Review of Royal Skousen, Robin Scott Jensen, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations Volume 3, Part 1: Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon 1 Nephi–Alma 35 (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2015). pp 575. $89.99.
Abstract: All of the volumes in the Joseph Smith Papers series are beautifully presented, with important photographic and excellent typographic versions of the texts. This volume continues by providing this treatment for the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon.
Abstract: The best explanation for the name “Nephi” is that it derives from the Egyptian word nfr, “good,” “goodly,” “fine,” “fair,” “beautiful.” Nephi’s autobiographical wordplay on his own name in his self-introduction (and elsewhere throughout his writings) revolves around the evident meaning of his name. This has important implications for how the derived gentilic term “Nephites” was understood over time, especially among the Nephites themselves. Nephi’s early ethno-cultural descriptions of his people describe them as “fair” and “beautiful” (vis-à-vis the Lamanites). These early descriptions subsequently become the basis for Nephite ethno-cultural self-perceptions. The Nephites’ supposition that they were the “good” or “fair ones” was all too frequently at odds with reality, especially when Nephite “chosenness” was understood as inherent or innate. In the end the “good” or “fair ones” fell (Mormon 6:17‒20), because they came to “delight in everything save that which is good” (Moroni 9:19). The Book of Mormon thus constitutes a warning against our own contemporary cultural and religious tendency toward exceptionalism. Mormon and Moroni, like Nephi their ancestor through his writings on the small plates, endeavor through their own writing and editorial work to show how the “unbelieving” descendants of the Nephites and Lamanites can again become the “good” and the “fair ones” by choosing to come unto Christ, partaking of his “goodness,” and doing the “good” stipulated by the doctrine of Christ.
Abstract: Although it is common to believe that the Ammonites were pacifists, the report of their story demonstrates that this is a mistake. Appreciating the Ammonites’ non-pacifism helps us think more clearly about them, and it also explains several features of the text. These are textual elements that surprise us if we assume that the Ammonites were pacifists, but that make perfect sense once we understand that they were not. Moreover, in addition to telling us that the Ammonites were not pacifists, the text also gives us the actual reason the Ammonites came to eschew all conflict — and we learn from this why significant prophetic leaders (from King Benjamin to Alma to Mormon) did not reject the sword in the same way. The text also reveals the intellectual flaw in supposing that the Ammonites’ early acts of self-sacrifice set the proper example for all disciples to follow. Continue reading
Abstract: How long did it take Nephi to compose his portions of the “small account?” Careful text analysis and data mining suggest that “Nephi’s” texts may have been composed across periods as great as forty years apart. I propose a timeline with four distinct periods of composition. The merits of this timeline are weighed, and some thoughts are explored as to how this timeline alters the reader’s perceptions of Nephi. The net effect is that Nephi becomes more sympathetic, more personable, and more relatable as his record progresses and that the totality of Nephi’s writings are best understood and interpreted when the factor of time is considered. Continue reading
Review of Dennis Largey, Andrew Hedges, John Hilton III, and Kerry Hull, eds. The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon: A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in cooperation with Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 2015, pp 308.
Abstract: At the end of October each year, speakers from the Church Educational System, as well as other gospel scholars, gather at Brigham Young University to make presentations at the Sidney B. Sperry Symposium. The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon: A Marvelous Work and a Wonder is a compilation of the addresses given at the forty-fourth symposium, in 2015. This volume does not so much delve into the doctrine of the Book of Mormon as it studies the history behind its coming into the world. Just as the doctrine itself is inspirational, the story behind the coming forth of the Book of Mormon serves as an inspiration and a testament to its truthfulness. Continue reading