“Idle and Slothful Strange Stories”: Book of Mormon Origins and the Historical Record

Abstract: From the very beginning, Joseph’s story about the origins of the Book of Mormon seemed wild and unbelievable. Today, however, Joseph’s account enjoys a high degree of corroboration from (1) eyewitness accounts confirming Joseph’s possession of actual metal plates and other artifacts, with some even corroborating the involvement of an angel in providing access to the record; (2) eyewitness reports on the process of producing the text; and (3) evidence from the original manuscript. This evidence is reviewed here, and the implications it has for the Book of Mormon’s origin are considered. Continue reading

Dating Joseph Smith’s First Nauvoo Sealings

Abstract: In the October 2015 issue of The Journal of Mormon History, Gary Bergera presents a richly illustrated article, “Memory as Evidence: Dating Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages to Louisa Beaman, Zina Jacobs, and Presendia Buell” (95–131). It focuses on a page from the “Historian’s Private Journal,” which Bergera dates to “specifically September or thereabouts” of 1866 (99). Wilford Woodruff’s handwriting on that page describes Joseph Smith’s plural marriage sealings and dates his marriage to Louisa Beaman to “May 1840,” to Zina Huntington on “October 27, 1840,” to Presendia Huntington on “December 11, 1840,” and also to Rhoda Richards on “June 12, 1843.” The first three dates on the historian’s document are important, as Bergera explains: “If accurate, Woodruff’s record not only pushes back the beginnings of Joseph Smith earliest Nauvoo plural marriage by a year but it also requires that we reevaluate what we think we know — and how we know it — about the beginnings of LDS polygamy” (95–96). The key question is whether the information on that page can be considered “accurate” in light of other available documents dealing with these plural sealings. During the remaining thirty-four pages of the article, Bergera presents an argument that 1840, not 1841, is the most reliable year for the Prophet’s earliest Nauvoo plural unions. This essay examines why his analysis of the records appears to be incomplete and his conclusions problematic. Continue reading

On Being a Tool

Abstract: Members, missionaries, and apologists must never lose sight of the fact that the gospel isn’t merely about abstractions and theoretical principles. It’s also, and most importantly, about people, about people with their own life stories, fears, hopes, and questions. Thus, if we want to be optimally effective, we must listen to people, understand them, and craft our message to reach them individually, where they are. The Interpreter Foundation is committed to helping with this task, but it cannot replace personalized instruction and caring. Continue reading

Shulem, One of the King’s Principal Waiters

Abstract: Shulem is mentioned once in the Book of Abraham. All we are told about him is his name and title. Using onomastics, the study of names, and the study of titles, we can find out more about Shulem than would at first appear. The form of Shulem’s name is attested only at two times: the time period of Abraham and the time period of the Joseph Smith papyri. (Shulem thus constitutes a Book of Abraham bullseye.) If Joseph Smith had gotten the name from his environment, the name would have been Shillem. Continue reading

“From the Sea East Even to the Sea West”: Thoughts on a Proposed Book of Mormon Chiasm Describing Geography in Alma 22:27

Abstract: Jonathan Neville, an advocate of the “Heartland” geography setting for the Book of Mormon, claims to have identified a novel chiastic structure that begins in Alma 22:27. Neville argues that this chiasmus allows the reconstruction of a geography that stretches south to the Gulf of Mexico in the continental United States. One expert, Donald W. Parry, doubts the existence of a fine-tuned chiasmus in this verse. An analysis which assumes the presence of the chiasmus demonstrates that multiple internal difficulties result from such a reading. Neville’s reading requires two different “sea west” bodies of water: one “sea west” placed at the extreme north of the map and a second sea to the west of Lamanite lands, but neither is to the west of the Nephites’ land of Zarahemla. Neville’s own ideas also fail to meet the standards he demands of those who differ with him. These problems, when combined with other Book of Mormon textual evidence, make the geography based upon Neville’s reading of the putative chiasmus unviable. Continue reading