“Books,” Ensign, Mar. 1972, 78
Reviewed by Dr. Paul R. Cheesman, assistant professor of ancient scriptures, Brigham Young University
Dr. Gordon, head of the Department of Mediterranean Studies at Brandeis University, is the author of several books dealing with the Old World. In this new publication he turns his scholarly interests toward the New World in search of possible links that may exist between the two cultures.
Before Columbus is perhaps the most open-minded archaeological research to come off the press in recent years. It is a courageous reflection of the author’s line of reasoning on specific findings and their possible relationships to the origin of the American Indian.
He has divided his chapters into segments dealing with discussions on sculptured portrait similarities of the Old and New Worlds; statements of early Greek authors concerning ancient travels to the Americas; comparisons of plumed serpents; and writings found in the New World containing similarities with those of the Old.
Linguistic and other cultural transmissions are compared, along with a study of the Popol Vuh, another ancient American record. A summation reflects the author’s opinion that the study of early civilization is of global scope and not of complete isolationism.
Of all his subject matter, presented unit by unit, the first chapter is the weakest. Although his point is well taken concerning facial characteristics as a good basis for comparison of the Old and New Worlds, still, much more data than he offers here is needed to strengthen this premise.
Dr. Gordon’s information is by no means positive proof of trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific contacts, but it does suggest some ideas on possible connections. His concepts are impressive, and he has made a significant contribution in pointing out some of the more recent archaeological finds that could support his thesis.
In many instances he does not attempt a dialogue concerning the issue but presents his argument based on research. His primary conclusion appears in the introduction: “… for thousands of years men have been in contact with other men at the ends of the earth, influencing each other’s ways of life, and producing thereby an intertwined network of developed regional cultures.”
Dr. Gordon is not a Latter-day Saint, but Latter-day Saints will find his book fascinating reading. They will also find implications of important relationships to the Book of Mormon and support for the premise that in ancient times people could have come across the waters from the Mediterranean to the New World.
The literary paths to a good biography are many. In this first volume in a series on the life of Joseph Smith, Dr. Anderson, professor of history and religion at Brigham Young University, concentrates on a most important path, one that reveals the lives and fortunes of the Prophet’s immediate ancestors, their personalities and strong moral convictions.
This first sentence in the preface reads, “One who understands the moral power of the individuals surrounding Joseph Smith will never see him in quite the same way again.” This statement suggests the keynote of the book, for the book helps provide the understanding. Using carefully researched facts to guide his readers, the author sets memorable people, events, and places in order and in perspective, using newly discovered Mormon manuscripts, New England church and community records, family-line charts, maps, and important documents.
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