A Lively Hope might be called a meditation on the death and resurrection of Christ based on the text of the four Gospels. Though not exactly a commentary, the volume nevertheless follows the commentary format: the work is divided neatly in two—the first half considers the Passion narratives, the second, the Resurrection narratives. Holzapfel discusses each Gospel separately but avoids repetition by treating major subjects only once, referring from the other narratives to the main discussion. In addition, after an introductory summary of the development of Gospel harmonization and canonization, Holzapfel, a member of the Brigham Young University religion faculty, makes an eloquent argument for studying and evaluating each Gospel on its own merit rather than attempting to harmonize or build a parallel structure; therefore, the structure of his book is neither a harmony nor a parallel (4–6).
A notable strength of this book is its treatment of the original Greek of the Gospels. The original language of the text often has bearing on Holzapfel’s understanding of the scripture. He is also often sympathetic with modern biblical textual criticism (rather than suspicious of it as is sometimes the case with LDS biblical scholarship), and he frequently shows how LDS belief and non-LDS biblical criticism may be compatible or at least not mutually exclusive. For example, he notes that the most reliable early manuscripts of Mark do not include 16:9–20, and therefore current scholarship generally does not accept these verses as part of the text. However, he points out that such a conclusion should not per se cause difficulties with Latter-day Saints, who believe the Bible to be the word of God only as far as it is translated correctly, leaving open the possibility of incorrect transmission of the text (170). He is also not afraid to challenge accepted beliefs, as when he debates the claim that the trial of Jesus was illegal (44–45).
Holzapfel is known for his books of photographs of Church history sites. While A Lively Hope has only one illustration, the text itself contains wonderfully visual descriptions of the geography of the Holy Land. Particularly noteworthy is the description of Christ’s route to Gethsemane (133–34).
The discussion of the Resurrection narratives is the weakest section, with only a few pages devoted to each Gospel. The work is also somewhat marred by typographical errors and the repetition of phrases, which may be attributed to an apparent lack of copyediting. Nevertheless, Holzapfel has written an enjoyable and thought-provoking book—one that is to be recommended.