavily on Hebrew etymologies in its analysis of the Book of Moses. The material on the Book of Abraham examines the history, age, and meaning of the Joseph Smith Papyri. The facsimiles receive their own treatment, considered in context of their relation to the Book of Abraham and the Hor Book of Breathings. A separate chapter compares the creation events described in Genesis, Moses, and Abraham and frankly addresses the age of the earth, evolution, death before the fall, and the varying sequences of events in the creation literature. Biblical textual development is discussed, and varying theories are weighed. This is an important and timely contribution to understanding the Pearl of Great Price.
E. T. A. Hoffmann. The Golden Pot and Other Tales. Translated by Ritchie Robertson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. xl + 410 pp., with a translator’s introduction, select bibliography, a chronology of E. T. A. Hoffmann, translator’s note, and explanatory notes. $10.95.
Some might be interested in Robertson’s 1992 translation of five tales written by the German Romantic polymath E. T. A. Hoffmann. One of those tales is The Golden Pot, which may have been the source of the salamander figure in one of Mark Hofmann’s sensational forgeries. Those forgeries and The Golden Pot provided Grant H. Palmer with something upon which to ground his rejection of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s claims. Palmer was enthralled with the many references in The Golden Pot to elemental powers, one of which—fire—was symbolized by the salamander (the word salamander appears twenty-eight times in The Golden Pot). In 1985, Palmer considered this as proof of Joseph’s mendacity. Signature Books eventually published Palmer’s claims that Joseph Smith (and his family) borrowed the story of the recovery of the Book of Mormon from Hoffmann’s bizarre tale. However, by 2002 the salamander had virtually disappeared from Palmer’s only original contribution to Mormon studies.
Since Thomas Carlyle’s English translation of The Golden Pot appeared in 1827, it was necessary for Palmer to claim that Luman Walter(s), about whom virtually nothing is known, might have visited France, where he might have read Hoffmann’s tale in the German original or in French, if he could read either language. He might also have absorbed the details of that tale, and then he might have passed them on to Joseph Smith. Palmer seems, though, to have suppressed that speculation. Instead, he now insists that Joseph (with his family) staged an American version of The Golden Pot, which they had morphed into a story about visits by a heavenly messenger and an ancient history. Joseph is said to have begun at least by 1822 to draw on the precise language Palmer found in 1985 in Thomas Carlyle’s 1827 translation of The Golden Pot. Palmer insists that the links he (but no other Mormon historian) sees between Hoffmann’s tale and Joseph Smith’s radically different story cannot be found in the Robertson translation. But Robertson’s translation is remarkably similar to Carlyle’s translation on all the crucial issues.
Palmer continues to ignore the fact that the Carlyle translation was available far too late to have had much, if any, influence on the story of the recovery of the Book of Mormon. One also has to assume that Joseph Smith somehow encountered Hoffmann’s tale very soon after it was published and then misunderstood it in exactly the odd way that Palmer does. It appears that none of the authors whom Signature Books publishes has adopted Palmer’s confused and confusing speculation about The Golden Pot, although Signature still attempts to shield his book from much deserved criticism.
Joseph Smith and the Doctrinal Restoration: The 34th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2005. ix + 413 pp., with index. $24.95.
When the 34th annual Sperry Symposium was held in October 2005, those attending were probably surprised to find that the proceedings had already been published. Attendees thus had a unique opportunity not only to carefully choose which sessions they wanted to attend but also to study the text of the presentations before attending. All of this made for a uniquely fulfilling symposium experience.
This year’s symposium was devoted to exploring the impact that the doctrines and scriptures restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith have had on the world in the past 175 years. Keynote speaker Andrew C. Skinner, for example (in a presentation entitled “The Impact of the Doctrinal Restoration: How the World Was Different after Joseph Smith”), noted that “the Prophet Joseph Smith single-handedly changed the theological landscape of the world” by reintroducing the world to a true knowledge of God, making known the full potential of Christ’s atoning power, and putting back into operation the “powers that enable all who so desire to reenter the Father’s presence” (p. 9).
Among the other twenty-five contributors to this volume are Richard L. Bushman (“Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln”), Mary Jane Woodger (“Joseph Smith’s Restoration of the Eternal Roles of Husband and Father”), Richard E. Turley (“The Calling of the Twelve Apostles and the Seventy in 1835″), and Jill Mulvay Derr and Carol Cornwall Madsen (“‘Something Better’ for the Sisters: Joseph Smith and the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo”). Along with covering a wide variety of topics, the book also includes well-documented notes at the end of each chapter.
Daniel B. McKinlay spoke on “Joseph Smith on the Body as a Fallen or Blessed Vessel,” pointing out that Joseph Smith did not arrive at his conception of the Father and the Son as a result of biblical cross-referencing or speculation. His witness came through a direct encounter with the divine and through confirmatory canonical revelations on the subject. It was a reiteration of what the Bible had said all along—namely, that God is embodied and his Son remains embodied. This verification of the Bible was necessary due to the Platonic assumptions superimposed on the Christian scripture. In another interesting presentation, Kent P. Jackson (“The Scriptural Restoration”) concluded that “the Restoration is bigger and greater than most Latter-day Saints have imagined. Most of us undervalue it and do not appreciate what it has done. It was with good reason that the future founder of the Disciples of Christ, Alexander Campbell, complained in 1831 that the Book of Mormon dealt with, and provided answers for, all the important gospel controversies of his generation” (p. 234).
Unfortunately, at least three excellent presentations (by Richard L. Anderson, Truman G. Madsen, and John W. Welch) did not make it into this volume. Hopefully they will soon be published elsewhere. Joseph Smith and the Doctrinal Restoration is nevertheless a valuable book for anyone interested in Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling.
Christian Leitz, ed. Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen, 8 vols. Louvain: Peeters, 2002â€’2003. lvi + 6,405 pp., including register. 990 â‚¬.
This invaluable reference work lists known ancient Egyptian deities and divine epithets. Although not exhaustive, it is marked by typical Teutonic thoroughness and is a gold mine of information on ancient Egyptian gods. Entries list attested spellings, dates of attestation, iconography, functions, references, and associations with other deities in series. Individual words in epithet strings are listed separately and cross-referenced to appropriate main entries. The information provided can be very helpful: For example, the entry on Anubis (1:390-94) lists twenty-two different spellings and shows that he is attested in every major time period (early period, Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom, 21st-24th Dynasties, Saite period, Late period—meaning Persian period, Greco-Roman period, and uncertain date). Human-headed, lion-headed, jackal-headed, ram-headed, falcon-headed, snake-headed, and other forms of Anubis are known. The human-headed form, though known at other times, is particularly common starting in the Persian period and continuing through the Greco-Roman period; it is not as unusual as some would have us believe. Knowledge of German and ancient Egyptian is necessary to make full use of the material. The cost is prohibitive for most people, but, considering the amount of information in the volumes, the sturdy clothbound covers and bindings, and the publisher, it is a bargain.
Wilbur Lingle. Approaching Mormons in Love: How to Witness Effectively without Arguing. Fort Washington, PA: CLC Publications, 2005. 205 pp., with two appendixes. $11.99.
Wilbur Lingle arrived in Japan from the United States in 1954. Twenty years later he started bashing Latter-day Saint missionaries with proof texts from the Bible. He returned to the United States in 1989 to begin “Love to Share Ministries,” an “outreach” in which, among other things, he teaches others how to witness to Latter-day Saints “without arguing.” When he started attacking the faith of Latter-day Saints in Japan in 1975, he admits that he “used many scripture passages in order to prove them wrong” (p. 155). He argued, but he eventually “found that this was not very effective” (p. 155). So he began showing LDS missionaries that “the verses they were quoting . . . did not prove their point” (p. 155, emphasis in original). For Lingle, this is witnessing “without arguing,” though those Saints he corners with his arguments, which include an array of biblical proof texts, may see it quite differently.
Lingle claims that “when a Mormon is defeated,” presumably by him in a nonargument, “he will cunningly start attacking your character and motives” (p. 85). He then proceeds to attack the character and motives of Latter-day Saints: “Mormons are well-trained in character assassination” (p. 85). And he also claims that “the Mormons will not always tell you the truth, nor will they tell you what they actually believe. They only tell you what they want you to hear” (p. 128), which presumably is not what they really believe. Lingle asserts that, “through repeated contact with numerous Mormons, I have found that telling the truth is not one of their virtues. Lying is quite commonly practiced. Not only do missionaries lie, but also the officials who run the Mormon church” (p. 85). “Sometimes they lie out of ignorance—or it might be Mormon ‘double talk.’ However,” he insists, he has “had them deliberately lie” (p. 128) about their beliefs.
Lingle senses that “it is best not to let them pray, because they sound very pious when they pray. This tends to deceive people into thinking they are sincere. However, their prayers are memorized and most Mormons will pray the same prayers” (p. 107). “Furthermore, they do not pray to the God of the Bible” (p. 107). Under the heading “Intimidation,” he concedes that “Mormons may be sweet and kind when you first meet them, and will continue so if you listen meekly and agree with everything they say. However, if you ask them thought-provoking questions they become frustrated and resort to special tactics to get you off course” (p. 129) in the noncontentious nonargument you are having with them. They will first “tell you to hold out your hand, to see if you are trembling. Even if your hand is as steady as possible, they will still accuse you of being nervous. They say that this is caused by the devil that is in you” (pp. 129-30). Then they will frequently “say, ‘I command you . . . ,” or they “may call down the curse of God upon you. They are apt to be very dramatic! It is only a trick.” Finally, “if you don’t believe what they say, they may accuse you of being insincere, contentious, etc.” (p. 130). Lingle contentious? Never—he no longer even argues. But he also admits that he is a bit contentious, since that is what he thinks the Bible tells him to be (pp. 125-26).
How well does Lingle understand the faith of the Saints? Not at all well. The following illustrates the level of his misunderstanding: “Mormonism teaches salvation by human good works” (p. 203). The death of Jesus merely yields a resurrection, so “becoming a god,” in his version of LDS beliefs, “is a matter of one’s own works” (p. 133). He insists that the Saints believe that “Jesus was no different from any of the other spirits in the previous world [premortal existence], but just happened to be the first one born” (p. 196). And, of course, “the Mormons have very little respect for the Bible. They do everything in their power to tear it down and attempt to prove it false” (p. 138). “The LDS Church might talk a lot about Christ, but in reality he plays no part in their personal salvation” (p. 45). “When the Mormons use the word ‘redemption,’ they mean that all men will be resurrected” (pp. 67-68). And, though they say much about faith, “in most cases they have no idea what this ‘faith’ is. Their religion is one of ‘works'” (p. 105). However, Lingle thinks that “faith and works are both very important,” but he teaches “that works ought to follow faith” (p. 104). Such a thought, of course, never occurred to a Latter-day Saint. “If their literature is taken at face value, they seem to come close to true Christianity. This is part of their plan for deceiving the public” (p. 81).
Lingle describes himself on the cover of his book as a “world-renowned expert on Mormons.” He boasts that, after one has lured LDS missionaries into a Bible-bashing brawl (p. 201), one can witness effectively to them “with the information in this book and a lot of love” (p. 202). He fails on all counts.
David L. Rowe. I Love Mormons: A New Way to Share Christ with Latter-day Saints. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005. 190 pp., with 3 appendixes, notes, a selective glossary of LDS terms, and resources. $12.99.
David Rowe, of the Salt Lake Theological Seminary, indicates that, when he arrived in Utah in 1975, he quickly became a kind of “Mormon slayer” who loved a “Bible bash.” Back then “we were,” he now admits, “attacking them instead of their doctrine” (p. 17, emphasis deleted). Eventually he realized that all he got out of his aggressive, adversarial, confrontational anti-Mormon polemics was a sense of having trounced a miserable cultist. He claims to have eventually discovered what he calls a “new way” of “witnessing” to the Saints—that is, of attacking their doctrine rather than them. This is still what Latter-day Saints see as proselyting since they regard themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ, who has provided for them the only means of salvation.
As an alternative for the more overtly adversarial sort of “cult-busting” approach he employed earlier in his career, Rowe now offers a presumably kinder, gentler, more culturally sensitive kind of anti-Mormonism. His is, however, a minor voice in the cacophony of anti-Mormon voices. What he offers still is blatantly anti-Mormon. Why? One reason is that he asserts that the Jesus that the Saints know is merely “‘a two-dimensional cutout paper doll’ Jesus Christ” (p. 159) and not the real Jesus of the Bible. And when the Saints offer thanks for the atonement, Rowe, like many other sectarian anti-Mormons, insists that we do not really mean what we pray, say, or sing (pp. 53-56), since we do not have the proper “worldview” (p. 55), and so forth.
This book was obviously not written for Latter-day Saints. It is another in a long line of handbooks that promise a new and improved way of proselyting the Saints and thereby meeting the Mormon challenge. Rowe proudly describes his book as a “new way” of “transforming” the Saints. It is “new” in that it is a presumably less adversarial and abrasive, and, hopefully, a more effective way of seducing the Saints away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and into some unidentified sectarian ideology.
Rowe hopes that others, following his advice, will somehow “come to understand Latter-day Saints and their culture [as he has] and wed this understanding to a profound love and respect for them” (p. 9). Love is thus recommended as a means to an end. What end? He very much wants to see his contemporary conservative Protestant culture, his own religious language and lore, his worldview, and his version of “the biblical gospel” (as opposed to what the Saints have) “built into their world, their lives, and even their worldwide church” (p. 9). Rowe’s “new way” is endorsed by such evangelicals as David Neff (editor of Christianity Today), Craig Blomberg (Denver Seminary), Vernon Grounds (chancellor, Denver Seminary), and two fellow employees of the Salt Lake Theological Seminary.
Rowe is said to have, “beyond his family and Jesus,” a passion for “incendiary worship, fine cuisine, acoustic music, elegant discourse, and sheer grace” (p. 191). He claims that Mormonism is a culture and not a cult and he teaches something called “cross-cultural ministry,” in addition to worship theology, homiletics/communication, and spiritual formation. His new way of proselyting Mormons involves learning their mind-set and their language, since Mormons are a culture (or ethnic group) and not a cult as commonly understood by countercultists (pp. 27-29 and elsewhere). In order to spread the message encrusted in the language and lore of his variety of contemporary conservative Protestant culture, Rowe believes that one must learn the language, stories, and modes of thinking of the Mormon culture if one is to effectively communicate the “real Jesus” to the Saints (p. 107). According to Rowe, there is “a characteristically Mormon way of knowing about God and spiritual matters” (p. 13). He urges conservative Protestants “to adapt our communication style to their [LDS] way of knowing so the Good News can sound like good news” (p. 13). One must appear to have a deep love for the Mormon people “despite deep disagreements with some of their distinctives” (p. 9), or what he calls “a profound love and respect” for lost Mormon souls.
But Rowe’s “new way” is not without its critics. There is currently a donnybrook taking place among conservative Protestants over how best to proselyte Latter-day Saints. Both sides in this internecine struggle quote—out of context—a phrase from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:15) to describe their approaches as “speaking truth in love.” The Saints, of course, often have a difficult time recognizing either truth or love in what is said and done. One camp practices a confrontational, adversarial, aggressively Bible-bashing mode of “evangelizing” the Saints. The other faction, aware that such tactics yield very poor results, has fashioned a slightly more irenic and less openly adversarial approach, which Rowe advocates in his handbook for luring the Saints away from their faith.
Andrew C. Skinner. Prophets, Priests, and Kings: Old Testament Figures Who Symbolize Christ. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005. vi + 152 pp. $16.95.
Viewing the Old Testament as the first witness of Jesus Christ (preceding both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon), Andrew Skinner, a thoughtful and careful scholar, presents examples from the lives of individuals who foreshadow the coming and atonement of Christ. Skinner examines the witness of prophets, priests, kings, and exemplary women as they point us to the Savior, who is the Great Prophet, Priest, and King. Beginning with Adam and Abel, Skinner closes with the lives of Esther, Deborah, and Huldah. The Old Testament, or covenant, anticipates the New in witnessing of Christ and in bringing souls to him.