The Expanded Canon

Perspectives on Mormonism and Sacred Texts

Book Notice

The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism and Sacred Texts, edited by Blair G. Van Dyke, Brian D. Birch, and Boyd J. Petersen (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2018)

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If you are looking for excellent scholarship and insights into Latter-day Saint scripture, you might want to start with this new compilation from Greg Kofford Books. The authors of the fourteen essays in this volume explore a wide range of topics related to the Latter-day Saint canon and offer a surprisingly consistent level of discourse. Usually anthologies include a few weak links, but that is not the case with this volume.

The opening essay, “The Triangle and the Sovereign: Logics, Histories, and an Open Canon,” by David Frank Holland, is by itself worth the price of the book. Holland examines the sometimes uneasy interplay among the three sources of revelatory authority in the Church: canonized scripture, prophetic teachings, and personal revelation. His discussion of the limitations placed on the assumed sovereignty of prophetic declaration by the other two sides of the authority triangle should be carefully considered by every Latter-day Saint.

I don’t have space to give even a cursory summary of the other essays, but a brief sentence about each of the authors and their topics should be sufficient to give a flavor of the book and its quality.

Brian D. Birch discusses “authoritative discourse in comparative perspective” (27), including the transformation of revelation in the Church from charismatic to bureaucratic and the notion of “practical infallibility.” James E. Faulconer argues for a literal interpretation of scripture but employs a very carefully explicated definition of literal. Claudia L. Bushman proposes a body of extra­canonical scripture for and by Latter-­day Saint women and offers a thoughtful list of suggested inclusions. Grant Hardy examines the Book of Mormon “in the context of world scripture,” looking for similarities and differences (73). In the shortest essay in the volume, Richard Lyman Bushman comments on “the way we approach the Book of Mormon as modern, educated Latter-day Saints, particularly as our reading is affected by the gold plates” (85).

In one of two essays written by non–Latter-day Saint scholars, Ann Taves struggles with the task of taking Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon seriously while trying to explain why he did not really have material plates to translate from. David Bokovoy next examines the book of Moses as a form of prophetic midrash, followed by Brian M. Hauglid, who recounts the Pearl of Great Price’s path toward both canonization and legitimation. One of the most informative essays in the book is by Paul C. Gutjahr, the other non–Latter-day Saint author, who discusses four pivotal moments in the publication history of the Book of Mormon and illustrates how “sacred scriptures are by necessity mediated hybrids, meshing purported supernatural interventions with more mundane human efforts” (157).

Grant Underwood celebrates rather than critiques the revisions to Joseph Smith’s revelations, giving both statistics and examples of the editorial changes that Joseph and others made to the texts he dictated. In a fascinating account, Blair G. Van Dyke recounts the long process of “spiritualizing” digital scripture in the Church. Boyd J. Petersen and David W. Scott examine the quasicanonical document “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” assessing how authoritative it is among various types of Latter-day Saints. Finally, Gordon Shepherd and Gary Shepherd discuss a particular noncanonical form of revelation in the Church—patriarchal blessings—and their development in the early years of the Restoration.


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Print ISSN: 2837-0031
Online ISSN: 2837-004X