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.