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 of Mormon Minimalists and the NHM Inscriptions: A Response to Dan Vogel

Abstract: Biblical “minimalists” have sought to undermine or de-emphasize the significance of the Tel Dan inscription attesting to the existence of the “house of David.” Similarly, those who might be called Book of Mormon “minimalists” such as Dan Vogel have marshaled evidence to try to make the nhm inscriptions from south Arabia, corresponding to the Book of Mormon Nahom, seem as irrelevant as possible. We show why the nhm inscriptions still stand as impressive evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Continue reading

Help for the Troubled “Young Mormon”

Review of Adam S. Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon. Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2014. 78 pp. $9.95.

Adam S. Miller has recently made a name for himself in Mormon intellectual circles by publishing a number of books in theology and philosophy.1 Miller, who holds a PhD in philosophy from Villanova University and is currently a professor of philosophy at Collin College in McKinney, Texas, adds to his list of publications with a new book published by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. This new book, Letters to a Young Mormon,2 is a short volume of some 80 pages that includes Miller’s ruminations on the following topics: agency (9-12),3 work (13-16), sin (17-23), faith (25-29), scripture (31-35), prayer (37-41), history (43-49), science (51-56), hunger (57-60), sex (61-66), temples (67-71), and eternal life (73-78). Continue reading

  1. See Adam S. Miller, Badiou, Marion and St Paul: Immanent Grace (New York, NY: Continuum, 2008); Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2012); Speculative Grace: Bruno Latour and Object-Oriented Theology (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2013). For a review of Miller’s work on Mormon theology, see Robert F. Smith, ”Adam Miller’s New Hermeneutic?” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 6 (2013): 1-7. 

  2. Adam S. Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2014). 

  3. All of the in-text page citations are from Letters to a Young Mormon

Once Again: Joseph Smith, Richard Dawkins, and the Language of Translation

(Cross-posted from Ploni Almoni: Mr. So-and-So’s Mormon Blog) [This is another follow-up post to these posts here, here, and here.]

At the risk of overkilling this topic, I want to return to Richard Dawkins’ arguments against the Book of Mormon one last time. (I’m pretty sure I’ll leave it alone after this.)

In an online article where he expresses his disappointment that not every English state school has a copy of the King James Bible in its library, Dawkins opines on the incomparable quality of the King James Bible as a work of English literature while at the same time insisting that it is not a suitable guide to morality.1 “Ecclesiastes, in the 1611 translation,” Dawkins specifies, “is one of the glories of English literature (I’m told it’s pretty good in the original Hebrew, too).” (Having read large parts of Ecclesiastes in Hebrew, I can attest that it is.) “A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian,” Dawkins goes on to say as he affirms that the King James Bible “really is a great work of literature” that should be appreciated as such. Indeed, “an atheistic world-view,” Dawkins has said elsewhere, “provides no justification for cutting the Bible, and other sacred books, out of our education. . . . We can give up belief in God while not losing touch with a treasured heritage.”2 Continue reading

  1. “Why I want all our children to read the King James Bible,” online at http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/may/19/richard-dawkins-king-james-bible (Accessed January 9, 2014). 

  2. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 2nd. ed. (Great Britain: Mariner Books, 2008), 387. 

“By His Own Hand, Upon Papyrus”: Another Look

When the Book of Abraham was first published in March 1842, the title of the work, as it appeared in the Times and Seasons, read thusly: “A TRANSLATION Of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catecombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the BOOK OF ABRAHAM, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.”1 A look at the manuscripts of the Book of Abraham shows that this explanatory “title,” as it were, for the Book of Abraham dates to the earliest stages of the book’s production. Our earliest (surviving) manuscript for the Book of Abraham, which Brian Hauglid designates Ab1, and which the scholars at the Joseph Smith Papers Project date to “Summer–Fall 1835,” reads: “Translation of the Book of Abraham written by his own hand upon papyrus and found in the CataCombs of Egypt.”2 Continue reading

  1. “The Book of Abraham,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 9 (March 1, 1842): 704. This explanatory note has been published with the Book of Abraham, albeit with some alteration, down to the present (2013) edition of the Pearl of Great Price. 

  2. Brian Hauglid, A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2010), 61. To view the manuscript online, see “William W. Phelps and Warren Parrish Copy of Abraham Manuscript, Summer–Fall 1835 [Abraham 1:1–2:18]”: http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/william-w-phelps-and-warren-parrish-copy-of-abraham-manuscript-summer-fall-1835-abraham-11-218. 

The Imperative for a Historical Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon must be read as an ancient, not as a modern book. Its mission, as described by the book itself, depends in great measure for its efficacy on its genuine antiquity. —Hugh Nibley1

To many non-Mormon readers, the Book of Mormon’s insistence on its historicity is troublesome. Modern scholars are quite comfortable in safely doting over quaint and long-forgotten religious texts that are considered neither genuinely historical nor scriptural by modern believers. The Book of Mormon, by contrast, claims to be “an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites . . . [and] an abridgment of the Book of Ether,” that was “written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation” (Book of Mormon Title Page). This has created an extremely awkward situation for religious historians who, in the words of Terryl Givens, “want to salvage Joseph Smith’s prophetic role . . . by avoiding what they see as the embarrassing ramifications of his naked prose or the fragility of the book’s historical claims.” This awkwardness makes these uncomfortable historians “hard-pressed to devise nonliteral readings” of the Book of Mormon. Why so? “Joseph’s prophetic writings [are] grounded in artifactual reality, not the world of psychic meanderings. It is hard to allegorize—and profoundly presumptuous to edit down—a sacred record that purports to be a transcription of tangible records hand-delivered by an angel.”2 Continue reading

  1. Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd ed. (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), 3. 

  2. Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2002), 80. Givens has reiterated this point elsewhere. “In a particularly pronounced way, the meaning and value of the Book of Mormon as a religious text are tied to a specific set of historical claims.” Terryl Givens, “Foreword,” in John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), xiv.