Category: Book Reviews

12 Questions with Grant Hardy – part I

Grant Hardy

To cap off our roundtable review of Grant Hardy’s new book Understanding the Book of Mormon we’re fortunate to feature an interview with the book’s author. The interview will be posted in two parts. Our thanks to all who have participated, and especially Bro. Hardy.

Grant Hardy and Personal Scripture Study

Understanding BofM ii

Every semester, one of my principal goals in my tax classes is to get my students to engage with the Internal Revenue Code. And it’s harder than you might think: often they don’t read the Code itself, focusing instead on the explanations in their casebook.[fn1] And their aversion to reading the Code is completely understandable: unlike court decisions, the mainstay of law school, there is no narrative flow, no character, no imagery, nothing that we traditionally latch onto in order to immerse ourselves in a text. And frankly, using the casebook isn’t a bad short-term decision. The casebook explains what the Code provisions mean and how they’re applied, at least in simple situations.But in the longer term, relying on the casebook’s explanation does my students a disservice. While it helps them be able to answer my questions in class, and while it likely helps them do decently on my exams, if they rely on the casebook at the expense of…

Bootstrapping a Book of Mormon Readership

Understanding BofM ii

Compare this classic statement of Richard Bushman, meant to encapsulate his own efforts as part of the New Mormon History movement: As more and more historians work to situate Mormonism in American history, Mormons like me want to join the discussion. We will write better if we are less defensive, more open to criticism, more exploratory and venturous, but even with our inhibitions and parochialisms, we should come to the table with our Mormonism intact.[1] with this statement from Grant Hardy: As the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints becomes a world religion, the need for our traditional siege-mentality diminishes. When we speak with others about our beliefs, we can be con fident that we have something to add to the diversity of human re ligious life—without necessarily having to be in full missionary mode—and we can take seriously differing points of view without feeling that we are somehow giving ground to the enemy. . . .We are at…

Grant Hardy’s Subject Problem

Criticisms of the Book of Mormon generally fall into one of two categories: objections to its historical claims on the one hand, and on the other critiques of its literary style. The two prongs are often combined in a single attack, for instance in the suggestion that the awkward style of the book reflects the naïve voice of an unlettered youngster. For their part, the book’s defenders also tend to elide the two categories, arguing that passages of inelegant prose are better understood as latent Hebraisms laboring under English syntax. Most of the time, of course, devout readers of the Book of Mormon simply ignore the book’s style altogether. Grant Hardy, in his new book Understanding the Book of Mormon, wants to uncouple the problems of historicity and literary merit. He brackets the first, setting aside the apologetic debates that have dominated Book of Mormon studies over the past four decades. Instead, he turns his attention to the content of…

Grant Hardy Week at Times & Seasons

Understanding BofM pic

Times and Seasons is excited this week to present to you a roundtable series review of Grant Hardy’s recent book Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (Oxford 2010). The upcoming posts will not only acquaint you with book itself, but also provide our opinionated responses, and of course, allow you all to join in the fray. Best of all, Brother Hardy has agreed to participate in a 12 Questions Interview that will cap off the whole affair. To begin, for those of you not already familiar, we want to introduce the author himself. Dr. Grant Hardy is currently Professor of History and Religious Studies and the Director of the Humanities Program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. After serving a mission in Taiwan he earned his B.A. in Ancient Greek at BYU followed by a PhD in Classical Chinese Language and Literature from Yale University. Professor Hardy is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades for…

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: True Believer

Wooden Chair

It’s unlikely that I believe the right things about God, Jesus, the gospel, or the Church. It’s even less likely that I could express my beliefs in a coherent and justifiable way. I used to think that, because my ideas were clever, I was at least closer to being right than most. This I took as a consolation. But cleverness isn’t much to live on. God, I think, has been working to pry this cleverness from my cold, dead hands. I have felt God more than once pushing me to echo Meister Eckhart’s deeply orthodox prayer: “I pray to God to rid me of God.” In the midst of such a prayer, the wind stops howling and God bestows a terrifying calm. In this stillness, God gives a precise revelation that bypasses belief and instructs practice. Here, the gospel is given as a certain way of sitting in a chair, a certain way of meeting a child’s eyes, a certain way of kissing a…

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Secular Mormons


The irony of religious fundamentalism is that it is a profoundly modern and profoundly secular phenomenon. This is perhaps especially true of the scriptural literalism that often accompanies it. The result is that many of the most conservative Mormons are, in point of fact, also the most secular. Few Mormons are more secular than Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie. Why is fundamentalism so profoundly secular? Because it cedes the field of truth wholly and without contestation to secular models of truth – and then tries to combat, contest, and outdo the secularists at their own game. Is there a better example of this acquiescence to the secular paradigm than Joseph Fielding Smith’s Man, His Origin and Destiny? Jim Faulconer levels a similar (but subtler) charge against the Protestant theologian Langdon Gilkey in the fourth chapter of Faith, Philosophy, Scripture (Maxwell Institute, 2010): Ironically, when people argue for creation science or for what is usually called a literal reading…

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: The Call

Hakuin - Blind Men Crossing Bridge

It is a commonplace in Zen that three things are necessary for liberation. If you want to wake up from the slumber of self-absorption, if you want to live your life outside the suffocating confines of that mason jar that is your own head, you need (1) great faith, (2) great doubt, and (3) great effort. As Mormons, we’re famous for valorizing the third. We’re also often good at promoting the first. But when was the last time you heard a talk extolling the need to cultivate great doubt? The Zen masters were likely right to see all three as essential. It is not enough to trust and build. Ground must also be cleared. In Faith, Philosophy, Scripture (Maxwell Institute, 2010), Jim Faulconer makes a similar point in relation to reading scripture: We often speak of and use scripture as if it were a set of propositions that are poorly expressed or, at best, “merely” poetic. We then try to…

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Pagan Faith


Mormons are metaphysical heretics, backward pagans, country bumpkins, who claim that the world, rather than being one, is fundamentally many. We’re metaphysical pluralists and so break with the creeds. Unity is a product, not a starting point. God the Son is not God the Father and (moreover!) all intelligences are uncreated and co-eternal with God. As a result, rather than being reassuringly antedated by the simplicity of a Divine Will or the uniformity of a Providential Reason, we’re preceded by the mystery of a material plurality that is always already given. In this scenario, faith is a different kind of thing. Unlike many versions of creedal faith, pagan faith is no temporary, stop-gap measure. Pagan faith is eternal and, in a pagan universe, even the Gods must have and keep faith. Faith is not the foil of a (lost or future) knowledge, but the ageless bedrock of any trusting, active, and moral engagement with an uncreated world. Pagan faith originates in response to…

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: Memory


Say someone asks if you know the time. You say yes and then look at your watch. Did you really know the time? Say someone asks you how to get downtown to the museum. You say yes. They ask you to write down directions. You can’t, but you offer to drive them there instead. If you can see the landmarks, then you’ll know where to turn. Did you really know how to get there? Say that, walking past a bakery, you’re struck by the smell of a pastry and then vividly recall a time when, six years-old, you made those same rolls with your grandmother. You can feel again the weight of her hand on your shoulder as she helps you roll the dough. This is the only time you’ve thought of that event in the past thirty years. Did you remember this? Or did the pastry? Who is doing the knowing in these examples? Who is doing the remembering? You? The watch?…

Faith, Philosophy, Scripture: A Typology of Readers


In the introduction to his Faith, Philosophy, Scripture (Neal A Maxwell Institute, 2010), Jim Faulconer gives us a kind of typology of religious subjects. Imagining the different kinds of responses he might get to the difficulty of his philosophically inclined essays, he picks out four basic types. I. Typology 1. Those who enjoy a kind of childish naivete. Those with childish faith will find what I say difficult because it makes the obvious difficult. They are likely to be bored or, at best, indulgent of me, and their reaction is the right reaction. I have nothing to say to those who are naive in a childish way because anything I say would be superfluous. (xv) 2. Those who enjoy a kind of mature naivete. Those with more mature, childlike faith have moved from their initial naivete to one that knows the obstacles to faith and has faith anyway – not necessarily in spite of those obstacles, but aware of them and able to cope with…

Home Waters: Recompense


Of his awakening, Dogen says, “I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers, the great wide earth, the sun, the moon, the stars.” Tinged with enlightenment, you see what Dogen saw: that life is borrowed and that mind itself is mooched. Every day you’ll need something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Mind borrows mountains and rivers, earth, sun, and sky. But you can’t just keep these things forever. Even if they weren’t quite what you wanted, they gave what they had and now some compensation is needed, some recompense is required. “Recompense is payback,” Handley says. “It means to weigh together, to bring back into balance” (xi). What was loaned must be returned or replaced. What was given must be given back. Nobody gets to start from scratch, not even God. To make a world is to borrow, recycle, and repurpose the matter that, even if disorganized, is already out there…

Home Waters: Gene/ecology

Canyon Walls 2

Earth is stratified time. Use some wind, water, and pressure. Sift it, layer it, and fold it. Add an inhuman number of years. Stack and buckle these planes of rock into mountains of frozen time. Use a river to cleave that mountain in two. Hide hundreds of millions of purloined years in plain, simultaneous sight as a single massive bluff. It’s a good trick. Bodies, made of earth, are just the same: in my face, unchosen, generations of people are stratified in plain, simultaneous sight. My father’s nose, my grandfather’s ears, my mother’s wink, the lines my kids have etched into my squint. My wife pats my cheek and says: “Dear, your genealogy is showing.” She’s right. The lines on my face and in the palms of hands are family lines. But these lines aren’t easy to follow because, counter to expectation, time’s line isn’t straight. Time piles up. It loops around, knots up, peters out, and jumps ahead. It…

Home Waters: Soul as Watershed

Provo River

Spurred by Handley’s Home Waters, I’ve been reading Wallace Stegner. Like Handley, Stegner is interested in the tight twine of body, place, and genealogy that makes a life. On my account, Handley and Stegner share the same thesis: if the body is a river, then the soul is a watershed. Like a shirt pulled off over your head, this thesis leaves the soul inside-out and exposed. You thought your soul was a kernel of atomic interiority, your most secret secret – but shirt in hand, everyone can see your navel. Stegner’s novel, Angle of Repose, opens with the narrator’s own version of this thesis. An aging father, writing about his pioneer grandparents, names the distance between himself and his son: Right there, I might say to Rodman, who doesn’t believe in time, notice something: I started to establish the present and the present moved on. What I established is already buried under layers of tape. Before I can say I am, I…

Home Waters: Overview

Home Waters

George Handley’s Home Waters: A Year of Recompenses on the Provo River (University of Utah Press, 2010) practices theology like a doctor practices CPR: not as secondhand theory but as a chest-cracking, lung-inflating, life-saving intervention. Home Waters models what, on my account, good theology ought to do: it is experimental, it is grounded in the details of lived experience, and it takes charity – that pure love of Christ – as the only real justification for its having been written. It is not afraid to guess, it is not afraid to question, it is not afraid to cry repentance, and it is not afraid to speak in its own name. The book deserves some time and attention. It’s what you’ve been wanting to read. It may also be what you’ve been wanting to write. At the very least, it made me want to write about it. I’ve planned a few posts that will air some of my ideas about Handley’s ideas:…

Review: Losing My Religion

I admit that when approaching William Lobdell’s Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America — and Found Unexpected Peace (HarperCollins, 2009), I expected the standard debunking treatment that is so familiar in news and entertainment media these days. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find a balanced and engaging narrative that mixes accounts of the stories Lobell covered while a religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times with details of his own journey into, then out of, faith. Lobdell’s journey and reporting Lobdell’s journey began in his late twenties, when he first attended the Mariners Church, a nondenominational megachurch in Orange County. Ironically, that church is located just a couple of blocks away from the Newport Beach Temple. [The Mariners Church very kindly allowed their parking lot to be used for overflow parking during the public open house tours provided prior to the dedication of the temple in 2005.] Lobdell slowly grew in the…

Mormons and Prosperity

What the scriptures teach us about prosperity

The Prosperity Gospel (which the linked Wikipedia article defines as “the notion that God provides material prosperity for those he favors”) is often associated with Evangelical megapreachers. [Note 1.] But we all know there is a Mormon variation of the Prosperity Gospel lurking behind the ubiquitous references to blessings and how to earn them that populate LDS books, sermons, and discourse. So when I started reading my review copy of What the Scriptures Teach Us About Prosperity (Deseret Book, 2010) by S. Michael Wilcox, I was hoping that at some point the author would distinguish the Mormon view of prosperity from the Evangelical version of the Prosperity Gospel. The Mormon View of Prosperity Alas, no. The book contains no explicit discussion of the Prosperity Gospel and no direct comparison of Evangelical and LDS views. The index offers no entries under Propserity Gospel, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Evangelical, or even Protestant. The best I can find is an entry for John…

Royal Skousen’s 12 questions — The Critical Text Version

Last month we posted Royal Skousen’s discussion of his work on recovering the earliest version of the Book of Mormon, along with some updates.  Unfortunately, that post garnered some annoying formatting problems — mostly due to the new format T&S adopted this year.  We’re happy to now present to you mark III of Royal Skousen’s 12 questions interview.  Royal Skousen’s book, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, was published last month by Yale University Press and yes, you can order  it at Amazon.

Divine Comedy, Divine Tragedy

The Bible, as we have received it, sets out the drama of salvation with its wrenching fall and crucifixion, but joyous resurrection and exaltation. Though its compilation is in many ways ad hoc, there is a satisfyingly comedic structure to the whole. As Terryl Givens puts it in his The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction, just out from Oxford University Press, “There is a neat symmetry . . . Primordial creation is balanced by apocalypse and heavenly postscript . . . All tears are wiped away, and the primal fall and alienation are remedied by reunion under the beneficent reign of God the Father” (p61). The Book of Mormon is very different.

12 Questions and a Book by Royal Skousen

5 years ago we published one of my favorite “12 Questions” posts, in which Royal Skousen discussed in some depth what he has learned from his extensive work on the earliest editions of the Book of Mormon.  His book, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, is being published in September by Yale University Press (and yes, you can order  it at Amazon right now).  To mark this milestone, Royal was kind enough to update his “12 questions” discussion, which we have posted below, for the benefit of those who did not catch it the first time.   Enjoy!

Four sources of the Apocalypse

With the past two months, I have read — for various reasons — four different novels laying out apocalyptic events within the United States. Here are the novels, in the order I read (or re-read) them, and with the reasons why I read them: — Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1977): a comet fragments and strikes the Earth in numerous places, collapsing much of world civilization, including the United States. I’ve read this several times before; I saw it cited on a blog (Samizdata) in a discussion on “the best end-of-the-world novels”  and decided to dig it out and read it again.

A New Book for the Mormon Canon

There are a number of Mormon pamphlets and books that have achieved a kind of semi-canonical status within Mormon studies. Everyone agrees, for example, that Parley P. Pratt’s Key to the Science of Theology or John Taylor’s Mediation and Atonement are key texts for understanding nineteenth Mormon thought. If any evidence is needed, both texts, I believe, are still in print. At the very least both have produced modern reprints. I have a proposed addition to the canon, George Q. Cannon’s A Review of the Decision of the Supreme Court in the Case of Geo. Reynolds v. the United States.

Now a glorious dawn is breaking

What will it be like for a marriage to continue past death into the eternities? What does it mean to have a perfected body, or to love an eternal being? Stephenie Meyer has an answer. Breaking Dawn, the last novel in her Twilight series, presents a sustained and vividly imagined view of one of the core elements of Mormon personal salvation. [This post is going to discuss all the details of Breaking Dawn, including how it ends, so please stop reading now if you don’t want to know.]

“Mormonism”: A Perfect Storm

Library Journal this month ran an interesting article offering a big-picture perspective on the world of LDS and LDS-related publishing, highlighting close to 40 books on doctrine, history, sociology, comparative theology and devotional topics, as well as periodicals, video, and internet resources. The article’s aim is to help librarians choose recent, reliable books about Mormonism, whether they work in a public or small academic library.

Meet Your Inner Fish

I recently read Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion Year History of the Human Body (Pantheon Books, 2008) by Neil Shubin, a paleotologist and professor of anatomy at the University of Chicago. By coincidence, Jared at LDS Science Review had posted the same book in his “Currently Reading” list. Here is our conversation about this interesting book.

Book Review: The Host

by Stephenie Meyers (Little, Brown, 2008). 617 pp. WARNING: major spoilers Stephenie Meyer’s foray into science fiction is a well-deserved best seller, and a great piece of Mormon literature. The romantic interaction between Bella and Edward and Jacob—wait, I mean between Jared and Melanie/Wanderer and Ian—uh, hold on a second…