Latest ‘Journal of Book of Mormon Studies’ re-envisions Ammonihah

08.23.2019 | Guest

The summer is ending and a new issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon has been shipped to subscribers. This is the second issue of the Journal published in a collaborative effort between the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and the University of Illinois Press. Readers will again find a set of excellent research articles, reviews of books and other literature, short notes on textual insights, and an annual bibliography of scholarly work on the Book of Mormon.

More, this year’s issue again has a special feature that will be of particular interest to readers. See below! And for the next thirty days we’re providing free access to two articles from this issue.

The 2019 issue opens with “Alma’s Hell: Repentance, Consequence, and the Lake of Fire and Brimstone,” by Kylie Turley. Turley’s essay provides an intense investigation of the experience of Alma the Younger at Ammonihah. It’s filled with more textual insights than can be taken in on one reading. I think it’s safe to predict that Turley’s essay will change how the story of Ammonihah is read. And so we’ve made it available for free for the next thirty days here. I should also mention, Turley is currently working on a book about Alma for the Maxwell Institute’s forthcoming series on the Book of Mormon, Brief Theological Introductions.

There follows in the Journal an important essay by Jeremy Talmage on how understandings of race in nineteenth-century America would have been challenged by the Book of Mormon’s comments on race. In “Black, White, and Red All Over,” Talmage analyzes the occasionally-noted fact that the Book of Mormon—unlike nineteenth-century Americans—has nothing to say about a “red race.” What that means for reading the Book of Mormon proves to be more important than many have guessed.

In “Narrative Doubling and the Structure of Helaman,” Kimberly Berkey undertakes a literary analysis of the structure—or really, of the lack of structure—in the Book of Helaman. Dramatically understudied, the Book of Helaman seems diffuse and without a clear principle of organization. Berkey does the important work of discerning the shape and intentions of the masterpiece book readers of the Book of Mormon tend to ignore. She’s working on the Helaman volume for the Brief Theological Introductions.

In “And He Was Anti-Christ,” Daniel Belnap follows up his earlier work (also published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies) on the socio-political shape of the eighteenth year of the reign of the judges. Sifting the text for clues about the political meaning of the events described, Belnap helps us see the reasons for Mormon’s decision to focus more of his narrative on the eighteenth year of the judges’ reign than on any other time during Nephite history.

Finally, Charles Swift, in “The Lord Slayeth the Wicked,” assesses the large literature on the death of Laban from early in First Nephi. Sorting through the various approaches to this difficult story, Swift produces a map that helps us decide what it might mean to read the story responsibly—both ethically and religiously.

Two research notes—brief but suggestive—appear alongside these longer research articles. In the first, Kirk Weeden puts the Book of Mormon in conversation with the sociological theory of Pierre Bourdieu. Above all, Weeden shows why the best of social theory might help us to make sense of the theological messages of the Book of Mormon.

In the second note, Michaël Ulrich outlines a proposal regarding the literary relationships among several public addresses in the Book of Mosiah. Ulrich shows how much more attention needs to be given to the patterns of speech running through Mosiah, building on the work of numerous scholars who have considered particular addresses.

In a special feature for this year’s issue, readers will find the first English publication of an important essay on the Book of Mormon, originally published in the 1950s by a major German literary figure. Arno Schmidt’s “The Book of Mormon” represents a whole tradition—underappreciated in Book of Mormon studies—of respectful-but-skeptical readings of Nephite scripture. Introducing the translation of the essay is an analysis and contextualization by John Durham Peters. Peters shows how to appreciate the insights of an open-minded but gently blasphemous appreciation of Latter-day Saint scripture. We stand to learn much by looking in the mirror that someone like Arno Schmidt holds up for us.

And as always, the 2019 issue of the Journal contains a handful of book reviews. Nicholas Frederick provides a long literature review focused on the relationship between the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Students of the subject will find in Frederick’s essay a most helpful orientation to the literature. Rosalynde Welch and Joseph Stuart provided review essays for this volume. Welch looks at a variety of works addressing the Book of Mormon and faith crises (you can read that for free for the next thirty days here), while Stuart assesses the most recent publications on race and the Book of Mormon.

There follow reviews of: Brian Stubbs’s books on Mesoamerican languages and their relationship to near eastern language (review by Chris Rogers); the first publication of BYU’s Book of Mormon Academy, a collection of essays on Abinadi edited by Shon Hopkin (reviewed by Brian Hauglid); and Mette Harrison’s novel The Book of Laman (reviewed by Scott Hales).

Volume 29 wraps up with a bibliography of work published during 2018 on the Book of Mormon. This issue of the Journal is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s being written about this central and sacred volume of scripture. I sincerely hope the work in this year’s issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies drives many to a closer reading of the literature, but especially to a closer reading of the Book of Mormon itself.

Remember: non-subscribers can access two articles free of charge for the next thirty days. Grab them while you can, and then consider supporting the journal by subscribing.

Joseph M. Spencer, editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies