In every cultural group there are household names. W. Cleon Skousen is one of those names among Latter-day Saints. In fact, like Hugh Nibley, Skousen is a Latter-day Saint academic that achieved enough prominence and visibility that some members of the Church incorrectly referred to him as "Elder" Skousen, inadvertently suggesting he was a Apostle, which he was not. Skousen achieved this level of visibility by writing books like The First 2,000 Years and its subsequent follow-ups, as well as other treatises relating to government, communism, and Latter-day Saint doctrine. The First 2,000 Years is the second book I have read from Skousen, the first being The 5,000 Year Leap. Although I enjoyed the The First 2,000 Years, it was very front-loaded and lacked less and less interesting insight the further I got into it.
If anything is immediately associated with Skousen when mentioned to Latter-day Saints, it would probably be the word speculation. Although Skousen is constantly referencing scripture, his interpretations and conclusions may sometimes surprise readers, even Latter-day Saints. What's most interesting about these speculations to me is that Skousen writes with total confidence. (I will say, however, that I find Skousen's explanation of the Atonement and why it was necessary to be extremely compelling and reasonable). He rarely provides multiple opinions and then delineates why he falls on one side or the other of a particular issue or topic. I find this to be the weakest aspect of Skousen's writings. I love the compare and contrast method of learning (see The Lord's Way or A Conflict of Visions as examples). The First 2,000 Years is a direct and concise commentary from one author; it could have offered more by pulling from other authors, both academic and ecclesiastical.
Skousen has the most to contribute when it comes to the beginning of all things, at least the beginning of our earth and related universe. Latter-day Saint scripture is far more robust and expansive than contemporary Christianity, and Skousen takes full advantage of unique details and doctrines Latter-day Saints consider canonized scripture. This is there the majority of the speculation can be found. Some of the commentary is a little too literal from my perspective but interesting nonetheless. As in science so in theology, if you go far enough back, the details of what actually happened and when they actually happened becomes fuzzier and fuzzier. (I'm mostly speaking of the creation of the Earth and our pre-mortal experience). What surprised me most regarding The First 2,000 Years is that Skousen pays little attention to what has been said by modern Prophets and Apostles regarding the topics he's discussing and elaborating on. A good example of an author who does pay a great deal of attention to what has been said by modern Prophets and Apostles while still maintaining his own speculations and conclusions is the book Earth in the Beginning, also written by a Skousen but I'm not sure of the relationship.
The first quarter or half of The First 2,000 Years is far more interesting and intriguing than the second half of the book. Once the Abraham epoch and commentary begins it feels like more of a scavenger hunt for who was born and when. There were a few insights here and there that I found intriguing but certainly nothing provocative.
The First 2,000 Years is the first of several books of commentary written by Skousen regarding the Bible, as well as other Latter-day Saint scripture. It was a passing amusement, but I'm not sure if I'll read the other books in this particular series. The book provides some interesting doctrinal topics of conversation, even if it only acts as a springboard, but I don't find much more value in it than that.
Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: The Lord's Way
Reflections: The Apocrypha
Reflections: Faith Precedes the Miracle