History is Nearsighted at Best with Keith Erekson

Keith Erekson

Keith Erekson, current director of the LDS Church History Library, has worked really wherever history could be found or needed. When faced with new opportunities, he’s thought, “let’s go there, and let’s see what we can do.”

In this episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast Russell Stevenson sits down with Erekson and discusses preserving the artifacts of, reconstructing, and interpreting history.

“We always like to say,” declares Erekson, “‘Well, history’s 20/20. It’s hindsight.’ No, it’s not. We’re just here in 2017, and we’re doing our best.”

He urges a different view. If we break that mindset that we know it all and just say, “I’m looking for the best I can find, and tomorrow I’ll find a little more — and next year I’ll find a little more,” then we don’t get discouraged when something changes because that’s the way it works: it’s always changing. We’re always learning.

His experience working outside of the LDS tradition has shown him that Mormon are not so different than other social groups. We have challenges with our history — the same challenges that exist with every other history.

There are sources missing from Joseph Smith’s experience that we wish were around. Well, there are sources missing from Lincoln’s experience and from Washington’s experience — that’s just how history works. The past is gone. It’s not some great conspiracy that Joseph Smith’s sources are gone — that’s just what happens. The past is past.

In the present, no matter what we’re talking about — whether the 19th century or the Middle Ages — we’re trying to reconstruct it and put it back together, and figure out what it means.

Sometimes people see the Church Archives as sort of a mystical place full of mysteries, but they’d be disappointed; inside the archives, it is quite boring with its concrete walls, metal shelves, and acid-free boxes.

The mission of the church archivists is to collect everything by and about the church, but particularly things by the church. That means they want every copy of the Book of Mormon in every language and in every edition. They want every handbook and every manual. So in some ways, the inside of the archive looks like the library in a local church building, except it’s a little more organized and the scriptures aren’t all destroyed because some deacons played with them.

One takeaway from the ordinariness of the archives is that Mormon history is not as exciting as we think it is. We do have fantastic stories in our history, but more often than not they tend to be exaggerations of events. These types of inflations happen as the generation involved in an event — and this happened in World War I and World War II — starts to pass away, there becomes an awareness: “Oh, we’re losing something; we ought to catch it.” But a lot of times, they’ve already lost it.

Erekson urges listeners to be critical consumers and become aware of how history works and then to be on the lookout for signs of good scholarship. One of the most basic ones is source citations. They’re not there just for fun. They’re there to say the author spent 10,000 hours to write a sentence.

As consumers we needn’t rush to conclusions. The past is over; we’ve got time to think about it.

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This material re-posted with permission of LDS Perspectives Podcast.

Martin Luther’s Theses – 500 Years Later with Craig Harline

Craig Harline

Some Mormons regard Martin Luther as a kind of hero. Maybe for various reasons that could be true, but many of the things that Luther was against, Mormons would be for. In fact, Mormons have a lot more in common with Catholics than they do with Protestants. Though he has been credited for laying groundwork for the Restoration, Martin Luther actually shared few religious views in common with those of the Mormon faith, at least in regard to the subjects he cared about most.

Russell Stevenson of LDS Perspectives Podcast interviewed Luther biographer Craig Harline about Luther’s motivations for questioning the Catholic Church. Popular legend has it that on October 31, 1517, he defiantly nailed a copy of his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church. As if being finally fed up, Luther acted in public defiance by finally writing down his frustrations. As it turns out, Harline clarifies, the nailing of these was a routine act for professors such as Luther, and Luther was interested in debate and discussion more than open defiance.

What Luther most cared about, claims Harline, was grace. Every theologian pretty much agreed that man was saved by grace, but then there was always a qualifier: grace through what? It wasn’t just a question of whether salvation came through works or grace; it was a question of how grace went together with works. Current orthodoxy taught basically do the best you can, and Jesus will do the rest. That just didn’t satisfy Luther, because a really sensitive soul like his could always find something else wrong inside himself. He questioned, “How do I know that I’m doing all that I can? The question tormented him.

Harline says that Luther suffered from what the monks called overscrupulousness or “the bath of hell.” The clergy understood this was an occupational hazard; if your job is to look inside yourself most of the day for sins, you were going to find them. You could be so worried because you could always find something else you could do better.

Through his struggles, Luther came to believe that the answer to the question of how he was saved was simple — it was through faith alone. And by faith, he simply meant just assenting to letting God save you. According to Harline, Luther was of the attitude that men should: “Just give it up and realize that they are saved by Jesus. Do everything you want; you’ll still be saved by Jesus, and if you accept that, you’ll be a lot happier.”

Later Luther became increasingly uncomfortable with other tenets of Catholicism, especially the authority of the pope, which was what really got him in trouble — much more than his views on grace. As his position became more perilous, he became more excessive and desperate in what he said. By 1520, he was saying all kinds of angry things against the Pope — that’s what made him really popular in Germany especially, but in other parts of Europe as well. Harline finds it amazing that Luther survived considering how precarious his situation. Others had been executed for less.

As an educator, Harline tries to teach Luther on Luther’s own terms instead of trying to fit him into a Mormon paradigm. Years of teaching the Reformation to college students have shown him that most Mormons don’t know much about this period and what they do know is distorted. His students really like to learn what it was like, so he tries to teach it as accurately as possible. “We want others to study us as we would recognize ourselves,” says Harline, “so why wouldn’t we study others in a way that they would recognize themselves as well?”

On this episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast, tune in to hear more about a sensitive soul’s desire to help himself and others find peace even if it meant questioning everything he had ever been taught.

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This episode was re-posted with permission of LDS Perspectives Podcast.



Wilford Woodruff’s Witness of the Unfolding of Temple Doctrine with Jennifer Ann Mackley

Jennifer Ann Mackley

Jennifer Ann Mackley is a realist. “I have children, and they don’t ask me questions,” she admits, “They go to Google.” And when they read things out of context on the internet, they can seem really weird.

Take the story of Wilford Woodruff’s experience in the St. George temple. That was a moment in church history that a lot of people are familiar with, but out of context, it’s an odd story. People write about it all the time, because the founding fathers are Mormon now. That’s how they look at it, which is not what we believe. We believe that everybody needs the opportunity to choose, and Wilford Woodruff had come to the point where he said, “I have been so focused on my own family that I didn’t even think about expanding this.” It was a revelation because he learned that it’s okay for us to help each other, and we don’t just have to focus on our own biological connections.

Putting these things into context, to Mackley, is vital to understanding church history and the truly remarkable revelations that occurred. If we don’t teach that — if we don’t talk to our kids about that; if we don’t put these things into context — then these revelations are odd and strange; they are parts of history that don’t make sense.

Mackley was surprised when she was doing research out of her own curiosity that there wasn’t a book out there that put the development of temple doctrine all in one place, so that members could see the continuity. As she got further into her studies, she realized that Wilford Woodruff’s life followed the incremental revelations in the development of temple doctrine. She compiled her research into Wilford Woodruff’s Witness: The Development of Temple Doctrine published in 2014.

“When we talk about ‘line upon line and precept upon precept,’ it wasn’t this grand staircase where one step led to the next, and you could see the top of it and this goal that you were trying to watch,” Mackley explains. “It was like a puzzle: they were given pieces. Now we have the box with the picture on it; we know what we’re putting together. They had no idea.”

Members learning of practices such as rebaptism or priesthood adoption that are no longer practiced may be confused and wonder how they fit into enduring ordinances. Mackley doesn’t see these practices as necessarily trial and error, but rather as evidence of increased learning.

Mackley strongly believes that members not only need to prepare spiritually to attend the temple but also intellectually by doing some research.

In this episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast, tune in as Sarah Hatch discusses with Jennifer Ann Mackley the life of Wilford Woodruff and the evolution of temple doctrine.


This podcast posted with permission of LDS Perspectives.

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

Adam Clarke’s Influence on Joseph Smith with Thomas A. Wayment

Thomas A. Wayment

In this episode, Laura Harris Hales visits with Thomas Wayment, LDS Perspectives Podcast’s first guest, in part two of their special first anniversary double episode on the Joseph Smith Translation to discuss some impressive findings regarding Joseph Smith’s Bible translation process.

Dr. Wayment is currently a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, as well as publications director of the BYU Religious Studies Center. He earned his BA in Classics from the University of California at Riverside then completed a PhD in New Testament studies at Claremont Graduate University.

Known primarily as a New Testament scholar, Dr. Wayment has also written extensively on the Joseph Smith Translation. He became fascinated with the document early in his biblical studies and that interest has never really fizzled. In the next year, he will have two book chapters published on new findings regarding Joseph’s Bible translation process.

In his recent studies, Wayment found an interesting connection between the JST and a biblical commentary well-known in the 19th-century, especially in Methodist circles.

Adam Clarke, a British theologian, took almost 40 years to complete his comprehensive tome, published as The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The text carefully printed from the most correct copies of the present Authorized Version. Including the marginal readings and parallel texts. With a Commentary and Critical Notes.  Clarke’s commentary became a primary theological resource for nearly two centuries.

New research by Michael Hubbard Mackay has uncovered a statement indicating that Joseph Smith had access to a copy of Clarke’s Bible commentary. When Wayment compared Joseph’s translation of the KJV Bible to Clarke’s commentary, he realized that Joseph used it in the translation process because of the marked similarities he found between entries in the commentary and changes in Joseph’s KJV Bible.

Listen in as Dr. Wayment shares what he believes this indicates about how Joseph viewed the translation process and what it could mean for how we approach the KJV Bible and the JST.

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This episode was re-posted with permission of LDS Perspectives Podcast.