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Nephi’s Obsession, Or, How to Talk with Nephi about God

TitleNephi’s Obsession, Or, How to Talk with Nephi about God
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsHancock, Ralph C.
JournalInterpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship
Keywords1 Nephi; Equality; Nephi (Son of Lehi); Womenhood

Joseph Spencer’s intimate familiarity with the Book of Mormon text, based upon years of close textual study and informed by a well- developed theological sensibility, is in full evidence in this lead-off volume in Neal A. Maxwell Institute’s new series of books on the various books of the Book of Mormon. Leaving to prophets and apostles the responsibility for “declaring official doctrine,” this new series approaches the book with the tools of the “scholarly practice” of theology. In Spencer’s case at least, his practice is understood to be (1) informed by an emphasis on grace that is skeptical of claims of personal righteousness and (2) very much engaged with contemporary moral and social issues grounded in a fundamental concern for “equality.” Accordingly, Spencer’s reading is much more interested in “what God is doing in history with what we call the Abrahamic covenant” than with the more popular (non-scholarly) concerns of “everyday faithful living;” it is also more interested in Nephi’s “realistic” and “mature” regret over his youthful over-boldness than in his confident statements of righteous faith. In the end, Spencer’s extremely careful but theologically tendentious reading alerts us very skillfully to certain features of Nephi’s imperfect humanity but reveals a consistent preoccupation with any possible faults in the prophet that might be extracted from an ingenious reading of the text. Finally, concerning women in the Book of Mormon, Spencer again expertly raises provocative questions about barely heard female voices but is too eager to frame these questions from the standpoint of the “modern sensibility” of “sexual egalitarianism.”