Abstract: A well-known account from early Church history describes how, in the spring of 1844, two young men, Dennison Lott Harris and Robert Scott, helped protect Joseph Smith from dissidents plotting against his life. Almost completely unknown, however, is Dennison’s account of his subsequent role as a firsthand witness to events that appear to have taken place on the morning of 26 March 1844, just prior to the meeting in which Joseph Smith gave his “Last Charge” to the Quorum of the Twelve and “roll[ed] the kingdom off [his] shoulders” onto theirs in the presence of the Council of Fifty. This article provides the background necessary to understand all these events and publishes for the first time a complete, annotated transcript of Dennison’s 1881 verbal statement to First Presidency counselor Joseph F. Smith. In addition, the article includes a discussion of the significance of apostolic succession then and now, drawing in part on the encounters of Catholic scholars John M. Reiner and Stephen H. Webb with Mormonism. In the Appendix, I reproduce an 1884 article from The Contributor that gives a secondhand version of Dennison’s account of the conspiracy of Nauvoo. Continue reading
Abstract: Brian Hales has observed that we cannot understand Joseph Smith’s marriage practices in Nauvoo without understanding the related theology. However, he implies that we are hampered in coming to a complete understanding of that theology because the only primary evidence we have of that theology is the revelation now recorded as Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants and a few entries in William Clayton’s journal. This paper argues that we have more primary evidence about Joseph Smith’s sealing theology than we realize. The accounts we have of the First Vision and of Moroni’s first visits in 1823 have references to the sealing power embedded in them, ready for Joseph to unpack when he was spiritually educated enough to ask the right questions. Continue reading
Abstract: Loss, pain, and suffering are too often, it seems, co-sojourners through our lives. To one degree or another, we all become familiar with these elements of a life lived in an imperfect world. It is inevitable — and virtually universal — that such companions foster questions about the meaning of life and whether there is a God who is the author, director, and finisher of that meaning. For those who conclude that God is real and has part in our lives, suffering can have or acquire eternal significance, enhanced by the personal realization that God, too, suffers and has suffered. In the Christian paradigm, God shares our suffering and we, in turn, share in His. In the depths of our sorrow we have, literally, a “co-sufferer” sharing our journey. As Christians, we are called upon to take upon ourselves the name of Christ. This act not only gives us a new name, but may require us to bear loss, pain, and suffering as did Christ — to acquire the “marks of Jesus” in our own lives. Indeed, for some, such bearing may be a key part of becoming what God plans for us to become. Continue reading
Abstract: The best explanation for the name “Nephi” is that it derives from the Egyptian word nfr, “good,” “goodly,” “fine,” “fair,” “beautiful.” Nephi’s autobiographical wordplay on his own name in his self-introduction (and elsewhere throughout his writings) revolves around the evident meaning of his name. This has important implications for how the derived gentilic term “Nephites” was understood over time, especially among the Nephites themselves. Nephi’s early ethno-cultural descriptions of his people describe them as “fair” and “beautiful” (vis-à-vis the Lamanites). These early descriptions subsequently become the basis for Nephite ethno-cultural self-perceptions. The Nephites’ supposition that they were the “good” or “fair ones” was all too frequently at odds with reality, especially when Nephite “chosenness” was understood as inherent or innate. In the end the “good” or “fair ones” fell (Mormon 6:17‒20), because they came to “delight in everything save that which is good” (Moroni 9:19). The Book of Mormon thus constitutes a warning against our own contemporary cultural and religious tendency toward exceptionalism. Mormon and Moroni, like Nephi their ancestor through his writings on the small plates, endeavor through their own writing and editorial work to show how the “unbelieving” descendants of the Nephites and Lamanites can again become the “good” and the “fair ones” by choosing to come unto Christ, partaking of his “goodness,” and doing the “good” stipulated by the doctrine of Christ.
Abstract: Although it is common to believe that the Ammonites were pacifists, the report of their story demonstrates that this is a mistake. Appreciating the Ammonites’ non-pacifism helps us think more clearly about them, and it also explains several features of the text. These are textual elements that surprise us if we assume that the Ammonites were pacifists, but that make perfect sense once we understand that they were not. Moreover, in addition to telling us that the Ammonites were not pacifists, the text also gives us the actual reason the Ammonites came to eschew all conflict — and we learn from this why significant prophetic leaders (from King Benjamin to Alma to Mormon) did not reject the sword in the same way. The text also reveals the intellectual flaw in supposing that the Ammonites’ early acts of self-sacrifice set the proper example for all disciples to follow. Continue reading