The latest issue of the Maxwell Institute’s Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture will also be its last.
Under that title, anyway.
It also may be its best and its most beautiful.
Not coincidentally, too, this will be the last number of the Journal produced under the editorship of my friend and former Maxwell Institute colleague Paul Hoskisson, who has stepped down. In my judgment, he has outdone himself with this last production.
From Elspeth Young’s painting of the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob on its cover through the many illustrations within, Volume 22 Number 2 is gorgeous.
And the contents are outstanding:
Mark Alan Wright, “The Cultural Tapestry of Mesoamerica”
Quenten Barney, “Sobek: The Idolatrous God of Pharaoh Amenemhat III”
Stephen O. Smoot, “Council, Chaos, and Creation in the Book of Abraham”
Steven L. Olsen, “Memory and Identity in the Book of Mormon”
John Hilton III, “Jacob’s Textual Legacy”
Kerry M. Muhlstein and Alexander L. Baugh, “Preserving the Joseph Smith Papyri Fragments: What Can We Learn from the Paper on Which the Papyri were Mounted?”
Matthew Roper, Paul J. Fields, and Atul Nepal, “Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons, and Central American Ruins.”
Robert F. Smith, “Evaluating the Sources of 2 Nephi 1:13-15: Shakespeare and the Book of Mormon”
John Gee, “Has Olishem been Discovered?”
Also included are two brief unattributed documentary articles, the first about a meeting of Book of Mormon scholars in 1903 and the second regarding a letter from Heber J. Grant.
My article in the January 1994 Ensign actually addressed the topics of the pieces by Barney, Smoot, and Gee, above, and I’m delighted to see that others are addressing them, as well, and now in greater detail.
I can’t say that I’m sad to see the too-long title of the Journal go away. I always found it an awkward mouthful.
But I confess to being saddened by the letter from the Journal’s new editor, Brian Hauglid, that went out to all subscribers with this latest issue. It’s replete with language about “academic directives,” “Mormon and non-Mormon scholars,” academic “fields” and “disciplines,” and “academic study.”
The new Journal of Book of Mormon Studies will be more closely aligned with the Maxwell Institute’s “new direction” (initiated quite abruptly in 2012) — the last major portion of the Institute to be brought into line. It will, accordingly, be more oriented toward non-Mormon scholars in “religious studies,” toward the relatively secular-minded field of “Mormon studies,” and, it seems, toward literary features, theological implications, and “reception history.” Moreoever, it will be physically smaller and will contain fewer color illustrations, and it will appear only once a year instead of twice. In other words, it will turn away from John Sorenson’s vision for it, and toward a more secular, faith-neutral, purely academic approach.
This is an entirely legitimate angle, but it represents a dramatic change in focus from the vision that established and built the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and its successor organization, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.
We always strove for academic soundness and rigor, but our primary focus was always on serving the Latter-day Saints, on building the Kingdom, and on trying to help those outside of Mormonism who were seeking religious truth. Appealing to academics-as-academics, doing scholarship for the sake of scholarship, was never more than a secondary goal. We didn’t see the two as incompatible.