Triple Book Review: New Mormon Theology Seminar Volumes

The Neal A. Maxwell Institute’s Mormon Theology Seminar continues to release interesting publications highlighting and exploring key Mormon scriptural texts. The latest wave of publications, three volumes dedicated to analyzing 1 Nephi 1, Jacob 7, and Genesis 2–3, adds to this growing list and gives readers helpful new resources for better understanding these passages. In this brief post I will combine all three books into one shorter review that highlights what I found to be one of the more interesting articles from each of the new books to give the reader an idea of what kind of material is covered therein.

In A Dream, a Rock, and a Pillar of Fire: Reading 1 Nephi 1, Julie Smith (“Huldah’s Long Shadow”) situates the prophet Lehi in a larger historical and religious context in ancient Judah by comparing and contrasting him to other prophets and prophetesses of the time (cf. 1 Nephi 1:4). She specifically explores a possible relationship between the ministries of Lehi and the prophetess Huldah, whose story is recorded in 2 Kings 22. After an analysis between the lives and teachings of Lehi and Huldah, Smith concludes, “Given the historical proximity to and importance of Huldah’s experience to Lehi’s life, and given the myriad ways in which Lehi’s story echoes and amplifies Huldah’s, readers have good reason to argue that Huldah casts a shadow over the entire Book of Mormon narrative, but especially the first chapter” (p. 16). Smith notices a similar pattern between the two, namely, “receive a divine book, read the book, and engage the book with your world through the prophetic voice” (p. 16). Smith’s careful reading of both the relevant biblical and Book of Mormon texts nicely demonstrates the sort of rich comparative reading one can accomplish between these interconnected scriptural works, and indeed why doing such is important.

In Christ and Antichrist: Reading Jacob 7, Jana Riess (“‘There Came a Man’: Sherem, Scapegoating, and the Inversion of Prophetic Tradition”) proposes that Sherem is depicted as a sort of inverse to the biblical trope of the prophetic “man of God” coming into the Israelite religious community to pronounce divine judgement. In this reformulating of the type scene known in the Hebrew Bible (cf. 1 Samuel 2:27; 1 Kings 13:1; 20:28), Sherem is depicted as a sort of anti-prophet; that is, a “prophet” who breaks with the expected prophetic type and thus clashes with the authority of the narrator, Jacob. Riess argues further that Sherem acts as a sort of scapegoat who must be sacrificed to uphold the order of the community (in this case the fledging Nephite community). “Sherem’s death galvanizes the Nephite people to greater righteous­ ness,” Riess observes. “Although after this chapter Sherem is never mentioned again, his effect on the people is clear: Nephite religion changes after his sacrificial death” (p. 16). This reading demonstrates the sophistication of the Book of Mormon’s narrative, and is thus sure to raise the reader’s appreciation for the literary craft of the text.

Finally, in Fleeing the Garden: Reading Genesis 2–3, Ben Spackman (“‘Adam, Where Art Thou?’ Onomastics, Etymology, and Translation in Genesis 2–3”) looks at some of the nuances present in the Hebrew text of Genesis 2–3 when it comes to understanding and translating on the name/word ‘adam. For instance, Spackman explains that not all uses of the noun ‘adam in Genesis are as a proper name. At several instances Adam should more properly be understood as something like “the human” or even more abstractly as “humankind.” This may seem like a grammatical nitpick at first, but Spackman recognizes that this may actually be very important, since “how we translate (or how the translations we choose to read translate) and how we understand and interpret the text shape our personal beliefs and narratives as well as, for Latter-day Saints, the corporate teachings of the LDS Church” (p. 44). Spackman therefore urges more care and nuance in how readers engage with Genesis 2–3, specifically as it pertains to the identity and function of Adam or “the human.”

This short review cannot do full justice to the seminar’s new publications, which cover a range of theological, literary, and philosophical topics as they pertain to these scriptural texts. But hopefully it will give the reader a taste for the kinds of offerings these short but engaging volumes have for a general audience. Latter-day Saints interested in deepening their understanding of the scriptures will find great benefit in each book.

5 thoughts on “Triple Book Review: New Mormon Theology Seminar Volumes”

  1. I am puzzled to here find a positive review for chapters written by a feminist activist who sees all scripture through a feminist lens (and is therefore informed by the philosophies of men/women); an unorthodox/dissident blogger/writer who criticizes everything the modern prophets do on her blog (and is an obvious LGBT/feminist activist), and someone who believes they have the corner on interpretation for Genesis. I do not believe God wants all of His children to become Bible scholars/linguists in order to understand his word; that is why he gave members the gift of the Holy Ghost.

    I prefer my scripture interpreted absent the philosophies of the world. When such thinking is imposed on the text, as these women do, it becomes corrupted and contributes to the state of apostasy the world flounders in; Latter-day Saints don’t need to swim in that ooze.

  2. And that is good; but your and your “us” are sophisticated and educated enough to know the difference, while most Latter-day Saint readers aren’t and will be easily misled. That is the real worry. It’s called the philosophies of men mingled with scripture creeping into the church.

    • Thing is, you believe in the philosophies of men mingled with scripture just as much as anyone else. You just prefer the philosophies of men you agree with and look up to, not the men (or women) you disagree with and disparage.

      To be fair, I have the same tendency. And so do most Church members as well.

  3. Those who preach the philosophies of men mingled with scripture should be disparaged, or using better terminology, pointed out for their error.

    While you may be right about me (and others) believing the philosophies of men to some extent, what I would prefer to call current best practices, your statement/argument becomes weaker the closer a person gets to reading and understanding the scriptures by the power of the Holy Ghost. Then the philosophies of men/women are removed and you get the pure truth, same as the prophet that originally wrote it. As the Prophet Joseph said, “The nearer a man approaches God, the clearer are his views…”etc. The nearer a man/woman approaches God, they recognize the false philosophies of feminism or the LGBT movement imposed over the text, or scripture interpreted by language scholars instead of prophets.

    We might as well chuck the whole church and the prophets and apostles with it if we are going to replace them with feminist and LGBT activism and Bible scholars. Sure, we would look just like a fine protestant or Catholic church, but what good is that? We can go get that now already. And I don’t want to creep toward that problem now, individually or as a church.

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