The latest issue of the FARMS Review of Books (volume 11, number 1) commends recent studies on ancient America, Benjamin's speech, and temple symbolism. It also features two extended articles that are notable contributions in their own right-one complementing the work of Hugh Nibley, the other countering anti-Mormon criticisms.
Richard Dilworth Rust evaluates Walter Krajewski's master's thesis, "Voice from the Dust: A Literary Analysis of the Book of Mormon," and H. Clay Gorton's A New Witness for Christ: Chiastic Structures in the Book of Mormon. Rust considers it remarkable that Krajewski was able to write his thesis for Concordia University's religion department "without apology for his belief in the Book of Mormon as an ancient sacred text with an inspired origin." Rust identifies a few factual errors that "slightly mar" the work but do not materially detract from Krajewski's presentation of types and themes in the Book of Mormon. In contrast, Rust indicates that "large strategic errors" impair Gorton's A New Witness for Christ. For example, Rust demonstrates that Gorton's percentages for the "chiasticity" of the Book of Mormon and its authors are questionable because in some instances Gorton overlooks chiasms and forces others. Another weakness in the book is that Gorton does not attempt to illuminate the purposes standing behind the chiasms. Although Rust concludes that a large part of his dissatisfaction with the book is "a matter of purpose and layout," he acknowledges that "Gorton has put an enormous amount of work into his book" and that "the overall impression one gets . . . is that the Book of Mormon is extensively chiastic."
In his review of Robert H. Moss's A Reader's Book of Mormon Digest, Gary F. Novak describes this condensed version of the Book of Mormon as well- intended but flawed. Designed to be read in a single month, the 162-page book preserves only the portions that Moss considers doctrinally vital, ignoring what Novak believes to be "the larger message of the book." Novak notes that helpful "connective tissue" has been excised, impairing narrative flow, plot development, characterization, and even meaning. He concurs with Moss's recommendation that people should read the Book of Mormon in its entirety.
Diane E. Wirth reviews John L. Sorenson's Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mor mon Life, considering its "demeanor, format, and fine presentation . . . impressive, making a real contribution" for Latter-day Saints interested in Mesoamerica as it relates to the Book of Mormon. After praising the book for its informative text and high-quality photographs, she recommends that a few points regarding Mesoamerican iconography be clarified in future printings. For instance, she notes that the caption to an image of a Maya slate mirror back begins, "A Maya father exhorts a son . . . ," while a more recent interpretation identifies the figures as a king and a younger brother who is a "keeper of the books." Although she points out similar questions of interpretation in other photo captions, Wirth acknowledges that she may be simply nit-picking and that the main text of the book is superior.
Keith H. Lane, in reviewing King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom, a book edited by John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks, describes this volume as "a very important work," one that "students of the Book of Mormon will want to have . . . on their shelves and use." In contributing to a deeper understanding of King Benjamin's speech, the book "opens up other fields to be plowed," Lane says. For example, John Welch's insightful chapter on King Benjamin's speech as great oratory can serve as a springboard to related studies dealing with the speech's rhetorical aspects and the "oratorical impact of angelic words."
Daniel B. McKinlay reviews Matthew B. Brown and Paul T. Smith's Symbols in Stone: Symbolism on the Early Temples of the Restoration. He commends the authors for their well-researched and informative work on symbols found in the exterior and interior designs of the Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake Temples, among others. The book assigns "rich meanings" to an array of temple symbols by blending historical and doctrinal insights with "inspiring accounts of visions and other manifestations to Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and [others] that enhance the meaning of the symbols." McKinlay is impressed with the "fascinating information" in the chapter on the future temple in Independence, Missouri, and he finds the copious endnotes to be "as engaging as the script itself." He notes that the authors could improve their commentary by giving more information on the ancient meanings of the various temple symbols, and he praises them for achieving "an impressive balance between manifesting discreet respect for sacred matters while at the same time providing genuine insight."
Louis Midgley views the 10 essays in Hugh W. Nibley's The Ancient State: The Rulers and the Ruled as not only scholarly treatises but also apologetic "Mormon essays" that are "part of Nibley's larger effort to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ against its critics." Midgley focuses his review on two 1963 essays in which Nibley addresses the age-old struggle between mankind's quest for wisdom through reason alone (the "sophic" attitude) and the longing for wisdom through revelation (the "mantic" attitude). Midgley elaborates on Nibley's discussion by relating the sophic-mantic dialectic to Paul's elevation of "the wisdom of God" over pagan philosophy-a conflict symbolized by Tertullian's famous line "What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"
Pursuing this theme, Midgley evaluates the work of late Jewish philosopher Leo Strauss in light of Nibley's early essays on the sophic and mantic traditions and observes that both scholars contend that "our current way of seeing things [in terms of simplistic science/religion, reason/revelation, or fact/faith dichotomies] is a confused outgrowth of old, and now half-forgotten, quarrels." Midgley's engaging remarks consider possible accommodation between philosophy and the Bible and effectively relate many issues to present-day LDS concerns.
In his review of Mark A. Smith's The Power of God, Robert C. Freeman describes the book as generally instructive and enlightening and finds the discussion of the principle of agency "especially insightful." He also notes that the book "lacks a thoroughness of discussion" and that parts of the book "appear to be little more than a compilation of quotations," most from Elder Bruce R. McConkie and few from "very recent general leadership of the church." Moreover, "the author is guilty in some cases of hanging his doctrinal position on a single quotation" and in other cases of relying too much on more obscure sources without balancing them with modern-day quotations. Such weaknesses notwithstanding, Freeman says that overall the book makes a helpful contribution to the study of faith.
Russell C. McGregor and Kerry A. Shirts respond to James R. White's anti-Mormon book Letters to a Mormon Elder: Eye-Opening Information for Mormons and the Christians Who Talk with Them with a series of letters addressed to White himself. In a clever parody of White's book, these letters cogently set the record straight by answering the original 18 letters through White's imaginary Elder Hahn, portrayed in better light by McGregor and Shirts as "a good missionary who follows the rules, does the work, keeps his leaders informed, and answers White's letters according to his own time table and priorities, and not White's." McGregor and Shirts's "Letters to an Anti-Mormon" is well worth its length of 209 pages. Covering a wide range of topics from the nature of the Godhead to Facsimile 3 in the Book of Abraham, it dispels many common anti-Mormon criticisms in an entertaining, easy-to-read fashion.
After reviewing two similar software products-Collector's Library '98, by Infobases, and GospeLink, by Deseret Book-William Raventos felt hard-pressed to choose the best product and advises that his comparison "should be used as a starting point to explore both products, confirming (or refuting) the observations and conclusions" he makes. He likes the Collector's Library because it is easier to install and easier to search but notes that it lacks a powerful comparative viewing tool. On the other hand, GospeLink has the best comparative viewing tool, a good highlighter, and the best graphics, but it too has some drawbacks: it is considerably slower than the Collector's Library, is harder to install, and lacks a hits counter on its search engine. Raventos concludes that both products have seemingly equal advantages and dis advantages. He notes that Deseret Book's recent acquisition of Bookcraft (owner of Infobases) may lead to a single, consolidated version of the two software programs.