Joseph Spencer introduces the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies vol. 24

09.15.2015 | The Maxwell Institute

Associate editor Joseph M. Spencer introduces volume 24 of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, which is available today. A digital subscription costs ten dollars and includes access to all three Maxwell Institute periodicals. Or you can subscribe to the print edition, which includes digital access to all Institute periodicals, for $25. —BHodges

A year ago, the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies underwent a few changes. In several ways, these changes marked a return to earlier iterations of the journal—reinstituting its original title , narrowing the focus back to the Book of Mormon, and returning to the publishing format of a standard academic journal. In other ways, though, the changes pointed forward in new directions, claiming that the discipline of Book of Mormon studies should be—and in fact is—part of the larger academic fields of Mormon studies and religious studies. The first issue published under the direction of editor Brian Hauglid signaled that shift in focus.

Little has changed in our vision over the last year. Indeed, if anything, we’ve become only more convinced that things are headed in the right direction. We’ve made a serious effort to continue to gather work on the Book of Mormon that can speak to readers of all sorts—academic and lay readers, persons trained in various academic disciplines, individuals who embrace the faith commitments of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and individuals who don’t.

Joseph M. Spencer

Even as our vision remains the same, we’re making at least two changes that will be of interest to readers. First, we’ve brought onto our editorial team a new book review editor, Janiece Johnson, currently a visiting professor of religious education at Brigham Young University—Idaho. The remarkable increase in reviews, review essays, and book notices that appear in this year’s volume reveal the extent of Janiece’s contribution. She’s also heading up the editorial work on the next volume of the Journal, which will appear in the spring (which is the second change; you can expect new volumes to appear each spring after that rather than in the fall.)

We believe volume 24 is among the strongest to date, with wide-ranging content that indicates general developments in Book of Mormon studies. We encourage scholars working on the Book of Mormon to send their work to us for next year’s issue as well, so that we can continue to make available the best work on the key sacred text of Latter-day Saints.

This year’s volume opens with an essential methodological piece by Nicholas J. Frederick called “Evaluating the Interaction between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon.” Drawing from a longer-term project, Frederick attempts here to straighten out how to determine when and how a passage in the Book of Mormon exhibits intertextual relationships with the biblical text. He outlines five criteria for deciding when interaction with biblical texts occurs and then investigates a number of helpful case studies to illustrate the usefulness of the methodology. Frederick’s research will help to clarify work on the biblical flavor and style, as well as the basic theological commitments, of the Book of Mormon.

Appropriately following Frederick’s essay is a piece jointly authored by Shon Hopkin and John Hilton III, “Samuel’s Reliance on Biblical Language.” These authors note the use of several unique biblical phrases drawn from Isaiah and Malachi that appear in the Book of Mormon only in connection with Nephi, Jacob, and Samuel. They analyze these patterns of appearance in order to see how their use might help to clarify the meaning of Samuel the Lamanite’s place in the larger Book of Mormon narrative. Their work helps to focus attention on Samuel, whose story and sermon have been inadequately studied thus far.

Third in this year’s issue is Kimberly Berkey’s “Temporality and Fulfillment in 3 Nephi 1.” Berkey offers a profoundly innovative theological reading of the last chapters of Helaman and the first chapter of Third Nephi to develop an account of how the Book of Mormon conceives of the nature of time and of the fulfillment of prophecy—themes essential to the self-understanding of the volume. Building on detailed exegesis of important passages, Berkey reveals how deeply complex references to, and discussions of, time are at the time of the fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecies of Christ’s birth. Berkey concludes her essay with a study of how all of these complexities help to prepare readers for the central theme of Christ’s sermon in 3 Nephi 20–21, the culmination of his New-World visit. The editors have selected Berkey’s piece as this volume’s free sample chapter, which you can download here if you haven’t yet subscribed to the Journal.

Kerry Hull follows Berkey with “War Banners,” a study of Captain Moroni’s title of liberty in light of Mesoamerican practices. Mobilizing a wealth of information—linguistic, literary, cultural, and historical—Hull argues that the story of the title of liberty fits comfortably into an ancient Mesoamerican setting. He presents ample illustrations from a variety of ancient American cultures to show the widespread use of banners in war practices. By bringing together such resources, Hull shows that the Mesoamerican context helps to clarify and to illuminate the narrative of the Book of Mormon. Hull’s work is representative of a new generation of scholars of Mesoamerica who have turned their attention to the Book of Mormon using more recent scholarship to show how rich and rewarding it can be to read Nephite scripture in light of ancient American archaeology.

Next in the issue comes Michael Perry’s essay, “The Supremacy of the Word.” Perry aims to reveal editorially intentional connections between the Zoramite mission of Alma 31–34 and the later conversion of the Lamanites in Helaman 5. His reading offers a redemptive interpretation of Alma 31:5, a classic Book of Mormon passage that affirms the deeper transformative effect of preaching the word versus enforcement by the sword. Where other interpreters of the text have suggested there’s something ironic about this passage since the Zoramite mission results in a major war, Perry argues that the larger narrative in Alma and Helaman suggests that the story means to link the Zoramite mission to the later conversion experience, ratifying Alma’s conviction regarding the power of the word. This kind of large-scale narrative interpretation is a welcome addition to the field of Book of Mormon studies.

The last full-length essay is by Ethan Sproat: “Skins as Garments in the Book of Mormon.” Wading into the troubled waters of what the Book of Mormon has to say about race, Sproat offers a remarkably innovative interpretation of passages in the text that speak of Lamanite “skins.” Engaging systematically with the available literature on these passages and bringing his own novel approach into the conversation, he attempts the re-situate the conversation about race in the Book of Mormon. Sproat uses Alma 3:5–6 as a hermeneutic key to argue that the several references to Lamanite “skins” are references to ritual garments, rather than to human flesh and its pigmentation. Sproat’s interpretation is strongly divergent from other available interpretations, and we hope that his provocation will cause lively discussion regarding these important passages.

Two longer review essays and three book reviews appear in volume 24. J. B. Haws engages with Alan Tyree’s Millions Call It Scripture, one of two major Community of Christ studies of the Book of Mormon published in 2013. Haws uses Tyree’s engagement with questions of Book of Mormon historicity to stage larger questions about the status of the Book of Mormon in non-Latter-day Saint branches of Mormonism, as well as to stage a call for deeper investment in good Book of Mormon scholarship by all who write on it. I authored the other review essay, an evaluation of two recent essays outlining remarkable literary approaches to the Book of Mormon: Elizabeth Fenton’s “Open Canons,” and Jared Hickman’s “The Book of Mormon as Amerindian Apocalypse.” I argue that the use of deconstruction in both authors’ work (deconstruction in the technical sense) is useful and revealing in essential ways, but that it also comes up against certain interpretive limits, illustrated at important points in especially Hickman’s essay.

These longer review essays are followed by shorter book reviews: Michael Austin weighs in on Avi Steinberg’s The Lost Book of Mormon; Chris Blythe reviews Dale Luffman’s The Book of Mormon’s Witness to Its First Readers; and Rosalynde Welch takes on my book An Other Testament, set to be released in an updated edition by the Maxwell Institute in 2016. The volume concludes with a book notice by Blair Hodges about the recently published Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon in two volumes as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. (The volumes were made available too late to be reviewed in full in this issue.)

This issue, like last year’s, also includes a few shorter “Notes,” brief interventions on Book of Mormon texts meant to spur further interest. The first comes from John Christopher Thomas, a Pentecostal scholar, who outlines what the Book of Mormon has to say about the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, with a particular (and particularly illuminating) emphasis on the gift of tongues. Jenny Webb then provides a close interpretive analysis of Jacob 7:26, highlighting the detailed structure and powerful pathos of the text and calling for closer attention to its themes of death, mourning, and time. Next comes a short piece by Robin Jensen on Abner Cole’s pirating of passages from the Book of Mormon in early 1830. His piece provides clues to help reconstruct the timeline of the Book of Mormon’s printing. Candice Wendt provides a theological or even homiletical reflection on Mormon’s question, “How is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?” found late in the Book of Mormon. Finally, Brant Gardner offers a few short reflections on authorial differences between Nephi and Mormon, despite certain shared overarching purposes. All of these shorter notes we hope will provoke further discussion and deeper study.

On behalf of Brian Hauglid, Mark Wright, in addition to the board of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies and everyone at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, I thank you for your interest in volume 24 and encourage you to engage with the scholarship herein.