This is a review of By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion by Terryl L. Givens:
I had wanted to read this book as soon as I learned about. I grew up in a home where the scriptures and mormon history were allowed to have their warts and difficult areas. There was no problem in this. Ever since, I have been fascinated to learn more and more of the history of LDS scripture and this book was a scholarly step forward.
Ok, I’m going to be frank. I love the the Book of Mormon. It is my favorite set of scripture in the LDS canon. It speaks to me clearly, teaches me in its allegories and truly shows me who Christ is as deliverer, teacher and Savior. I have found it to be a book of great depth when approached from all angles.
Terryl Givens has arisen as one of my favorite author’s and speakers, but this was the first book of his that I read in full. I have read quite a bit about the Book of Mormon from various sources seeking to understand the beauty of the book from every angle and the critiques/criticisms from their respective angles as well. I love the Book of Mormon and know that it is the word of God, even in the face of criticisms and difficulties.
Anyway, on to the book! At a first glance, this is a very scholarly, and wordy at times, take on the Book of Mormon. Givens covers a lot of ground starting with the First Vision and coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
This book is heavy. Not in weight, but in content and style.
It handles the Book of Mormon, it's coming forth, religiosity and criticisms in a scholarly manner, so that's different than most books that I had read about the Book of Mormon at the time (I read it in December 2011). Terryl Givens was still relatively obscure at the time. He has since written The God Who Weeps with his wife Fiona that was published by Deseret Book and has sold like wildfire.
So, something I really enjoyed was the amount of ground that this book covered. The chapter headings illustrate this:
Chapter One: "A Seer Shall the Lord My God Raise Up": The Prophet and the Plates
Chapter Two: "Out of the Dust": The Book of Mormon Comes Forth
Chapter Three: "A Marvelous Work and a Wonder": The Book of Mormon as Sacred Sign
Chapter Four: "I, Nephi, Wrote This Record": The Book of Mormon as Ancient History, Part 1--The Search for a Mesoamerican Troy
Chapter Five: "I, Nephi, Wrote This Record": The Book of Mormon as Ancient History, Part 2--The Search for a Rational Belief
Chapter Six: "Devices of the Devil": The Book of Mormon as Cultural Product or Sacred Fiction
Chapter Seven: "Plain and Precious Truths": The Book of Mormon as New Theology, Part 1--The Encounter with Biblical Christianity
Chapter Eight: "Plain and Precious Truths": The Book of Mormon as New Theology, Part 2--Dialogic Revelation
Chapter Nine: "A Standard Unto My People": The Book of Mormon as Cultural Touchstone
The chapter about criticisms and, mainly, possible influences and sources of the Book of Mormon is quite good, but it is a chapter that took me a while to get through. I’m quite familiar with a variety of criticisms toward the Book of Mormon, but this chapter goes deeper into a specific area (authorship and creation of the text) than I was familiar with at the time, so, it was rough going at first, but I’ve come to really appreciate that chapter’s honesty in considering what others have said, even if their ideas don’t hold much water.
The chapter on dialogic revelation (chapter 8) is my favorite. This chapter can be covered in a small way by a talk that Terryl Givens gave at BYU in 2005 entitled “Lightning Out of Heaven” (here’s the link http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1508&view=1) Givens brings to bear the idea that Joseph Smith taught a certain type of revelation. He brought back the idea that revelation and communion with God was a dialogue with God and it is accessible to ALL men. A beautiful quote from the chapter says:
“The Book of Mormon here becomes a study in contrast. Through chiastic form, thematic structure, numerous textual examples, and a final concluding instance of readerly invitation, the scripture hammers home the insistent message that revelation is the province of everyman. As a consequence, in the world of the Book of Mormon, concepts like revelation, prayer, inspiration, mystery find powerful and substantive redefinition. That may well be the Book of Mormon’s most significant and revolutionary--as well as controversial--contribution to religious thinking. The particularity and specificity, the vividness, the concreteness, and the accessibility of revelatory experience--those realities both underlie and overshadow the narrated history and doctrine that constitute the record. The “knowability” of all truth, the openness of mystery, the reality of personal revelation find vivid illustration within the record and invite reenactment outside it.” (p.221)
This book is worth anyone’s time that wants to have a greater appreciation of the influence that the Book of Mormon has had on the Church from the beginning.