Separated but not Divorced: The LDS Church’s Uncomfortable Relationship with its Polygamous Past

Abstract: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’s uncomfortable relationship with its polygamous history is somewhat like an awkward marriage separation. This is, in part, because of the fitful, painful cessation of plural marriage and the ever present reminders of its complicated past. This essay looks at examples of members’ expression of discomfort over a polygamous heritage and concludes with suggestions of possible pathways to a more comfortable reconciliation. Continue reading

The Inevitability of Epistemology in Historiography: Theory, History, and Zombie Mormon History

Abstract: Fundamental changes have occurred in the historical profession over the past thirty years. The central revolutionary change is that workers in the historical profession can no longer ignore theory and philosophy of history. A built-in resistance to theory causes historians to abjure philosophical analysis of their discipline at a time when such analysis is recognized to be indispensable. If one doesn’t have an explicit theory, one will appropriate one uncritically, without the felt need to articulate and defend the theory. The dominant theory in history over the past century has been positivism, a conception of disciplinary work that ruled history and the social sciences during the twentieth century but has been stripped of rhetorical and persuasive power over the past three decades. Although positivism has been overwhelmingly rejected by theoretically informed historians, it continues to dominate among the vast majority of historians, who fear adulterating history with philosophical examination. The most common version of positivism among historians is the assertion that the only evidence from the past that is valid is testimony based on empirical observation. This essay focuses on recent comments by Dan Vogel and Christopher Smith, who deny this dominance of positivism in the historical profession, and in Mormon history in particular, by misunderstanding positivism without even consulting the large scholarly literature on the topic that rebuts their assertions. They make no attempt to engage the sophisticated literature on the transformation in historiography and philosophy of history that has made most of history written [Page 112]to standards of the 1970s obsolete and revealed it as ideologically inspired; while at the same time these historical researchers assert their own objectivity by appealing to a conventional wisdom that is now antiquated. This version of positivism is especially hostile to religious belief in general, and in particular to that embodied in the LDS tradition. Continue reading

A Brief History of Critical Text Work on the Book of Mormon

I begin this brief historical account of alternative work on the critical text of the Book of Mormon by including material that I wrote in an original, longer review of John S. Dinger’s Significant Textual Changes in the Book of Mormon (Smith-Pettit Foundation: Salt Lake City, Utah, 2013). The final, shorter review appears in BYU Studies 53:1 (2014). The Interpreter recently published Robert F. Smith’s review of Dinger. In these additional comments, I especially concentrate on work done in the 1970s by Stan Larson on the text of the Book of Mormon. In the latter part of this account, I discuss the more recent work of Shirley Heater in producing The Book of Mormon: Restored Covenant Edition. Continue reading

When Was the Apostasy?

by David W. T. Brattston

The State of the Question1

“Aha! Aha! Apostasy!” Television and the internet abound with people who claim to find the fulfillment of Bible prophecies in our day, including the apostasy or falling away from Christianity predicted in Matthew 24.10 and 2 Thessalonians 2.3. Many such people identify as apostasy any recent changes in the church do not like, especially ones initiated by Christian leaders of whom they are envious.

In teaching about the Second Coming of Jesus and the end of the world, 2 Thessalonians 2.3 prophesies: “that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition”, i.e. the Antichrist. Matthew 24.10 is to a similar effect. Some Christians are ever ready to point to the deeds of other Christians in their own times and categorize them as this falling away. In identifying the supposed fulfillment of these and other Bible prophecies, these people say they read with the Scriptures in one hand and a newspaper in the other. This is probably true; it is certain they do not use a history book. They assume—without considering that there may be equally valid alternatives—that all end-times prophecies will be fulfilled in their own eras, e.g. the twenty-first century for the current crop of televangelists, tract writers, and internet preachers. Not knowing church history, they do not avert to the possibility that such prophecies may have been fulfilled in the past, even centuries ago. Based on nothing more than unconscious assumption, they believe New Testament predictions can relate only to the present day. My opinion is that fulfillment in early Christian centuries is more in keeping with the doctrine that Scripture is a message to all humanity in all time periods, and gives Christians in every age something to point back to as the realization of prophecy and therefore a confirmation of their faith. In interpreting events, we should look for an early date in church history, instead of implying that passages of Holy Writ held no meaning and were beyond the understanding of believers for almost two millennia. Continue reading


  1. Except where otherwise indicated, all patristic quotations are as translated in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325 ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Reprint of the Edinburgh ed. by A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, N.Y.: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885-96; continuously reprinted Edinburgh: T & T Clark; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson), herein abbreviated “ANF”.

    Quotations from Eusebius Ecclesiastical History are as translated in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Second Series vol. 1 (New York: Christian Literature Co.; Oxford and London: Parker, 1890; reprinted Edinburgh: T & T Clark; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, l986).