BY THE HAND OF MORMON: The American Scripture That Launched a New Religion

Terryl Givens, Author, Terryl L. Givens, Author . Oxford $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-19-513818-4

This outstanding book by Givens, an English professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, investigates the history and theology of the Book of Mormon, which he calls "perhaps the most religiously influential, hotly contested, and, in the secular press at least, intellectually under-investigated book in America." Givens persuasively demonstrates how the Book of Mormon was trumpeted by early Latter-day Saints more for the fact of its existence—which to them indicated an imminent apocalypse—than for its content per se. He notes that it was only during the late 20th century that Mormons began to regard the Book of Mormon as a cultural and spiritual "keystone." The two chapters on the "Search for a Rational Belief" are as close as Givens comes to the genre of apologetic, as he outlines scholarly defenses for the Book of Mormon as an authentically ancient text and not a 19th-century fabrication. He analyzes Hebrew chiastic structure, discusses archeological findings (both supportive and potentially devastating), addresses the apparent anachronisms in the text and investigates its contested authorship. His tone remains admirably dispassionate, but it is clear that he is anxious to counter the damning allegations of scholars such as Fawn Brodie, Michael Quinn and John Brooke. This he does quite well, answering their criticisms point for point while raising new issues of his own. Givens's well-argued, engagingly written book takes the emerging field of Book of Mormon studies to a new level. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 04/01/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
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