Books of Interest to the LDS Nerd

A few of these are forthcoming, a few have appeared recently. I am compelled to read them all, as soon as I can get to them.

Now Available

Charles Harrel,“This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Kofford Books) “In this first-of-its-kind comprehensive treatment of the development of Mormon theology, Charles Harrell traces the history of Latter-day Saint doctrines from the times of the Old Testament to the present.” I have my doubts that someone who does not equally control original Biblical sources and LDS history, as well as the vast amounts of secondary literature on historiography, exegesis, etc. can give LDS doctrine a truly comprehensive diachronic treatment, and compress it into 597 pages. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to Harrel, an engineering professor, for making the attempt and I look forward to reading it. Too many LDS labor under the assumption that the status quo sprang fully formed from Joseph Smith. I don’t recall which of my friends said, but it’s in my Evernote file, “If there’s one thing Mormons excel at, it’s enshrining the status quo and assuming that if we do anything, there must be a good reason for it, and if there’s a good reason, it must have been revealed as the only way to do it, and if so, then it must have always been that way in all dispensations. And a lot of people’s faith can be shaken when it turns out not to always have been that way, which unravels that chain of reasoning back from that point until you doubt the premise, i.e., that any of it was revealed at all.”

Brant Gardner, The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon (Kofford Books) Many questions about the Book of Mormon end up centering on the nature of the translation, and many papers make tacit assumptions about it. Brant’s is the deepest treatment addressing those assumptions.His FAIR Conference presentation this year appears to have been based on his book. Gift and Power has already been reviewed elsewhere, so I’ll pass by without further commentary except to say that Brant’s previous volumes on the Book of Mormon have been fresh and thoughtful, and I expect no less from this.

Harold Bloom, The Shadow of a Great Rock: A Literary Appreciation of the King James Bible (Yale University Press) This is one of a string of books to appear about the KJV this year, but Bloom and the literary approach mark this one apart. Preview available. I’m particularly interested because the literary argument comes up repeatedly in LDS contexts. Of historical note, though, is that the KJV was not meant to be literary, and no one thought it was so until at least a century had passed. Chapter 1, “Language within language: the King James Steamroller” of Hamlin, The King James Bible After Four Hundred Years: Literary, Linguistic, and Cultural Influences (Cambridge) appears to address this. (I only had a few minutes to browse it.) Another recent volumes of note is The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today by David Norton, the author of the authoritative, technical and expensive Textual History of the King James Bible.

Coming in September

John Walton’s Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology (Eisenbrauns) This is the expanded version of Walton’s arguments found in The Lost World of Genesis 1 (Eerdmans), but Lost World was for a lay audience and Ancient Cosmology a more academic audience. Walton places Genesis 1 in its ancient Near Eastern context and argues convincingly that Israelites read it as a description of functional, not material creation, and furthermore, Genesis 1 is a temple text. You can get the gist of his thesis from the audio here. Jared at LDS Science Review has addressed Walton several times (here and here), and the comments include an enthusiastic endorsement by SteveP, BYU biologist and BCC blogger.

Coming in October

N.T. Wright, The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation (Harper One) N.T. Wright is a prolific paradigm-shattering New Testament scholar, who is nevertheless very accessible to laypeople. Among others, he’s authored commentaries on Romans and a New Testament commentary series “For Everyone” as well as books on Paul, and Heaven. He’s criticized various Bible translations in the past, so I’m glad to hear he’ll have his own. Ben Witherington interviews him about it here.

Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford Press) I’m familiar with both of the editors, Marc Brettler from his How to Read the Bible (not to be confused with books of the same title from James Kugel or Steven McKenzie) and Amy-Jill Levine from her lectures with the Teaching Company. Oxford’s Jewish Study Bible has an excellent set of notes, essays and other aids. The Jewish Annotated New Testament aims to do the same thing for the New Testament, from a Jewish Perspective. “For non-Jewish readers interested in the Jewish roots of Christianity and for Jewish readers who want a New Testament that neither proselytizes for Christianity nor denigrates Judaism, The Jewish Annotated New Testament is an essential volume that places these writings in a context that will enlighten students, professionals, and general readers.” Among other notable features, the JANT, is the “first New Testament annotated by Jewish scholars (barring those who have converted to Christianity), brings out Jewish background of early Christianity, New Testament writers, explains Jewish concepts (e.g., food laws, rabbinic argumentation) for non-Jews & Christian concepts (e.g., Eucharist) for Jews, and will be helpful for non-Jewish readers interested in the Jewish roots of Christianity.”

Coming in January

Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Brazos Press)

Enns says, “The book is divided into two parts. Part one focuses on Genesis, and my general point is that the creation stories are part of Israel’s literature of national and religious self-definition. In other words, they are not prepared to give the type of (historical and scientific) information we ask for today when speaking of “human origins.” To seek such information is to misread Genesis, and so attempts to align science and Genesis get us off on the foot altogether by not taking the biblical text on its own terms.Part two focuses on Paul’s use of the Adam story in Romans 5. Paul’s reading of the Adam story, despite superficial appearances, is hardly straightforward, and appreciating the theological subtly and depth of Paul’s words requires much more of us than simply opening an English Bible, reading a few verses, and drawing conclusions. I go on and on about this for a lot of pages, because this is a far more pressing problem for most Christian readers than Genesis.

The audience for the commentary is seminarians, pastors, and scholars. For The Evolution of Adam, the intended audience is similar to that of Inspiration and Incarnation: lay readers looking for different approaches to old problems. In fact, The Evolution of Adam applies the approach of Inspiration and Incarnation to a specific and pressing issue: in view of evolution, what does it mean to read the Bible well? So think of EOA as I&I part two.” I was a big fan of I&I, as well as the lectures of his I’ve heard online and in person. (Some posts of mine about Enns’ ideas here and here)

Happy reading.

18 comments for “Books of Interest to the LDS Nerd

  1. Thanks for the list, Ben. Having just finished Wright’s The Last Word, I feel compelled to ask in what way Wright’s work is paradigm-shattering. From that book, I would guess it has something to do with the themes of kingdom and scripture.

  2. Whenever I’ve read Wright (and it’s limited to a few of his Paul books and his Romans commentary), he undermines everything I’ve understood and replaces it with a new view that manages to unite multiple themes in a cohesive way. So much scholarship is atomistic, but Wright takes you from not just examining a few trees, or walking through the forest, but seeing it from the mountain top. You don’t often get effect that from scholars.

  3. Thanks for this post. Although it kind of depressed me–so much good stuff to read that I’ll never get to . . .

    Interesting that they split _This Is My Doctrine_ into two volumes for the Kindle version. There is, of course, no technical reason to do that. I wonder why it was done.

  4. Amazon made their royalty structure to encourage books to be under $10–which works great for mass-market novels and other non-scholarly works. How it is set up, Kindle books selling for between $10 and $20 actually receive less royalties than selling for $10. In order to keep prices relatively competitive with the printed format, justifiably low enough for ebooks, and still profitable, splitting the larger books into two ebooks (which is understandably annoying for both the reader and the publisher) meets those needs.

  5. Ben, great list. The last two look particularly interesting. (FWIW, I’ve not yet been disappointed with a Teaching Company lecture set. Good stuff.)

    And I love the title. :)

  6. Harold Bloom on the KJV as literature? That’s going on the amazon wish list! Thanks for this post, Ben!

  7. Ben, why the focus on scriptural studies? Does that reflect your personal interests? Or is there just more scriptural studies coming out at the moment?

  8. Kent, purely a reflection of my own interests and awareness. I could have said Scripture Nerd I suppose.

  9. Ben, as others have said, this sounds like a great group of books, and a group I hadn’t heard about. I thank you, although my book budget probably doesn’t.

  10. Wow. Even though I would hate to get into a theological argument with any of you, I feel like I’ve found my home in this little corner of the vast Internet.

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