I Do Not Think That WORD Means What You Think It Means

Review of E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 240 pp. $16.00.

Of course, the correct quotation of Inigo Montoya’s famous line in The Princess Bride is “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Unfortunately, it made too long a title, though in homage to Richards and O’Brien’s book, I have substituted the culturally defined Word for its more common reference. That is precisely the message of the book. You keep reading that Word. It doesn’t mean what you think it means. From their introduction:

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Written to the Lamanites: Understanding the Book of Mormon through Native Culture and Religion

Abstract: Latter-day Saints have always been encouraged to seek the truth wherever it can be found. With the Book of Mormon being written especially to the Lamanites, we can assume that the more we know about Lamanite and Native American culture, the more we can understand, appreciate and gain insights as we read that inspired scripture. In this article the writer has compared examples from Native American culture and history to what we read in the Book of Mormon and experience as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most importantly, as we read through the eyes of a Native American, we can appreciate the divinity and authenticity of the Book of Mormon, since Joseph Smith could not have known Native American culture and history in the way it is described herein. Continue reading

The Cultural Context of Nephite Apostasy

Abstract: Nephite apostates turned away from true worship in consistent and predictable ways throughout the Book of Mormon. Their beliefs and practices may have been the result of influence from the larger socioreligious context in which the Nephites lived. A Mesoamerican setting provides a plausible cultural background that explains why Nephite apostasy took the particular form it did and may help us gain a deeper understanding of some specific references that Nephite prophets used when combating that apostasy. We propose that apostate Nephite religion resulted from the syncretization of certain beliefs and practices from normative Nephite religion with those attested in ancient Mesoamerica. We suggest that orthodox Nephite expectations of the “heavenly king” were supplanted by the more present and tangible “divine king.” Continue reading