On this page, we will post links to reviews of important books taken from several different forums (journals, blogs, etc.).  Here are some of the most common:

AML (Association for Mormon Letters)

BCC (By Common Consent–blog)

JI (Juvenile Instructor–blog)

In addition, reviews written by Benchmark Books employees are included here in full.  We have also tried to highlight some biblical studies/Christian history titles that we think are worthy of attention.

The reviews are in alphabetical order by title.  If you would like to order any of these books or have any questions, please give us a call or e-mail us!


Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations (Ehrman, Plese), Oxford &  The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation (Elliott), Oxford

The past century has witnessed an explosion in understanding of the New Testament, both the text (and transmission thereof) itself as well as the context in which it was written and read. Part of this flourishing is heightened interest in apocryphal works containing information relating to New Testament figures. Oxford has recently published two valuable additions to this corpus—the first a reprint of J. K. Elliott’s Apocryphal New Testament (originally published in 1993, hereafter ANT) and the second a new collection entitled The Apocryphal Gospels (hereafter AG) edited by Bart Ehrman and Zlatko Plese. In this review, I will compare these two volumes and highlight their individual strengths and weaknesses.


As can be surmised from the Ehrman/Plese title, their contribution focuses solely on the genre of “gospels.” As the editors note, the term “gospel” can at times be misleading since several of the gospels included bear little resemblance to the chronological narrative of the New Testament gospel. In fact, the so-called Gospel according to Thomas “contains no narratives of any kind, no report of Jesus’ activities, his healings, or his exorcisms, no accounts of his travels, his passion, or his resurrection.” Rather, this gospel is simply a collection of sayings (usually referred to as agrapha=unwritten things) scattered throughout Jesus’ ministry. This collection includes more than 40 texts divided into four sections: Infancy Gospels, Ministry Gospels, Sayings Gospels and Agrapha; and Passion, Resurrection, and Post-Resurrection Gospels. Each text features the original text (in Greek, Latin or Coptic) on the left page with the English translation on the facing page.

Elliott, in contrast, covers a wider range of texts. In addition to Gospels, he includes Acts (the single largest section in the collection), Epistles and Apocalypses. In all, close to 70 different manuscripts are contained in this volume, though some are no more than fragments. As was the case in AG, Elliott chooses to exclude the bulk of the Nag Hammadi texts given their ready availability. However, he chooses to retain the important Gospel of Thomas (similarly, AG includes it along with the Gospel of Mary) and the Apocryphon of James. In summary, Elliott chose to include texts that are “among the oldest or most important and influential or merely the most popular of those that have come down to us.”

Contextual Matter

Each collection begins with a preface which briefly discusses the corpus at hand and outlines criteria by which the editors selected texts. Though Elliott’s is longer, a good portion deals with his decision to follow the structure (but not necessarily content) of the oft-reprinted 1924 Apocryphal New Testament edited by M. R. James, also published by Oxford. I felt like Elliott dwelled too long on this matter—if he felt that a simple revision of the earlier work was not the best path, what was the point of belaboring his decision? In addition, though the introductions to sections and individual texts do give some cohesiveness, it seemed like even a brief summary essay on the nature and history of apocrypha would be helpful.

The introductions are excellent, giving succinct descriptions of the different textual examples of the manuscripts and their appearance in patristic discussions. Additionally, Elliott engages prior scholarship on the apocryphal works, both agreeing and disagreeing with their conclusions. Footnotes discuss alternate translations and textual variants as well as helpful cross-references to scriptural texts.

AG suffers from a similar malady—the lack of a solid preface. In this case, it is even shorter, checking in at a little more than two pages. Given that the editors intended the volume to be used as a “hand edition for students” as well as scholars, this short preface seems even more odd. The introductions here are similar to those in ANT, discussing the nature and content of the text and criteria for inclusion.

The footnotes are purposefully (as noted in the preface) sparse—on the original text side, they deal with textual variants while those for the translation are fewer in number and often no more than cross-references. Somewhat surprisingly, there is no index whatsoever (ANT includes several for subjects and texts included—with detailed contents and citations from scripture as well as ancient authorities).

Translation Style

To give a sense of the two translations, I include a short excerpt from the beginning of the “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas”:

AG: I, Thomas the Israelite, make this report to all of you, my brothers among the Gentiles, that you may know the magnificent childhood activities of our Lord Jesus—all that he did after being born in our country. The beginning is as follows…When a certain Jew saw what Jesus was doing while playing on the Sabbath, he left right away and reported to his father, Joseph, “Look, your child is at the stream, and he has taken mud and formed twelve sparrows. He has profaned the Sabbath!” When Joseph came to this place and looked, he cried out to him, “Why are you doing what is forbidden on the Sabbath?”

ANT: I, Thomas the Israelite, announce and make known to you all, brothers from among the Gentiles, the mighty childhood deeds of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he did when he was born in our land. The beginning is as follows…When a certain Jew saw what Jesus was doing while playing on the Sabbath, he at once went and told his father Joseph, ‘See, your child is at the stream, and he took clay and moulded twelve birds and has profaned the sabbath.’ And when Joseph came to the place and looked, he cried out to him, saying ‘Why do you do on the sabbath things which it is not lawful to do?”

Despite his stated goal to “replace the consciously archaizing English style that James affected,” Elliott still falls short of a truly “modern” style. The use of “see” vs. “look” and the clunky phrase “things which it is not lawful to do” are very much in the King James(or Authorized Version) style. [1] Similarly, where AG chooses to begin a new sentence or leave out “and” (=*kai* in Greek), ANT often will continue a long sentence with “and” or begin—as in this excerpt—“And when Joseph…” Somewhat analogous to the waw-consecutive construction in Hebrew, this seems to be simply a structural device and does not require a 1:1 *kai* and “and” relationship.

On a related note, where AG prefers “he cried out to him” to “he cried out to him, saying” (=legon in Greek) this is again a structural device (roughly equivalent to the leading quotation mark in English—a very similar situation occurs in the Hebrew Bible) and does not need to appear as a word in the translation. Not surprisingly, the translations in AG draw heavily on Ehrman’s earlier Lost Scriptures, published in 2003.


Both AG and ANT are valuable additions to any early Christian studies library, though they serve different purposes. For someone concentrating on the gospels genre, clearly AG is the superior acquisition for the inclusion of both original and translation if for no other reason. For someone interested in a broader analysis of New Testament apocrypha, ANT is a very handy edition to use, given its wide range of texts. For Mormon students, there are tidbits scattered throughout these texts that will resonate with them—the account of creation, though described in a context of “aeons” and “luminaries,” is of particular interest. [2] And certainly the Gnostic idea of a secret knowledge given to inner circle initiates that is found in many of the documents both in AG and ANT will strike many as an antecedent of Mormon temple rites. One final thought—though it is nice to have ANT still available, the $85.00 price tag (and subpar printing quality—it is available as a print-on-demand style) may scare some readers off.

[1] That such a translation style has continued to curry favor is odd—the Greek of the New Testament (and Apocrypha) is, generally speaking, by no means well-crafted or polished language. Thus, aiming for a formal tone in an English translation is not really an accurate representation of the original text.

[2] It would interesting to hear Brigham Young’s take on the “Seth-Christ” doctrine contained therein…

At Sword’s Point, Part 1: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858–Kingdom in the West, vol. 10 (MacKinnon), Arthur H. Clark–AML

Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language (Crystal), Oxford

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth;” “Am I my brother’s keeper?” “Man does not live by bread alone;” “Turn the other cheek.” Probably only the most biblically illiterate would not recognize those well-known sayings as coming from the Bible–King James to be precise. But how many know that “a man after his own heart;” “escaped by the skin of my teeth;” “turned the world upside down,” and even the unlikely “Be horribly afraid;” have the same origin. Well, to be precise, some of the above are not exactly the way they are found in the KJV, but certainly their origin lies therein.

Alan G. Thomas wrote that “no book has had greater influence on the English language” than the King James Bible. David Crystal, probably the world’s most respected authority on the English language and author of many noted books on linguistics and English, wanted to find out if that statement were true. He set out to determine just how many “idiomatic or quasi-proverbial expressions” in English have been contributed by the King James Bible, in some cases influenced by its predecessors. Crystal does not give us the answer until the end of the book. Everything sandwiched between the Prologue and the Epilogue is the meat of this endlessly informative, fascinating, and even entertaining book. For a word lover such as I, who has an entire bookcase filled with reference books on the English language with an emphasis on word and phrase origins and quotations, Begat was like manna from heaven.

Crystal identifies every such expression that has found its way into English usage, cites the KJV reference (often comparing corresponding passages with six of its predecessor translations), analyzes it, and gives examples of how it was used early on and is used today or has been adapted, often with clever or humorous results. He points out that it is remarkable that biblical phrases may be used “for a catchy title for a book, film, or pop song,” or to “grab a reader’s attention” in some creative way. We can find a surprisingly high number of biblical expressions in very disparate nonbiblical settings from TV sitcoms to recipe books and punk rock lyrics to video games. “Those are the worlds this book will explore.”

One chapter, “My brother’s keeper,” serves as a good example of how Crystal accomplishes his object. He quotes the story of Cain and Abel, points out that it is found in virtually every translation, and shows how it has been used for decades in modern times in a variety of ways such as titles of TV series episodes (including Law and Order and ER), songs, books, and even that of a punk rock band, the “Brothers Keepers.” The variant, “Thy Brother’s Keeper,” is one of 800 instances found on Google. He quotes Barack Obama who said: “Now, more than ever, we must dedicate ourselves to the notion that we share a common destiny as Americans-that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper.” He cites several different iterations of the expression, some quite clever and funny, wryly pointing out that the cleverest “was the first person to tell the joke about the ape in the zoo caught reading Darwin and asking, “Am I my Keeper’s brother?” “It ceases to be funny after you’ve seen a hundred online retellings,” he observes.

In each of the book’s short chapters, Crystal features biblical expressions (original or adapted) that have come down to us over 400 years or more. “Spare the rod . . .”; “out of the mouths of babes;” “blind leading the blind;” “salt of the earth;” “old wives’ tales;” “Get thee behind me, Satan;” “the love of money is the root of all evil;” and many more-some more well known than others. He shares the humorous alterations he has found for many of them. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” ends with the now familiar “tomorrow we diet.” In some, the wording doesn’t change, but the meaning does, sometimes dramatically. An example is a “candidate for the worst pun in the book: Studios for tattooing and body piercing called “Holier than thou.””

As I read through the book, I was struck by the number of phrases and expressions that I thought would be of particular interest to Mormons for various reasons. Some will be obvious to LDS readers, others a little more esoteric. Here are several: “Gird up thy loins” (from the hymn, “Come, Come Ye Saints”); “rod of iron;” “still, small voice;” “signs of the times” (used as a title for at least two LDS books); “in the twinkling of an eye” (when you “hie to Kolob”); “shake off the dust under your feet” (many returned missionaries and I can tell some great faith-promoting rumors about a given city that had been “dusted” and thus ended in ruin); “for many are called, but few are chosen” (LDS scripture and also a book title)-a funny variant: “many are cold, but few are frozen;” “jot or tittle” (an LDS game had the name of “Jots and Tittles” and the source of a funny story that I will tell only upon request); “lamb to the slaughter” (words of Joseph Smith upon returning to Nauvoo and certain death); “pearl of great price;” “times and seasons” (title of newspaper in Nauvoo); “as a thief in the night” (title of two books); “vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord” (Brigham Young put his own twist on this one when the original cairn at Mountain Meadows was torn down), and more.

David Crystal has written a book that will teach even the most informed among us something we did not already know about expressions, most of which we have probably read or heard sometime in our lives. But it never comes across as too academic or pedantic; it is written with wit and verve and is very engaging. Although I think linguists and other word mavens would find the book entirely satisfying, I believe that any reader with even the slightest interest in words and the Bible will find this book thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining, and hard to put down. By the way, Crystal found 257 expressions used today in English-two-and-a-half times the number of contributions to the language than that of William Shakespeare. A handy appendix lists each expression, where it is found, and whether (and how) it is rendered in the six different English Bible translations.

“I know for a certainty” that those who do not read it will “reap the whirlwind” and will soon be saying “woe is me.” They should “set [their] house in order” for now they “see through a glass darkly.” But they will be able to see “eye to eye” with those who have discovered this “pearl of great price” and can then “be of good cheer.” I have read and love Begat. “Go and do thou likewise.”

Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore (Reeve, Van Wagenen), Utah State University–AML

Book of Mormon: A Biography (Gutjahr), Princeton–AML, AML (2)

Book of Mormon Girl: Stories of an American Faith (Brooks), self-published–AML, BCC, Times & Seasons (blog)

Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Turner)–Harvard

Indulge me: picture a man neck deep in a swift river with people on both banks trying to warn him of boulders they think are in his path. After successfully navigating his course, he exits the river to the cheers of both banks. It happened. His name is John Turner and he’s just written a landmark biography of Brigham Young. With an embarrassment of riches in terms of sources that would drown a lesser man and voices from both extremes depicting a tyrannical harem-master and, conversely, a gentle kingdom builder, Turner has achieved a fair and well-rounded portrait of Brigham Young. No sticky wicket (Mountain Meadows, the handcart imbroglio, Young’s often testy personality, etc.) is skirted—at the same time, the reader does not get a sense that Turner is poking at them as at a sore tooth. Notoriously difficult for biographers, Young has eluded many through the years. With Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, Turner has done what Rough Stone Rolling did for Joseph Smith: combine meticulous primary source research with balanced historical craft.

One more comparison with Joseph Smith—for many years, Brigham Young: American Moses had served a role much like Joseph Smith: The First Mormon of (at least for believing Mormons) the standard—possibly even definitive in the minds of some—biography. Though Arrington [1] did achieve a much more effective treatment of Young—using a wealth of uncatalogued contemporary source chaos discovered by Michael Quinn—the result failed to provide a picture of the “man.” One left the book without feeling that his thought and drive had been reached. In addition, most of the rough edges of both Young’s life and contemporary Mormon history were filed down if not ignored. As Turner notes in his preface, only Arrington could claim “unfettered” access to the Young papers, yet more needed to be done. From the notes and source list, it is clear that Turner did in fact enjoy a friendly and helpful relationship with the staff at the Church History Library. The fortunate consequence is a thoughtful analysis of the rich mine of pertinent documents (journals—both private and clerical, letters, minutes and sermons—even many existing only in shorthand format [2])

Turner begins his narrative with a concise look at Young’s early life (aside: I am not a fan of Mormon biographies that spend an inordinate amount of time on the subject’s early life—not why I’m reading), pointing out his unstable home life following his father’s remarriage and his discontent with his religious milieu. Turner gives a brief overview of the translation and impact of the Book of Mormon, noting that its influence was driven more by its mere existence than by content at that point. His discussion of Brigham’s slow transition into Mormonism features a strong point of his approach—though he notes Young’s reminiscences of this time, he points out that Brigham likely overstated his role. Turner recognizes the value of later recollections but carefully weighs their reliability.

Chapter two, “The Tongues of Angels,” contains one of the high points of Turner’s narrative—a discussion of Young’s religious surroundings (particularly the more pronounced expressions of spiritual gifts) and his participation therein. Though the stereotypical view of Young is as a pragmatic mover and shaker, Tuner draws out his charismatic and even enthusiastic side. The story of him speaking in tongues upon meeting Joseph Smith is well-known, but Turner shows that this facet of Young’s character would emerge periodically throughout his life. Another welcome aspect of the narrative is obvious in this section (notably so in his discussion of the Kirtland Safety Society fiasco)—Turner walks the fine line between providing context while not allowing his primary subject to recede into the background. I’m always irritated to read a biography that is really a period history with a biographical glaze.

The Nauvoo era always seems to be a minefield for historians—how does one treat such a chaotic and dualistic time? In discussing it with friends, I’ve remarked that—depending on who you associated with—Nauvoo could be two very, very different places, one for “inner circlers” and one for regular citizens. The narrative for this period is superb—his discussion of polygamy especially so. For example, he balances Young’s well-known desire for the grave immediately after hearing of the new doctrine with an 1849 statement that, after a fuller hearing of the matter with Joseph, he was “filled with the Holy Ghost” to the point of “lightness.” A similarly temperate discussion of the succession crisis evidences Turner’s dispassionate style—he summarizes the purported transfiguration of Brigham Young thusly: “Whether or not they experienced something miraculous in the meeting, for some Mormons their sense of Young as Joseph’s successor grew quickly.”

In the uncertain days before the exodus from Nauvoo, Turner brings out Young’s notoriously mercurial disposition—when greeted by people on the street with the ritual handclasps from the newly introduced endowment, Young abruptly shut down the ceremonies. His temper is also evident in the heated discussions surrounding the attempt to reconstitute the First Presidency at Winter Quarters. For those with a distaste for scatological language, consider yourselves warned!

The chapter entitled “A New Order of Things” is another particularly impressive section, especially when dealing with Young’s many plural wives. It is fascinating to hear their voices as the realities of polygamy were being worked out. As was generally his nature, Young seems not to have been terribly warm and fuzzy in his relationships with his wives. Augusta Cobb Adams proved to be quite the formidable opponent when disagreements arose—she repeatedly requested to be sealed to another husband, preferably Jesus Christ himself, but she accepted Joseph Smith as an acceptable alternative.

Various “sticky” issues throughout the 1850s are ably treated by Turner. He discusses the evolution of racial beliefs and policies, noting that Young as a product of his times “fostered a policy of exclusion that his successors saw little choice but to perpetuate.” Turner is similarly thorough in his treatment of Indian relations, noting that initially Young complained of “many Elders [who] have prayed to be among the Lamanites and now they want to kill them.” Following numerous encounters with the different tribes in the region, Young finally stated that “my natural disposition and taste it loathes the sight of those degraded Indians.” Turner’s analysis here is broad and temperate and serves as an excellent overview of the origins of the priesthood ban as well as a check against simply summarizing Young’s Indian policy as “it’s cheaper to feed them than fight them.”

Throughout the narrative, Turner maintains the effort to provide a rounded picture of Young. His discussion of several doctrinal principles is an important part of this endeavor. He treats Young’s exposition of Adam-God teachings (those who cling to the “the sermon was not reported accurately” defense might want to apply the X-acto remedy on these pages) and his thoughts on “eternal increase” concisely and effectively.

From the friendly confines of theological speculations, Turner proceeds to what is probably the climax of Young’s life, the dark days of the Utah War and Mountain Meadows Massacre. To set the stage, he recounts the testy relations with territorial officers and several suspicious deaths like those in the Aiken party. After reviewing the evidence in an even-handed matter, Turner concludes on Young’s “likely complicity” in the matter. As is the case throughout the narrative, Turner intersperses interesting details—here, he notes several odd dreams of Young’s that the heavy stress effected. Drawing on important recent surveys of the matter (particularly Bill MacKinnon’s), Turner chronicles Young’s march to the edge of the precipice and the inevitably inglorious retreat therefrom. Turner’s concise account of the massacre concludes that “there is no satisfactory evidence that Young ordered the massacre” and that “there was no good reason for Young to order a massacre with the potential to focus the full fury of the American government on Utah” but, in the end, “Young bears significant responsibility for what took place.”

The narrative seems to lose steam slightly after the events of 1857-58—this is probably largely so because Young’s life never again reached the same fever pitch as earlier. Another discussion of his wives is particularly interesting—Turner notes the rethinking that Young went through, citing his daughter’s assessment that, in later life, Young set out to “correct what he esteemed to be a mistake of his early judgment.” Several other important events are covered such as Young’s appointment of his sons as apostles and counselors, the ongoing legal battle with Ann Eliza Webb and the John D. Lee trial. One can feel Young’s life winding down with a few last-minute efforts at kingdom building such as a renewed zeal for United Order principles and the building of the St. George temple.

Simply put, Turner’s treatment of Young’s life is a landmark in Mormon biography. Everything that a serious student of Mormon history could want is here: careful and extensive research, balanced analysis and polished, crisp writing. The acknowledgments give a clue as to his method—clearly Turner had numerous readers along the way and it paid off handsomely. Turner avoids common “outsider” errors about the intricacies of Mormon society and historiography. By interacting with scholars, both veteran (Will Bagley, Bill MacKinnon) and up-and-coming (Matt Grow, Sam Brown), Turner has ensured his narrative draws on the finest research available. It is a testament to interest in Mormon history that such an excellent biography will find wide readership due to its publication by a major press such as Harvard University. Both author and publisher are to be commended for a very valuable addition to the field.


[1] I refer to Arrington as the stated author though, as Gary Topping has noted, it was (in true Arrington form) a collaborative effort involving Richard Jensen, Ron Watt, Becky Cornwall, Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Ronald Walker, Ronald Esplin, William Hartley, Dean Jessee and undoubtedly others. See Leonard J. Arrington: A Historian’s Life, 161.

[2] The unsung hero responsible for transcription—LaJean Carruth—has provided key assistance in several recent gems such as Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations (Staker) and Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (Givens/Grow).

David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Prince, Wright), University of Utah–AMLTimes & Seasons (blog)

Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000:  A Documentary History (Anderson, ed.), Signature–JI

Ask the average Mormon what prompted the change wherein stake presidents no longer recommended people for second anointings and you would probably hear the answer, “There’s a second one?” Due to the wall of secrecy that has been thrown around the temple and all of the ordinances thereof (not just the second anointing), most Latter-day Saints are unaware of the complex and fascinating history behind the initiatory rites, endowment, sealing and second anointing. Devery Anderson, who previously co-edited two volumes covering earlier periods of temple ordinances, has amassed a veritable trove of primary source material on these ordinances in the post-Nauvoo period. The Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History (hereafter DLTW) is sure to become an oft-cited classic of Mormon history due to its wide-ranging pool of sources, many rarely seen. This is a fairly long review and I feel that correlates well to the study’s importance.

The collection is divided into eight periods: 1846-80, 1881-1900, 1901-18, 1921-40, 1941-60, 1961-70, 1971-80 and 1981-2000. A list of abbreviations for commonly used sources includes two notable listings: the David Buerger Papers (University of Utah library) and the Michael Quinn Papers (Yale University library). Anderson’s compilation would be markedly different had these two trailblazing collections never been amassed. The description of DLTW as a “comprehensive collection of official documents” (from the dust jacket, emphasis mine) is important—with the wealth of information available to him as editor, Anderson did not need to rely on speculation or exposes for details. In addition to solidifying its lasting value, this reliance makes the work more “safe” for conservative but interested readers.

Following a selection of short biographical sketches of the principal characters and a fine contextualizing introduction, Anderson begins to depict the development that would take place haphazardly in the chaos of the final days of Nauvoo, the trek west and settlement in Utah. Not surprisingly, very little happens until things settle down in Salt Lake—there, Anderson notes that despite its fame as the first “temple” in Utah, Ensign Peak was apparently the site of only one endowment (that of Addison Pratt previous to a mission to the Sandwich Islands). Alongside well-known citations from the Journal of Discourses (such as Brigham Young’s definition of the endowment), Anderson includes a letter from the First Presidency to leaders in southern Utah giving a very early—if not the earliest—form of what would later become the temple recommend interview. The only item that would sound out of place to a modern Mormon, of course, is the query as to belief in the “plurality of wives.” In this formative period, one can see the “revelation in council” principle so obvious in this collection—when the question of how many might receive their second anointing, several rise to speak until the determination is reached that, until a proper temple is constructed, only one person could be anointed in any given meeting. In this first section, two matters are raised that receive much attention throughout DLTW: the previously mentioned second anointing and the nature and marking of the garment. Under the direction of Young himself, the garments were physically cut while on the wearer. (A brief aside on footnoting: Anderson is thorough in providing short biographical entries on prominent characters. Additionally, it is clear that he is up to date with periodical contributions—a footnote keyed to a mention of baptism for health directs the reader to the fine recent study of this relic in JMH.)

The increased amount of correspondence in the second section exhibits another feature of the development of temple ordinances. In many cases, a letter dealing with a situation not addressed previously would lead to a formal ruling (often following discussion) which, in turn, might be codified in a circular letter or an official handbook. Another interesting feature is how each temple developed its procedures—attendees of the Logan Temple were queried on things ranging from the expected Word of Wisdom and tithing to whether they donated to the temple and attended fast meetings. Gender differences are also obvious throughout this section—in a response to a sister who had not received her second anointing with her husband before he died, Wilford Woodruff replied in effect not to worry and no ceremony was performed (this ruling would be reversed by Lorenzo Snow). Of course, men were able to employ proxies in order to have deceased wives anointed to them. Including both questions and answers through correspondence is a fascinating aspect of DLTW—in many cases, the reader is able to trace a particular concern through to closure. The variable nature of racial restrictions is also addressed in an 1889 letter to the president of the St. George Temple—in this period, relatives of African Americans were able to be baptized for their kin (though not endowed). Additionally, an entry documents the wording for the ceremony performed for the persistent (and humble!) Jane Manning James, which pronounced her “Servitor to the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

As evidenced in the third section, diary accounts from “second tier” Latter-day Saints often provide fascinating looks at temple ordinances “in the trenches.” For example, an entry from William H. Smart’s diary details the second, private portion of the second anointing performed at home. In their case, they sang hymns, prayed together, read from the scriptures and dedicated the room before performing the ordinance. Unrelenting questions on the scope of the Word of Wisdom reached the First Presidency in this period —Joseph F. Smith was generally willing to “grandfather” in older members who were entrenched in their habits. The importance of precedent is clear throughout this section—in a meeting in St. George, temple president David H. Cannon shared that, based on a statement of Brigham Young, it was acceptable to temporarily turn in the collar or roll up the sleeves of the garment but not to cut off the sleeve. One final point of interest from this section—the deemphasis on the oath of vengeance was played down following the Smoot Hearings and its attendant negative publicity, a clear example that, as in many cases dealing with church policy, outside events were often the catalyst for internal change.

The fourth section starts with an entry from George F. Richards, a prominent (and generally unrecognized) voice in temple matters during the first half of the 20th Century. His efforts were a curious blend of revision as well as preserving the past. For example, diary entries concurrently record the abolishing of the temple choir moving administrations to the sick from the garden room to the assembly room, all while he is stridently campaigning for an increase in the number of second anointings (which saw a steep decline during the presidency of Heber J. Grant). The downturn in these ceremonies is generally tied to an incident in Idaho in 1926 where a man suggested to a priesthood meeting congregation that they get their own second blessings. As a result (as outlined in a letter from Heber J. Grant), responsibility for recommending such candidates was transferred from stake presidents to apostles, often when they visited stake conferences. From that point onward, Richards would fight a losing battle (often singlehandedly) against the decrease in administrations, feeling that it was abhorrent for leaders—especially apostles—to have this blessing withheld. This section also highlights the impact of the growing church on temple matters—an interesting document from the 1920s gives the “REQUIREMENTS AND INSTRUCTIONS FOR SETTING UP PRAYER CIRCLES IN STAKES.” The quasi-canonical status that the garment pattern had acquired is starkly demonstrated through an excerpt from a T. Edgar Lyon oral history in which he recounts being probably the first person to wear the “new” garment in the Salt Lake Temple. A temple officiator protested that Lyon was not wearing the “temple garment”—only a personal rebuke from George F. Richards was sufficient to convince the staid temple worker that modifications had been approved and did not constitute rank heresy.

Portions of a sermon given by David O. McKay in the Salt Lake Temple in 1941 relate to the very nature of DLTW. He remarks that so many that had attended the temple went away disappointed because their expectations were not met. My experience is that this is due to the shroud of secrecy thrown over the temple, a shroud that I feel is far too broad and thick and one that I think earlier generations of leaders would have found disconcerting. Citations from George F. Richards’ journal, continued in this fifth section, reveal that he felt a personal commission to not only standardize and perfect the ordinances but, particularly, to ensure that more than 8 second anointings would be performed in the next 12 years after a 1942 diary entry. More than 30,000 had been performed in the first 100 years of Mormon history and Richards would go to his grave lamenting its virtual demise. Minutes of a meeting of the First Presidency and the 12 in 1953 stress the challenges embodied in the Swiss Temple that would initiate a new phase of temple work. The need to present the endowment ceremony in various languages would lead to the use of motion pictures in order to accommodate patrons. These discussions are enriched by the use of oral histories, many times from otherwise unknown employees who provide details such as using a dark-haired Eve in a later temple film due to concerns from South American members that blondes were “freaks because everyone is black haired and dark.” One other example highlights the impact of the technological revolution—an employee who dealt with data processing explained to general authorities that even if every adult member spent eight hours a day in the temple every day of the week, they would never keep up even with birth rates. After pursuing several avenues to see whether technological advances could speed things up (and feeling that several of the brethren were getting nervous), he was comforted to hear Joseph Fielding Smith say “I have a feeling that you young men know what you are talking about and I have confidence in you.”

The 1960s would see another innovation in temple ordinances—due to the lack of names provided by temple patrons themselves, temples were on the verge of closing frequently. This was obviously not acceptable so, as Genealogical Manager George Fudge described, an extraction program was developed to fill the gap. This decision, in turn, led to the approval of performing temple ordinances out of the normal order. A fascinating piece of correspondence from 1966 shows a church on the cusp of internationalism, a church in which a member could still write to President McKay directly and receive a ruling on her questions. In response, he decided that this elderly woman could be sealed to a dead friend but not to the living husband of a couple with whom she was also friends. In a book full of fascinating possibilities, perhaps the most intriguing to me comes from this period. Mark Garff, chairman of the Building Committee, proposed a visionary plan in which a “temple ship” would be outfitted and travel constantly to areas far from a temple and thus serve the needs of the people. In the middle of serious meetings on the possibility, additional counselor Alvin Dyer pipes up with the non sequitur “what about the curse on the waters mentioned in the D&C” and, due to this or (hopefully more germane) additional factors, the plan was eventually scrapped.

During the 1970s, lingering questions about the orthodoxy of the “new” garment (after 50 years, it is a testament to the status quo that it was still under question) continued to pop up. In a nod to tradition, the old style garment was still recommended for temple use in a 1972 letter from the First Presidency. Though a similar letter three years later would leave the option open to the individual, Anderson points out in a footnote that the Provo Temple still required the old style garment in certain situations. That the floodgates of information were slowly closing during this period (likely a result of the expanding correlation program) is exemplified in several letters from President Kimball inviting persons to receive their second anointing—no names are attached to the letters.

The final section is remarkable in its contrast to earlier sections—sources during this period are confined almost entirely to publicly available Church publications and circular letters. Given the amount of detail and personal story in earlier sections, this period is noticeably pedestrian in nature (this is, of course, a reflection on the availability of sources, not laziness on the editor’s part). Even the statements from Church leaders are markedly reserved in what is discussed—where earlier leaders were far more free in their discourse, later church officials rarely strayed from the sacred (but not secret) approach. Topics during this period often deal with the realities of modern life: how are divorces handled, what if the church member is mentally handicapped, how are adoptions to be addressed, etc.

This book was a joy to read and review, period. DLTW will soon be regarded as a remarkable collection of primary source material that, though focused on the development of temple ordinances, represents the course of Mormon history as a whole. As I stated at the beginning of this review, the real value lies in the amount of concrete detail originating directly from those involved rather than secondhand speculation or conjecture. A few (minor) quibbles: biographical sketches for Jesse Crosby are inadvertently included twice (p 28, 63). Also, footnote 17 on p 60 dealing with a statement by J.D.T. McAllister in Sep 1886 (referring to the St. George Temple closing “some time ago” due to the threat of a raid) hearkens all the way back to the Utah War for the incident. I think a far more proximate and likely possibility is found in Charles L. Walker’s diary entries from that month. On Sep 2nd, Walker notes that the temple was suddenly ordered closed for an “indefinite period of time” (it would reopen a little more than two weeks later) due to the “threats of our enemies.” Finally, though this would be extremely difficult to accomplish, more intimate detail would be welcome for the last two sections.

Dimensions of Faith: A Mormon Studies Reader (Taysom), Signature–AML

Exhibiting Mormonism: The Latter-day Saints and the 1893 World’s Fair (Neilson), Oxford–AML

Fire and Sword: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri, 1836-1839 (Gentry, Compton), Greg Kofford–JI

Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor (Riess), Paraclete–AML

Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon (Gardner), Greg Kofford–AML, JI

Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations (Staker), Greg Kofford–AML, BCC, JI

History of Utah Radicalism:  Startling, Socialistic, and Decidedly Revolutionary (McCormick, Sillito), Utah State University–AML

In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death (Brown), Oxford–BCC

**This review was prepared from an advanced reader’s copy**

Since I had just finished (and thoroughly enjoyed) Stiff (a fascinating and humorous look at the wild life of cadavers), when my wife asked what I was reading this time I answered “Well, it’s basically Stiff plus Mormon history.” However, don’t let the glib response fool you—this book is one of the most significant Mormon titles to come out in a while. In his first book, Brown—who has written spectacular articles on adoption, translation issues and death culture for Journal of Mormon History, Dialogue and BYU Studies—reimages early Mormonism through the lens of death and 19th century preoccupation therewith. In Heaven as It Is On Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death is published by Oxford which has lately become a hotbed of Mormon titles. This latest offering benefits greatly from three elements: copious firsthand contemporary sources, appropriate context and ambitious and creative perspective.

In my mind, one of the most irritating things to see in an anticipated book is heavy (often uncritical) reliance on secondary sources. Though Brown does use them, he is careful to use solid and up-to-date research—his friendships with many of the rising generation of Mormon historians lend a fresh flavor to his writing and conclusions. All published volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers were thoroughly employed to ensure accuracy in citations. When Brown makes use of journals/diaries, he uses both staples like Wilford Woodruff and William Clayton as well as lesser-known figures such as Zina Jacobs and Joseph Fielding. In addition, Brown turns frequently to newspapers of the time to give color to the narrative.

My favorite historical works strike some vague balance between staying on topic and sprinkling in entertaining tidbits. Brown does just that here—the larger context is always fleshed out without seeming too tangential. For example, in discussing Alvin Smith’s death and subsequent exhumation, Brown draws on his medical background to powerfully depict the impact that event would have on Joseph. He also sets the episode within a description of body snatchers and “proper burial” to fully articulate Alvin’s final rest.

Though the above points certainly make In Heaven as It Is On Earth a solid piece of writing, the real value of Brown’s book lies in the way he recasts familiar scenes of early Mormonism. For example, the Book of Mormon (both the physical object and the text itself) is portrayed as a grave relic. Brown situates the plates in both the burial mounds of Native American history as well as the bloody battle that brings the Book of Mormon narrative to a close. Another interesting case is polygamy—noting the high death rates and the seemingly inexplicable ways in which people actually died (one cause of 19th Century fascination with death), Brown sees Joseph Smith’s introduction of a controversial marriage system as a way to ensure that, in the day of the resurrection, he would be firmly entrenched in a widespread kinship network.

The grisly death of Joseph Smith is an opportunity for Brown to discuss the tense feelings surrounding discussion on what to do with Joseph’s body. Drawing on excellent articles by Joseph Johnstun and Barbara Bernauer, he describes the little-known Tomb of Joseph and arguments between Brigham Young and Emma as to whether Joseph should have been buried there in accordance with his expressed wish. The final resting place of the Prophet is seen as an emphatic example of proper burial in preparation for the awaited day of resurrection. This wasn’t just an ordinary burial disagreement but a symbolic tragedy of the most famous Mormon not being buried where he wanted and, thus, disrupting the proper chain of events in an ordered defeat of death.

My hat is off to Sam for crafting such an interesting and well-researched version of Mormon history. Rather than attempting a comprehensive study of Mormonism during Joseph Smith’s life, he has focused his attention on key episodes in that history (others that I did not discuss include seership, adoption and temple rites) to reinforce the importance of recognizing death as a primary window into Joseph Smith’s own thinking as well as his culture’s. My quibbles with the book are few—on occasion, Brown does wax a tad verbose. Phrases and terms such as “physicospiritual parent” and “ontological imitatio Christi” do become distracting once in a while. On an unrelated note (no pun intended), the references are, unfortunately, the least reader-friendly version available. The effect of accursed endnotes is heightened by the lack of page number headers in the notes. The reader is forced to either keep a running bookmark in the back or constantly remind himself of the chapter number. (It is possible that the final published version will not suffer from this malady.) That said, these quibbles are the equivalent of one odd-tasting sunflower seed in an entire bag—Brown’s work is a major accomplishment and an example of where Mormon historiography is headed.

Joseph Smith Papers, Histories, vol. 1 (1832-1844) (Davidson, Whittaker, Ashurst-McGee, Jenson), Church Historian’s Press

When the Joseph Smith Papers project began, some expressed concerns that an “in house” effort would lack legitimacy. Scholarship such as that featured in The Joseph Smith Papers: Histories, vol. 1 (Joseph Smith Histories, 1832-1844) (hereafter H1) has put that concern to rest. This latest series—Histories—will consist of two volumes with the second including several non-supervised efforts (such as John Whitmer’s) to produce an early history of the Mormons. The four editors—Karen Lynn Davidson, Richard Jensen, Mark Ashurst-McGee and David Whittaker—are to be commended for their excellent introductory essays and helpful annotation surrounding eight separate historical documents composed under Joseph Smith’s supervision.

H1 contains the earliest attempts to capture the history of both Joseph Smith and the Mormons as a people. Following the counsel given in a revelation on the day the church was organized to have a “record kept among you,” several early efforts were made by different people. The first substantial pen to paper contribution came from John Whitmer in 1831. Shortly thereafter, Joseph Smith began a history in collaboration with Frederick G. Williams—the highlight being an account of the First Vision in Smith’s own handwriting (a unique occurrence). This history did not endure long and two years passed before another “headquarters” history was envisioned. The resultant 1834-36 history is a patchwork of differing sources (journals, letters, etc) and several successive scribes.

Though he never abandoned the goal of creating a flowing historical narrative, ensuing events prevented another attempt until 1838. Smith, in conjunction with Sidney Rigdon, began to create a (non-extant) history “from the earliest perion [period] of its existence up to this date.” Their initial effort was incorporated into later drafts—H1 includes three such drafts in parallel columns: the first in the handwriting of James Mulholland from 1839, the second (portions of which were copied from the first) written by Mulholland and Robert Thompson and the third (previously unknown) written by Howard Coray two years later. During this period of beginning what would become the Manuscript History of the Church, a separate (misnamed) document entitled “Extract, from the Private Journal of Joseph Smith Jr.” was published in the first issue of Times and Seasons. Based not on his journal but mainly on a “Bill of Damages against the state of Missouri,” this text related the chaotic final days in Missouri.

Partway through the Nauvoo period, editor John Wentworth wrote Joseph Smith on behalf of a friend and requested an outline history of the Mormons with some discussion of their doctrinal leanings. Though the response was never included in the projected history—it did not fall within the final chronological scope of the book—“Church History” (usually known as the “Wentworth Letter”) was published in Times and Seasons. Drawing on Orson Pratt’s 1840 tract “An Interesting Account…,” [2] the five-page article covers the trajectory of Mormonism from the beginning until the Nauvoo era and appends what are now known as the Articles of Faith. Shortly before Joseph Smith’s death, “Church History” was revised slightly [1] and updated before being included in Israel Daniel Rupp’s overview of American religions, He Pasa Ekklesia.

In an event held to announce the volume, the editors discussed what advantages H1 has over previous treatments of Joseph Smith’s history. They noted that the transcriptions have been reverified (on occasion using whitelight, UV and even multispectral imaging) to ensure accuracy. As readers of previous JSP volumes know, the introductory and contextual matter is a hallmark of the project. The editors have done an excellent job of noting the complexity of the earliest histories—in addition to patchwork narrative quality, the physical location of their recording is fascinating. The ledgers was often turned upside down, backward, etc., and repurposed as letterbooks to conserve precious paper. Finally, the third draft of “Manuscript History of the Church” in Howard Coray’s handwriting is new to historians. It was discovered in 2005 (along with the Book of Commandments and Revelations–included in The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations & Translations, Manuscript Revelation Books–and other miscellany) after a census of items in the First Presidency’s possession.

Having happily dug into the wealth of detail in the introductions in previous volumes, I was pleased to see this standard of excellence continued. The editors are meticulous in supporting their conclusions and broad in their reading. One wouldn’t have to think very long to make a list of all the times a Church imprint has cited Michael Marquardt, for example. I loved the detail of the records themselves—their multiple uses, the traces of later editors, the tantalizing remnants of other documents removed from the ledgers and so on. Even seemingly minor elements such as charts are of the highest caliber—the “pedigree chart” showing the relationship of all the texts involved in “Manuscript History of the Church” being a notable example. My only gripe with the Histories series is that more of “Manuscript History of the Church” won’t appear in print. However, knowing that the full, annotated record will be available is reassuring. Another well-deserved feather in the cap of the Joseph Smith Papers Project cap!

[1] An initial paragraph detailing the centrality of revelation to Mormon thought was one notable change.

[2] Given its importance in the later histories, Pratt’s pamphlet is included here as an appendix.

Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith (Bowman), Random House–AML

Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Vol. 1, 1832-1839 (Jessee, Ashurst-McGee, Jenson), Church Historian’s Press–AML, AML (2)

Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Vol. 2: Dec 1841-Apr 1843 (Hedges, Smith, Anderson), Church Historian’s Press–BCC

The latest volume in the Joseph Smith Papers series is the second Journals volume covering the period of December 1841 to April 1843. This volume is the follow-up to the surprising bestselling first Journals volume, published in 2008. [1] Included in this second volume are the journal portion of the “Book of the Law of the Lord” (hereafter BLL) and the first two of four memorandum books (in the case of the second memorandum book, only the first portion is included with the balance to be published in the third and final Journals volume) kept almost entirely by Willard Richards. An excellent introduction, reading almost like a mini-biography, contextualizes the journals and provides a framework for understanding Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo. Two appendices are also presented, one containing important documents dealing with the 1842-43 attempt to extradite Joseph Smith to Missouri (a common theme in these journals) and the other offering several entries from William Clayton’s diary which were used to create Joseph Smith’s journal for those days. As was the case with the first Journals volume, no index is included with the understanding that a comprehensive index will be included with the third and final Journals volume—a safe assumption is that a temporary standalone index will again be made available.

As has become the expectation with the Joseph Smith Papers, the volume introduction is excellent and succinct. The editors are quick to point out that the journals, due to their having been created by scribes, are at least one step away from Joseph Smith himself but are obviously a critical source in understanding him. In discussing the two year gap between the end of the 1839 journal kept by James Mulholland and BLL, the editors refer to a March 1840 letter from Joseph to Robert Foster which mentions a journal kept by Foster during a trip east—unfortunately, this mysterious journal has never been located. The candid manner in which the editors treat polygamy is particularly noteworthy. For a Church-approved work to state that polygamy involved “conjugal relations” and use the term polyandry is landmark. The editors are evenhanded in noting that care must be taken in using both supportive reminiscent affidavits as well as exposé-style documents relating to this subject.

The first journal entries included in this volume come from the enigmatically-titled “Book of the Law of the Lord.” A valuable historical introduction gives a wealth of information about this record which, perhaps rivaled only by the Council of Fifty minutes, has long been the subject of curiosity and layers of expectation. In a conversation with two of the editors, they indicate that, as was the case with Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. 2 (Jessee), the current volume includes every journal entry from the ledger-style tome. As the editors explain in the historical introduction, the bulk of the oddly-organized record consists of revelation texts and donation records (both tithing and contributions to the temple construction). [2] The entries are no different than any other Joseph Smith journal, recording both momentous events such as the creation of the Relief Society and the mundane details of day-to-day life. Willard Richards scribed these entries until leaving Nauvoo in late June 1842 to bring his family to gather with the Saints there. During his absence, William Clayton continued the journal entries and then, following his appointment as temple recorder, began documenting donations. The editors provide interesting details on the nature of BLL, noting that entries occasionally narrate past events and were sometimes created from notes written earlier.

A comparison of BLL entries from Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. 1 (Jessee) and American Prophet’s Record (Faulring) here may be helpful. Dean Jessee apparently had access to the original record while Scott Faulring was dependent on “previously published excerpts.” [3] The following are the 3 entries for 17 March 1842, date of the creation of the Relief Society:

Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, vol. 2

Thursday 17 Assisted in organizing “The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo” in the “Lodge Room” Sister Emma Smith President. & Sisters <Elizabeth Ann [Smith]> Whitney & <Sarah M. [Kingsley]> Cleveland councilors, <I> gave much instru[c]tion, read in the New Testament & Book of Doctrine & Covenants. concer[n]ing the Elect Lady. & Shewed that Elect meant to be Elected to a certain work &c, & that the revelation was then fulfilled by his Sister Emma’s Election to the Presidency of the Society, she having previously been ordained to expound the Scriptures. her councilors were ordained by Elder J<ohn> Taylor . & Emma <was> Blessed by the same.–

Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. 2

Assisted in organizing “The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo” in the “Lodge Room” Sister Emma Smith President. & Sister <Elizabeth Ann> Whitney & <Sarah M.> Cleveland councillors, <I> Gave much instruction, read in the New Testament, Book of Doctrine & Covenants. concer[n]ing the Elect Lady. & shewed that Elect meant to be Elected to a certain work &c, & that the revelation was then fulfilled by Sister Emma’s Election to the Presidency of the Soc[i]ety, she having previously been ordained to expound the Scriptures. her councillors were ordained by Elder J<ohn> Taylor & Emma <was> Blessed by the same.–

American Prophet’s Record

[17 March 1842] [I assisted in commencing the organization of "The Female] Relief Society of Nauvoo” in the “Lodge Room.” Sister Emma Smith, President, and Sisters Elizabeth Ann Whitney and Sarah M. Cleveland Counsellors. I gave much instruction, read in the New Testament [2 John 1], and Book of Doctrine and Covenants [25:16, in LDS editions] concerning the Elect Lady, and shewed that the elect meant to be elected to a certain work &c and that the revelation was then fulfilled by Sister Emma’s election to the Presidency of the Society, she having previously been ordained to expound Scriptures. [Emma was blessed, and her counselors were ordained by Elder John Taylor.]

In comparing the current volume to Jessee’s work, the reader can quickly see that the essential text is exactly the same, the differences coming only in editorial practices (for example, underlined words in the original are represented—oddly enough—by italics in Jessee’s transcription) resulting in a “higher standard of transcription” as described by the editors. When consulting Faulring’s entry, however, one can see that he is working from a slightly different, truncated text and—in an effort toward readability—will occasionally flesh out sentences and thoughts. Annotation in both the current volume and Jessee’s work is also more thorough than Faulring’s.

Following his return from the east, Willard Richards transferred his journal keeping from BLL into a small, pocket-size memorandum book which would be the format of Joseph Smith’s journal until his death. The four small books are together considered to be one journal and are so labeled and titled. Richards began keeping this journal under the new title of Joseph’s “private se[c]retary & historian,” a position he consistently filled until Joseph’s death. The editors note the change in title as well as venue—they describe a difference in content from BLL to the memorandum books and hypothesize that the expanded scope may be because Richards felt more comfortable including additional topics (e.g. a malpractice suit over which Joseph presided) since the journal no longer adjoined donation records. The introduction to this journal is also fascinating in its detail and conclusions.

In addition to the previously mentioned appendices, helpful back matter includes: chronology, geographical directory, maps, pedigree chart of the Smith family, biographical directory, organizational charts (both city and church), glossary, essay on sources, works cited and a chart of corresponding section numbers for D&C editions. The first appendix presents 12 documents relating to the 1842-43 attempt to extradite Joseph Smith to Missouri (a key episode in these journals) following an assassination attempt on Lilburn Boggs. These documents include the Boggs affidavit, counter affidavits and the final court ruling. The second appendix includes four entries (1-4 Apr 1843) from William Clayton’s personal journal, later used as a source for Joseph’s journal. The entries cover a trip from Nauvoo to Ramus during which Joseph delivered various remarks—this potpourri later appeared (in reorganized format) as Section 130 in the 1876 edition of the D&C. Of the four entries, only 2 April (in slightly abridged form) was included in Intimate Chronicle (Smith).

For someone who already owns Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. 2, a fair question might be “Holy gravy, another $55?” For a serious student of Joseph and his journals, the introductions to BLL and the memorandum books alone are worth the price of admission. The casual reader would likely be a little boggled at the detail therein but, for a nuts and bolts connoisseur (read: dork) like myself, they were flat out fascinating. The somewhat stricter transcription standards also ensure that anyone citing the journals is as close to the original as printably possible. The annotation, appendices and back matter are also extremely helpful in contextualizing Nauvoo events. Journals, vol. 2 is a worthy addition to this highest-quality series—one that evidences a welcome open-door, warts-and-all attitude in the Church History Department.


[1] Though it appears that overall sales have decreased, the first printing of 14,000 is slightly higher than that of Journals, vol. 1 (roughly 12,500).
[2] Journal portions of BLL constitute less than 20% of the available leaves in the ledger—a sizeable portion thereof is blank, however. The remaining entries are, by definition, outside the scope of this volume and are thus not included.
[3] The editors of the current volume estimate that Faulring had about 15% of the journal entries from BLL. The confusion concerning BLL (placed at some point in Joseph Fielding Smith’s papers and then transferred to the First Presidency’s collection in 1970) can be seen in Faulring dating the record as “ca. 1841-43.” Additionally, the first two journal entries that Faulring includes for BLL actually precede the journal portion of BLL itself and come from some other source, likely History of the Church.

Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Manuscript Revelation Books (Jensen, Harper, Woodford), Church Historian’s Press–AML, AML (2), BCC

Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Vol. 2 (Published Revelations) (Jensen, Turley, Jr., Lorimer), Church Historian’s Press–BCC

As this volume was being released, I heard many people expressing a feeling something like “meh, nothing new here.” This is only as true as saying that ordering a low-carb hamburger patty wrapped in lettuce is the same as ordering a Six Dollar Burger at Carl’s Jr. As with the previous two volumes of the “Joseph Smith Papers,” the scholarship surrounding the “meat” of The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 2: Published Revelations (hereafter RT2) is of the highest quality. While all three editors are to be commended for producing an aesthetically and intellectually pleasing volume, my hunch is that Robin Jensen—Textual Detective is behind the wealth of technical detail here (Every. Single. Collation mark is noted). The aim of this volume is to reproduce the “most significant printed versions of Joseph Smith’s revelations that were published or in the process of being published during his lifetime.”

The general introduction is excellent, drawing as it does on contemporary minute books, the details teased out of Revelation Books 1 &2, diary accounts and newspaper articles to flesh out an overview of the publication of revelations during Joseph Smith’s life. A helpful textual “family tree” shows the relationships between the various manuscript and printed sources in order to publish the revelations. The first document is a complete scan of Wilford Woodruff’s copy of the Book of Commandments. I think many people were put off by hearing that scans of this and the first D&C were included, thinking that since Herald House has facsimile editions of both readily available, what’s the point? As stated above, the extras make it all worthwhile. For example, each chapter has been minutely researched in order to determine the source used to typeset the chapter, whether that be Revelation Book 1, a revelation published in The Evening and the Morning Star or an as-yet unknown text. In addition, each revelation is dated, occasionally at odds with the current D&C (unfortunately, discussion about the dating will not be available until the specific revelation is discussed in the forthcoming Documents series). Furthermore, the wealth of detail is such that the editors point out that the typesetter at one point ran out of roman letter y and were temporarily forced to use italic y instead—things that make the documents alive. As always, the introduction to the Book of Commandments is superb in its narrative of compilation and production undergirded by helpful footnotes.

Perhaps the most intriguing component of RT2 is the proposed sixth gathering for the unfinished Book of Commandments. The editors composed this section “based on available evidence from Revelation Book 1, the physical makeup of the existing portion of the Book of Commandments, analysis of textual patterns found in the Book of Commandments, and other textual and historical sources.” The introduction reviews all these pieces of evidence with the marked-up texts from Revelation Book 1 obviously being the primary new source of information.

The next section, containing the twenty-six full or partial revelation texts published in The Evening and the Morning Star and the subsequent reprint Evening and Morning Star, is enhanced by placing the two sets of texts in parallel columns to facilitate comparison. Though the reprint was advertised as just that, a quick glance is enough to discover that there was a healthy amount of revision and editing. In many cases, entire paragraphs were either added or deleted, showing the active evolution of revelation in Joseph Smith’s day. Of particular interest is that the “Articles and Covenants” appears several times. This important proto-handbook of the early church was first recorded in Revelation Book 1, first published in the first issue of the The Evening and the Morning Star, then the Book of Commandments, then again in The Evening and the Morning Star (based on the Book of Commandments text), next in a reprint in Evening and Morning Star (based on the second version from The Evening and the Morning Star), then the D&C (based on Evening and Morning Star), then finally again in Evening and Morning Star (based on the D&C), each time being revised slightly. Whew.

Next up is the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants—presentation of the document is similar to that of the Book of Commandments. The historical introduction is concise, relating all the necessary particulars without being wordy. Two points of interest: the section dealing with the approval of the D&C at a general assembly of the church on August 17, 1835 makes clear that no distinction was drawn between the Lectures on Faith and the subsequent revelations (a common misunderstanding that has been perpetuated, likely to soften the removal of the lectures in1921). Second, several pages are devoted to making some sense of the organization of the revelations—some due to importance, some due to chronology. As with the Book of Commandments, each lecture and section is dated and the apparent source text is given (occasionally, this is the marked copy of the Book of Commandments belonging to Oliver Cowdery). Even the index is exhaustively analyzed—the editors demonstrate that the index, with its frequent incorrect citations, was apparently not given the “Lavina Fielding Anderson treatment.” Following the D&C is an appendix with scans of pages from the aforementioned Oliver Cowdery Book of Commandments with editing marks. These marks were made by Cowdery and W.W. Phelps (possibly others as well) and used in typesetting.

Since the 1844 D&C was a virtual reprint of the 1835 edition, only those eight revelations included for the first time in 1844 are included. The footnote for Section 101 (currently D&C 103) shows the transitory nature of some of the revelation texts. The apparent source text for this revelation is a loose manuscript in Willard Richards’ handwriting—only a fragment of it remains today. The introduction to the 1844 edition shows that the editing and preparation phase for this particular edition took several years and passed through various hands. Endmatter in the reference material section gives a chronology for the time periods surrounding publication dates and a directory of printers, both those possibly involved and those definitely involved.

One minor aesthetic point—I would have liked to see the scans “naked” with the ragged edges of the pages rather than the artificial rounded borders. And, just to prove that no bribes were given to me for this review, I nitpick that the entry for “U.S and Canada Record Collection” in the Works Cited is unnecessary—it is the equivalent of citing the second floor of the Family History Library (more if books are included).

This volume is indispensable for both the scholar addressing any of the published revelations as well the interested reader of Mormon history. As the revelations held such a central place in the thought and development of Mormonism, no serious history can be written without digesting the painstaking research involved in RT2. The historical introductions are particularly important—each is well-written, carefully reasoned and fully documented. The editors have produced yet another textual masterpiece, proving that the project is in good hands with The Church Historian’s Press.

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (Bushman), Knopf–AML, AML (2), BCC

Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible: Electronic Library (DVD) (Faulring, Jackson), Religious Studies Center–AML

Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (Wright), HarperOne

Having grown up with nothing but the King James Version (J. Reuben is smiling somewhere), reading a different translation is always an adventure. In the case of The Kingdom New Testament, it was a very welcome adventure (J. Reuben is frowning somewhere). N.T. “Tom” Wright is a very well-respected Anglican New Testament scholar and the author of several seminal books in his field. Wright, feeling that “translating the New Testament is something that each generation, in fact, should be doing” has done just that. He attempts to make the New Testament accessible, keep it “exciting and relevant.” He has succeeded.

Throughout Wright’s translation, one notices that—at least in comparison to the KJV—the language is strikingly less formal and imbued with a natural flow that many translations simply cannot manage to produce. Since the New Testament koine (“common”) Greek was, for the most part, not polished language, this seems far more appropriate than the stilted Elizabethan English of the KJV. That being said, it is somewhat startling to hear Jesus tell people to “shut up!” On fairly rare occasions, it seems like Wright swings the pendulum a bit too far—the disciples responding to Jesus’ request to prepare the Passover with “Where d’you want us to prepare it” being a good example. An American reader will every now and then have an eyebrow raised by Britishisms such as people “having a row” but they aren’t a distraction.

Another welcome feature is the small superscript verse numbers and paragraph-based structure. Mormons would be amazed how much easier and pleasant it is to read scripture without the blasted verse numbers constantly mucking up the experience. The overall feel is a story—which is precisely what the New Testament is. It is much easier to maintain the flow of the narrative also which leads to actually wanting to read more rather than wondering if you’ve hit your quota.

My only gripe is not with what was there but what isn’t. The introduction was too short for me—I love the nuts and bolts of translation. I would have enjoyed a fuller discussion of his thought process—especially some examples—and why he eventually settled on the wording he did. However, I realize (he says virtually as much) that that was decidedly not the purpose of this translation and such discussions are found in many other books. In that vein, there is no index and the only additional element is a smattering of maps.

However, what is there is very well done—I have read several translations and I found this one probably the most readable of all. Since my Greek probably wouldn’t serve to find grape leaves in a market, I have to trust that his translation is acceptably faithful to the source text (another topic I would like to have heard more about). Given his respected writing portfolio, I am sure it is.

A few comparative examples of verses beloved to Mormons:

1 Corinthians 15:29

KJV: Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?

RSV: Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?

KNT: Otherwise, what are people doing when they get baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead simply aren’t raised, why should people get baptized on their behalf?

2 Thessalonians 2:3

KJV: Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

RSV: Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition,

KNT: Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. You see, it can’t happen unless first the rebellion takes place, and the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, is revealed.

James 1:5

KJV: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all [men] liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

RSV: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him.

KNT: If any one of you falls short in wisdom, they should ask God for it, and it will be given them. God, after all, give generously and ungrudgingly to all people.

LDS Beliefs: A Doctrinal Reference (Millet, Olson, Skinner, Top), Deseret Book–BCC

As blogger Jack Jeffries has noted, “determining what is and is not Mormon doctrine is a lot like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall — except that the latter feat is entirely possible [see http://www.myscienceproject.org/j-wall.html] while the former remains a struggle to this day.” [1] Over the years, several attempts of varying lengths and exhaustiveness have been made to do just that–articulate what exactly constitutes “Mormon doctrine.” Part of that difficulty lies in the core identity of Mormonism: a living, evolving entity which self-identifies continuing revelation as its most critical feature. Of the collections which have been amassed, clearly the most influential is Mormon Doctrine written by (then Seventy) Bruce R. McConkie. One can make a very strong argument that McConkie’s encyclopedic-style work, which went through 40 printings, was the most influential book in 20th Century Mormonism. With Mormon Doctrine now out-of-print (both in hardback and paperback) [2], a gap was created. Enter LDS Beliefs: A Doctrinal Reference, edited by Robert L. Millet, Camille Fronk Olson, Andrew C. Skinner and Brent L. Top.

Much like Mormon Doctrine, LDS Beliefs is a thick encyclopedic-style book with almost 400 entries arranged in alphabetic format. All four editors are respected professors at Brigham Young University with numerous published books among them. Each entry is signed and often has a list of sources at the end, drawing on both LDS and non-LDS works.

Two structural characteristics quickly emerge as one flips through the volume. Entries dealing with Old Testament topics (such as Israel, Kingdom of; Jews and Passover) are usually covered by Andrew Skinner while New Testament-heavy theological subjects (such as Apostasy, Great; Atonement, Grace and Millennium) are often treated by Robert Millet. The subjects covered are solid and represent an excellent spectrum of ideas without including numerous oddball entries such as Anglo-man, Quetzalcoatl and Slothfulness—all of which appeared in Mormon Doctrine–that don’t really represent doctrines. That being said, a few head-scratchers like Cherubim, Salem and True Vine do sneak in here—such entries could very easily have been pruned since they make no contribution toward understanding Mormon beliefs. [3]

Another welcome characteristic of LDS Beliefs, one of several benefits of multiple authorship, is that it avoids McConkie’s personal obsessions with Catholicism, sexual matters, anti-intellectualism and the occult while focusing on significant, even-handed doctrinal discussions.

Leaving the above points aside for a moment, I need to highlight a particularly applause-worthy sign of progress. No trace of McConkie’s infamous racist oeuvre (e.g. Negroes, Caste System, Cain, Ham, etc—all of which were included in POST-1978 editions) appears—the current entry on Race is a concise, unequivocal statement of what should have been obvious in earlier generations. This direct refutation of earlier statements (which were responsible for causing real pain to real people) alone is a worthy achievement. On a similar note, it’s refreshing to see Camille Olson’s perspective on entries such as Eve, Mother in Heaven and Woman.

Having discussed the many positive features of LDS Beliefs, there is one element that I would liked to have seen. The authors trim off too many ragged edges that make Mormon beliefs so interesting. There is little to no mention of the evolution of doctrine—for example, the entry for Jehovah gives no indication that a definitive equation of Jehovah with Jesus does not solidify until the 20th Century. The discussion of Gathering does not note the transition from bringing everyone together in one place to creating stakes worldwide to act as regional anchors. Similarly, the discussion of Plural Marriage depicts a nice, clean halt to the practice rather than including even a brief statement that the process was a little rockier.

While these concerns may simply be outside the scope of any single volume, I think it may point to a more existential paradox of Mormon beliefs and writing about them. As mentioned above, the idea of fluid, continuing revelation is the hallmark of Mormonism–however, the logical progression of it is uncertainty and change along the way which leaves some uncomfortable. One response is to retreat to an emphatic doctrinal bastion in the style of Mormon Doctrine. I am glad that the authors of LDS Beliefs avoided doing so—if it can in fact replace McConkie’s legacy, that would be a most welcome development in Mormon publishing and self-identification. LDS Beliefs represents tangible evidence of the maturation of Mormon writing and thinking.

[1] Bridget Jack Jeffries, “Why We Confuse Each Other: Mormons and Evangelicals” (11 November 2010), available at http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Why-We-Confuse-Each-Other.html

[2] See Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Landmark ‘Mormon Doctrine’ goes out of print,” Salt Lake Tribune (21 May 2010), available at http://www.sltrib.com/ci_15137409, for an excellent discussion of this. Despite claims from the publisher that the decision was based solely on low sales, knowledgeable booksellers would point to Mormon Doctrine‘s authoritative and even combative tone as well as some seemingly spurious conclusions.

[3] However, I have to think Bruce somewhere is giving a supportive thumbs-up to the current volume for its equally adamant stance that cherubim and angels in general DO NOT have wings which, for some reason I don’t quite appreciate, seems to be a real sticking point with Mormons.

Legends of the Jews, 2 vols. (Ginzberg), JPS

I have long been interested in Legends of the Jews and, over time, attempted to pull together a set. After several trips to used bookstores (the 7-volume set has long been out of print) and a discovery that the first four volumes were available in text form online (apparently in public domain by that point), I cobbled together a set sans index. However, this just didn’t cut it. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Jewish Publication Society had reissued the set in a new two volume format. To sweeten the deal, there are different formatting elements that make reading this classic even better than the original.

Legends of the Jews constitutes the most exhaustive collection of midrashic, Talmudic and related discussions of stories in the Hebrew Bible, often giving other details not included therein. Louis Ginzberg, the compiler and annotator, was an accomplished Talmudist and professor within the conservative element of Judaism. The original plan to publish a single volume of Jewish legends soon grew into a seven volume set published over the course of nearly thirty years. Ginzberg drew on an incredible number of sources to create a cohesive narrative that follows the course of the Jews through history (these were the first four volumes). As originally published, the all-important notes were collected in the fifth and sixth volumes and the index in the seventh.

One of the most welcome differences in this new edition deals with the notes. Given the great importance of the notes (the real meat of the set), one was constantly flipping back and forth between the narrative and the notes volumes. Thankfully, in the current set, the notes follow each section (generally only a few pages long). While I would like to see footnotes, this format is a large improvement over the original. Due to the length of the notes, footnoting may have been ungainly and so endnotes may have been the only solution. Though the type in the original notes wasn’t terribly hard to see, the fact that they were reprinted so many times made retypesetting in a new, clear font another welcome feature. In addition, the indexes (subjects, passages, Hebrew/Aramaic terms) have been revised, making the curious reader’s task much easier.

Another welcome element of the new edition is a fine introduction written by David Stern, Professor of Postbiblical and Medieval Hebrew Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Stern covers Ginzberg’s career and the course of compiling and publishing Legends, including a romance between himself and his very competent translator, Henrietta Szold! In discussing how Legends has fared over the years, Stern notes that scholarly opinion in the intervening years has placed a higher value on the “legends” than did scholars writing at the time of Ginzberg. He notes that these legendary materials were “a valid—even the most cogent—medium for solving interpretive difficulties in the biblical narrative, for making the Bible relevant and meaningful to the contemporary readers, for bridging the gap between the strangeness of what the Bible seemed to say and what its audience felt it ought to say.” (xxi, emphasis in original)

Given their strong belief that elements are missing from the Bible–that the narrative was either translated incorrectly or even given the wholesale cleaver treatment–Mormons have traditionally appreciated precisely the type of details that are found in Legends of the Jews. Some particulars that might interest Mormons are the additional details about Elijah such as “he is to be the forerunner of the Messiah, yet in part he will himself realize the promised scheme of salvation” and that “Elijah’s chief activity will consist in restoring the purity of the family.” (1020-21) Material dealing with Abraham discusses his father’s idolatry and Abraham’s faith throughout his upbringing (167-175). When treating Adam, the narrative relates that “God revealed the whole history of mankind to him.” (59, cp D&C 107:56) A discussion of the Urim and Thummim gives details on how it worked for the priests (652). When talking about Noah’s ark, the narrative states that “the ark was illuminated by a previous stone.” (147, cp the Jaredite narrative) These are simply a few things that stand out that would be of interest to a Mormon reader.

The only (minor!) point that I found unpleasant about this set was trying to find references to the old version. However, between the detailed table of contents and the excellent indexes, it was usually not too bad. I realize that keying old page numbers to new ones would have been quite a pain, so I understand why the publisher chose not to do so. That aside, I loved the updated format and notes—all told, this is a much easier set to use and enjoy. The Jewish Publication Society should be congratulated for keeping such a monument of scholarship in print.

Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, Working Draft (Kimball), Benchmark Books–AML

Man Behind the Discourse: A Biography of King Follett (Mortensen), Greg Kofford–AML, JI

Massacre at Mountain Meadows (Turley, Jr., Walker, Leonard), Oxford–AML

Modern Polygamy in the United States: Historical, Cultural, and Legal Issues (Jacobson, Burton), Oxford–AML

Mormon Gold: Mormons in the California Gold Rush Contributing to the Development of California and the Monetary Solvency of Early Utah (Davies, Hansen), Granite Mountain–AML

Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South (Mason), Oxford–AML, BCC, JI

Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith (Bowman)–AML, BCC

Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War, 1857-1858 (Bigler, Bagley), Arthur H. Clark–AML, BCC

Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes (Dinger, ed.), Signature–AML

These days, it is fairly rare that a previously unpublished documentary source of importance appears. Buckle up. Signature Books has once again produced a gem in The Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes edited by John S. Dinger.

While the Nauvoo high council minutes have appeared (albeit in somewhat abridged format) previously, only tantalizing excerpts here and there from the city council minutes have ever emerged. John Dinger brings his legal expertise to the table in a yeoman’s effort to produce coherent sets of minutes for both of these key Nauvoo decision-making bodies. Despite working almost until the point of no return from confusing transcripts, Dinger has compiled a fascinating chronology of the chaos that swirled almost constantly in Nauvoo. [1]

The physical makeup of the minutes is practically as interesting—in both cases (city and high council), scribes would take contemporary rough notes which would then be transferred and cleaned up into bound minute books. In the case of the city council, one more step was added of producing a finished set of minutes suitable for publication. However, teasing gaps remain—the missing book containing the trial of John C. Bennett being the prime example. No other source that I have read gives such a feeling of being “on the ground”—one can easily grasp what issues were on the minds of citizens and how quickly those could change.

Though Dinger himself muses about a true critical edition of the minutes appearing at some point, much of the footnoting serves just that purpose. The editor notes additional material that appears in either the loose minutes or the bound minute books and uses a system of symbols to show when he moves from one source type to another. Footnotes also give brief biographical details for participants and refer to other entries that shed greater light on the discussion at hand, perhaps the greatest value of the notes. Occasionally, the reader can sense the grief that Dinger went through trying to make sense of cryptic entries—at times, he admits that at a distance of 170 years, it is simply impossible.

Leafing through the entries, one quickly notes the breadth of matters that the city council considered. In a unique “created” community where virtually no one had much experience in government, the reader sees a group consulting other cities for precedent and experimenting with ordinances. The entries cover the most mundane (dogs were clearly a pressing problem—several ordinances deal with them!) to matters such as what to do with the Nauvoo Expositor. The color of meetings dealing with the latter show through boldly in the minutes: W.W. Phelps asking whether they were trampling upon anyone’s rights, resounding answers of “No!” and resultant discussions of reimbursing those who had property destroyed with some council members stating they didn’t think such action would even be necessary. The meetings leading up to the final decision to suppress the Expositor (and take down Robert Foster’s barn as a casualty) are probably the climax of the book.

Though histories of the period mention the dissent and commotion present in late Nauvoo, these entries bluntly show a city hurtling toward complete chaos in a way that a secondary history written at a distance of decades cannot. The minutes, though understandably dealing with tedious governmental matters at times, are fascinating for anyone with even a passing interest in Mormon history.

The high council minutes don’t lag behind the city council in interesting subject material. In the period predating the formation of the city council, one can easily see the seamless blend of temporal and spiritual in their discussions. As time passes and secular matters move to the other body, the high council turns attention to hearing complaints. These range from the trivial (she took some of my trinkets, waah) to more important matters like what to do with Francis Gladden Bishop who would move in and out of favor until finally becoming a minor player in the succession events. The most riveting to me were the many trials of 1842 when polygamy begins to really be whispered about and people begin to claim authority from Joseph Smith to have sex with anyone they want. Candid depositions with a degree of detail unexpected in the Victorian era make for entertaining reading. The divide between the two Nauvoos—one composed of the elite privy to details and the general populace—is never more apparent than in reading this section. Council member Wilford Woodruff notes in his diary the “exhertion abo[u]t these days to clense the Church,” an effort that would only intensify as time passed.

As might be expected in trying to annotate such a collection, there are some minor hiccups. The brief biographical details given on most of the people mentioned are in some cases helpful, others with little more than birth and death dates not so much. On the other side of the coin, Alanson Ripley gets two sketches (p 346, 364)! When mentioning that Hosea Stout had later filled in names of high council members mentioned at first only by number, Dinger occasionally anticipates that four members always appear when only two are mentioned (p 379 n 92, 380, n 97). There are a few typos also: “Alonson Ripley.” “Stephen C. LeSeuer,” “legal council,” etc. but, with such a large amount of data (names, dates, places) this is almost to be expected.

A few more substantive issues came up—at this point in Mormon historiography, unqualified references to History of the Church are beginning to seem out of place. With the upcoming publication of Dan Vogel’s annotated edition of this source, one more barrier between reader and subject will be removed. Also, occasionally a footnote referring to a general topic could have used a little more oomph—for example, in a note dealing with attempts to publish the JST, Dinger says simply “Joseph Smith was re-writing portions of the Bible.”

John Dinger and Signature are to be commended for publishing such a notable addition to the field of Mormon history. Writers and researchers treating the Nauvoo period now have a major addition to their pool of sources. Perhaps someone will employ this treasure in finally writing the definitive history of Nauvoo.

[1] Only as they were preparing to go to press were the author and publisher able to consult scans of the originals which allowed them to confirm their understanding of the confusion.

No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues (Millet, ed.), Deseret Book–AML

Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament (Ehrman), Oxford

Long before he was Bart Ehrman, best-selling author of religious titles, he was Bart Ehrman, scholar of nuts and bolts New Testament textual criticism. Beginning with a dissertation dealing with textual analysis of Gospel quotations in a 4th-Century church father, Ehrman has published scores of books and articles dealing with the text of the New Testament. Though not as well known as Misquoting Jesus or God’s Problem, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (hereafter Orthodox) in many ways is Ehrman’s most important book. Here, in a more academic treatment, Ehrman demonstrates his knack for extracting plausible and responsible conclusions from seemingly dry textual variants.

The current text is virtually a reprint of the original 1993 publication with only minor corrections (rather than revise the entire narrative, Ehrman opted to review the developments in the field in an afterword of nearly thirty pages). Orthodox consists of an introductory overview of the chaotic world in which New Testament texts were written, transmitted and altered (think Lost Christianities on a diet), four lengthy discussions of particular types of alterations and a conclusion. Each section is well-documented (only the discussion of anti-Patripassianist changes has less than 200 endnotes) and strikes a nice balance between detail and deluge.

In his excellent introduction, Ehrman effectively demonstrates the heterogeneity of early Christian beliefs and factions. He discusses Walter Bauer’s seminal 1934 study of “orthodoxy” and “heresy” which turned the traditional understanding of a consistent stream of orthodox beliefs on its head. Ehrman builds on this idea, showing that there is no monolithic “original” body of doctrine. In fact, what ‘becomes” orthodoxy often conflicts with the earliest texts and, thus, leads to the “orthodox corruption” of texts.

Ehrman first marshals evidence showing anti-adoptionist alterations of the New Testament text. Adoptionist thinking held that Jesus was not a divine being but a man who was “adopted” by God to be his son—the two major events linked to such an adoption being his baptism (Ehrman argues that the original text of Luke 3:22 was “You are my son, today I have begotten you”) and resurrection (drawing on Rom 1:3-4). Ehrman’s premise is that later figures would attempt to solidify the emerging orthodox line of thinking by altering texts that might seem to give credence to adoptionist ideas. One example—following the string of “begats” in Matthew 1, the narrative (in the best and earliest manuscripts) states that “the beginning of Jesus Christ happened in this way.” However, many manuscripts instead state that “the birth of Jesus Christ happened…” Painstakingly, Ehrman shows that this change is both unlikely to be an accident and that it is not simply a meaningless semantic difference. This change was made specifically to counter the idea that the birth of Jesus marks the beginning of his existence, showing that he was a preexistent divine figure.

Next, Ehrman addresses changes effected by separationist editors among the Gnostic Christians. These redactors believed that the man Jesus was inhabited by the divine Jesus at his baptism, allowing him to perform his salvific mission until the time of the passion when the divine Jesus “separated” himself, leaving the mortal Jesus to suffer alone. Ehrman notes that these Gnostics were notoriously difficult to characterize and, thus, the heresiologists virtually created their profile to which they responded. One notable alteration of scripture that can be attributed to Gnostic separationist doctrine comes in the important either-or statement of faith of 1 John 4:3: “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” Ehrman presents manuscript evidence leading back to the second century that would have this verse read “every spirit that looses (or separates) Jesus is not from God.” Ehrman finds evidence of anti-separationist editing even in prepositions! In Mark 1:11, the majority of the texts speak of the “Spirit as a dove descending unto him.” In contrast, some later witnesses tweak the preposition so that the Spirit descends “upon” him. The change can be chalked up to the fact that the preposition “unto” in Greek more commonly carries the meaning of “into” which would clearly give a Gnostic Christian some ammunition in a theological debate.

A companion to separationism, docetism charged that Christ only “seemed” (from dokein—to seem/appear) to suffer, that he was not really human at all. Though it did not appear quite as early as adoptionist thinking, docetism was a serious thorn in the side of the church fathers. One of the key passages that Ehrman sees as having undergone anti-docetic treatment is the passage in Luke 22 containing an account of Jesus’ particularly human suffering to the point of sweating blood. Based on an in-depth analysis of verses 43-44 undertaken earlier, Ehrman posits that these verses were a second-century addition by scribes who “found their emphatic portrayal of Jesus experiencing real human agony useful for their repudiation of docetic Christologies.”

Finally, Ehrman looks at the comparatively limited heretical belief system known as “patripassianism” or “modalism.” As with the other theological varieties discussed previously, the name of this heresy describes the particular viewpoint—these Christians believed that Christ was God the Father himself come down to earth (patri-passianist—one who believes the Father suffered/modalism—proclaims the unity of the Gods and that each was expressed in a different “mode” not person). The reaction against this type of thinking can best be seen in an alteration made to Acts 20:28 which, in its earliest extant form, spoke of the “church of God, which he purchased with his own blood.” Understandably concerned, later scribes would make it clear that it was the “church of the Lord,” thus avoiding the conclusion that God the Father shed blood in the person/mode of the Son.

My treatment of Ehrman’s discussions has necessarily been brief—the reader should definitely not assume that he was so terse himself. Throughout the book, Ehrman is meticulous as a prosecutor in the way he handles all the possible explanations for the existence of particular textual variants and the plausible case he builds for willful, understandable alteration by later scribes. This method brings out positive and negative forces; though his precision is a mark of his scholarship, Orthodox lacks some of the readability of his later, “popular” efforts. However, it must be said that his treatment of the outwardly dry crumbs of textual variants and the conclusions he draws out of them is not anywhere as stiff as academic writing generally tends to be. In his afterword, Ehrman discusses the scholarship that has followed the publication of Orthodox and has largely confirmed his earlier theses. He notes that, were he to write the book from scratch, he would likely avoid the term “original text” and proceeds to discuss what we actually mean when we use such a term. Additionally, Ehrman points out several areas of study where there is still much to be done, such as tracing the transmission of texts through the writings of the church fathers.

For a Mormon reader, there are many factors that make Orthodox interesting reading. Obviously, Mormon theology strongly supports the idea of scribal corruption of scriptural texts, though more in terms of entire concepts being removed (possibly even before pen hit paper). However, all of the variant beliefs covered here would equally be considered heresy by Mormons. But, this does put a Mormon reader in the position of either agreeing with early “orthodox” theology or positing a still different text not supported by any extant manuscript evidence. One particular variant that Ehrman discusses is of some interest—that of the sweating of blood in Luke 22—since D&C 19:18 unequivocally falls on the side of later textual witnesses. To sum up, Orthodox is a fine addition to the corpus of New Testament textual criticism and it worthy of being reissued.

Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible, 2 vols. (Coogan, ed.), Oxford

When faced with such a large and ever-changing body of scholarship like biblical studies, some sort of jumping off point is always welcome. The recently published two-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible is an excellent and succinct summary of the current state of biblical scholarship. [1] Editor-in-chief Michael D. Coogan (probably best known as co-editor of The Oxford Companion to the Bible with Bruce Metzger) has marshaled some of the best talent in the field to produce very even and concise articles. In addition to all books contained in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament (as well as standard apocryphal books), articles cover other important works such as 1 Enoch, The Gospel of Thomas and the Didache. Furthermore, scholars tackle important topical issues such as textual criticism, canon and rabbinic writings.

Given how easy it would be for a project of this scope to become unwieldy and inconsistent, the editor instructed contributors to stick to the following general template (the elements of which varying according to the topic at hand):

–name of the book and meaning in the original language
–canonical status and relation to canonical works
–authorship, both traditional and scholarly views
–date of composition and historical context
–literary history
–structure and contents
–interpretation, both contemporary and throughout history
–reception history—a recent field of study that assesses how the book has been used in various disciplines and genres

Each article is followed by a bibliography—in the case of biblical books, the sources cover available critical editions, select commentaries and other secondary works dealing with specific textual or thematic elements.

Since reviewing each article would be gigantic, I will focus on the article covering Mark, given its importance in the ongoing debate on the synoptic problem. [2] The author, Suzanne Watts Henderson (ordained minister in the Christian Church [Disciples of Christ] and professor at Queens University of Charlotte—oddly enough, she does not cite her own monograph on Mark in this article’s bibliography), notes that Mark’s importance lies in its purported chronological supremacy rather than its popularity. In her discussion of authorship, Henderson comments that—as was the case with all the gospels—it initially circulated without an author attached to it. As time passed, the gospel was always attributed to Mark, though who he was is still open to debate. Henderson does a good job of presenting the evidence within the New Testament itself that Mark refers to John Mark, an associate of Paul mentioned in Acts—in addition, she notes that Eusebius connects Mark to Peter. She concludes that evidence is “plausible but far from settled.” As for dating Mark, Henderson discusses internal clues that point to a pre-70 CE date but admits that being more precise than that is difficult.

The biggest gap I see in her overview of Mark lies in the synoptic discussion. With Mark’s centrality in the discussion, I would expect a meatier discussion of the relationship of Mark to Matthew and Luke as well as the hypothetical Q source (which is not even mentioned). [3] I realize that she was given a framework to follow but I would think that writing more here (and perhaps less in reception history) would be beneficial. In my opinion, the articles on Matthew and Luke were stronger in this regard.

For a Mormon audience, this set may seem daunting at first (both price and scope) but would be of immense value. Collectively, Mormons are almost entirely ignorant of scholarly discussions and findings in biblical studies. These brief articles provide a good overview of what’s being talked about and direct the reader to more focused works on topics of interest. Among the many entries, there are several that will be of particular interest to Mormons. Given the strong belief that things were either muddled in translation or left out entirely of the Bible, the essays on “Lost Books,” “Apocrypha,” “Pseudepigrapha” and “Textual Criticism” should catch a Mormon’s eye. Others might be a bit more challenging—the discussion of multiple authors in “Isaiah” (and how that relates to the Isaiah material in the Book of Mormon) being a prime example.

I very much enjoyed reading through many of the articles in this collection. I probably fall in the heart of the intended readership of this collection—a “lay” reader who has read quite a bit in biblical scholarship but is by no means a professional. Those within the field would likely be aware of the fine points of these discussions and the works cited in the bibliographies. However, even for a professional, it is always helpful to have a concise snapshot of the current state of the union as far as the scholarship is concerned.

Given the hefty price tag, unfortunately, most casual buyers will be scared off, which is a shame. Overall, the collection is excellent—most of the contributors have previously published on their given topic and their perspective is very helpful.

The one place where I noticed some unevenness is in the bibliography section—some authors were careful to annotate their source list, briefly describing the value of the work and where it stands in the discussion. For someone like me, that was quite welcome and I bemoaned the lack of explanatory notes in some bibliographies. That aside, I feel that The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible is a very valuable addition to biblical studies and should be in any serious library, either personal or institutional.

[1] This is the first of a new series—“The Oxford Encyclopedias of the Bible”– which will consist of several two-volume sets dealing with such topics as the Bible and theology and the Bible and archaeology.

[2] The synoptic problem refers to the study of the relationships between the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. The current majority opinion is that Mark was written first and was used to some degree in writing the other two gospels.

[3] Q (from quelle–German for “source”) is a constructed source document that many, if not most, New Testament scholars conclude was used along with Mark as source documents in writing Matthew and Luke. The discussion is obviously much more complex than this with other potential sources having been posited—on the other side of the debate, the pendulum has swung back and some scholars are now arguing for a model that does not require the purely hypothetical Q at all.

Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Lim, Collins), Oxford

Mormons have long been interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls (hereafter DSS). Hugh Nibley was likely the first writer to discuss the subject from a uniquely Mormon perspective. As years passed, many Mormons (due in part to misinformed authors) began to envision a community of proto-Mormons at Qumran. Though LDS writers have since developed more responsible perspectives [1] showing that such conclusions were unwarranted, interest among Mormons remains high. A recent comment by Elder Dallin Oaks in a conference address contains one element of this interest—after discussing the Book of Mormon prophecy that other scriptural writings would come forth in the last days, he stated that “the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls shows one way this can occur.” [2] Only in very recent memory has the wealth of secular research on the scrolls begun to slowly filter into Mormon writing, an unfortunate characteristic of virtually every topic within biblical studies. The newly published Oxford Handbook of The Dead Sea Scrolls (edited by Timothy H. Lim and John J. Collins) is an excellent example of the type of scholarship that Mormon commentators on scroll research should be consulting.

One of the first books I read as an undergraduate was Norman Golb’s influential (albeit controversial) Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls–in summarizing Golb’s conclusions to my classmates, even my respected archaeology professor was intrigued. Since that time, I have maintained interest in the ongoing discussion of just what are the scrolls and who were responsible for them. From the title of this work, I assumed this would be a detailed overview of all things DSS. Not so. I soon learned that this compilation focused on areas of disagreement and unresolved issues rather than serving as an introduction to the field. As such, the essays (to varying degrees) presuppose a fairly substantial background in the basic issues of the DSS. Contributors include well-known names such as Michael Wise and James VanderKam as well as up-and-coming scholars. These thirty essays (split up into seven sections) provide, in the words of the editors, “promising directions for future research.”

Given that detailed comment on each essay would be far too lengthy for such a review, I will select several essays that would be of particular interest to a Mormon readership. First is John J. Collins’ analysis of “Sectarian Communities in the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Collins reviews the contents of the two fundamental sectarian texts found in the DSS: the Damascus Document and the Serekh (often referred to as the Community Rule). He flatly states that, despite assumptions made by many that they are seamless companions, the two documents “do not, however, reflect the life of a single community.” Furthermore, he demonstrates that the yahad (=community, congregation) described therein “cannot be identified simply with one settlement in the wilderness,” a blow to the traditional understanding of a virtually monolithic Essene community at Qumran.

Next is Ronald Hendel’s essay “Assessing the Text-Critical Theories of the Hebrew Bible.” Far more technical and of a more limited scope than Collins’ contribution, Hendel assesses the value of the Qumran corpus to the understanding of the makeup of the Hebrew Bible. Among other matters, Hendel notes that the biblical texts (the majority of the DSS) represent a “kaleidoscope” of different textual traditions. Though he does not explore the question of deliberate textual corruption, a Mormon reader would see from his discussion of the variants in Exodus passages that the wholesale sabotage of biblical texts by unscrupulous scribes envisioned by Mormons is definitely *not* authenticated by textual evidence.

Finally, I look at “Critical Issues in the Investigation of the Scrolls and the New Testament,” written by Jorg Frey. Frey begins by noting that, much like Mormon observations, early scroll scholarship was “dominated” by New Testament specialists eager (and, in many cases, overzealous) to find connections in the DSS. After discussing purported links between the DSS and John the Baptist as well as John the evangelist and suggestions that fragments of Mark and 1 Timothy were among those in Cave 7, Frey concludes (in similar language to that of Dana Pike, cited above) that “smoking gun” correlations are simply not there. The value of the DSS, then, is that “it would be impossible to get an adequate view of the literature and thought of ancient Palestinian Judaism without the information provided by the scrolls.”

As I stated above, The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls should not be approached as an introductory text. Having said that, given an adequate foundation in DSS issues, this compilation would prove very valuable to any interested reader. To a Mormon audience (just as with a New Testament readership), these essays serve as a reminder not to pound square proto-Mormon pegs into the round holes of history. In addition, as Frey points out, the DSS are a wealth of information on one strain of Judaism during the foundational years of the New Testament era. These scholarly essays are a helpful historiographical signpost, indicating where understanding has been and where it is headed.


[1] See, for example, Dana M. Pike, “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Latter-day Saints: Where Do We Go from Here?”, Studies in the Bible and Antiquity, Volume 2 (2010), 29-48 (available at http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/studies/?vol=2&id=51).

[2] Dallin H. Oaks, “All Men Everywhere,” General Conference April 2006 (available at http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,49-1-602-25,00.html)

Pansy’s History: The Autobiography of Margaret E. P. Gordon, 1866-1966 (Bushman), Utah State University–AML

Parallel Book of Mormon: 1830, 1837 and 1840 Editions (Bench, intro.), Smith-Pettit–AML

Parley P. Pratt and the Making of Mormonism (Armstrong, Grow, Siler), Arthur H. Clark–AML

Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (Givens, Grow), Oxford–AML, JI

**This review was prepared using an advance reader’s copy

Though there are still plenty of gaps in the field of Mormon biography, one less remains. For someone who had such an impact on the trajectory of Mormon history and thought, it is incredible that Parley P. Pratt had to wait more than 150 years to have an adequate treatment of his life. The only thing resembling a biography until the present was Reva Stanley’s obviously lacking The Archer of Paradise (1937). True, Pratt did write an extensive autobiography but, as the present work demonstrates, even the Archer himself could not adequately assess his own life. Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism was sorely needed and will be gratefully welcomed. As I have stated in book discussions, it’s nice to read good history and it’s nice to read good writing and when you can get both between the same covers, chalk it up as a bonus. Authors Terryl Givens and Matthew Grow are a felicitous blend of detailed research capabilities and engaging prose.

Givens and Grow begin by drawing a threefold parallel between Pratt and the apostle Paul. Each was largely responsible for systematizing what had been a somewhat freewheeling theology, each ventured abroad on numerous missionary journeys and each exhibited what bordered on perverse satisfaction in opposition and persecution. These three elements are fleshed out through the course of Pratt’s busy and varied life of writing, traveling and battling.

The initial section on Pratt’s ancestry walks the fine line between appropriately illuminating the contributions of his progenitors without burying the reader in detail. The authors paint a poignant picture of the Pratts’ poverty as they portray both Parley and Orson being farmed out for work. Similarly, they delve into Pratt’s pre-Mormon life (sharing entertaining vignettes of Parley’s Thoreauesque period) but steadily proceed to his life as a Mormon leader and intellectual

As one might expect with the author of By the Hand of Mormon (Givens) on board, the section dealing with the nature and effect of the Book of Mormon is particularly strong. Givens and Grow are equally effective at illustrating the life-changing impact of the book and candidly discussing the various theories of its creation, going beyond the standard View of the Hebrews and Spaulding approaches. At this critical juncture of Parley’s life, I did wish that something could have been drawn in to give voice to his wife Thankful as their lives become inextricably meshed with the course of Mormon history.

In describing the heady days of early Kirtland, the authors peel back some layers of myth and legend that have accumulated around well-known stories. First, dealing with the “stu-boy” incident in which Pratt avoids a bulldog attack as he escapes from jail (probably the most identifiable Pratt story), they point out that—rather than the standard “frivolous charge” response of early Mormons to legal difficulties—Pratt had been avoiding debts for some time leading up to this episode.

Next, they tell a slightly less flattering than usual tale of Mormon representatives visiting the Shaker community to deliver a detailed accounting of their theological and cultural errors (D&C 49). As they do several times in the biography, the authors highlight Pratt’s mindset that zeal is the lesser (but strangely appealing) part of valor. Since his companions Sidney Rigdon and Leman Copley were not quite so boisterous in their turn, they were invited to stay for dinner while Pratt beat a hasty retreat after being soundly rebuked by a Shaker leader. In the Kirtland period of Pratt’s life, the authors highlight both fun and minor details such as Pratt giving up on Latin as quickly as he had started (and selling his grammar to Wilford Woodruff for a dollar) as well as perhaps the biggest crisis of Pratt’s life, his temporary disaffection from Joseph Smith in the chaotic days of the Kirtland Safety Society.

One of the most important contributions the biography makes is the literary analysis of Pratt’s influential works. Discussions of works such as Voice of Warning, Key to the Science of Theology as well as a litany of pamphlets and other smaller efforts, clearly benefit from Givens’ seasoned perspective. In their careful reading of Pratt, the authors point out that Joseph Smith does not appear in the first edition of Voice of Warning, that Pratt included unmistakable references to theosis (man becoming equal to God) in “Mormonism Unveiled” and that converts (many from evangelical backgrounds) adapted easily to Pratt’s matter-of-fact theology that flew in the face of orthodox Christianity.

Givens and Grow do a good job describing the chaotic days in Nauvoo where the inner circle knew a completely different Nauvoo from the average citizen. They discuss the Sarah Pratt episode, noting that Parley distrusted his sister-in-law’s report of what happened–which would continue to fester and sour the relationship between the brothers. As the authors proceed to describe the impact of the controversial doctrine of plural marriage on Pratt, they include a sizeable amount of correspondence from Pratt’s several wives (something missing from his first two wives). The chapter “Parley & Mrs. Pratt(s)” is perhaps one of the best of the entire biography—the authors include excerpts from letters from and to Pratt revealing a romantic aspect of the practice, something not always acknowledged. However, they also highlight the mundane—they quote from a letter to wife Agatha in which Pratt notes that “love is takeing [sic] care of hogs and getting a living.” One of the most interesting passages describes the eleventh birthday of Parley Jr. in which he selects Belinda from among his father’s wives and covenants with her as an “acting mother” to serve in the stead of his dead mother Thankful.

Pratt’s ultimately unfruitful mission in Chile is also addressed in detail—Givens and Grow describe Pratt’s desire (which was never lacking) and his capacity in Spanish (not quite at the same level). As often happened on Pratt’s missionary journeys, he felt the absence of his family (though he had one wife with him) and agonized over financial concerns back home. The authors do a fine job placing Pratt’s failures to gain a foothold in Chile in the context of an inflationary economy and anti-American feelings. They poignantly show Pratt’s meager grasp of Spanish with a halting letter written to his wife Agatha.

The authors build up to Pratt’s grisly final hours, showing that he had presentiments of an early death. They discuss his tense relationship with Eleanor McLean and her struggle between a desire to be a full participant in Mormonism and a husband who wanted nothing to do with Mormons. Drawing on Steven Pratt’s excellent article on Pratt and McLean’s relationship, they show that the Southern history of extralegal violence (especially when it involved a man’s wife) doomed Pratt from the beginning. Givens and Grow track Pratt as he tried to stay a step ahead of Hector McLean until, following an escape from jail on the judge’s advice, McLean first stabbed and then shot Pratt. The tragic scene ends–appropriately–with Pratt bearing a final resolute testimony for which he received (as portrayed in Mormon sources) a martyr’s death.

A few words on sources—the authors do an admirable job of mining the wealth of primary documents available. In addition to Steven Pratt’s trove of correspondence and other documents, the authors employed transcripts of Pratt sermons created due to LaJean Carruth’s rare talent with shorthand. The authors demonstrate a healthy awareness of current and even forthcoming studies which keeps the scholarship fresh and updated. When consulting contemporary documents, they defer to the most helpful version such as Lavina Fielding Anderson’s critical edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s history. Though they use Pratt’s invaluable autobiography liberally, they certainly do not do so without a grain of salt. Such judicious use of sources combined with an engaging style has produced a landmark of Mormon biography, a fittingly sterling treatment of Pratt’s busy but short life.

The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy (Bringhurst, Foster, eds.), John Whitmer Books–AML

Playing With Shadows: Voices of Dissent in the Mormon West–Kingdom in the  West, vol. 13 (Aird, Nichols, Bagley), Arthur H. Clark–AML

Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible (Brown, Smith (Hebrew)/Goodrich, Lukaszewski (Greek)), Zondervan

Between the prone-to-cheating interlinear versions of the Bible and the initially daunting apparatus of a critical edition (like Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia) is a middle ground that can be very fruitful. The recently published “A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible” attempts to walk just such a middle ground. Each portion was previously published separately –this combo edition reproduces the original efforts under one cover.

The goal of these texts is to provide an opportunity for the reader to remain in the original language as much as possible with a minimum of guidance to maintain comprehension. Each set of editors developed criteria to determine the level of lexical guidance to provide.

Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew portion is edited by two professors at conservative evangelical institutions. This is apparent in their prefaces which deal heavily with how God guided their efforts. While there is certainly nothing wrong with expressing such sentiments, it seemed very odd compared with the rest of the introductory material (particularly in contrast to the Greek portion of the volume). The introduction feels far more appropriate as it deals with the makeup and nature of their effort.

The editors decided to provide lexical information on any word appearing less than 100 times in Hebrew or 25 times in Aramaic. Additionally, they represent proper nouns in gray text to make them easily identifiable (and prevent wasting time on parsing something that can’t be parsed). The text they use is a version of the Leningrad Codex which is “virtually identical to the text found in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) and Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ) with a few minor differences where its editors read the Leningrad Codes differently than the editors of BHS.” [1]

As the editors point out, they do not make judgments on textual variants since that is not the point of their work. The lexical material in the footnotes for uncommon words is derived mainly from the Kohler-Baumgartner Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament and the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon (often abbreviated BDB). [2] Given the age of BDB and the superiority of the former, it is somewhat surprising that the editors would include it. They point to its long-standing acceptance and the status quo though they do note that is given secondary importance.

For a verb, they provide the root, verbal form and glosses (in order of authoritativeness)—nouns follow a similar pattern. In some cases, this allows the reader to see the radical differences in how lexicons understood words—one may see a particular word as a verb while another sees it as a noun. The aesthetics of the Hebrew portion are very pleasing—a nice strong font and appropriately sized numbers for chapter, verse and footnotes. The text follows BHS and modern translations in attempting to structure poetic passages in order to reflect their framework. However, they do not attempt to include stichometric (stich from Greek stichos “line, verse” refers to a measured unit of poetry) spacing as in BHS which reflects smaller divisions within verses.

Greek Bible

The front matter for the Greek portion of the volume is very similar to that of the Hebrew Bible, minus the off-putting author prefaces. Given the smaller vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, the editors provide definitions for any word that appears less than 30 times. They arrive at this number after an interesting discussion of word counts and meaningful word counts

The text the editors employ is an eclectic text, one that stands behind the current Today’s NIV Bible. Since this text differ from the standard Nestle-Aland/UBS text, they briefly discuss the nature of deciding between variants and note that the cases where they differ are noted in their apparatus. [3] Interestingly, they chose to consult “the standard New Testament lexica” (such as BDAG and Liddell) only when they determined that a specific definition from the default Complete Vocabulary Guide to the New Testament (Trenchard) felt out of place.

One minor gripe—the font they chose did not sit well with me. The letters do not seem very clear—the kai looks too much like a chi in other fonts for example.

For Mormon readers who believe along with Joseph Smith that “it seems as if the Lord opens our minds, in a marvelous manner to understand this word in the original language,” A Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible is an excellent tool. It provides an option for someone who has a decent grasp of vocabulary and wants to stay in the original language text as much as possible and maintain comprehension.

The footnoting provides just enough detail to be useful without becoming cumbersome. The editors did a good job and have contributed a worthwhile addition to the field.

[1] There are approximately 100 cases where the Leningrad text differs from that of BHS and these are predominantly variants in accents. These are noted with a symbol over the area of the word in question.

[2] Other lexica are used infrequently—for example, in a randomly selected section of five pages, I noted they referred to no alternative options.

[3] Though I personally enjoy this move, it seems outside of the scope of this volume—if you begin down the textual criticism road, you’re no longer in “reader’s edition” territory. Also, since the notes state simply “Some MSS” without specifying which, they are not terribly helpful anyway.

The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus (Evans, ed.), Routledge

This welcome encyclopedia gathers together recent scholarship on the topic of the historical Jesus.  Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies and author of numerous books/articles, has marshaled scholars such as Jacob Neusner, Stanley Porter and Darrell Bock to produce a 700-page wealth of information.  Each signed entry includes a bibliography (some are quite extensive) to direct further reading.  In addition to A-Z and thematic entry lists, a rigorous 40-page index allows for maximum usage.  Besides the expected entries on places, people, customs and institutions from New Testament times, many entries give overviews of past authors (such as Rudolf Bultmann and Albert Schweitzer) who have written on the historical Jesus.  A very impressive collection that distills recent scholarship into one user-friendly volume.

Sacred Symbols: Finding Meaning in Rites, Rituals and Ordinances (Gaskill), Cedar Fort–AML

Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon. Volume 1: First Nephi–six volume set (Gardner), Greg Kofford–AML

Still, the Small Voice: Narrative, Personal Revelation, and the Mormon Folk Tradition (Mould), Utah State University–AML

“Swell Suffering”: A Biography of Maureen Whipple (Hale), Greg Kofford–AML

Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Metzger, Ehrman), Oxford

“A Bible, a Bible, we have a Bible and we don’t really care where it came from, thank you very much.” Unfortunately, this sums up the attitude of many Mormons toward the Bible. This is even more surprising given very clear statements from Joseph Smith as to the imperfect nature thereof. Between the 8th Article of Faith and his personal thoughts: “I believe the bible, as it ought to be, as it came from the pen of the original writers” (sermon of October 14, 1843 as reported by Willard Richards in Words of Joseph Smith, 256), one certainly cannot accuse Smith of holding a view of biblical inerrancy. As Philip Barlow has concisely demonstrated in Mormons and the Bible, subsequent generations of Mormons developed a hands-off position toward textual studies of any portion of the Bible (see chapter 4). The result is that many are unaware of the fascinating and complex origins of the New Testament, a field that Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman elucidate in The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (hereafter TNT). Metzger is considered by many the dean of New Testament studies and Ehrman, though his later books have increasingly been written for a popular audience, has amassed no mean portfolio himself.

Though designed primarily as a textbook, TNT does not read like a stereotypical exemplar. The scholarship, solid throughout, is complemented by just the right amount of mildly tangential back stories and enticing tidbits (in my opinion, what Ehrman brings to the table in this partnership). At first glance, the first chapter on the production of ancient books seemed unnecessary but, as I read further, I appreciated the value of the intricacies of papyrus scrolls and parchment/vellum codices (plus, being able to outline the sexy lifecycle of a “palimpsest” never hurts with the ladies).

The heart of New Testament textual criticism is identification and contextualization of the numerous witnesses. As Metzger and Ehrman point out, New Testament scholars are faced with a relative “embarrassment” of source material compared with other classicists. They outline three main families of textual development: Western (characterized by a free, often paraphrastic style), Alexandrian (early and precise—they feel this family stays closest to the “original” text) and Byzantine (late and marked by harmonization and “smoothing” of the text). Concise descriptions are also given of important individual early manuscripts. Perhaps more than in any other sections of the book, these portions demonstrate the value of TNT: entire fields of study and centuries of research are expressed in simple prose and understandable conclusions without any dumbing-down. Though such an effort could easily descend into a seemingly interminable progression of dates and numbers, the authors spice up the ride with details such as the enormous size of Codex Gigas (“giant”)—each leaf measures 36 x 20 inches!

For me, reading TNT during the 400th anniversary of the King James Version generated increased interest in the tale of the progression of compiling and publishing editions of the Greek New Testament. The Greek text used by KJV translators descended in large part from Desiderius Erasmus’ edition of 1516, the first to be published (though not the first printed). Erasmus used several very late (12th C) minuscule texts and, in some cases, translated portions back into Greek from the Vulgate—a textual cobbler if there ever were one. As might be expected, English translations based on great-great-grandchildren of Erasmus’ production were “new wine [in] old bottles” (the KJV rendering, of course). Perhaps the most famous example Metzger and Ehrman give is the explicitly trinitarian Johannine Comma of I John 5:7-8—found in a paltry eight Greek manuscripts in a pool numbering in the thousands (though the authors point out that textual witnesses have to be contextualized—it’s not just a popularity contest) but destined for a long lifespan in English thanks in large part to Erasmus.

The successive generations of Greek NT editions developed an increasingly hostile (and inexplicable!) reaction to any hint of anyone veering from the Textus Receptus that, once on its lofty perch, staunchly refused to come down. In some corners, rebuttals to “textual liberals” took on a fundamentalist tone. Metzger and Ehrman summarize the feelings of one churchman thusly: “if the words of Scripture had been dictated by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God would not have providentially prevented them from being seriously corrupted during the course of their transmission.” Any LDS observer familiar with the staunch pro-KJV stance of post-J. Reuben Clark Mormonism can well imagine such words appearing in a Mormon forum. Not until 1831 and the publication of a version of the Greek NT by Karl Lachmann, a German philologist, did someone finally break entirely with the Textus Receptus, a move that earned him the title of “Bentley’s ape.” (Richard Bentley, an 18th Century classicist, had devised a grandiose plan for replicating the text of the NT as it would have appeared in the 4th Century through a tedious comparison of variants but unfortunately died before publishing anything. Thus, rather than lauding Lachmann for improving the scholarship, critics simply derided him for “aping” earlier efforts.) However, from that point onward, scholars began to use the burgeoning corpus of increasingly earlier and better manuscripts to refine and hone the critical text. Metzger and Ehrman document many hiccups along the way as editors slugged it out in the process of determining the relative value of the many variants available to them.

It should be emphasized that these variants are not what some Mormons might envision: massive chunks overtly proclaiming a corporeal God or organizational charts drawn up by Paul showing where deacons, teachers, priests and presiding General Authorities were supposed to sit at spring and fall general conferences in Ephesus that suddenly disappeared from the New Testament. As Metzger and Ehrman demonstrate, many variants can be chalked up to simple errors innate in a system of manual copying (misreading, mishearing or accidentally copying marginal notes into the text proper). Even those variants that are clearly intentional reflect a desire to harmonize or remove historically sticky points (such as those in the birth narratives of the Gospels), not excise entire doctrinal topics in a wholesale manner.

TNT is a masterpiece of both scholarship and brevity. Metzger and Ehrman manage to contain an incredible amount of detail within two covers without the reader realizing it. Finishing this “textbook” felt like running several miles while playing basketball rather than slogging through a 5K in June, the unfortunate taste left in my mouth after many academic texts. The only thing I would like to have seen done differently deals with the theory of the Alexandrian textual priority. Some (admittedly in the minority) scholars have criticized this theory, claiming that the evidence is not solid enough to rely so much on this textual family. Though Metzger and Ehrman do bring up this opposition, I would have liked a more thorough discussion and rebuttal of these claims. That being said, there is a wealth of masterful scholarship to recommend to a Mormon audience, even the more conservative members therein. The authors are appropriately reserved in their judgments, always seeking to illuminate, never to point accusatory fingers. Reading TNT left me amazed at the incredibly intricate work of so many generations of NT scholars—as a lazy man, I am perfectly content to cheat off them!

“This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Harrell), Greg Kofford–AML, JI

Villages on Wheels: A Social History of the Gathering to Zion (Kimball, Kimball), Greg Kofford–AML

Violent Encounters: Interviews on Western Massacres (Lawrence, Lawrence), University of Oklahoma–AML

West from Salt Lake: Diaries from the Central Overland Trail (Peterson), Arthur H. Clark–AML

Why I Stay: The Challenges of Discipleship for Contemporary Mormons (Rees, ed.), Signature–AML

Women of Faith in the Latter Days: Volume One (Turley, Jr., Chapman), Deseret Book–AML, BCC

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