The Word of God Essays on Mormon Scripture – book review
Is a literalistic approach which includes a lack of knowledge of the circumstances and environment around which scripture was created the best way to read the Mormon and Christian scriptures? The obvious answer is “no”, but the authors of the essays in this book show how orthodox Mormons and orthodox Christians have done just that. I can remember in early morning seminary being taught to “liken the scriptures” unto my own life (w/o regard to context or why and how the scriptures came into being). Looking back on such an approach, I can see the harm it can produce. The essays vary in emphasis and subject matter, but they all emphasize the fact that a better understanding of the “Word of God” is necessary.
The essay by James E. Lancaster is perhaps the best source you will ever find on the translation process of the Book of Mormon. He includes probably every reference made regarding the process by all of the contemporaries of Joseph Smith and Smith himself. Vogel and Metcalfe’s essay on the 19th century environment is particularly enlightening with regard to how many Mormon doctrines came into being.
A favorite essay of mine on the Word of Wisdom is by Lester Bush (physician). He shows how, contrary to recent assertions, the Word of Wisdom was actually what “medical science” in the 1820s and 1830s preached. Bush claims that the Word of Wisdom would have been far more useful (and prophetic) to the 19th Century Mormons had it included instructions to use only clean water and to adequately dispose of waste. In fact, “hot drinks” and some alcoholic beverages may have saved the lives of many 19th Century Mormons had they drank them instead of the unsanitary water in Nauvoo, along the plains, and in Utah.
For those interested in the Book of Abraham issue, the book is well worth the price for Ed Ashment’s essay alone. “Isaiah Updated” by George D. Smith is a summary of the multiple-authorship theory of Isaiah and the problems it presents to Mormon scripture. Smith, like Ashment, points out the flawed apologetics that Hugh Nibley has offered as a supposed “scholarly” defense of his faith.
Although the authors appear to be hopeful that the day will soon come when the orthodox begin to objectively look at scripture, its context, and its historical background, I personally don’t get the impression that the day will ever come on a global scale. Thinking individuals will continue to adopt such an outlook, but don’t look for any such discussion in General Conference. In the 7 years since this book has been on the market, certainly none of the issues raised have been addressed. The RLDS movement has a far better chance of accepting scholarly approaches so the optimism raised by the RLDS contributors is perhaps warranted.
from the publisher:
The Word of God, a collection of insightful and thought-provoking discussions of Mormon canon, asks to what extent Mormon scripture can be considered historical, revelatory, and authoritative. The essays, which cover a range of tacks, including “Beyond Literalism,” by William Russell; “Palmyra Revisited: Early Nineteenth-Century America and the Old Testament,” by Susan Curtis; “The Mormon Christianizing of the Old Testament,” by Melodie Moench Charles; “Latter Day Saint Scriptures and the Doctrine of Propositional Revelation,” by Richard Howard; “Dealing with Dissonance: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study,” by Edward Ashment; “The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth-Century Perspective,” by Lester Bush; “Prophetic Foreknowledge: Hope and Fulfillment in an Inspired Community,” by Anthony Hutchinson; and “Joseph Smith’s Scriptural Cosmology,” by the editor.
Dan Vogel explains his approach as follows: “In gathering essays for The Word of God, I have not attempted to resolve competing, even contradictory, approaches, believing instead that readers will discover for themselves the strengths and weaknesses of differing views. After all, this is the challenge of scholarship. I simply hope to leave readers with a heightened understanding of how various aspects of Mormon scriptures can be interpreted and to provide material for thoughtful, spirited discussion.”
Dan Vogel, since graduating from California State University, Long Beach, has authored and edited four critically-acclaimed books on Mormon themes: Early Mormon Documents: Volume One, Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon, Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism, and The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture. He is a contributing author to Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine. He lives with his wife in Columbus, Ohio, where he continues to work as an independent researcher and writer.
For a very angry ‘rebuttal’ to this book see the FARMS review.
Essentially, Stephen E. Robinson thinks that anyone who doesn’t think just like him must be of Satan.