April 13, 2010

"My Faves" on the Book of Mormon - Brant Gardner

The next installment of the "My Faves" series includes selections by Brant Gardner. Gardner's six-volume Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon is the most detailed commentary on the Book of Mormon to date. His faves had some overlap with other participants in this series, so he sent me five favorites in three different categories. In the spirit of this series, I whittled them down to five total selections. 1, 2 and 3 are from his "seminal" category. 4 is a "personal favorite" and 5 is "important, but probably overlooked." Gardner's own explanations follow the recommendations below. 

  1. Margaret Barker, “Joseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion,” The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, edited by John W. Welch. (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2006), 69-82. See also Barker, “What Did King Josiah Reform?”, Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem, edited by John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely. (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Brigham Young University, 2004), 522-42.

Although Margaret Barker’s work is controversial [see this blog post and comments, and this discussion for example], she is known and well-published. That Barker would write an explicitly favorable article discussing the Book of Mormon against pre-exilic Israel is a monumental breakthrough into non-LDS scholarly work. Also, I was in the audience when Barker presented "What Did King Josiah Reform?" It changed my entire perception of 1 Nephi. Very few other articles have caused so many pieces to fall into place for me.

2. Hugh Nibley, "The Book of Mormon as a Mirror of the East." Improvement Era 51/4 (April 1948): 202-4, 249-51. Reprinted, without illustrations, in the Improvement Era 73/11 (November 1970): 115-20, 122-25.

This is the [now-difficult-to-find] article that introduced Nibley’s approach comparing the Book of Mormon to the Old World. In this article, he lists comparisons of Book of Mormon names to Old World names, probably the first time serious discussions of the Egyptian onomasticon appeared in an LDS publication. It was the Improvement Era, no less. This article preceded three longer Improvement Era pieces, "Lehi in the Desert" in 1950, "The World of the Jaredites" in 1951-52, and "There Were Jaredites" in 1956-57. These became Lehi in the Desert and the World of the Jaredites.

3. John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies vol. 10:1 (1969).

Although it spawned a chiasmania that has perhaps diminished some of its power, the very fact that it did set of such a craze is a witness to the powerful suggestion of antiquity it had for the Book of Mormon.

4. Daniel C. Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah: A Note on 1 Nephi 11:8—23,” Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World: Studies in Honor of John L. Sorenson, edited by Davis Bitton. Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998, 191-243. Shorter version: Peterson, Daniel C. “Nephi and His Asherah,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 2 (2000): 16-25.

This article demonstrates how re-visioning the Book of Mormon against the cultural background of the Old World can have surprisingly powerful interpretive power.

5. John E. Clark, “A New Artistic Rendering of Izapa Stela 5: A Step Toward Improved Interpretation,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8, no. 1 (1999): 22-33.

The use of Izapa Stela 5 has been a staple of much of LDS advocacy for the Book of Mormon and a Mesoamerican location. Clark shows that the emphasis is misplaced. It is another important and courageous demonstration of the need for both solid research and following paths to their correct end, even if they don’t end where we wish they would.

Brant Gardner describes himself as a "slightly used Anthropologist." He received a B.A. in University Studies from Brigham Young University in 1975 and an M.A. in Anthropology from the State University of New York, Albany (SUNY) in 1978. From 1978–80, Gardner completed all the course work toward a Ph.D. in Mesoamerican ethnohistory at SUNY, but did not complete exams or a dissertation. In addition to his 6-volume Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Gardner has published on classical Nahuatl kinship terminology, ethnohistoric investigation of Coxoh in southern Mexico, and the Aztec Legend of the Suns. He has published with the New World Archaeological Foundation and the Institute for Mesoamerican Studies. Professionally, Gardner has worked in software consulting and product management. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Robert Boylan said...

I, too, am a fan of Peterson's lengthy exegesis of 1 Nephi 11 and his discussion of Asherah. It is an article that makes sense of a passage of Scripture that seems, without knowing the cultural and historical background of 1 Nephi, well, strange. Peterson's article makes perfect sense of it, and sheds a lot of light on the pre-exilic Israelite religion of the early portion of the Book of Mormon.

BHodges said...

On my mission a few elders told me we could get a free introductory issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies from FARMS, so I sent away for it. The issue was the one with Dan's Asherah article. I got through the first 2 pages or so and thought "wow, is this Peterson guy apostate or something?" I thought it was really far out. Now I recognize that he was simply pointing to some contextual elements in the BoM that we can easily overlook because of the cultural disconnect. I'm glad I hung on to that issue, hehe.

Kevin Christensen said...

Interesting selections all. I've been impressed by all of them. After hearing Margaret's "What King Josiah Reformed" I re-read Jeremiah, 2 Kings and Chronicles, Ezekiel, and 1 Nephi. And I saw new things in each one in light of her framework. My subsequent essays all showed the influence. I particularly like the like, "Josiah's changes concerned the high priests, and were thus changes at the very heart of the temple." Her "Joseph Smith and Pre-Exilic Religion" was electrifying when delivered at the Joseph Smith Conference in 2005.

Daniel's "Nephi and His Ashera" blew me away when I first read it. Still a classic. In the meantime, Alyson Von Feldt's FARMS essays have taken things a bit further.

Clark's essay is also an interesting choice, very enlightening as it shows scholarship as an ongoing process, not a static shelf of truth, or a big book of what to think.

Kevin Christensen

BHodges said...

Kevin, I think the last one (Clark) is especially important to let people know that different LDS scholars have different opinions on certain things, etc. As you, say, there isn't one static shelf of truth on these things.

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