American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon


This collection of nine essays on the cultural significance of the Book of Mormon examines how scripture creates meaning and community despite historical inaccuracies.

May, 2002

SKU: 1-56085-151-1 Categories: , , , Author: Brent Metcalfe, Dan VogelProduct ID: 1279


The latest in Signature Books’s Essays on Mormonism series, American Apocrypha combines the insights of nine different authors in a comprehensive study of the Book of Mormon, its role in history, and the way religious communities use sacred texts create meaning and culture. ” Published in 1930, the Book of Mormon acts as a modern-day example of apocrypha—literature with deep religious meaning that are excluded from the biblical cannon and often dismissed as heretical. As such, each essay examines the various lenses Mormons use to view and appreciate the Book of Mormon, despite allegations of historical and scientific inaccuracies.

Thomas W. Murphy discusses the Book of Mormon’s claim that American Indians are descendants of ancient Hebrews, despite recent DNA tests indicating that Native Americans descended from Siberian ancestry and not from Jewish or Middle Eastern descent.  Nor is the Book of Mormon a traditional translation from an ancient document, writes David P. Wright, as indicated by the underlying Hebrew in the book’s Isaiah passages. Other contributors to American Apocrypha explore the evolution of ideas in the Book of Mormon during the course of its dictation.

Editors Dan Vogel and Brent Metcalfe curated essays by authors who represent a wide range of disciplines and perspectives: Robert Price edits the Journal of Higher Criticism; Thomas Murphy chairs the anthropology department at Edmonds Community College; David Wright teaches Hebrew Bible at Brandeis University. They are joined by Scott C. Dunn; Edwin Firmage, Jr.; George D. Smith; and Susan Staker—all of whom explore what can be reasonably asserted about the Book of Mormon as scripture.

Dan Vogel is the editor of The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture and the award-winning series Early Mormon Documents; author of Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, and Religious Seekers and the Advent of Mormonism; and a contributor to The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith.

Brent Metcalfe is the editor and host of Mormon Scripture Studies: An E-Journal of Critical Thought, editor of New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, and a contributor to other anthologies and journals. Professionally, he is a technical editor in the computer industry.

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3 reviews for American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon

  1. Paul M. Edwards

    The essays in this collection, as is often the case, are of varied interest and insight, but I found all of them well crafted and interesting. Each has supplied notes and illustrations to support his or her comments. Edwin Firmage Jr. suggests evidence to question the assumptions of antiquity concerning the book in an essay he calls “A Personal Encounter,” while Old Testament scholar David P. Wright proposes a modern source, the King James Version, for the Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon. Anthropologist Thomas W. Murphy also focuses on the book’s claims of antiquity, providing a significant challenge based on patterns of DNA distribution to the popularly held Mormon understanding that Native Americans had Jewish ancestry.

    Addressing concerns over the role of the “author” of the Book of Mormon, Susan Staker makes the case for a parallel between the developing message of the book and the Prophet’s evolving self-image. Scott C. Dunn discusses the historical significance of “automatic writing” and raises questions about the manner in which one set of such writings might be more or less acceptable than another. Dealing with the authorship of the Book of Mormon, Robert M. Price compares Joseph Smith with the pseudepigraphists (I wish I’d said that), presenting the possibility that the founder of Mormonism was simply trying to find a way to give ancient authority to new conceptions by the use of well-known Bible stories and American myths.

    Vogel has two essays dealing with the environment in which the Book of Mormon made its appearance. In the first, he questions the legitimacy of the claims of the three and eight witnesses that they saw and, in some cases, handled the plates. He argues that their witness was more plausibly based on a visionary, rather than a physical, experience. His second essay also challenges those who would question the connection between the secret practices of an expanding Mormonism with the rites and rituals of early nineteenth-century Freemasonry.

    In a delightful essay on B. H. Roberts, George Smith sympathetically documents how this remarkable man, ecclesiastical leader, and apologist began to question the source of the Book of Mormon toward the end of his life because of the vast difficulties he found with its historical and archaeological claims

  2. Midwest Book Review

    Collaboratively compiled and edited by Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, American Apocrypha is a selection of nine scholarly essays that focus on the Book of Mormon, scrutinizing the testimonies of witnesses and carefully evaluating historical context. It is a carefully researched, meticulously presented, and highly methodological collection—a welcome, seminal contribution to Mormon history that will supplement reading lists and academic reference collections.

  3. Ogden Standard Examiner

    This collection of nine essays examines the Book of Mormon as a powerful book of scripture separate from the Bible. Specifically, one of the essays focuses on recent DNA testing which revealed modern Native Americans to be of Siberian ancestry rather than Jewish or Hebrew descent.

    “This is a ‘Galileo event’ for Mormons,” say the book’s editors. It means that church members will need to consider the book a part of a “scriptural tradition that includes fiction—parables, poetry, hyperbole, psalms, historical verisimilitude, and other genres,” according to advance publicity for the book.

    The essays, written by academics from across the country, focus on other issues as well, including the presence of Hebrew in some scriptures, while other essays explore the evolution of ideas in the Book of Mormon during the course of its dictation.

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