Saturday, October 20, 2012

Book Review: Nephite Culture and Society: Collected Papers

[This review originally appeared on]

Nephite Culture and Society: Collected Papers by John L. Sorenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This interesting book collects a number of papers by LDS archaeologist John Sorenson. Subjects range from the composition of Lehi's and Nephi's group of travelers to the political structure of the Nephite (and to a lesser extent, Lamanite) civilization throughout its history. Unlike similarly-themed works, these articles are not primarily meant to provide evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Instead, the papers attempt to examine or deduce elements of Nephite culture under the a priori assumption that the Book of Mormon is true. Many LDS readers will nonetheless find the book faith-promoting given that the Book of Mormon provides sufficient detail to allow Sorenson to believably reconstruct the essentials of Nephite culture. The result is a society that appears to parallel those of known ancient civilizations.

All the papers are interesting and the majority of Sorenson's work appears to be adequately supported and well reasoned. However, some of his arguments rely on off-handed statements found in a single verse or on his interpretation of a single phrase. For example, is someone who is described as "Lamanitish" different than someone who is simply a "Lamanite" or does the term "People of the Nephites" imply something that the term "Nephites" doesn't? In another paper which claims that Nephite/Lamanite warfare was highly seasonal, Sorenson must extrapolate approximate dates for numerous battles and events based on a writer saying that a preceding event occurred during some specific month of that particular year. While his reasoning for the dates seems sound, it is less than ideal to base an argument on extrapolated data.

Nephite Culture and Society is a good book and provides a fascinating look into the cultures of Book of Mormon peoples. However, readers must realize that the Book of Mormon wasn't intended to be an anthropological text and therefore lacks explicit information about the very subjects that Sorenson discusses. Thus, it must be understood that several of Sorenson's arguments and conclusions are necessarily speculative.

One more minor criticism: I'm not sure who chose the font for this book, but it's not easy to read. I think the last thing an author wants when he's trying to convince the reader of the validity of his conclusions is for the reader to be distracted by the font.

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