The Māori Stairway to Heaven

A review of Jason Hartley. Ngā Mahi: The Things We Need to Do; The Pathway of the Stars. n.p.: Xlibris, 2013. 264 pp., no index. $23.00AUD (softcover).1

Jason Hartley’s book manifests a passion for alleviating the problem of Māori surging into the prisons of Aotearoa/New Zealand2 by restoring their old, traditional religious ethos and the social control that hinges on the recovery of the old belief that they are potentially noble children of God. In setting out his own disappointing discovery of the roots of both a growing problem and what he believes is the solution, he describes how he came to learn the arcane moral teachings, or old stories, that once buttressed Māori social order. For Latter-day Saints, he also demonstrates that for some Māori, despite much degradation, the Heavens are still open, just as they were when Latter-day Saint missionaries first encountered a people prepared for them and their message by their own seers, thus also implicitly challenging recent efforts to downplay or explain away the old stories as mere embellishments, wishful thinking, or an implausible founding mythology. 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

The Book with the Unintentionally Self-Referential Title

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 M. Wunderli has written a book that works through the reasons he fell out of belief in the Book of Mormon. These are combined with issues that he has added to his original reasons. His presentation is clearly intended to suggest that what he found compelling will also be compelling to other readers. Should it? This review looks at how his arguments are constructed: his methodology, the logic of the analysis, and the way he uses his sources. Although he argues that it is the Book of Mormon that is the imperfect book, his construction of the arguments makes that designation ironic. Continue reading

Big Trouble in River City: American Crucifixion and the Defaming of Joseph Smith

Review of Alex Beam. American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church. PublicAffairs, 2014. 352 pp.

Abstract: On April 22, 2014, PublicAffairs, an imprint of a national publisher Persues Books Group, released American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church, authored by Alex Beam. Beam, who openly declared he entered the project without personal biases against Joseph Smith or the Latter-day Saints, spent a couple of years researching his work, which he declares to be “popular non-fiction” and therefore historically accurate. This article challenges both of these assertions, showing that Beam was highly prejudiced against the Church prior to investigating and writing about events leading up to the martyrdom. In addition, Beam’s lack of training as an historian is clearly manifested in gross lapses in methodology, documentation, and synthesis of his interpretation. Several key sections of his book are so poorly constructed from an evidentiary standpoint that the book cannot be considered useful except, perhaps, as well-composed historical fiction. Continue reading

“War of Words and Tumult of Opinions”: The Battle for Joseph Smith’s Words in Book of Mormon Geography

Review of John L. Lund. Joseph Smith and the Geography of the Book of Mormon. The Communications Company, 2012. 209 pp. + xviii, including index.

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

–Joseph Smith Jr.1

Over the years, a plethora of theories have been advanced regarding the geography of the Book of Mormon.2 No doubt that many Latter-day Saints who have inquired on the subject have felt much like the young Joseph Smith: caught between a “war of words and tumult of opinions,” he or she wonders “What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together?” And how is one to know; how does one go about trying to judge between the competing views? Continue reading