Currently accepting submissions for the Ruth M. Stephens Article Prize until 1 August 2015. Click here for more information.

Printed JournalWelcome to Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, a nonprofit, independent, peer-reviewed educational journal focused on the scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its publications are available free of charge, with our goal to increase understanding of scripture. Our latest papers can be found below.

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Christmas Is About a Baby

When I was a child, I completely understood all the Santa Claus stuff. No great moment of disillusionment, because my parents were wise enough to let us help create the illusion for the younger kids as soon as we were old enough.

I loved decorating the tree. I was the icicle fanatic, laying each one on individually. Even better was setting up HO trains all around the tree (and short-circuiting the train by laying icicles on the track for the engine to run over).

Shopping for gifts was great, but when I was feeling ambitious, so was creating some of the most awful “crafts” that ever forced a parent to smile and pretend to not only “love” the gift but also understand what it was supposed to be.

The Christmas carols. The church Christmas bazaar. Pretending to like candy canes. Playing games with the family. Digging treats out of the stockings. Trying to conceal my envy when my older siblings got cool gifts that my parents thought I was too young for (but they were always wrong, in my opinion).

You know: Christmas.

As a kid, I took Santa Claus in stride, but after a while I wondered about the Christ child: What was all the hoopla about? Continue reading

The Integration of Temples and Families: A Latter-day Saint Structure for the Jacob Cycle

Abstract: Scholars from many religious backgrounds — including Latter-day Saints — have noted both temple themes and parallel structures in the Jacob Cycle (Genesis 28-35). The present paper surveys that body of work and then offers a new structural understanding of the text, one that is uniquely LDS. This interpretation focuses on the entwining of temple and family themes in the narrative, showing how the form of the text uses each to support the other. Continue reading

Heartland as Hinterland: The Mesoamerican Core and North American Periphery of Book of Mormon Geography

Abstract: The best available evidence for the Book of Mormon continues to support a limited Mesoamerican model. However, Alma 63 indicates that there was a massive northward migration in the mid-first century bc. I argue that these north-bound immigrants spread out over the centuries and established settlements that were geographically distant from the core Nephite area, far beyond the scope of the text of the Book of Mormon. I introduce the Hinterland Hypothesis and argue that it can harmonize the Mesoamerican evidence for the Book of Mormon with Joseph Smith’s statements concerning Nephite and Lamanite material culture in North America. Archaeological and anthropological evidence is used to demonstrate that migrations and cultural influence did in fact spread northward from Mesoamerica into North America in pre-Columbian times. Continue reading

A Letter from Daniel C. Peterson

Dear Friends:

We’re approaching Christmas and the end of 2014.  It seems appropriate, therefore, to thank all those whose generous donations of time, energy, and money have made the accomplishments of The Interpreter Foundation possible.  We’re deeply and humbly grateful.  We know that you owe us and the Foundation nothing whatever, and we’re genuinely moved by the support that our work has received.

I also wish to report on the current status of The Interpreter Foundation, and, candidly, to encourage further support, in whatever form, from those able to give it.  Some of you, I expect, will be thinking about year-end charitable deductions this month.  There are many extremely worthy causes for you to support; we hope that you’ll keep Interpreter in mind. Continue reading

Cracking the Book of Mormon’s “Secret Combinations”?

Abstract: The Book of Mormon has been explained by some as a product of Joseph Smith’s 19th century environment. Advocates of this thesis have argued that the phrase secret combinations is a reference to Freemasonry, and reflects Joseph’s preoccupation with this fraternity during the Book of Mormon’s composition in 1828–29. It is claimed that this phrase is rarely, if ever, used in a non-Masonic context during 1828–29, and that a type of “semantic narrowing” occurred which restricted the term to Freemasonry. Past studies have found a few counter-examples, which are reviewed, but none from during the precise years of interest. This study describes many newly-identified counterexamples, including: anti-Masonic authors who use the term to refer to non-Masonic groups, books translated in the United States, legislature bills, grand jury instructions, and works which so characterize slave rebellions, various historical groups and movements, Biblical figures, and religious groups. These examples are found before, during, and after the critical 1828–29 period. Examples from 1832 onward likewise demonstrate that no semantic shift occurred which restricted secret combination to Masonry. This element of the environmental hypothesis has now been robustly disproven. Continue reading