Tuesday, January 12, 2010

(Second Review) Pinegar and Allen, "Unlocking the Old Testament: A Side by Side Commentary" (reviewed by Andrew and Karen Hamilton)


Title:    Unlocking the Old Testament: A Side by Side Commentary
Author:  Ed Pinegar and Richard Allen
Publisher:  Covenant Communications
Genre:  Scripture Commentary
Year Published:  2009
Number of Pages:  501
Binding: Paper
ISBN10: 1-59811-851-X
ISBN13: 978-1-59811-851-3
Price: $27.95

Reviewed by Andrew and Karen Hamilton

I went on my mission and attended the Orem Institute of Religion adjacent to Utah Valley State College (before it was Utah Valley University) in the early 90's.  I went into the MTC in 1992 one year after Ed Pinegar had been released as MTC President.  When I got to my mission it seemed like all of the missionaries had one or more of Ed Pinegar's talk tapes; those missionaries who had been in the MTC with him were looked upon as being luckier than the rest of us.  Brother Pinegar and his ideas were spoken of with a reverence and respect that were usually reserved for General Authorities.

When I got back from my mission I started attending the Oren Institute of Religion.  Ed Pinegar's classes and committees were always the most popular and the quickest to fill up.  Eventually almost all of them had to be held in the chapel rather than a regular class room to accommodate all who wanted to attend.   During the time I attended and worked at the Orem Institute I came to have a great love and respect for "Brother Ed" as he preferred to be called.  His love for life, young adults, the Gospel and the Book of Mormon were infectious.

Over the years I have continued to listen to Brother Ed's talks and read his books and have enjoyed many of them.  In recent years as he has grown older (he will be 75 this year) his books have been co-authored with Richard Allen.  Unfortunately, with one or two exceptions (I really enjoyed their book "Look to the Temple" published 2007, also by Covenant Communications) their work together has, to me and Karen, been nowhere as good as Ed Pinegar's solo work.  Some of the more recent books by the two have been so different and uninteresting to us that we have in fact wondered how much of the writing Pinegar has actually done. We have wondered if, perhaps, the more recent works are mostly the work of Richard Allen with Ed Pinegar's name mostly tacked on to help sell the books.

Before I go any further, I think that it is important that I make it very clear that "Unlocking the Old Testament" is *NOT* a "scholarly" or a "critical" work.  This book is written by "faithful, conservative" Latter-day Saints for "faithful, conservative" Latter-day Saints.  The term TBM, "True Believing Mormon," is a label both would accept with a sense of pride.  They accept as a reality the stories, writings, and prophecies of the Old Testament.  The creation of the Earth in six creative periods; the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, and the Fall of Man; the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Moses, Pharaoh, the Children of Israel, the pillar of fire and the parting of the Red Sea; Joshua and the Walls of Jericho; etc. are all unquestioned realities for Pinegar and Allen.  It is the same with their acceptance of the traditionally accepted authors and timings for the writing of the various prophecies and revelations in the Old Testament.  If you are interested a critical study of the various historical, doctrinal, and authorship controversies of the Old Testament, stop, look elsewhere, don't bother picking up this book or any book from Covenant Communications or Deseret Book, for that matter.  Not only are such matters not discussed, they are in fact seen by Pinegar and Allen as proof of the apostate, sinful, and fallen state of the modern world.  For them, when "viewed through the lens of Gospel truth and illuminated by the light of continuing revelation, the Old Testament emerges for what it truly is – the wellspring document of God's design for bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of His faithful children through priesthood blessings of redeeming truth, saving ordinances, and power to endure to the end." (Introduction, p. v)

"Unlocking the Old Testament" makes no attempt to cover the whole Old Testament; instead it focuses on the selected readings used in the LDS Gospel Doctrine class course of study for 2010.  Many chapters and some entire books of the Old Testament are entirely skipped over.  For instance, the book of Leviticus is left out entirely and only four chapters of Deuteronomy (6, 8, 11, 32) get covered.

"Unlocking" starts with a two page and a half page introduction, has four very brief sections on "Citations used," "How to Use This Book," "Abbreviations Used," and a "Pronunciation Guide."  It then goes into the text, starting with chapter one of the Book of Moses, matching the Gospel Doctrine Curriculum which also starts with Moses One.  There is no table of contents and no index in the book.  There are no chapter or section divisions in the book.  After covering Moses and Abraham from the Pearl of Great Price it picks up with Genesis and goes in the order of the Old Testament ending with Malachi.  There are bold headings at the top of each page with the name of the book covered and the chapters and verses covered on that page, for instance "Judges 13:15-Judges 14:8" and "2 Chronicles 17:1-19," but that is all that is provided by way of organization or locational materials.

The book ends with a number of appendices that cover various people from the Old Testament for whom, according to the authors, "the abundance of rich information…was too long to fit in the right column adjacent to the scriptural text. In these cases, information on such people…is contained in appendices…references to these appendices are found in the text where appropriate." (viii)  The appendices are lettered sequentially starting with, "Appendix A: Our Father in Heaven, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost," and ending with "Appendix PP: Malachi." Almost all of those who would be considered "major" prophets, kings and characters of the Old Testament are covered, plus some like Melchizedek and Enoch, who are hardly mentioned in the Old Testament but are very important in LDS theology.

The entire book is organized into a two column format.  In the main body of the book the left column is King James Old Testament text being covered and the right hand column is the commentary by Pinegar and Allen which often includes references to other scriptures for further reading.  The right hand column also includes the occasional black and white illustrations.  All most all of these are copies of Gustave Dore prints but there are a few pictures of Egyptian art work and some classical frescos and artworks of Biblical Kings, scenes etc.  There are a few points in the book where the right hand column is filled with lines for making notes, and in a few places (for example page 305, which covers Proverbs 25:21-26:20) the right column is simply left blank.  Most of the commentary is written by Pinegar or Allen, but they frequently quote the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants in their commentary.  They also include occasional quotes from LDS General Authorities, LDS scholars such as Daniel Ludlow, and even some non-LDS scholars whose views support Pinegar and Allen's ideas.  These quotes are usually set off in italics and are printed under a small header that includes a line drawing of an open book and the phrase "Point of Interest."

We feel that there are many who may find this book useful; its target audience is obviously LDS Gospel Doctrine teachers and attendees. Those who fall in this group, especially those who are more conservative and have a very basic understanding or no understanding or experience with the Old Testament, will probably find this book to be useful. Those who are more experienced with the Old Testament, or as mentioned earlier in the review, have more liberal or critical views on the Old Testament, or those who are looking for more in-depth analysis, "deep doctrine," and the like, will probably not like this book.

We feel that this book has three major weaknesses that will limit its usefulness.  One, it's big and bulky.  It's intended for use by those in Gospel Doctrine class, but I for one would not want to take this book to church on a regular basis -- it's just too big for that.  The format is 8.5 by 11 and it's nearly an inch and a half thick.  At 500 pages long, it's essentially the same size as a ream of paper.  Being that big and being a paperback, it's not going to take much of a beating.  If you take it to church too many times it may just fall apart on you.  I feel that it would have been a better book if they had assumed that the reader had access to the Old Testament and instead of reproducing the Old Testament text being examined they could have just printed references to the section being commented on.  This would have significantly reduced the size and cost of the book.  I think that this issue of size is especially important in our modernizing world where more and more people are leaving their traditional scriptures and manuals home and using their Smart phones and PDA'S when called upon to participate in class.  Even for traditionalists like me. who still carry actual books, smaller is often better since at church my arms are full already. With scriptures, a diaper bag, my binder or bag for my calling, and often a two year old or a fussy four year old in tow I don't have room for a lot of bulky extras.

Two, as outlined previously, there is no way to quickly locate a particular subject in the book and with no chapter, section or lesson divisions, it is hard to find the material you need.  Third, with the exception of citations to other scriptures, the small "Point of Interest" sections and the occasional reference to "The History of the Church," "The Journal of Discourses," "The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith," and the LDS "Conference Report," there are no citations, no footnotes, no bibliography or "works cited" etc.  This means that you really have to trust Pinegar and Allen because you have no real way to tell most of the time how or where they came up with their ideas or opinions.  You have no way of knowing if others, even other "faithful" LDS scholars or leaders, have offered dissenting or conflicting interpretations or opinions.

This book will be useful to some, and I am sure will be appreciated by fans of Allen and Pinegar, but in my opinion, it misses out on what it could have been.  For those who are interested in this kind of a work giving a "faithful, conservative" interpretation of the Old Testament I would instead recommend the cheaper and easier to use two volume set of Institute of Religion Manuals on the Old Testament available through LDS distribution for under ten dollars each.  Another option, if you want to stick with Pinegar and Allen, would be to try and locate an older series of commentaries they did from the last time the LDS Church rotated through the scriptures.  "Teachings and Commentaries on the Old Testament" (Covenant Communications, 2005) had everything this book lacks.  It was smaller, hardbound for better durability, was divided into chapters, had a table of contents and an index, was arranged topically, omitted the Old Testament text, and was even available as a searchable CD-Rom.  The hardback is out of print but is available online.  Last year a paperback version was released that may still be at book stores.  I think that interested readers may find it to be a more useful work by Pinegar and Allen.

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