Latest ‘Journal of Book of Mormon Studies’ looks at the Liahona

11.10.2020 | Joseph Spencer

I’m most pleased to introduce to the public the 2020 issue—volume 29!—of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. This is the third volume to appear under my editorship, and I’m thrilled to have been appointed to a second third-year term. Print subscribers already received their volumes, and it is now available digitally on JSTOR. Learn more or subscribe here.

In case you missed the news a few months ago, the 2020 volume is the last of its kind for a while. The 2021–2023 volumes will all be special issues focused on the state of the field—the past, the present, and the future of Book of Mormon studies. The first of those three special issues is nearing completion and will go into production early next year. In the meanwhile, here’s a glimpse into the just-released issue of the journal.

Our 2020 issue opens with seven research articles by scholars representing a wide range of disciplines. The first is Daniel McClellan’s “2 Nephi 25:23 in Literary and Rhetorical Context,” which looks carefully at how the phrase “after all we can do” (and other phrases like it) were used at the time of the Book of Mormon’s publication in the 1830s. It turns out that this phrase appeared with some frequency in publications about the role of grace in salvation, and these help to clarify the rhetorical meaning of this well-known passage in the Book of Mormon.

There follows Rosalynde Welch’s “Lehi’s Brass Ball,” a deeply theoretical examination of how differently Lehi and Nephi are presented as responding to the object called the Liahona later in the Book of Mormon. Welch not only shows that each of these founding figures seems to understand the importance of the brass ball in different ways, she productively asks about the theological implications of these different understandings.

The third essay, Morgan Davis’s “Prophets and Prophecy in the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon,” is the first study of its kind: a careful analysis of the Book of Mormon alongside the sacred scriptures of Islam. Davis examines in particular the theme of prophecy and shows the way forward for the work of comparative scripture in the Latter-day Saint context.

Rebekah Westrup’s “Imaginings of the Book of Mormon” then follows, a fascinating study of the famed Book of Mormon paintings of Arnold Friberg and Minvera Teichert. These paintings were nearly contemporary, and Westrup helpfully shows how comparing them helps us to understand cultural tensions in mid-twentieth-century Latter-day Saint culture surrounding gender and scripture.

In the issue’s fifth essay, Robert Couch’s “On Zeezrom’s Conversion,” one finds a deeply philosophical argument that the Book of Mormon’s story of Zeezrom contests certain reductive notions of tradition and agency. Couch argues in an important way for attaching a deeper theological value to rationality than is often done in Latter-day Saint intellectual circles.

There follows Samuel Mitchell’s “Caught with Guile,” a groundbreaking literary study of what he calls the trickster motif in the Book of Mormon. Mitchell provides readers with an angle for making sense of difficult passages in the volume, passages where otherwise morally upright figures are presented as using trickery to accomplish lauded ends; he also deepens the growing literary conversation about the Book of Mormon.

Finally, the seventh and last research essay is Noel Reynolds’s “The Language of Repentance in the Book of Mormon,” an important contribution to what is an ongoing study for Reynolds of what constitutes “the gospel” in the Book of Mormon. Here, he argues against popular conceptions of repentance in order to outline a more traditionally biblical notion of repentance, clearly visible in the Book of Mormon.

As usual, the 2020 issue contains book reviews (of Grant Hardy’s Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon, of Seth Perry’s Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States, of Jad Hatem’s Postponing Heaven, and of Larry Morris’s A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon). It also contains three shorter research notes: essays on Isaiah 6 in the Book of Mormon by Jason Combs, on the poetic structure of Ether 2 by Madison Landrith, and the beginnings of a disability studies reading of the Book of Mormon by Blair Hodges. We’ve again included a thorough literature review focused on a specific topic—this time a study of what has been written on gender in the Book of Mormon, written by myself. There’s of course our usual annual bibliography at the close of the volume.

In addition to all this, this volume contains a special interview. Recent publications in various venues (including in the 2019 issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies) have raised questions about whether and how it might be possible to pursue a historical linguistic study of the languages spoken by Book of Mormon peoples—with the work of Brian Stubbs at the center of the conversation. In the hopes of creating better understanding of the relevant issues, I asked Stubbs to do an interview about the basic issues and he was happy to do so. Our conversation, “Historical Linguistics and the Book of Mormon,” therefore also appear in this issue.

Book of Mormon studies continues to flourish and grow. Since volume 28 appeared last year, numerous major publication on the Book of Mormon have appeared—Elizabeth Fenton and Jared Hickman’s Americanist Approaches to the Book of Mormon, the Maxwell Institute’s brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon series, and Don Bradley’s The Lost 116 Pages, among many others. The future looks bright, and I sincerely hope the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies continues to be at the center of a shared conversation about the meaning of this most remarkable and sacred volume of scripture.

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Joseph M. Spencer is editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies and assistant professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University. He earned a PhD in philosophy at the University of New Mexico and has published extensively on Latter-day Saint scripture and theology. Spencer is co-editor of the book series Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture. His other books include 1st Nephi: a brief theological introduction, Reading Nephi Reading Isaiah, and For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope.