A Tale of Two Book Reviews

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_Kishkumen
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A Tale of Two Book Reviews

Post by _Kishkumen »

A friend of mine recently brought to my attention Prof. Donald W. Parry's of Asst. Prof. Joseph M. Spencer's The Vision of All: Twenty-Five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi's Record, recently published in Interpreter.

See https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/an-approach-to-isaiah-studies/?fbclid=IwAR3IaWNgYEp7U8r3SdB9IKtM9o5gygE3aTTlmsCcAyAndqNQaR43ayLcNuw

As is often the case regarding book reviews published in Interpreter, this reviewer commits one of the cardinal sins of book reviewing--to complain, in short, that the author did not write the book the reviewer thought the author should write. Unfortunately, however, things get much worse than that. (Would that Parry had stopped with writing an irrelevant review!) Parry implicitly accuses the author of not being a good Latter-day Saint.

Right out of the gate, Parry claims that "Spencer's work presents certain challenges and problems, especially for Christians who maintain that Isaiah's text contains numerous Jesus Christ-focused elements." This is because, as Parry repeatedly quotes without providing sufficient context, Spencer tells his reader, "Stop looking for Jesus in Isaiah." Interestingly, the first time Parry quotes this phrase, he provides enough context to suggest that all is not as Parry is depicting it: "Here it is, put far too strongly at first: Stop looking for Jesus in Isaiah."

So, Parry will go on to write at some length on the absolute necessity of searching for Jesus Christ in Isaiah's text. In doing so, he uses the un-contextualized quote of Spencer as a kind of straw man. The idea the reader walks away from this review carrying is that questionably faithful Spencer does not look for Christ in Book of Mormon Isaiah, whereas the stalwartly faithful Parry sees this as practically the only reason to read Isaiah at all, since Christians and LDS prophets have concentrated on the same.

But let's look more closely at that first quote of Spencer: "Here it is, put far too strongly at first: Stop looking for Jesus in Isaiah." The key phrase here is "put far too strongly at first." What this suggests to me is that later Spencer will ease off of this idea of not looking for Jesus in Isaiah. But, why would Spencer want his reader to ease up on this later if he is not in support of looking for Christ in Isaiah as Parry strongly implies? Probably because Spencer wants his reader to take a temporary break from looking for Jesus in Isaiah so that she or he can see other things in the text too, not because Spencer does not support Christian readings of Isaiah.

Such reading strategies are neither unusual nor exceptionable. If you want to see something other than what you assume to be the case in a text, try setting aside your assumptions and look for something else.

The root problem for Parry--that issue motivating Parry to engage in this kind of uncharitable review--is perhaps captured in Parry's comments on Spencer's view that Isaiah 7:14 was not understood by the ancient author to be a prophecy about Jesus but about Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz. In other words, Spencer does not privilege later interpretations of Isaiah from Christian and Latter-day Saint readers over what is at least arguably the understanding of the author himself.

Given the fact that this is such a problem for Parry, and one he clearly disagrees with Spencer about, you might think he would spend some time correcting Spencer's error. Unfortunately, one is only given this: "But the translation "Mighty God (in the KJV) has both lexical support and validation from multiple prominent translations." Oh, and a footnote: "See, for example, Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Brill: Leiden, NLD, 2000), 172, which states, for ?? ????, “Messiah ,?? ? Is 95 trad. God the heroic force.”"

OK, so there is a reasonable difference of opinion here. Some people might say that Isaiah did not see the future clearly in such a way that he understood his own words in the way later readers would interpret them, while others would say that he clearly understood that he was prophesying of Jesus of Nazareth. I don't know how one would know exactly what Isaiah was thinking, or what kind of difference it really makes that we feel certain about something we have no way of knowing, but there you have it. Evidently it is unacceptable to Parry that Spencer would depart from other LDS readers in this way.

Oddly, in support of his view, Parry brings forward the words of Biblical scholar Hulitt Gloer:

The writers of the New Testament were convinced that the true meaning of the Old Testament is Jesus Christ and that He alone provides the means of understanding it. True interpretation of the Old Testament is achieved by reading Old Testament passages or incidents in light of the event of Christ. … For the early Christians, all Scripture was to be interpreted by the fact of Christ because it is to Him that the Old Testament Scripture points (John 5:39)


And, um, yeah? I am not sure how this quote either conflicts with Spencer or particularly supports Parry's argument. All it says, that I can see, is that some people in NT times and later were convinced that Isaiah was referring to Jesus. That is unexceptionable and in the context of this review really kind of irrelevant. Why irrelevant? Because I doubt that Spencer disagrees or that Parry's use of the quote is anything but misleading in its suggestion that Spencer would not agree.

There are many things one can glean from Parry's review--that he is not a fan of Spencer's book, that he wants you to believe Spencer doesn't believe in the LDS gospel, that the only valid reading of Isaiah is one that privileges Jesus, and that one ought not to say anything about Book of Mormon Isaiah without mastering Biblical Hebrew (you know, like Joseph Smith supposedly did after he translated both the Book of Mormon and portions of the Bible). What you will not get a solid sense of, however, is the content or arguments of the actual book itself.

So, I am afraid I will have to rate Parry's review of Joseph M. Spencer's latest book as ** out of five stars. Do not read this review unless you are interested in learning what Donald Parry thinks Spencer should have written, or what may be building in Donald Parry's file of documents designed to argue that Joseph M. Spencer should not get "continuing status" at BYU. After all, as Parry himself writes in this review:

In my experience and considered opinion, academics (particularly those who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-?day Saints) who intend to explicate Isaiah’s text in books or media would do well to possess the following: (1) a comprehensive understanding of the doctrinal framework of the Restoration of the gospel (and acceptance of and compliance with its teachings), and (2) a heart open to the promptings of the Holy Ghost, the quintessential revelator and teacher.


I think we all know by now how well Parry thinks Spencer demonstrated these qualities--ones a BYU administrator or board member wants to see in his longterm BYU faculty--in his book.

Where is the second review, you ask? It is coming up.
Last edited by Guest on Sun Jan 12, 2020 8:56 pm, edited 2 times in total.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Kishkumen
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Re: A Tale of Two Book Reviews

Post by _Kishkumen »

The second review of Joseph Spencer's new book is by Adam Miller. This review is published on the blog "By Common Consent."

https://bycommonconsent.com/2016/11/02/response-the-vision-of-all/

To skip to the punchline, Miller's review differs from Parry's in two key ways:

First, it actually addresses the content of Spencer's book;

Second, it is a positive review written on a level appropriate for the level of discourse at which the book was actually pitched.

I feel funny raising the first point because Miller states:

In what follows, I’m not (exactly) going to talk about what Joe actually says in The Vision of All. Rather, I’m going to say some things that are “based on” the things Joe talks about in this book. I’m going to say things that are “inspired by” the real things Joe actually says in this book. I’m going to offer you something like a “ripped from the headlines” fictionalization of what Joe says, exaggerating and dramatizing some of his ideas, punching up the script as it were, in order to foreground some things that, I think, really make the book remarkable.


Still, he manages to explain what the book is about, and he makes you want to read the darn thing. Moreover, he manages to quote passages of the book (not just snippets), something that is a good sign and indicative of a review that presents the contents of the book more faithfully:

Isaiah’s vision is not the vision of some. It’s the vision of all. As Isaiah reveals God’s hand at work in world history, God hasn’t been sifting out and sequestering a covenant people away from the dangers of the Gentile world with its crazy, Gentile ideas.

Rather, God has been scattering and dispersing and distributing Israel throughout the body of the Gentile world in order to effect the salvation of the world itself. And not only is Israel crucial to the redemption of the Gentiles, but Isaiah is adamant that the Gentiles are the only thing that can save Israel from itself. Isaiah’s vision is the vision of all.

As Joe puts it, citing Isaiah 49:6:

“It is a light thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel. I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth.” With these words Isaiah offers a crucial corrective to Israel’s self-understanding. They seem to think that their whole work is to look out for their own redemption, to see that they do what’s necessary to secure the Lord’s blessing. But when they express their inevitable frustration at failing, the Lord responds by making clear that there’s a bigger picture. It’s too “light,” too easy, just to redeem Israel. God’s got his eyes on the whole world. You see, Israel isn’t there with the task of redeeming itself, but of being a “light to the Gentiles,” of being God’s “salvation unto the ends of the earth.” (89-90)


Now, Miller's review is not a great review. It is a breezy read of a blog review. But in what it does and what it does not do, it still manages to be a much better review of the actual book than Parry's.

What does it do right?

1) It manages to get at the actual content. Parry's review, by contrast, was more interested in what kind of hay he could make out of the content, and that came in mining the text for one quote and then egregiously misusing it to the max. Miller actually quotes the content more extensively and then tries to show you why he is excited about the cool things the text is saying.

2) The review is about helping the reader understand why the book might be a worthwhile read on the level it is pitched. Parry talks about Spencer's chatty style, which comports with the purpose and approach of the book. Spencer's book is not a scholarly monograph. It is a collection of twenty-five lectures. Parry knows this but still manages to hold that against Spencer and his book.

Further commentary: Now, it would not be fair to say that Parry is alone in this kind of book-reviewing sin. Many a scholar has written the review that details how they would write a similar book, albeit one that is not the book on review. The damage is done when the reviewer assumes or pretends to assume that it is a fair and honest thing to write as though the book should be the book they would write instead. And by the latter I do not mean one that is more correct or better argued but one that is written for a fundamentally different purpose. For example, if a publisher asks me to review a book that is proposed for use as a textbook, I would be of no help to them if I were to respond as though the book had failed in the task of being a scholarly monograph I am in the process of writing.

What does Miller's review not do and correctly so?

In no way does Miller's review imply that there is something amiss with Joseph Spencer's faith. Unfortunately, Parry's "review" implies that Spencer's approach is fundamentally inappropriate for a faithful Latter-day Saint. Parry's implicit accusation is more than regrettable; it is dangerous to Spencer's livelihood.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Physics Guy
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Re: A Tale of Two Book Reviews

Post by _Physics Guy »

Donald Parry wrote:In my experience and considered opinion, academics (particularly those who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-?day Saints) who intend to explicate Isaiah’s text in books or media would do well to possess the following: (1) a comprehensive understanding of the doctrinal framework of the Restoration of the gospel (and acceptance of and compliance with its teachings), and (2) a heart open to the promptings of the Holy Ghost, the quintessential revelator and teacher.

And I guess everyone who follows the NFL (particularly Patriots fans) would do well to cheer for the Patriots.
_moksha
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Re: A Tale of Two Book Reviews

Post by _moksha »

If the forces of the Adversary had not conspired to usurp the throne of the Maxwell Institute of Apologetics from its rightful heir, this article would not have been necessary.

It is incumbent on the Interpreter, as the last bastion to defend a pure and everlasting doctrine, to root out these ravenous wolves in casual business attire so that the ideal masters on South Temple can see thy work is being done. Oh to hear them say, "Thou great and noble servants, unforgivable ill hath been done in your casting out. Come, reclaim your throne and help drive thine enemies before thee. For thou hast the power, and the glory, and the divining scepter of Maxwell, forever and ever."
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_Gadianton
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Re: A Tale of Two Book Reviews

Post by _Gadianton »

Fantastics work, Reverend. It's amazing the Brethren haven't squashed the new MI yet given all the evidence for spiritual failing that Interpreter provides.
Lou Midgley 08/20/2020: "...meat wad," and "cockroach" are pithy descriptions of human beings used by gemli? They were not fashioned by Professor Peterson.

LM 11/23/2018: one can explain away the soul of human beings...as...a Meat Unit, to use Professor Peterson's clever derogatory description of gemli's ideology.
_Dr Moore
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Re: A Tale of Two Book Reviews

Post by _Dr Moore »

This all makes sense to me. The same can be observed with Gee’s senseless review of The Next Mormons.

Problem is the outcome isn’t likely to change as a result of thoughtful critics pointing out what is obvious to most: Pharisees really hate being called Pharisees.
_Philo Sofee
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Re: A Tale of Two Book Reviews

Post by _Philo Sofee »

Dr Moore wrote:This all makes sense to me. The same can be observed with Gee’s senseless review of The Next Mormons.

Problem is the outcome isn’t likely to change as a result of thoughtful critics pointing out what is obvious to most: Pharisees really hate being called Pharisees.


True, which makes it all the more odd that they appear to so enjoy being Pharisees!
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_moksha
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Re: A Tale of Two Book Reviews

Post by _moksha »

Gadianton wrote:It's amazing the Brethren haven't squashed the new MI yet given all the evidence for spiritual failing that Interpreter provides.

Even now, Dr. Midgley might be in contact with the secretary to the Strengthening the Membership Subcommittee on Inquisitional and Penitence Matters to see if all of the current Maxwell staff can be sequestered to level 5 of the Salt Lake oubliette.
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_Kishkumen
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Re: A Tale of Two Book Reviews

Post by _Kishkumen »

Gadianton wrote:Fantastics work, Reverend. It's amazing the Brethren haven't squashed the new MI yet given all the evidence for spiritual failing that Interpreter provides.


I suppose that is true. In this case, however, we are not talking about someone working at Maxwell Institute. Joseph Spencer is an assistant professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture in the College of Religion at BYU. So, the stakes are much higher for him if certain people come to agree with Parry that Spencer is not faithful, not a believer. Spencer could be denied continuing status if this attack on his reputation is successful.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
_Kishkumen
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Re: A Tale of Two Book Reviews

Post by _Kishkumen »

Dr Moore wrote:This all makes sense to me. The same can be observed with Gee’s senseless review of The Next Mormons.


These two reviews do have in common a noticeable pushback against change. Parry's review exhibits a continuing attachment to more fundamentalistic readings of scripture. It seems that, in his mind, Isaiah had to be able to see Jesus of Nazareth and prophesy specifically of Jesus of Nazareth in order for his prophecies to have force. He apparently does not like the idea that Isaiah might not have a clear idea of what he is predicting, or that his idea of what he is predicting might not constrain the interpretations of later readers.

In short, Parry has a very learned but in certain respects narrow way of reading Isaiah. He does not grant the possibility that someone could write a worthwhile book for Latter-day Saints that was not written in reference to a mountain of writings and sayings of other Christian readers, especially LDS leaders. I am admittedly more sympathetic to Parry's views on the importance of reading Biblical Hebrew, but I am not sure that reading Nephi's Isaiah requires knowing Hebrew, since, after all, Joseph Smith did not know Hebrew when he translated the Book of Mormon, and, presumably, Nephi did not transcribe the text of Isaiah in Hebrew onto the plates.

Since we cannot know Reformed Egyptian and really have no idea what that is, and it seems that God decided to have Joseph Smith give us only the English version of this Reformed Egyptian text, one wonders exactly why it should be absolutely necessary to discuss Book of Mormon Isaiah through the lens of Hebrew texts of the same. I am not saying that Biblical Hebrew is not useful, or crucial for understanding Isaiah. I do, however, think that it may not be the sine qua non for discussing Book of Mormon Isaiah in a non-scholarly* series of lectures.

* By non-scholarly I am speaking not in terms of Spencer's qualifications or the depth of learning he brings to the discussion but of a text that is not intended primarily for consumption by other scholars and is not written for the purpose of advancing professional scholarship on Isaiah.
"Petition wasn’t meant to start a witch hunt as I’ve said 6000 times." ~ Hanna Seariac, LDS apologist
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