Skeptics and critics often chide members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for beliefs that run counter to secular histories and theologies crafted by the scholars of the world. Scholars within the church respond with reasoning and research that support a more faithful view. Daniel C. Peterson writes in his introduction to the latest issue of the FARMS Review of Books that those who wish to contend that . . . Mormonism is merely a rather haphazard pastiche of American frontier nostrums, a bit of folk magic, and a few half-understood chunks of popular theology . . . face an increasingly difficult task. His comments emphatically punctuate the theme that runs through the remarks of all the reviewers: that a faithful version of Latter-day Saint history and theology is not off the mark.
This issue of the Review of Books responds to two works about Fawn M. Brodie, another book that outlines parallels in ancient texts to the story of the gold plates, a book that finds evidence for Latter-day Saint theology in Gods creations, a doctoral dissertation that treats the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price as poetry, and a book that is critical of the church and its doctrines. This issue also includes indexes by author, review, and title reviewed for the year 2000.
Louis C. Midgley first reviews a new biography of controversial historian Fawn Brodie by Newel G. Bringhurst. Midgley writes that Bringhursts controlling bias is obvious: although he interviews family and friends of Brodie, he does not take her critics into account. Even so, Midgley explains, if we ignore his appeal to objectivity, . . . we find that he does seem to have been both sensitive and quite comprehensive in his treatment of Brodie. Midgley also praises Bringhurst for not making Brodies mistakes of delving into psychoanalysis and using literary embellishment.
Nevertheless, Midgley argues that Bringhursts book is not critically sound. In addition to his significant bias, Bringhurst does not address the question of how well Brodie understood the Book of Mormon, something he could have done by looking at her marginal notes in her marked copy of the book. And although Bringhurst wants to understand why Brodie argued with so many other scholars, he fails to examine how well she formulated arguments [or] found ways to test theories. Midgley also discusses Bringhursts failure to deal adequately with the many reviews of Brodies books. In the end, says Midgley, Bringhursts attempt to shore up [Brodies] slumping reputation backfires because he has not been able to fashion a portrait of one able to take the measure of Joseph Smith.
Midgley next responds to A Hard Day for Professor Midgley: An Essay for Fawn McKay Brodie. At the beginning of this review, Midgley gives a synopsis of the conversation that revisionist Mormon historians and he have carried on for the past 20 years. He points out the fatal flaw in revisionist history: the revisionists do not read the Book of Mormon in an attempt to discover if its messages are true but instead insist that the veracity of that text be proven to the satisfaction of gentile skeptics.
In his review of John A. Tvedtnes's The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: Out of Darkness unto Light, Kevin Barney demonstrates the need for this book by referring to a recent article by a careless scholar who, in attempting to rebut some of Hugh Nibley's comments about ancient metal documents, displays his own ignorance of the subject. Barney explains that if this man, who holds a Ph.D., 'is so ill informed on the subject of ancient writing on metallic plates, how much more likely [it is] that the average lay person has not even the first clue as to the nature of this ancient practice.'
Barney goes on to praise Tvedtnes for the breadth of his study, which covers not just metal documents but also other elements of the account of the Book of Mormon plates that are consistent with what is known from ancient times, such as sealed books, re cords hidden in boxes, angels as guardians of sacred books, and books kept in treasuries. The book contains extensive information and significant insights, writes Barney, who urges every student of the Book of Mormon, from those with serious research interests to the more casual reader, [to] obtain and read this excellent study.
A book on evidences for Latter-day Saint theology, Fingerprints of God: Evidences from Near-Death Studies, Scientific Research on Creation, and Mormon Theology, by Arvin S. Gibson, also received three short reviews. As two of the reviewers point out, Gibson's thesis is essentially Alma's response to Korihor that 'all things denote there is a God' (Alma 30:44), and Gibson uses many areas of science and research on near-death experiences (NDEs) to prove his point.
The reviewers find this book flawed in its statistical analyses; they also question some of Gibsons scientific understanding. Gibson relies heavily on NDEs to bridge the gap between science and religion, and all the reviewers question his confidence in experiences that as yet cannot be tested or measured scientifically. Gibson also overstates his case, claiming that NDEs and associated scientific evidence constitute absolute proof rather than merely suggest possible indications of the truth.
However, all three reviewers write they were intrigued by the NDEs described and by the questions they found themselves asking as they read the book. Reviewer Kevin Livingstone perhaps states the dilemma posed by this book best: While the author and I share the same religion and core set of beliefs that God exists, that God created the universe and life, that we all existed before this life and will continue our existence after deathour interpretation differs for much of the evidence presented.
In reviewing a dissertation titled Poetic Language in Nineteenth-Century Mormonism, James E. Faulconer gives it poor marks as a dissertation but points out that the flaws are probably largely the fault of poor feedback from the dissertation committee. He comments that while the candidate was perhaps sympathetic to members of the church and wanted to avoid the question of the historicity of the Book of Mormon, her bias against a faithful version of church history was evident. Responding to James R. Whites Is the Mormon My Brother? L. Ara Norwood makes a lengthy rebuttal to White's flawed understanding of the doctrine of theosis (the idea that humans can become gods) and explains that White has misrepresented Latter-day Saint beliefs on the subject and misunderstood what the early church fathers had to say about it.
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