REVIEW: Mosiah: A Brief Theological Introduction; James Faulconer
James E. Faulconer provides another solid addition to the Maxwell Institute’s Brief Theological Introduction series with his volume on Mosiah. Faulconer maintains a professional, somewhat distanced, tone from the text throughout, engaging closely with the text, both at a over-arching structural level and more closely at specific word choice in select shorter passages. Faulconer is adept at both approaches, largely providing a clear, understandable, and insightful engagement with the Book of Mosiah.
Faulconer focuses early in his volume on the complicated structure of The Book of Mosiah, which is some of the most interesting and helpful work in the volume, I think. The Book of Mosiah is bafflingly structured, and quite difficult to navigate narratively because of that complicated structure that moves backwards and forwards in time, as well as frequently shifting geography and introducing new characters and places who only connect peripherally or distantly with the figures we were previously reading about. Faulconer does a great job at addressing this and thinking through what we can learn from this structure (specifically how it exemplifies and highlights the text’s thematic focus on fragmentation, fracturing, and reunification).
Much of the book is ripe for discussion and conversation, but perhaps no section more than Faulconer’s reading of what The Book of Mosiah has to say about politics. He argues that the message of the text is that politics are immaterial, when what matters is conversion (this is a simplification of Faulconer’s argument, which is worth reading carefully and considering fully). I find myself at once both compelled by and repulsed by this argument. There’s clear evidence in the text to interpret this way, though I’d suggest that you could persuasively interpret much of the text differently to highlight the importance of politics to our converted state, but that’s probably beyond the scope of this short review. Suffice it to say, that Faulconer got me thinking, which I think is good! Even if I’m inclined to disagree (we’ll see if further pondering changes my mind!).
Faulconer does great close reading of King Benjamin’s address, digging into his use of “nothing” and talking about different ways that we might interpret that, as well as working carefully and methodically through Abinadi’s address about the Godhead, which has caused many a Latter-day Saint to wonder if Abinadi believed in the same idea of the Godhead that we tend to preach today (at least, it has caused me to wonder that). Faulconer’s work in this section is very thorough, and denser than the rest of the volume (and most of the previous volumes in the series). Faulconer may get caught up occasionally in the weeds of this particular passage, but that may be more because I’m not currently particularly interested in Abinadi needing to have the exact same understanding of the Godhead as I do. That said, I’ll definitely be revisiting Faulconer’s work on Abinadi and King Benjamin’s address the next time I read those chapters to more closely follow the detail-oriented and very attentive reading that Faulconer provides.
Another solid entry in what’s proving to be an essential resource for digging deeper into the theological messages of The Book of Mormon (and the many many different ways that that work manifests).