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Sacred Tribes Journal

Volume 7 Number 1 (2012): 80-83 ISSN: 1941-8167

BOOK REVIEW Joseph Smith, Jesus, and Satanic Opposition: Atonement, Evil and the Mormon Vision, by Douglas J. Davies. Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2010. 282pp. Paper. $29.95. Douglas Davies of the University of Durham continues to prove himself one of the best non-Mormon scholars exploring the religion of Mormonism. Previously he has written The Mormon Culture of Salvation (Ashgate, 2000), which provides a helpful consideration of the two spheres of Mormon religious life divided between local wards and temples, and which also includes a consideration of the death-transcendence motif that plays such a pivotal part in Mormonism, particularly in temple ritual. Davies has also written An Introduction to Mormonism (Cambridge University Press, 2003), which presents one of the most balanced overviews of Mormonism in print, and which this reviewer believes should serve as the introductory volume on the religion in universities and seminaries. Davies adds to his academic exploration of Mormonism with Joseph Smith, Jesus, and Satanic Opposition. In some ways this volume builds upon the reflections and insights the author put forward in The Mormon Culture of Salvation, but whereas much of that volume considered the significance of death and death-transcendence, Davies’ latest work not only takes the reader deeper, but also provides a means to step back in order to see the broader narrative and visual aspects involved.

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In his analysis, Davies cuts to the heart of Mormonism and contends that the Mormon Plan of Salvation “is the essential scheme of the ‘gospel,’” and further that “its prime role is as the grand narrative informing all others, being to Mormon thought what the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is to mainstream Christian theology. As such, the Plan and the Trinity are functional equivalent contexts for interpreting the concept of ‘Jesus.’” (8). Davies also identifies other paradigmatic narrative elements within Mormonism, including the Pre-Existence (most notable within this is the Heavenly Council), and the First Vision. Three characters figure prominently in each of these narrative elements, including Jesus, Satan, and Joseph Smith, and their part in the outworking of the Plan in response to human and satanic apostasy in both its pre-earthly and earthly manifestations in Mormon narrative. By way of clarification, Davies notes that the functions of Plan and Trinity, and the interactions of Jesus, Satan, and Joseph Smith, are to be understood in terms functional equivalents in the respective religious traditions “and not to equate their constituent personages or members” (209). In addition to the insightful recognition of the functional equivalency in Mormonism of the Plan to Trinitarianism in Christendom, Davies has also drawn attention to the significance of “a strong narrative tradition within LDS life” (57). Davies writes, “An image like the First Vision creates a theological rationale that structures the symbolic imagination of group members, influencing hymnody, teaching and testimony, and providing an implicit validation for elements of more ordinary discourse bonding co-believers” (53). He further argues that this narrative element provides something of an advantage to Mormonism over more traditional expressions of Christianity. In this he states, that “the Plan’s easily remembered narrative form gives it an inherent attraction as a story to be told, unlike the doctrine of the Trinity” (57). Davies reminds us that narrative “is of the essence of humanity” (3), and that this incorporates not only sacred texts as Protestants are prone to gravitate towards,

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Sacred Tribes Journal

Volume 7 Number 1 (2012): 80-83 ISSN: 1941-8167

but also elements like personal testimonies and communal traditions, which are especially prevalent in Mormonism. Beyond the narrative considerations of Mormonism Davies also points out that “Mormonism is a religion of images” (2), ranging from its various buildings and temples in Salt Lake City and other historic Mormon sites, to paintings and dramatic events such as Mormon pageants. Narrative and imagery come together to form Mormon culture’s visualnarrative matrix (2). One other aspect of Davies’ analysis is important for consideration, which the author develops in the book’s final chapter. Davies discusses the concept of “otherness,” wherein Mormon identity and theology has been developed “constrained by ‘significant others,’” particularly in its often antagonistic relationship with Protestantism. This is not an insight unique to Davies, but he does go so far as to recognize that “the identity of a church and the identities of its constituent members” in the Mormon Church qualify it “almost as an ‘ethnic group,’” a point which has been argued elsewhere by those inside and outside the Mormon tradition in their attempts to understand it better, and move beyond the limiting conceptual and dialogical categories of “cult” and “heresies.” Mormonism faces challenges in self-identity through the constraints of otherness, much as does Protestantism since the Reformation in Davies’ view. One other aspect of Davies’ discussion in relation to “otherness” is important, and that is in its underlying significance and force that must be acknowledged even when it is not present on the surface. In this regard Davies writes, “In terms of the study of religion it is obvious that all churches develop conceptual and emotional worlds, though emotional factors seldom appear explicit in apologetic debates despite their powerful pounding beneath logical disputation and carefully arranged texts”

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Morehead: Joseph Smith, Jesus and Satanic Opposition

(223). Otherness must be acknowledged as an ongoing force within Mormonism, both in its easily recognized disputes over Christian identity with the rest of Christendom, as well as in more subtle forms in the affective dimension to which Davies points. Mormon studies remains a small, but growing area of academic study for scholars of religion, and Davies continues to make his presence felt within this area of study. Those standing outside the Mormon tradition will benefit greatly from a consideration of Davies’ insights on a religion with an increasingly high profile in public discourse. John W. Morehead Western Institute for Intercultural Studies

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/MoreheadReview  

http://www.sacredtribesjournal.org/stj/images/Articles/Vol_7/MoreheadReview.pdf

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