Assessing the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Introduction to the Historiography of their Acquisitions, Translations, and Interpretations

Abstract: The Book of Abraham has attracted a great deal of scholarly attention since some of the papyri once owned by Joseph Smith were rediscovered. A focus of this attention has been the source of the Book of Abraham, with some contending that the extant fragments are the source, while others have argued that the source is either other papyri or something else altogether. New investigations suggest that, while the relationship between papyri and text is not clear, it is clear that the fragments are not the source and that the method of translation was not the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. Additionally, further investigations into the source of the Book of Abraham as well as the interpretations of the facsimiles have made it clear that much of the controversy about the Book of Abraham has been based on untested assumptions. Book of Abraham studies have made significant strides forward in the last few decades, while some avenues of research are in need of further pursuit. Continue reading

The Changing Forms of the Latter-day Saint Sacrament

Abstract: Partaking of bread and water each Sunday is a fundamental part of the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — a solemn moment in which the mortal Savior’s mission and ministry are remembered and pondered by those who partake individually and as a congregation. This paper explores instructions provided by the Savior himself as found in the Mormon canon of scriptures, together with a review of how this practice has changed over time as part of the LDS Church liturgy. Moreover, the meaning associated with this sacred ordinance is analyzed by way of the Savior’s teachings in ancient scripture through Mormon prophets in modern times, particularly in light of a more recent emphasis shared by the LDS Church leadership. Continue reading

Three Degrees of Gospel Understanding

Abstract: Few fireside talks outlive the week in which they are given. But Professor Stanley Kimball’s remarks, offered one evening long ago in southern California, have stayed with me for nearly three and a half decades. In my view, they offer a key to surviving challenges or even what have come to be called “faith crises” — and, indeed, a key not only to surviving them but to thriving spiritually by having overcome them. Continue reading

“With the Tongue of Angels”: Angelic Speech as a Form of Deification

Abstract: The “tongue of angels”1 has long been a point of interest to Latter-day Saints, who wonder whether it really is as simple as speaking under the influence of the Spirit or if it might mean something more. Drawing on the structure of Nephi’s record and the interactions with angels that Nephi recorded, we learn that this notion of speaking with the tongue of angels has connections with ancient Israelite temple worship and the divine council. Nephi places the act of speaking with the tongue of angels at the culmination of a literary ascent, where one must pass through a gate (baptism) and by a gatekeeper (the Holy Ghost). This progression makes rich allusions to imagery in the visions of Lehi, Nephi, and Isaiah, where these prophets were brought into the presence of the Lord, stood in the divine council, and were commissioned to declare the words of the Lord. Nephi’s carefully crafted narrative teaches that all are both invited and commanded to follow the path that leads to entrance into the Lord’s presence, and ultimately grants membership into the heavenly assembly. Continue reading

Were We Foreordained to the Priesthood, or Was the Standard of Worthiness Foreordained? Alma 13 Reconsidered

Abstract: Alma 13:3–4 is often interpreted as Book of Mormon confirmation of the doctrine that all those who are ordained to the Priesthood on the earth were foreordained to receive that Priesthood in the pre-existence as a result of their exceeding faith and good works. That interpretation is inconsistent with the 1978 revelation on Priesthood. A contextual reading of the account of Alma2’s ministry to the people of Ammonihah also suggests that Alma2 was not telling the men of Ammonihah that they (or anyone else) had been foreordained to receive the Priesthood. Rather, Alma2 was teaching that what we now call worthiness was ordained as the standard for ordination to the Priesthood before the foundations of this earth were laid. If the people of Ammonihah demonstrated their worthiness by repenting of their sins, they could qualify to receive the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood and enter into the rest of the Lord as many of the ancients had done. The manner in which men were ordained to the Priesthood and in which its ordinances were administered was intended to show the people how they should look to Christ for redemption. Continue reading