REVIEW: Helaman: a brief theological introduction, Kimberly Matheson Berkey
I felt chastised reading Kimberly Matheson Berkey’s Helaman: a brief theological introduction. Berkey’s insights repeatedly reminded me that I was tempted to fall to the same weaknesses and flaws as the Nephites throughout the book of Helaman. Her conversational and engaging prose walks the reader carefully through the text, drawing attention to a variety of important and fascinating details and meanings.
An illustration of her core argument, which left me feeling particularly called out, is her discussion of the Gadianton robbers and the question of visibility/invisibility. Berkey argues that the key function of the Gadianton robbers is to highlight the danger of their methods, and therefore that we should be attentive to what is “invisible” to us. Her argument is that it’s less about the ideology represented by the Gadiantons and more about their invisibility that leads to the destruction of the Nephites. This line of thinking feels of a piece with several places in the New Testament (‘Lord, is it I?’, the mote and the beam, etc.).
The next section that I was particularly drawn to is Berkey’s account of Nephi. The way that Berkey describes and thinks about Nephi strikes me as different than I have ever encountered. Berkey’s description focuses on the ways that Nephi seems caught up in the specifics of the circumstances of the people around him and that this closeness may hinder him from talking more generally of Christ. This ties in to the ways that Nephi uses the sealing power to cause a famine and then rain and how throughout all of this, Mormon finally gives us a tiny aside that seems out of place (and which I have personally chuckled at because of how odd it seems)—"And behold, Lehi, his brother, was not a whit behind him as to things pertaining to righteousness.”
Berkey suggests that this verse is Mormon reminding us again that we are focusing on the wrong thing. We are all caught up in Nephi with the sealing power—just like the Nephites—when perhaps we should pay more attention to the quietly righteous all around us. [QUOTE]
The focus on Nephi then shifts into a discussion of Samuel the Lamanite and the ways that text wants us to compare and contrast him with Nephi. Berkey demonstrates that there are significant parallels between the text’s treatment of the two prophets, highlighting fascinating connections. A key point of divergence is that Samuel is quite broad and general in his message to the Nephites—talking about Christ and the associated signs. In this sense the messages from Nephi and Samuel work in tandem, completing each other. Samuel’s outside perspective gives him a different angle on what’s happening and what is possible for the Nephites.
Berkey’s text is not for the faint of heart as it draws out the bleakness of the message of Helaman’s book. But, it is filled with wonderful, powerful insights that feel relevant for our arguably bleak days. Another solid volume in the A Brief Theological Introduction series from the Maxwell Institute.