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About Robert A. Rees

Robert A. Rees (born November 17, 1935) is an educator, scholar and poet. He teaches Mormon Studies at Graduate Theological Union and the University of California, Berkeley. Previously he taught humanities at UCLA and UC Santa Cruz and was a Fulbright Professor of American Studies in Lithuania (1995-96). Rees is the author of No More Strangers and Foreigners: A Mormon-Christian Response to Homosexuality (1998), “‘In a Dark Time the Eye Begins to See’: Personal Reflections on Homosexuality among the Mormons at the Beginning of a New Millennium” (2000), “Requiem for a Gay Mormon” (2001) and, most recently with Dr. Caitlin Ryan, Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Latter-day Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children (2012). He is the editor of Proving Contraries: A Collection of Writings In Honor of Eugene England (2005), The Reader’s Book of Mormon (2008), and Why I Stay: The Challenges of Discipleship for Contemporary Mormons (2011). Rees, has served as a bishop, stake high councilor, Institute teacher, and a member of the Baltic States Mission Presidency. He is the co-founder and current vice-president of the Liahona Children’s Foundation, which addresses malnutrition among Latter-day Saint children in the developing world.

Looking Deeper into Joseph Smith’s First Vision: Imagery, Cognitive Neuroscience, and the Construction of Memory

Abstract: Critics of Joseph Smith assert that he invented or imagined the First Vision and then deliberately altered the details in his subsequent first-person accounts of the event (also reflected in accounts recorded or related by others) to mislead his followers. That the details of the narrative changed so dramatically between the first version (1832) and the last authorized version (1842) is considered prima facie evidence that Joseph was deliberately inventing and embellishing his narrative to make it more credible. The only thing, say critics, that could possibly explain such divergent, and in some cases, radically different versions of the same event is either incredible forgetfulness or deliberate falsification. This paper, based on close textual analysis and the findings of contemporary scientific research on memory acquisition and retention — particularly memories of dramatic and powerful events — offers an alternative explanation, one that preserves the credibility and integrity of the prophet. Continue reading

Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the American Renaissance: An Update

Abstract: This is a follow-up to my article, “Joseph Smith and the American Renaissance,” published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought in 2002.1 My purpose in writing that article was to consider Joseph Smith in relation to his more illustrious contemporary American authors — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman. In that article I tried to demonstrate that in comparison with these writers, Joseph Smith did not possess the literary imagination, talent, authorial maturity, education, cultural milieu, knowledge base, or sophistication necessary to produce the Book of Mormon; nor, I argued, had he possessed all of these characteristics, nor was the time in which the book was produced sufficient to compose such a lengthy, complex, and elaborate narrative. This addendum takes the comparison one step further by examining each writer’s magnum opus and the background, previous writings, and preliminary drafts that preceded its publication — then comparing them with Joseph Smith’s publication of the Book of Mormon. That is, each of the major works of these writers of prose, fiction, and poetry as well as the scriptural text produced by Joseph Smith has a history — one that allows us to trace its evolution from inception to completion. Continue reading

Inattentional Blindness: Seeing and Not Seeing The Book of Mormon

Review of Earl M. Wunderli, An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us about Itself (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2013), 328pp + Appendices, Maps, and Index.

Earl Wunderli, an attorney who has made a lifelong study of the Book of Mormon, concludes that the book is a product of Joseph Smith’s mind and imagination. In doing so, Wunderli marshals evidence and presents his argument as if he were an attorney defending a client in court. Unfortunately, Wunderli’s case suffers from the same weaknesses and limitations of other naturalist criticism in that it exaggerates Joseph Smith’s intellectual and cultural background and compositional skills while ignoring the Book of Mormon’s deep structure, narrative complexity, and often intricate rhetorical patterns. Continue reading