The Expanded Canon


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

This volume is, if I understand it correctly, an inaugural publication of the fruits of the UVU Comparative Mormon Studies Program in partnership with Greg Kofford Books. The program has been in existence for some time, but now material generated from the program is going to start to be published under this umbrella.

The word Expanded in the title is in one sense a straightforward description of the LDS additions to the biblical canon (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price), but it is also used in a broader sense to address topics like identifying texts that might constitute a canon of women’s scripture, evaluating protocanonical documents like The Family: A Proclamation to the World, or evaluating the movement from print to electronic media.

As a Mormon scholar I consider myself primarily a scripturist, so this collection was right up my alley. I just this moment finished it. And I thoroughly enjoyed the collection. I found the contributions to be thoughtful and engaging and in many cases to go down alleys that I had not previously thought to explore. There are 14 chapters, and I will comment on a number (but not all) of them simply to try to give you a flavor for the volume. But as your stockbroker I am issuing a “buy” recommendation.

The book starts with David Frank Holland, “The Triangle and the Sovereign: Logics, Histories, and an Open Canon.” This was definitely one of my favorite pieces in the book. I think I enjoyed it so much because at first I had no idea where he was going with this. David begins by some elaborate discussion of the concept of threeness (thus the “Triangle” in the title). Eventually you figure out that the concept of three he is exploring has to do with the three sources of religious authority in the Mormon tradition: canonized scripture, prophetic pronouncements, and personal inspiration. All three are needed, like the proverbial three legs of a stool. But which of these is the first cause, the one that precedes and makes possible the others? That is, which is the sovereign? David addresses each one in turn, and at the end of each section you’re convinced that, aha, this must be the sovereign. But then he problematizes that conclusion by examining in detail the next source of authority, and you conclude, “Oh wait, it wasn’t that one, this is where it all starts.” But then he pulls the rug out from under you again, and eventually you don’t know what to think. But perhaps the sovereign is not one of the three, but something else entirely external to them. He offers no simple answer, but rather a journey of thinking carefully and critically about each leg of the stool.

James F. Faulconer, “On the Literal Interpretation of Scripture,” begins with this intriguing thesis statement: “My thesis is that all scripture (at least all Jewish and Christian scripture) should be read literally, perhaps only literally.” Whaaa? Where the heck does he intend to go with that? Read the chapter to find out.

Claudia L. Bushman, “Reading Women Back into Scriptures,” proposes the beginning of a scripture-like canon of women’s texts. Her prospectus suggests nine items, going from Lucy Mack Smith’s history of her family all the way to Cheiko Okazaki’s Lighten Up! I took this as being a preliminary and suggestive list, meant to be added upon; as you read this contribution, your mind will race with thoughts about what you would include in such a canonical collection of women’s texts.

Another favorite was Ann Taves, “History and the Claims of Revelation: Joseph Smith and the Materialization of the Golden Plates.” Note 1 indicates preliminary versions of this material have been given in a number of different venues, but it was all new to me.  Now this one is not for your Gospel Essentials class or the faint of heart. The basic idea is to explore the question “What is a religious studies scholar to make of the gold plates?” Historically, the gap was wide and unbridgeable: either the plates were what Joseph claimed them to be or the whole thing was a fraud. Her argument is long and detailed and there is no way I can succinctly summarize it here, but she manages to find a middle path in which the Prophet is sincere in his belief about the plates and what they represent. I was very impressed by her argument and found it persuasive.

David Bokovoy’s contribution, “‘The Book Which Thou Shalt Write’: The Book of Moses as Prophetic Midrash,” was one that I especially appreciated, as I’m a fan of viewing Joseph’s biblical revisions at least in part through the concept of Midrash.

Paul C. Gutjahr in “Pivotal Publishing Moments for the Book of Mormon” points to four key points in time for the publishing of that book: (i) the 1820s (when book publishing was greatly expanding), (ii) the 1870s (when the Church’s publishing operations were consolidated in Salt Lake City), (iii) the 1980s (with the publication of the 1981 edition with its apparatus finally coordinated with the biblical apparatus), and (iv) the 2010s (with the 2013 edition being published first electronically with no print corollary until six months later).

Well, that should be enough to give you a flavor for the book. This is not same old same old stuff, but essays viewing LDS scripture through new and imaginative lenses. Go forth, purchase, and read!





  1. Sounds interesting! Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

  2. Re: Faulconer’s “On the Literal Interpretation of Scripture,” I’ve been considering a similar but more provocative title. I assume he gets into “literal” the way Augustine and many scholars use it.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks for the review, Kevin. Looks like a great volume!

  4. Great review. I’m really looking forward to reading it!

  5. Your review has persuaded me to get this.

  6. Thanks Kev. I’m working through my copy and I’ll eventually say something about it. I’ve read Ann Taves’ piece before and I’m really intrigued by it. Obviously it will never be the correlated version but thinking like this might help many who have less literal belief in the founding stories to hang in there on a different level.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    WVS, agreed.

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