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About Stephen O. Smoot

Stephen O. Smoot graduated cum laude from Brigham Young University with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Ancient Near Eastern Studies and German Studies. His areas of academic interest include the Hebrew Bible, ancient Egyptian history and religion, Mormon studies, and German Romanticism. He blogs on Latter-day Saint and other topics at www.plonialmonimormon.com.

Book Review: An Introduction to the Book of Abraham

Hugh Nibley once quipped that the controversy surrounding the Book of Abraham was “a great fuss . . . being made about a scrap of papyrus.”1 Were it not for the fact that it is tied up in religious polemics involving Joseph Smith, founder and first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there would probably be little care outside a handful of Egyptologists who specialize in Greco-Roman Egyptian religious literature for the text commonly designated the Book of Breathings; what the ancient Egyptians themselves called the šˁt n snsn ỉr.n ˁIst n snỉ.s Wsỉr, or the Document of Breathings Made by Isis for Her Brother Osiris.2 But because the text is tied to a book of scripture claiming to be “a translation of . . . the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt,”3 there has been an unusual amount of interest (to say nothing of a boisterous fracas) among laypersons surrounding this “scrap of papyrus.” Continue reading

Book Review: The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History

The remarkable work of the Joseph Smith Papers Project has continued unabated since the publication of Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839 in 2008. Last year the Church Historian’s Press, which publishes the volumes of the series, released Administrative Records, Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846. This landmark occasion has finally brought to light a set of documents that had long held a quasi-mythical status in Mormon historiography. Now the public could dive into the minutes of the Council of Fifty and explore the many issues raised therein.
Continue reading

The Council of Fifty and Its Minutes: A Review

Review of Matthew J. Grow et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Administrative Records, Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846 (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2016). 525 pp. + introduction, appendixes, reference material, index, etc. $59.95.

Abstract: The publication of the Council of Fifty minutes is a momentous occasion in modern studies of Mormon history. The minutes are invaluable in helping historians understand the last days of Joseph Smith and his project to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth. They offer an important glimpse into the religious and political mindset of early Latter-day Saint leaders and shed much light on events once obscured by lack of access to the minutes. The Joseph Smith Papers Project has outdone itself in its presentation of the minutes in the latest volume of the series. The minutes are essential reading for anyone interested in early Mormon history. Continue reading

Reading A Pentecostal Reads the Book of Mormon

Review of John Christopher Thomas, A Pentecostal Reads the Book of Mormon: A Literary and Theological Introduction, Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2016. 448 pp. + bibliography. $24.95

In recent years the Book of Mormon has enjoyed increased attention from the scholarly world.1 This is entirely welcomed by the Latter-day Saints, especially when such attention comes from a place of fairness
and open-mindedness. A praiseworthy example of how non-Mormon academics can fruitfully engage the Book of Mormon is John Cristopher Thomas’s new volume A Pentecostal Reads the Book of Mormon: A Literary and Theological Introduction.2 Thomas is well-equipped to approach the Book of Mormon on a literary and theological angle. He is, after all, an erudite biblical scholar whose work on New Testament text and theology has appeared in such prestigious venues as Sheffield Academic Press, T&T Clark, Eerdmans, Mohr Siebeck, Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, and Novum Testamentum.3 He is also friendly toward the Latter-day Saints, both in his academic work and, I’m told, in his personal dealings with his Mormon acquaintances.4 Continue reading

Mormonism at Oxford and What It Signifies

Review of Terryl Givens and Philip L. Barlow. The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). 647 pp. + index. $150.00

Abstract: The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism is a welcomed addition to the current scholarly discussion surrounding the history, theology, and culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It should be read and studied by all interested students of Mormonism and signals that the scriptures, theology, and history of the Latter-day Saints are all increasingly being taken seriously in mainstream academia. Continue reading