A sample from Spencer’s new book, “An Other Testament”

I believe Salt Press is at the cutting edge of Mormon scripture studies not merely because of the fresh ideas they spread and the methods of study they enact, but also because of the way the press itself actually operates. They follow an “open access publishing” model, which means all of their work is available for free online. But they also publish physical copies for folks like me who prefer to read away from the tyranny of digital pixels.

Over the past month I had the privilege of reading, reviewing, and recommending a few of their recent publications, including a new book about the Book of Mormon by Joseph Spencer called An Other Testament. Adam Miller, one of Salt Press’s managing editors, wrote the forward for Spencer’s book, which we offer for your consideration to give you a sense of what the book offers. Next week we’ll follow up by posting Spencer’s own preface. It’s an exciting book and I hope it generates some conversation. 

Foreword to An Other Testament
By Adam Miller

This book is a plow—it breaks ground and its furrow is wide and deep. The future of Mormon
studies will be shaped by what is planted in its wake.

Spencer’s field is the Book of Mormon and in order to get his plow to bite, he invents, de novo,
his own genre of scholarship—a humbling, meticulous, polymathic blend of history, philosophy,
literary analysis, biblical studies, and, above all, theological speculation. In this book, Spencer
invents Mormon theology as a speculative, scriptural discipline.

Both aspects of this description are vital. Spencer’s work is disciplined by an unrivaled attention
to the structural, thematic, and literary details of the Book of Mormon. His book is a primer on
all we have failed to see and the richness of his reading implicitly chastens us for having failed
even to look. His dedication to the letter of scripture is what gives his plow its edge. Spencer
never plays games in the often self-congratulatory sandboxes of skeptical criticism or armchair
apologetics. Rather, he reads the book.

But it’s also true that Spencer’s reading of the Book of Mormon is no end in itself. He’s
compelled to do otherwise because the book, on its own account, refuses to be read in such a
way. The Book of Mormon is no curio. Spencer takes the Book of Mormon, not as a field to be
fenced and occasionally surveyed, but as earth to be tilled. The Book of Mormon is not ripe fruit
waiting to be eaten, ready to be canned; it is soil waiting to be planted. Spencer turns a wedge,
scatters seeds, and watches to see what ideas take root. Here is Mormon theology enacted as
a speculative discipline, as a project propelled by a desire to see how our understanding of the
whole world might be rewritten and redeemed by the questions the Book of Mormon poses.
Reading the Book of Mormon, Spencer claims no special authority and no special insight. He
never commands or defends or decides. Rather, he thinks.

Taking up Mormon theology as a speculative, scriptural discipline, Spencer wagers an original
reading of the Book of Mormon. Crucially, though, Spencer is not betting that his reading of
the book is the right one, but that the book itself is worth the trouble of trying again and again.
You may agree or disagree with some aspects of his reading, but either way he will collect on his
wager because you will never read the Book of Mormon the same way again.

Comments

  1. rameumptom says:

    These books are pure genius. I heartily agree. If you want to be able to understand the Book of Mormon is new and very important ways, read the books at Salt Press. I also urge everyone to consider buying the book or donating, so that their work can continue forward.

  2. rameumptom says:

    That should read “in new and very important ways….”

  3. This looks really interesting, from what I can see at the amazon.com preview page display. As Nibley would have said, the world would have us believe that the complexity being drawn out here (Nephi’s reading of Isaiah vs. Abinadi’s reading of Isaiah) was authored by this 19th century farmboy, all by himself.

    I don’t think so, world.

  4. Quick question, I started reading this book today, and wanted to follow along. So when I opened to Alma 36 I couldn’t find where Alma uses the term “typology”, in fact in the search I did it didn’t show up anywhere in the scriptures. I assume I’m missing something obvious. Can you set me straight?

    From the book page xii: “In this same chapter, Alma even names the kind of reading he models: typology”

    Here’s the search from lds.org, I also tried the app on my phone as well.
    http://www.lds.org/scriptures/search?lang=eng&type=verse&query=typology

  5. Can’t wait.

  6. Carey – I agree it’s a bit weird he says Alma uses the word typology. He even puts it in quotes. I’m pretty sure this is a rather modern, academic word Alma definitely didn’t use.

  7. kamschron says:

    The world “typology” on page xii is not in quotes. Alma 36 mentions Lehi’s vision, and Alma 37 mentions a “shadow” and a “type” in the relationship between following the Liahona and following the words of Christ.

  8. Bonnie: you don’t have to wait. You can download the whole thing for free as a .pdf file from the saltpress.org website.

  9. On page 2 it reads thusly: [And, crucially for the rest of the book, it is this complex entanglement that Alma calls “typology.”]

    I’ll admit I only read pages 1 and 2, so I’m probably missing something, but this strikes me as really odd. He does put it in quotes implying Alma does use the word typology, which he doesn’t.

  10. Sorry for the confusion! Alma speaks of types and shadows in Alma 37. He doesn’t use the -ology ending, that’s right, but he refers to the basic terms of typological reading. The quotation marks aren’t meant to indicate direct quotation there but to indicate the use/mention distinction (the word “calls” indicates that I’m referring to a word, and so “typology” has to be set off with quotation marks to indicate that I mean the word and not the thing). I think all of this becomes clear over the course of chapter 1 of the book.

  11. I experienced the same confusion, which was cleared up when I read the “shadow” and “type” bit in Alma 37[?]. I think the line about Alma himself naming the method “typology” is a stretch, and better left unsaid. The wider question of Alma’s method is still useful, I think, but the claim that he names it is distracting. Perhaps Joe could’ve said “I took the ‘typology” name from Alma’s own description,” which would be accurate.

  12. The issue is that typology/typological reading is an incredibly common historical way of reading sacred scripture. Joe was being a little academic, but he was entirely correct in his usage. Alma’s use of those terms (type and shadow) does specify that he is using a typological approach to the sacred text. Perhaps a footnote there, pointing to the broader world of typology could have helped people less familiar with this academic style of talking about texts. An important reminder of the complexities in simultaneously addressing distinct audiences.

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