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

Interpreter's Mission Statement
Read the journal
Learn more about the Board
Find out how you can donate
Contact the Editorial Board

This week in the history of Interpreter: A Volume of Mormon Scripture

Should We Apologize for Apologetics?
Steven T. Densley, Jr., October 20, 2017
On the Dating of Moroni 8-9
Joseph M. Spencer, October 21, 2016
Was Joseph Smith Smarter Than the Average Fourth Year Hebrew Student? Finding a Restoration-Significant Hebraism in Book of Mormon Isaiah
Paul Y. Hoskisson, October 23, 2015
“Zion” and “Jerusalem” as Lady Wisdom in Moses 7 and Nephi’s Tree of Life Vision
Samuel Zinner, October 24, 2014
Passing Up The Heavenly Gift (Part Two of Two)
Gregory L. Smith, October 25, 2013
Revisiting the Forgotten Voices of Weeping in Moses 7: A Comparison with Ancient Texts
Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Jacob A. Rennaker & David J. Larsen, October 26, 2012

The Nature of the Original Language of the Book of Mormon

NOL Volumes

The Nature of the Original Language (NOL) continues the analysis of the Book of Mormon text that was begun in Grammatical Variation (GV), parts 1 and 2 of volume 3 of the critical text, published in 2016. Now in NOL, Royal Skousen (again with the collaboration of Stanford Carmack) argues that virtually all of the language of the Book of Mormon, not just the bad grammar, is found in Early Modern English.

The new two-part volume is available for sale by BYU Studies on their website at https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/nature-original-language-book-mormon-parts-3-and-4-volume-iii-book-mormon-critical-text for $99.90.

Volume 4 of Royal Skousen’s Book of Mormon Critical Text project (Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, or ATV) continues to be available online on our website at https://interpreterfoundation.org/books/atv/.

Name as Key-Word

On Sale Now:
Name as Key-Word: Collected Essays on Onomastic Wordplay and the Temple in Mormon Scripture

By Matthew L. Bowen

This hard-cover book is available directly from Eborn Books for $22.99. It is also available on Amazon and AmazonSmile for $24.95. (Prices may vary depending on vendor.)

Comparing Book of Mormon Names with Those Found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works: An Exploratory Study

Abstract: The works of Tolkien and the Book of Mormon have been compared in a variety of ways by multiple authors and researchers, but none have looked specifically at the unusual names found within both. Wordprint studies are one tool used in author attribution research, but do authors use specific sounds more than others — consciously or subconsciously — when selecting or inventing names? Some research suggests they may and that their patterns could create a “sound print” or phonoprint. This constitutes a fresh and unusual path of research that deserves more attention. The purpose of this exploratory study was to see if phonoprints surfaced when examining Dwarf, Elf, Hobbit, Man, and other names created by Tolkien and Jaredite, Nephite, Mulekite, and Lamanite names found in the Book of Mormon. Results suggest that Tolkien had a phonoprint he was unable to entirely escape when creating character names, even when he claimed he based them on distinct languages. In contrast, in Book of Mormon names, a single author’s phonoprint did not emerge. Names varied by group in the way one would expect authentic names from different cultures to vary. Although much more research needs to be done to establish the validity and reliability of using phonoprints for author identification, this study opens a door for future research.

Continue reading

Email This Page

“They Shall No More Be Confounded”:
Moroni’s Wordplay on Joseph in
Ether 13:1-13 and Moroni 10:31

Abstract: In two related prophecies, Moroni employs an apparent wordplay on the name Joseph in terms of the Hebrew idiom (lōʾ) yôsîp … ʿôd (+ verbal component), as preserved in the phrases “they shall no more be confounded” (Ether 13:8) and “that thou mayest no more be confounded” (Moroni 10:31). That phraseology enjoyed a long currency within Nephite prophecy (e.g., 1 Nephi 14:2, 15:20), ultimately having its source in Isaiah’s prophecies regarding Jerusalem/Zion (see, for example, Isaiah 51:22; 52:1– 2; 54:2–4). Ether and Moroni’s prophecy in Ether 13 that the Old Jerusalem and the New Jerusalem would “no more be confounded” further affirms the gathering of Israel in general and the gathering of the seed of Joseph in particular.
Continue reading

Email This Page

To Be Learned Is Good,
If One Stays on the Rails

Abstract: This review essay looks at certain problematical issues in the recently published collection of essays honoring Latter-day Saint historian Richard Lyman Bushman. Problems emerge from the title itself, “To Be Learned is Good,” as a result of the failure to note that the Book of Mormon passage “To be learned is good” is a conditional statement. In addition, since these essays are billed as “Essays on Faith and Scholarship,” it is odd most of them do not touch on this subject at all. I examine four essays in depth, including Adam Miller’s “Christo-Fiction, Mormon Philosophy, and the Virtual Body of Christ,” which is offered as a form of clarifying Mormon philosophy but provides more confusion than clarification. Jared Hickman’s essay, “The Perverse Core of Mormonism: The Book of Mormon, Genetic Secularity, and Messianic Decoloniality,” presents Mormonism as a religion that has much in common with Marxism, Frantz Fanon, and Sean Coulhard. While not as bold as Hickman, Patrick Mason looks at Mormonism as a modern religion and suggests that premodern thinkers are largely irrelevant to Mormonism and the modern world. Mason argues that “Mormonism is a religion that could meaningfully converse with modern philosophies and ideologies from transcendentalism, liberalism, and Marxism.” I discuss the weaknesses of this view. Attention is also given to the distinction between apologetics and “Mormon Studies” that arise from essays by Grant Wacker, Armand Mauss, Terryl Givens, and Brian D. Birch, who suggests “‘a methodological pluralism'” in approaching Mormon studies. I note that several of the essays in this volume are worthy of positive note, particularly those by Bushman himself, Mauss (who does address the presumed theme of the book), Givens, Mauro Properzi, and Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye (who also addresses the titled theme of the book in a most engaging manner).

[Page 78]Review of J. Spencer Fluhman, Kathleen Flake, and Jed Woodworth, eds., To Be Learned is Good: Essays on Faith and Scholarship in Honor of Richard Lyman Bushman (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2017). 368 pp. $24.56 (hardcover).

Continue reading

Email This Page

“If I Pray Not Amiss”

Abstract: In 2nd Nephi, it is suggested that the Lord answers prayers but that requests made in prayer should not violate some kind of standard that would make them “amiss.” This undefined standard most likely excludes many prayers requesting immunity from those conditions of mortality which all mortals accepted and embraced with great enthusiasm in the great Council in Heaven. However, except for limited latter-day explanations of that great conference, our eager acceptance of all details of the conditions of mortality did not carry over into mortal memory. Consequently, when we request exemption from those conditions joyfully endorsed in premortal time, perhaps many qualify for the “prayers amiss” category. Exceptions from mortal conditions are granted only for divine and sometimes incomprehensible purposes.

Continue reading

Email This Page

A Valuable LDS Resource for Learning from the Apocrypha

Abstract: Latter-day Saints are often aware that the Apocrypha contains valuable sacred material along with some “interpolations of men,” but few know how to approach those ancient texts and what they could learn from them. A new book by Jared W. Ludlow provides a helpful tool to guide LDS readers in appreciating the Apocrypha and exploring the material in these highly diverse sacred documents.

Review of Jared W. Ludlow, Exploring the Apocrypha from a Latter-day Saint Perspective (Springville, Utah: CFI, 2018). 234 pp. $16.99.

Continue reading

Email This Page

An Inviting Exploration

Abstract: This informative and very readable volume, targeted to a Latter day Saint audience, serves as an introduction to the Apocrypha and an exploration of Latter-day Saint views of the books. Even those already familiar with the Apocrypha will find this book insightful in the Latter-day Saint approaches it brings to bear. Even so, the book touches too lightly on some issues, including the extent of the Apocrypha, the phenomenon of pseudonymity, and the reasons for the current exclusion of the Apocrypha from the Latter-day Saint canon.

Review of Jared W. Ludlow, Exploring the Apocrypha from a Latter-day Saint Perspective (Springville, Utah: CFI, 2018). 234 pp. $16.99.

Continue reading

Email This Page

A Compelling Case for Theosis

Abstract: What is theosis? Why does the doctrine of theosis matter? Why did God become man so that man might become God? In his book To Become Like God, Andrew C. Skinner answers these questions with compelling clarity. He provides ample convincing evidence that, far from being a deviation from original Christian beliefs, the doctrine of theosis, or the belief that human beings have the potential to become like God, is central to the Christian faith.

Review of Andrew C. Skinner, To Become Like God: Witnesses of Our Divine Potential (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2016). 164 pp. $18.99 (hardback).

Continue reading

Email This Page

“And the Meek Also Shall Increase”: The Verb YĀSAP in Isaiah 29 and Nephi’s Prophetic Allusions to the Name Joseph in 2 Nephi 25–30

Abstract: Beyond his autobiographic use of Joseph’s name and biography, Nephi also considered the name Joseph to have long-term prophetic value. As a Semitic/Hebrew name, Joseph derives from the verb yāsap (to “add,” “increase,” “proceed to do something,” “do something again,” and to “do something more”), thus meaning “may he [God] add,” “may he increase,” or “may he do more/again.” Several of the prophecies of Isaiah, in which Nephi’s soul delighted and for which he offers extensive interpretation, prominently employ forms of yāsap in describing iterative and restorative divine action (e.g., Isaiah 11:11; 26:15; 29:14; cf. 52:1). The prophecy of the coming forth of the sealed book in Isaiah 29 employs the latter verb three times (Isaiah 29:1, 14, and 19). Nephi’s extensive midrash of Isaiah 29 in 2 Nephi 25–30 (especially 2 Nephi 27) interpretively expands Isaiah’s use of the yāsap idiom(s). Time and again, Nephi returns to the language of Isaiah 29:14 (“I will proceed [yôsīp] to do a marvelous work”), along with a similar yāsap-idiom from Isaiah 11:11 (“the Lord shall set his hand again [yôsîp] … to recover the remnant of his people”) to foretell the Latter-day forthcoming of the sealed book to fulfill the Lord’s ancient promises to the patriarch. Given Nephi’s earlier preservation of Joseph’s prophecies regarding a future seer named “Joseph,” we can reasonably see Nephi’s emphasis on iterative divine action in his appropriation of the Isaianic use of yāsap as a direct and thematic allusion to this latter-day “Joseph” and his role in bringing forth additional scripture. This additional scripture would enable the meek to “increase,” just as Isaiah and Nephi had prophesied.
Continue reading

Email This Page

An Ancient Survival Guide: John Bytheway’s Look at Moroni

Abstract: Moroni’s years of wandering alone after the battle of Cumorah have been often discussed, but not in the context of how they impacted his writing and editorial work. John Bytheway’s latest offering provides us insight into the man Moroni and how his isolation impacted the material that he left for his latter-day readers.

Review of John Bytheway, Moroni’s Guide to Surviving Turbulent Times. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017). 159 pp., $11.99.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Is Faith Compatible with Reason?

Abstract: In this article I argue that faith is not only rationally justifiable but also inescapable simply because our decisions regarding ultimate questions must necessarily be made under conditions of objective uncertainty. I review remarks by several prominent thinkers on the subject — both avowed atheists and several writers who have addressed the challenge implicit in issues related to faith and reason. I end my discussion by citing William James, who articulated clearly the choices we must make in addressing these “ultimate questions.”

Continue reading

Email This Page

Missourian Efforts to Extradite Joseph Smith and the Ethics of Governor Thomas Reynolds of Missouri

Abstract: This is the second of two articles discussing Missouri’s requisitions to extradite Joseph Smith to face criminal charges and the Prophet’s recourse to English habeas corpus practice to defend himself. In the first article, the author discussed the English nature of pre-Civil War habeas corpus practice in America and the anachronistic modern idea that the Nauvoo Municipal Court did not have jurisdiction to consider interstate habeas corpus matters. In this article, he analyzes the conduct of Governor Thomas Reynolds in the matter of Missouri’s requisitions for the extradition of Joseph Smith in light of 1840s legal ethics in America. That analysis follows the discovery that Governor Reynolds had dismissed the underlying 1838 charges against Joseph Smith when he was a Missouri Supreme Court judge. It also responds to the revelation that Missouri reissued indictments based on the same underlying facts in June 1843 despite the existence of a double-jeopardy provision in the Missouri Constitution of 1820.

Continue reading

Email This Page

The Habeas Corpus Protection of Joseph Smith from Missouri Arrest Requisitions

Abstract: This is the first of two articles discussing Missouri’s requisitions to extradite Joseph Smith to face criminal charges and the Prophet’s recourse to English habeas corpus practice to defend himself. In this article, the author presents research rejecting the suggestion that the habeas corpus powers of the Nauvoo City Council were irregular and explains why the idea that the Nauvoo Municipal Court lacked jurisdiction to consider interstate habeas corpus matters is anachronistic. In the second article, the author analyzes the conduct of Missouri Governor Thomas Reynolds in relation to the requisitions for Joseph Smith’s extradition. Even by the standards of the day, given what he knew, his conduct was unethical.

Continue reading

Email This Page

What’s in a Name? Playing in the Onomastic Sandbox

Abstract: Name as Key-Word brings together a collection of essays, many of them previously published, whose consistent theme is exploring examples of onomastic wordplay or puns in Mormon scripture in general and the Book of Mormon in particular. Without a knowledge of the meaning of these names, the punning in the scriptural accounts would not be recognized by modern English readers. Exploring the (probable) meanings of these names helps to open our eyes to how the scriptural authors used punning and other forms of wordplay to convey their messages in a memorable way.

 

Review of Matthew L. Bowen, Name as Key-Word: Collected Essays on Onomastic Wordplay and the Temple in Mormon Scripture (Salt Lake City: The Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2018). 408 pp., $24.95.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Toward a Deeper Understanding:
How Onomastic Wordplay Aids Understanding Scripture

Abstract: Matthew L. Bowen’s book compels readers to consider both the Book of Mormon’s construction and the significance of names in the text. Bowen and his coauthors invite readers to contemplate not only scripture but its stages of construction to completion, be they first draft, editing, final abridgement, or translation. Bowen’s work reveals how, in the endeavor to sacralize the act of scripture reading, specific details like names and their meanings can invigorate one’s understanding of the narrative and its theology, preventing such reading from becoming a rote endeavor.

Review of Matthew L. Bowen, Name as Key-Word: Collected Essays on Onomastic Wordplay and the Temple in Mormon Scripture (Salt Lake City: The Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2018). 408 pp., $24.95.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Isaiah 56, Abraham, and the Temple

Abstract: In the days of the first Israelite temple, only certain individuals were allowed into the temple and sacrificial services; foreigners and eunuchs were excluded. However, in Isaiah 56:1–8, formerly excluded individuals are invited into the presence of God at the temple. This paper will explore how metaphorically connecting Isaiah’s words with Abraham, the eponymous father of the covenant faithful, may demonstrate that even the most unlikely candidates for the presence of God are like Abraham; they too will inherit the ancient covenants according to their faithfulness.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Much More than a Plural Marriage Revelation

Abstract: Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation is a textual study of Section 132. It offers some interesting information as the author attempts to understand and place within context the revelation, which is, as the heading for this section in the scriptures reads, “relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant and the principle of plural marriage.” The book has its strengths but is also hampered by some weaknesses, as discussed in this review.

Review of William Victor Smith. Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2018), 273 pp. $26.95.

Continue reading

Email This Page

The Case of the Missing Commentary

Abstract:The first published commentary on Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 is a lengthy volume with much material that deals directly with the revelation as well as extended discussions that go well beyond Joseph Smith’s dictated text. Much of the included material has been previously published, although several new historical items are presented, including a detailed examination of the provenance of the revelation. An apparent weakness of the book involves key themes mentioned in the revelation but minimized or otherwise ignored in this extended commentary. Examples include the possible meanings of the “law” (v. 6), importance of sealing authority (vv. 7‒20), possible polyandry (v. 41), Emma’s offer (v. 51), and others.

Email This Page

Race: Always Complicated, Never Simple

Abstract: The concept that race has evolved rather than remaining static is not well understood, both outside and within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Religion of a Different Color, W. Paul Reeve shows how the concept of race evolved from painting Mormons as nonwhite in the 19th century to “too white” by the beginning of the 21st century.

Continue reading

Email This Page

What is Mormon Transhumanism? And is it Mormon?

Abstract: Some sources have described Mormonism as the faith most friendly to the intellectual movement known as Transhumanism. This paper reviews an introductory paper by the past President of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. A syllogism that purports to show that Mormonism is compatible with — or even requires — Transhumanism is analyzed. The syllogism’s premises are shown to misunderstand or misrepresent LDS scripture and doctrine. The proffered Transhumanist conception of “human nature” and the perspective offered by LDS scripture are compared and found to be incompatible. Additional discrepancies between the Transhumanist article’s representation of LDS doctrine and the actual teachings of LDS scripture and leaders on doctrinal matters (the Premortal Council in Heaven, the relationship between substance dualism and LDS thought, and the possibility of engineering or controlling spiritual experiences) are examined. The article does not accurately reflect LDS teachings, and thus has not demonstrated that Transhumanism is congenial to LDS scripture or doctrine.1

Continue reading

Email This Page

Peace in the Holy Land

Abstract: Living in the Holy Land as a Palestinian Latter-day Saint has created unique challenges and perspective for Sahar Qumsiyeh. In order to attend church meetings in Jerusalem from her home near Bethlehem, Sahar was required to travel under unsafe and stressful circumstances for hours through military checkpoints to cover the few miles’ distance (as the crow flies). Sahar’s story, Peace for a Palestinian, varies dramatically from our own and reminds us that true discipleship requires sacrifice, which in turn brings blessings.

Personal response to Sahar Qumsiyeh, Peace for a Palestinian: One Woman’s Story of Faith amidst War in the Holy Land (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2018). 176 pp. $15.99.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Dehumanization and Peace

Abstract: Those who follow world events are painfully aware that peace in the Middle East — and particularly in the Holy Land — seems eternally elusive. From a distance we watch events unfold which we are not able to fully comprehend because of that very distance. There are individuals who are burdened with the devastating reality of living with war and perpetual turmoil in the Holy Land. One of those is Sahar Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian Arab Latter-day Saint who grew up in the West Bank near Bethlehem. Her story of how she converted to Mormonism and learned how to find peace in a troubled world is recommended reading for every Latter-day Saint.

Review of Sahar Qumsiyeh, Peace for a Palestinian: One Woman’s Story of Faith Amidst War in the Holy Land (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2018). 176 pp. $15.99.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Joseph Smith’s Universe vs. Some Wonders of Chinese Science Fiction

Abstract: Chinese science fiction works recently have received increasing attention and acclaim, most notably Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem. Liu’s epic trilogy, available in Chinese and English, has received international honors and recognition for its vision, its daring application of advanced physics in a novel, and its highly original ideas about our life in the cosmos. Another Chinese physicist and science fiction author, Jiang Bo, also explores related issues but in a much more distant and wide-ranging trilogy, The Heart of the Milky Way series. Both works have interesting treatments of concepts relevant to Gospel perspectives, particularly the cosmic implications and teachings in the revelations given through the Prophet Joseph Smith. In the end, the questions they raise and the possibilities they present raise cosmic questions worthy of consideration by seekers of truth and urge us to consider what this cosmos is and where it is going. There are two ultimate possibilities: “Darkness, everything darkness” from the tragic “dark forest” model of Liu Cixin or the model of a benign universe crafted by a loving Heavenly Father. The latter, the cosmos of light, eternal progress, and endless joy is the universe of Joseph Smith and is profound enough to be seriously pitted against the alternative offered by China’s brilliant physicists. Their writings treat the physics and metaphysics of the cosmos from a materialist perspective; if materialism rules, then it is tooth and claw, “everything darkness” in the end (though Jiang Bo offers hope of renewal and progress for some after his chaos and final grand calamity at the heart of the galaxy). Joseph Smith’s cosmology gives us compelling reasons to see it otherwise and rejoice in the miracle of the actual universe we are in. Along the way, he offers some profound insights that should at least raise eyebrows and stimulate thinking among the physicists and philosophers of our age. These insights, contrary to claims of some critics, are not simply plagiarism or [Page 106]crude reworkings of common ideas from his day, but represent profound and original breakthroughs in thought, solving significant problems in the world’s views on life and the cosmos.

Continue reading

Email This Page

The Gospel According to Mormon

Abstract: Although scholarly investigation of the Book of Mormon has increased significantly over the last three decades, only a tiny portion of that effort has been focused on the theological or doctrinal content of this central volume of LDS scripture. This paper identifies three inclusios that promise definitions of the doctrine or gospel of Jesus Christ and proposes a cumulative methodology to explain how these definitions work. This approach reveals a consistently presented, six-part formula defining “the way” by which mankind can qualify for eternal life. In this way the paper provides a starting point for scholarly examinations of the theological content of this increasingly influential religious text. While the names of the six elements featured in Mormon’s gospel will sound familiar to students of the New Testament, the meanings he assigns to these may differ substantially from traditional Christian discourse in ways that make Mormon’s characterization of the gospel or doctrine of Christ unique. The overall pattern suggested is a dialog between man and God, who initially invites all people to trust in Christ and repent. Those who respond by repenting and seeking baptism will be visited by fire and by the Holy Ghost, which initiates a lifelong interaction, leading the convert day by day in preparation for the judgment, at which she may finally be invited to enter the kingdom of God.
Continue reading

Email This Page

Pushing through Life’s Pilgrimage Together

Abstract: Walking for 500 miles in a foreign country through heat, arduous terrain, and many inconveniences is difficult enough. Add to the equation a man in a wheelchair, and the task appears impossible. The solution? Determination, humility, humor, faith, love, and someone, or many, who give you a push. I’ll Push You is a true story and parable for life that will give readers hope and encouragement.

Review of Patrick Gray & Justin Skeesuck, I’ll Push You: A Journey of 500 Miles, Two Best Friends, and One Wheelchair (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2017). 296 pp. $24.99 (hardback); $15.99 (paperback).

Continue reading

Email This Page

The Word Baptize in the Book of Mormon

Abstract: The word baptize appears 119 times in the Book of Mormon; three speakers (Jesus Christ, Mormon, and Nephi) account for 87% of all of these usages. Each of these individuals have distinctive patterns in how they use the word baptize, indicating that each speaker has his own unique voice. When one accounts for the fact that Christ says relatively fewer words than Mormon, it is evident that per 1,000 words spoken, Jesus Christ uses the word baptize more than any other speaker in the Book of Mormon. This finding holds true for Christ’s words both in and outside of 3 Nephi. Among other patterns, we demonstrate that Jesus Christ associates his name with baptism more than any other Book of Mormon speaker and that Christ is responsible for 58% of the Book of Mormon’s invitations to be baptized. Additional patterns and their implications are discussed.
Continue reading

Email This Page

Too Little or Too Much Like the Bible? A Novel Critique of the Book of Mormon Involving David and the Psalms

Abstract: A recent graduate thesis proposes an intriguing new means for discerning if the Book of Mormon is historic or not. By looking at Book of Mormon references to David and the Psalms, the author concludes that it cannot be the product of an ancient Jewish people and that it is, instead, the result of Joseph Smith’s “plagiarism” from the Bible and other sources. This paper examines the author’s claims, how they are applied to the Book of Mormon, and proposes points the author does not take into consideration. While the author is to be congratulated for taking a fresh perspective on the Book of Mormon, ultimately his methodology fails and his conclusions fall flat.
Continue reading

Email This Page

“The Time is Past”: A Note on Samuel’s Five-Year Prophecy

Abstract:1 The story of believers being nearly put to death before the appearance of the sign at Christ’s birth is both inspiring and a little confusing. According to the Book of Mormon, the sign comes in the 92nd year, which was actually the sixth year after the prophecy had been made. There is little wonder why even some believers began to doubt. The setting of a final date by which the prophecy must be fulfilled, however, suggests that until that day, there must have been reason for even the nonbelievers to concede that fulfillment was still possible; yet after that deadline it was definitively too late. An understanding of Mesoamerican timekeeping practices and terminology provides one possible explanation.

Continue reading

Email This Page

On Being the Sons of Moses and Aaron: Another Look at Interpreting the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood

Abstract: Section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants contains what is commonly known by Latter-day Saints as the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood. Priesthood leaders in the church are expected to teach and explain this Oath and Covenant to prospective Melchizedek Priesthood holders. However, the meanings of phrases within the Oath and Covenant are not well understood. For example: What does it mean to become the sons of Moses and Aaron? In what sense are bodies renewed? Are the promised blessings just for holders of the priesthood or for others as well? This paper discusses several ways that phrases in the Oath and Covenant have been interpreted. To identify differing interpretations, I conducted an extensive review of references to the Oath and Covenant in LDS conference addresses and the words of Joseph Smith using the LDS Scripture Citation Index1. After considering these interpretations, I explore other ways the phrases could be interpreted to provide greater understanding of what it means to hold the priesthood and “magnify” it.

Continue reading

Email This Page

The Word and the Kingdom

Abstract: Members of the Church have been charged since ancient times with the covenant need to share the Gospel message with those around them. In more recent times, this has been described as a need for “every member” to be a missionary. There are many ways that we can do so through the use of modern technology and the dedication of our talents. The “ministry of the word” beckons each of us onward.

Continue reading

Email This Page

A Valuable Book for the Increasingly International Church

Abstract: As the Church expands among the many nations, peoples, and tongues of the earth, new challenges arise that require the organization and the members of the Church to better meet the needs of the peoples in various nations and to cope with the specific challenges that may exist there. In this article I review a valuable book that can help in that expanding effort.

Review of Reid L. Neilson and Wayne D. Crosby, eds., Lengthening Our Stride: Globalization of the Church (Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book, 2018), 400 pp. $27.99.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Pressing Forward with the Book of Abraham

Abstract: The Book of Abraham continues to attract scholarly attention. New findings in the fields of Egyptology, Near Eastern archaeology, and Mormon history have highlighted the complexity surrounding the origins of the Book of Abraham and its relationship to the Egyptian papyri that came into the possession of Joseph Smith in 1835. A new introductory volume on the Book of Abraham by John Gee, An Introduction to the Book of Abraham, is an excellent resource that may help laypersons and scholars alike navigate this rapidly developing area of study.

Continue reading

Email This Page

“Thou Art the Fruit of My Loins”: The Interrelated Symbolism and Meanings of the Names Joseph and Ephraim in Ancient Scripture

Abstract: To the ancient Israelite ear, the name Ephraim sounded like or connoted “doubly fruitful.” Joseph explains the naming of his son Ephraim in terms of the Lord’s having “caused [him] to be fruitful” (Genesis 41:52). The “fruitfulness” motif in the Joseph narrative cycle (Genesis 37–50) constitutes the culmination of a larger, overarching theme that begins in the creation narrative and is reiterated in the patriarchal narratives. “Fruitfulness,” especially as expressed in the collocation “fruit of [one’s] loins” dominates in the fuller version of Genesis 48 and 50 contained in the Joseph Smith Translation, a version of which Lehi and his successors had upon the brass plates. “Fruit” and “fruitfulness” as a play on the name Ephraim further serve to extend the symbolism and meaning of the name Joseph (“may he [God] add,” “may he increase”) and the etiological meanings given to his name in Genesis 30:23–24). The importance of the interrelated symbolism and meanings of the names Joseph and Ephraim for Book of Mormon writers, who themselves sought the blessings of divine fruitfulness (e.g., Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob), is evident in their use of the fuller version of the Joseph cycle (e.g., in Lehi’s parenesis to his son Joseph in 2 Nephi 3). It is further evident in their use of the prophecies of Isaiah and Zenos’s allegory of the olive tree, both of which utilize (divine) “fruitfulness” imagery in describing the apostasy and restoration of Israel (including the Northern Kingdom or “Ephraim”).

Continue reading

Email This Page

Approaching Abinadi

Abstract: The recently released Abinadi: He Came Among Them in Disguise, a new book from Brigham Young University’s Book of Mormon Academy, offers readers multidisciplinary approaches to Mosiah 11–17 that highlight the literary, historical, and doctrinal richness of the story of Abinadi. Students and scholars of the Book of Mormon are sure to benefit greatly from this new volume.

Review of Shon D. Hopkin, ed. Abinadi: He Came Among Them in Disguise (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book, 2018), 404 pp. $27.99.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Abinadi: A Minor Prophet, A Major Contributor

Abstract: The new edited volume Abinadi: He Came Among Them in Disguise, from the Book of Mormon Academy, is a valuable contribution to Book of Mormon studies. It should find a wide audience and stimulate greater and deeper thinking about the pivotal contributions of Abinadi to the Book of Mormon. It should, however, not be considered the end of the conversation. This review discusses the volume’s importance within Book of Mormon scholarship generally. It also highlights certain valuable contributions from each of the authors, and points out places where more can be said and deeper analysis is needed.

Review of Shon D. Hopkin, ed. Abinadi: He Came Among Them in Disguise (Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book, 2018), 404 pp. $27.99.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Easters: The Eternal Atoning Sacrifice Testifies of the Everlasting Redeeming Savior

Abstract: Easters come year after year, reminding us of new life brought to the children of men by the eternal atoning sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He grants us peace, forgiveness, grace, mercy, contentment, and joy in our hearts, and thus we gratefully testify of our everlasting redeeming Savior. All things bear witness of Jesus Christ. The Lord spoke thus face-to-face with Moses upon a high mountain: “And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.”1 The intent of this article is to discuss scriptures that bear testimony of the reality of the Lord’s infinite atonement, to express deep gratitude for our Savior, and to praise Him for His grace, mercy, wisdom, power, and holiness.

Continue reading

Email This Page

The Status of Women in Old Testament Marriage

Review of Gordon Paul Hugenberger, Marriage as a Covenant: A Study of Biblical Law and Ethics Governing Marriage Developed from the Perspective of Malachi (Supplements to Vetus Testam, Book 52). Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1994. Pp. xx + 414. Paperback reprint edition with a modified subtitle published in 2014 by WIPF & STOCK, Eugene, Oregon. 343 pages, plus bibliography and four indices.

Abstract: In his book Marriage as a Covenant, author Gordon Paul Hugenberger begins with the late 20th century Bible-studies insight that in Israel, covenants were devices used to make binding on unrelated persons the same obligations blood relatives owed to each other. So by covenant, marriage partners became one bone and flesh. This thorough study of the Hebrew Bible and related literatures argues that the view of marriage as a covenant in Malachi 2:10‒16 echoes the first marriage in Genesis 2 and is consistent with the other passages in the Bible that have often been mistakenly interpreted to promote a patriarchalist view denigrating the position of wives vis-à-vis their husbands.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Is the Book of Mormon a Pseudo-Archaic Text?

Abstract: In recent years the Book of Mormon has been compared to pseudo-biblical texts like Gilbert J. Hunt’s The Late War (1816). Some have found strong linguistic correspondence and declared that there is an authorial relationship. However, comparative linguistic studies performed to date have focused on data with low probative value vis-à-vis the question of authorship. What has been lacking is non-trivial descriptive linguistic analysis that focuses on less contextual and more complex types of data, such as syntax and morphosyntax (grammatical features such as verb agreement and inflection), as well as data less obviously biblical and/or less susceptible to conscious manipulation. Those are the kinds of linguistic studies that have greater probative value in relation to authorship, and that can determine whether Joseph Smith might have been able to produce Book of Mormon grammar. In order to determine whether it is a good match with the form and structure of pseudo-biblical writings, I investigate nearly 10 kinds of syntax and morphosyntax that occur in the Book of Mormon and the King James Bible, comparing their usage with each other and with that of four pseudo-biblical texts. Findings are summarized toward the end of the article, along with some observations on biblical hypercorrection and alternative LDS views on Book of Mormon language.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Two Notes on the Language Used in the Last Supper Accounts

Abstract: The institution of the Lord’s Supper is recounted explicitly in four New Testament texts (Matthew 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:19–20; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26). Common to all these texts is the phrase “this is my body,” and in the Lukan and Pauline texts, the command to “do this in remembrance of me.” In this paper, I will examine both the grammatical and theological implications of “this is my body” and the concept of “remembrance” in the theology of the Last Supper — with how Latter-day Saints can appropriate such in their weekly observance of this sacred ordinance.

Continue reading

Email This Page

“Swearing by Their Everlasting Maker”: Some Notes on Paanchi and Giddianhi

Abstract: This brief article explores Paanchi and Giddianhi as names evidencing the Egyptian onomastic element –anchi/anhi/ʿnḫ(i) and the potential literary significance of these two names in the context of Mormon’s narrative detailing the formation of the oath-bound secret combinations sworn with oath-formulae upon one’s “life” (cf. Egyptian ʿnḫ, “life”; “live”; “swear an oath [by one’s life]”). It also explores the implications for Mormon’s telling of Nephite history during his own time.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Unveiling Women’s Veils of Authority

ABSTRACT: The Apostle Paul’s theological explanation for female veil wearing (1 Corinthians 11:2–13) highlights the woman’s head covering as an expression of female empowerment or “authority/exousia.” It appears that the Corinthian saints struggled with this tradition, as Paul preceded the discussion with, “but I would have you know/thelõ de” (1 Corinthians 11:3). Rather than merely restating the dress code for certain prayers, Paul laid out the doctrinal background underlying the imagery. He began with the order of creation from the Garden of Eden. God was the “kephale,” meaning source or origin of Christ, who was the source of man, who was the source of woman. Paul taught that God’s glory (referring to man) should pray unveiled, and by the same token, humanity’s glory (referring to woman) should address God with her head covered (1 Corinthians 11:7). The early church interpreted the relationship between Adam and Eve typologically. The Edenic couple typified Christ and his Church — the Bridegroom and Bride. In this typological scenario, Eve (or the Church) worked through the mediator Adam (or Christ). In either a symbolic or literal interpretation, Paul described this empowering veil as a sign of unique female authority to pray and prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:5). By covering her head, female saints received “power on her head” and could interact with angels (1 Corinthians 11:10). Paul concluded by emphasizing that men and women are completely interdependent — woman was created from man, while man is born of woman (1 Corinthians 11:11–12). In this regard we see an equal status between men and women in their relationship with the Lord. Their relationship focuses on their union with each other and God.
Continue reading

Email This Page

Through a Glass Darkly: Examining Church Finances

Abstract: The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth & Corporate Power is Michael Quinn’s impressive response to a century of books and articles that have often distorted the finances of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This third volume in The Mormon Hierarchy series covers Church history from 1830 to 2010, and represents a staggering commitment. For 46 years Quinn has diligently gathered data on Church income, expenditures, taxation, and “living allowances” paid to Church leaders. The results are significant and engrossing, with but one possibly serious error. If you are interested in any aspect of the Church finances, the enormous effort required to bring us Wealth & Corporate Power may well be the final word. In Quinn’s own words, it tells an “American success story without parallel.”

Review of D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth & Corporate Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2017), 597 pp., with appendices and index. $49.95.

Continue reading

Email This Page

“Possess the Land in Peace”: Zeniff’s Ironic Wordplay on Shilom

Abstract: The toponym Shilom likely derives from the Semitic/Hebrew root š-l-m, whence also the similar-sounding word šālôm, “peace,” derives. The first mention of the toponym Shilom in Zeniff’s record — an older account than the surrounding material and an autobiography — occurs in Mosiah 9:6 in parallel with Zeniff’s mention of his intention to “possess the land in peace” (Mosiah 9:5). The language and text structure of Mosiah 9:5‒6 thus suggest a deliberate wordplay on Shilom in terms of šālôm. Zeniff uses the name Shilom as a point of irony throughout his brief royal record to emphasize a tenuous and often absent peace between his people and the Lamanites.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Playing to an Audience: A Review of Revelatory Events

Review of Ann Taves, Revelatory Events: Three Case Studies in the Emergence of New Spiritual Paths Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2016, 366 pages with notes and index $29.93 (paperback).

Abstract: Ann Taves’s book offers a comparative look at the origins of three groups, among them Mormonism. While she does not address the issue of competing explanations by each group about their origins or how to best navigate among them in terms that are not self-referential, that crucial circumstance is modeled by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. So I, too, have a pattern that applies to my arguments just as much it does to those offered by Professor Taves. Where her book attempts to solve the puzzle of Joseph Smith, my review offers a test of her rules for puzzle solving. This includes comparisons with the standard approach to document testing cited by Hugh Nibley, looking at key aspects of her argument and treatment of sources, and by considering Richard L. Anderson’s crucially relevant study of imitation gospels compared to the Book of Mormon. My own response should be tested not just as secular or religious, but against standards that are dependent on neither secular nor religious grounds. That is, to be valid, my response should argue “Why us?” in comparison to her case, rather than just declare that what she offers is “Not us.”

Continue reading

Email This Page

Changing Critics’ Criticisms of Book of Mormon Changes

Abstract: In early 1830 Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon, a 269,938-word volume that discusses religious themes intermingled with a history of ancient American peoples.1 Claiming it was scripture like the Bible,2 in 1841 he declared it to be “the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of our religion.”3 Yet, many changes in the text of the Book of Mormon can be detected when comparing the original manuscript to the version available today. These changes have served as a lightning rod for some critics who imply that a divinely inspired book should not require any alterations. This article examines the types of changes that have occurred while trying to assign levels of significance and identify Joseph’s motives in making those alterations in the 1837 and 1840 reprintings of the book.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Celebrating the Work of John W. Welch

A review of Paul Y. Hoskisson & Daniel C. Peterson, eds., To Seek the Law of the Lord: Essays in Honor of John W. Welch, The Interpreter Foundation, 2017, 543 pages. $24.95 (paperback).

Abstract: In this collection of articles gathered in honor of John W. Welch, a wide variety of subjects are explored by authors from many different disciplines. Like the work of Professor Welch himself, these articles draw on scholarship from varied fields of study and provide many interesting and valuable insights.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Not Just Sour Grapes: Jesus’s Interpretation of Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard

Abstract: In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, he heavily references Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard. An understanding of both the original Hebrew and the Greek translation in the Septuagint of this passage helps provide greater context and meaning into Jesus’s sermon. In particular, it clarifies Jesus’s commentary and criticisms of both society and those administrators in charge of society, especially of the scribes and those that can be considered false prophets.

Continue reading

Email This Page

The Possibility of Janus Parallelism in the Book of Mormon

Abstract: Janus parallelism, a tool evident in ancient Hebrew poetry, is documented at some length by Scott B. Noegel in Janus Parallelism in the Book of Job, which I recently reviewed. Since the authorship of Job predates the removal of the Lehites from Jerusalem, this tool may have been available to writers in the Book of Mormon. While we do not have the original text to analyze wordplays in the original language, it may be possible to apply some of the cases considered by Noegel to find remnants of related “polysensuous” wordplays that might have been present in the original text or to consider other previously proposed wordplays that may include a Janus-like aspect.

Continue reading

Email This Page

The Book of Mormon Witnesses and Their Challenge to Secularism

There has been much comment recently on the growth in numbers of the religious “nones.” Not all of them are actually non-theists, but secularism or naturalism is undoubtedly on the rise — and Latter-day Saints have not escaped damage from the trend. Several recent books and articles have sought to help their readers live with doubt, cope with uncertainty, or find value or joy in the Mormon community even when some, most, or perhaps even all of its founding narrative has come to seem untenable. I believe, however, that naturalism should be directly challenged and that the Book of Mormon is among our best tools for doing so. And the Witnesses to the Book of Mormon are, in turn, some of our best evidences for its truth — and the only “secular” evidence that the Lord himself has provided.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Jacob’s Protector

Abstract: The name Jacob (yaʿăqōb) means “may he [i.e., God] protect,” or “he has protected.” As a hypocoristic masculine volitive verbal form,1 it is a kind of blessing upon, or prayer on behalf of the one so named that he will receive divine protection and safety (cf. Deuteronomy 33:28). Textual evidence from Nephi’s writings suggests that his brother Jacob’s protection was a primary concern of their parents, Lehi and Sariah. Lehi saw Nephi as the specific means of divine protection for Jacob, his “first born in the wilderness.” Moreover, the term “protector” is used twice in LDS scripture, in both instances by Jacob himself (2 Nephi 6:2; Jacob 1:10), this in reference to Nephi, who became the “great protector” of the Nephites in general and Jacob in particular. All of the foregoing is to be understood against the backdrop of the patriarch Jacob’s biography. Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, and Enos all expressed their redemption in terms reminiscent of their ancestor Jacob’s being “redeemed … from all evil,” a process which included Jacob “wrestling” a divine “man” and preparing him to be reconciled to his estranged brother by an atoning “embrace.” Mormon employed the biblical literary etymology of the name Jacob, in the terms “supplant,” “usurp,” or “rob” as a basis for Lamanite accusations that Nephites had usurped them or “robbed” them of their birthright. Mormon, aware of the high irony, shows that the Gadianton [Gaddianton] robbers take up the same polemic. The faithful Lehites, many of whom were descendants of two Jacobs, prayed “May the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, protect this people in righteousness, so long as they shall call on the name of their God for protection” (3 Nephi 4:30). By and large, they enjoyed the God of Jacob’s protection until they ceased to call upon their true protector for it.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Heralding a New Age of Book of Mormon Scholarship

A review of John W. Welch, Neal Rappleye, Stephen O. Smoot, David J. Larsen, and Taylor Halverson, eds., Knowing Why: 137 Evidences That the Book of Mormon is True. Covenant Communications, Inc., 2017, 380 pages including endnotes and biographical material. $34.99 (paperback).
 
Abstract: Book of Mormon Central has produced a fantastic resource for students and teachers of the Book of Mormon. Knowing Why updates prior discoveries and provides new and interesting insights based upon solid scholarship.

 
Continue reading

Email This Page

Janus Parallelism in the Book of Job: A Review of Scott B. Noegel’s Work

Abstract: Janus parallelism is a recently discovered tool evident in ancient Hebrew poetry. Like the two-faced Roman god Janus, Janus parallelism employs a Hebrew word with two meanings that faces two ways. One meaning of the word relates to the preceding text while the other meaning of the word relates to the following text. Examples of such wordplays have been found in many parts of the Old Testament, though the Book of Job appears to be especially rich in these sophisticated puns.1 A valuable tool for exploring the richness of Janus parallelism is Scott B. Noegel’s detailed work, Janus Parallelism in the Book of Job (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2009), where over 50 examples are considered. His book can greatly strengthen our appreciation for the intense and clever wordplays in Job, a book laden with puns and semantic artistry. In many cases, important new layers of meaning are revealed by understanding the long-overlooked wordplays in Job’s many Janus parallelisms.
Continue reading

Email This Page

“He Did Go About Secretly”: Additional Thoughts on the Literary Use of Alma’s Name

Abstract: Mormon describes Alma the Younger’s “go[ing] about secretly” to destroy the church that his father, Alma the Elder, had established (Mosiah 27:8–10), this as a narratalogical inversion of that period when Alma the Elder “went about privately” teaching the words of Abinadi and establishing a church “that it might not come to the knowledge of the king” (Mosiah 18:1–6). In Mosiah 27:10, Mormon subtly reworks Alma the Younger’s autobiographical statement preserved in Alma 36:6, adding in the former passage a word rendered “secretly” to create a midrashic or interpretive pun on the name Alma, echoing the meaning of the Semitic root ʿlm, “hide,” “conceal”). Mosiah 27:8–10 contains additional language that evokes the introduction of the name Alma in the Book of Mormon (at first in terms of ʿelem [“young man”] but also in terms of the homonymous root ʿlm) in Mosiah 17:2–4 but also re-invokes allusions in the latter passage to Mosiah 14:1 (Isaiah 53:1).

Continue reading

Email This Page

Barlow on Book of Mormon Language: An Examination of Some Strained Grammar

Abstract: Comments made by Philip Barlow on Book of Mormon language for an Oxford-published book are examined. Inaccuracies are pointed out, and some examples are given that show matching with 1611 King James usage as well as with other earlier usage. One important conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that those who wish to critique the English language of the Book of Mormon need to take the subject more seriously and approach it with genuine scholarship, instead of repeating earlier errors. This has a direct bearing on forming accurate views of Joseph Smith and Book of Mormon translation.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Miracles in the Book of Mormon

Review of Alonzo L. Gaskill, Miracles of the Book of Mormon: A Guide to the Symbolic Messages, 2015, Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 447 pp. + bibliography, appendix of Brief Biographical Sketches of Ancient and Modern Non-LDS Sources Cited, index, etc. Hardbound. $27.99.

Abstract: Author Alonzo L. Gaskill has used his considerable scholarly and spiritual skills to provide the reader with a book that describes and applies to our lives the miracles found in the Book of Mormon, some of which may have slipped the reader’s eyes, mind, and heart.

Continue reading

Email This Page

The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon

Abstract: The Book of Mormon purports to be a record that originates from the ancient Near East. The authors of the book claim an Israelite heritage, and throughout the pages of the text can be seen echoes of Israelite religious practice and ideology. An example of such can be seen in how the Book of Mormon depicts God’s divine council, a concept unmistakably found in the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament). Recognizing the divine council in both the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon may help us appreciate a more nuanced understanding of such theological terms as “monotheism” as well as bolster confidence in the antiquity of the Nephite record. Continue reading

Email This Page

Marjorie Newton on
“The Mormons in Australia” —
A Retrospective Review

A Review of Marjorie Newton, Southern Cross Saints: The Mormons in Australia, foreword by Lawrence Foster (xiii-xv). (Laie, HI: Institute for Polynesian Studies, 1991). xxvi+283 pp., with a glossary of Latter-day Saint Terms (257–59), Bibliography (261–71), Index (273–83). Softcover (out of print, but copies are still available).

Abstract: This is a survey of Marjorie Newton’s account of Latter-day Saints in Australia which identifies the roots of her agenda — that is, what she was striving to accomplish in her first book in 1991 (and the other related essays) which she published before turning her attention to a criticism of the faith of Māori Latter-day Saints, first in 1998 and then in 2014. Midgley locates in her early publications on the Saints in Australia early signs of her controlling cultural Mormon agenda and hence how and why she insists that there has been a trampling of the Māori culture by what she considers a Mormon version of American cultural imperialism.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Should We Apologize for Apologetics?

A review of Blair G. Van Dyke & Loyd Isao Ericson, eds., Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics. Greg Kofford Books, 2017, 279 pages with endnotes and index. $25.95 (paperback).

Abstract: An analysis of the history, scope, and effectiveness of Mormon apologetics is long overdue. Unfortunately, Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics falls short of providing an in-depth analysis of the field and instead provides a very limited history, very little discussion of the scope of Mormon apologetics, and little discussion of the impact of Mormon apologists on Mormon thought. Furthermore, no attempt is made to discuss how apologetics has affected the arguments of critics of Mormonism. While a few articles do approach apologetics in a positive way, the work is largely critical of the activity of defending the Church with scholarship or of providing academic research to help support the testimonies of members of the Church. Continue reading

Email This Page

Gazelem the Jaredite

Abstract: Alma refers to Gazelem in his instructions to his son Helaman in Alma 37:23. This article proposes and explores the concept of identifying Gazelem as a Jaredite seer. Other theories of the identity of Gazelem are addressed in this article but not explored in depth. It discusses the full context of Alma’s words, the Jaredite secret combinations and their oaths, Gazelem’s seer stone, and the Nephite interpreters. Additionally, it proposes a possible timeline that Gazelem lived among the Jaredites. It also discusses the usage of “Gazelam” as a substitute name for Joseph Smith in early editions of the Doctrine and Covenants. Continue reading

Email This Page

“How long can rolling waters remain impure?”: Literary Aspects of the Doctrine and Covenants

Abstract: Many parts of the Doctrine and Covenants are literary in character. That is, their content is made appealing and more memorable and meaningful through aesthetic qualities. With content often determining form and form revealing content, profound concerns are presented in ways that reach us deeply. A statement in the Doctrine and Covenants regarding things which come of the earth applies well to the book’s literary elements: They “please the eye and … gladden the heart; [they] enliven the soul” (D&C 59:18-19). Continue reading

Email This Page

A Modern Translation of Genesis 1–11 in the Traditional Sense

Samuel L. Bray and John F. Hobbins, Genesis 1–11: A New Old Translation for Readers, Scholars, and Translators (Wilmore, KY: GlossaHouse, 2017). 326 pages, $14.99, paperback.

Abstract: Samuel L. Bray and John F. Hobbins have recently released a new translation of Genesis chapters one to eleven. The highlight of the work is their extensive notes that provide insight into not just their translation process, but on the process of Bible translation as a whole. The book offers a great deal to interest Bible readers, scholars, and translators.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Two New Studies of Biblical Repentance

Review of Mark J. Boda, ‘Return to Me:’ A Biblical Theology of Repentance, volume 35 of New Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. by D. A. Carson (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 198 pp. plus bibliography, author index, and scripture index ($24, paper); and of David A. Lambert, How Repentance Became Biblical: Judaism, Christianity, and the Interpretation of Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 224 pp. plus bibliography and indices of primary sources and subjects ($74, hardcover). Continue reading

Email This Page

“I Kneeled Down Before My Maker”: Allusions to Esau in the Book of Enos

Abstract: The Book of Enos constitutes a brief literary masterpiece. A close reading of Enos’s autobiography reveals textual dependency not only on 1 Nephi 1:1-2 and Genesis 32–33, but also on earlier parts of the Jacob Esau cycle in Genesis 25, 27. Enos’s autobiographical allusions to hunting and hungering serve as narrative inversions of Esau’s biography. The narrative of Genesis 27 exploits the name “Esau” in terms of the Hebrew verb ʿśh/ʿśy (“make,” “do”). Enos (“man”) himself incorporates paronomastic allusions to the name “Esau” in terms of ʿśh/ʿśy in surprising and subtle ways in order to illustrate his own transformation through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. These wordplays reflect the convergence (in the Genesis narratives) of the figure of Esau before whom Jacob bows and whom he embraces in reconciliation with the figure of the divine “man” with whom Jacob wrestles. Finally, Enos anticipates his own resurrection, divine transformation, and final at-one-ment with the Lord in terms of a clothing metaphor reminiscent of Jacob’s “putting on” Esau’s identity in Genesis 27. Continue reading

Email This Page

Their Imperfect Best: Isaianic Authorship from an LDS Perspective

Abstract: For Latter-day Saints, the critical scholarly consensus that most of the book of Isaiah was not authored by Isaiah often presents a problem, particularly since many Isaiah passages in the Book of Mormon are assigned post-exilic dating by critical scholars. The critical position is based on an entirely different set of assumptions than most believers are accustomed to bring to scripture. This article surveys some of the reasons for the critical scholarly position, also providing an alternative set of assumptions that Latter-day Saints can use to understand the features of the text. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Power is In Them

Abstract: The Interpreter Foundation has spent five years dedicated to publishing quality scholarship regarding the gospel, history, and scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The result is a body of work both to be proud of and to stand upon as we move forward. Profound appreciation is given to those who have contributed to this effort, and an invitation is extended to be part of future explorations and exhortations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Continue reading

Email This Page

On Doctrine and Covenants Language and the 1833 Plot of Zion

Abstract: Contrary to the generally accepted view, it seems likely that much of the wording of the Doctrine and Covenants was transmitted to Joseph Smith as part of the revelatory process. Apparent bad grammar and a limited reading of “after the manner of their language” (D&C 1:24) have led to the received view that “the language of the revelations was Joseph Smith’s.”1 This judgment, however, is probably inaccurate. Abundant cases of archaic forms and structures, sometimes overlapping with Book of Mormon usage, argue for a different interpretation of “after the manner of their language.” Scholars have chosen, for the most part, to disregard the implications of a large amount of complex, archaic, well-formed language found in both scriptural texts. As for the 1833 Plot of Zion, transmitted words in Doctrine and Covenants revelations, a key statement by Frederick G. Williams, and a small but significant amount of internal archaic usage mean that the layout, dimensions, and even some language of the city plat were specifically revealed as well. Continue reading

Email This Page

Lehi’s Dream and the Garden of Eden

Abstract: Lehi’s dream in 1 Nephi 8 and Nephi’s related vision in 1 Nephi 11–14 contain many features related to the biblical garden of Eden, including most prominently the tree of life. A close reading of the features of Lehi’s dream in light of the earliest Book of Mormon text shows further similarities to the biblical garden, suggesting that the setting of Lehi’s dream is actually the garden of Eden. But the differences are also informative. These include both substantive features absent from the biblical Eden and differences in the language used to describe the features. Many of the variant features are also found in other ancient creation accounts. In view of these observations, it is likely the Book of Mormon presupposes a variant account of the garden of Eden. This variant account forms the backdrop for Lehi’s dream and for other references to the garden in the Book of Mormon. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Next Big Thing in LDS Apologetics: Strong Semitic and Egyptian Elements in Uto-Aztecan Languages

Review of Brian D. Stubbs, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now (Blanding, UT: Four Corners Digital Design, 2016) and Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (Provo, UT: Grover Publications, 2015).

Abstract: Following several articles and presentations over the past two decades on tantalizing finds linking Uto-Aztecan languages with Near Eastern languages, LDS linguist Brian Stubbs has recently published two significant works offering extensive details and documentation. The more comprehensive volume intended for scholars and serious students of language is Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan, a highly technical work providing 1,528 sets of cognates with intricate details linking Uto-Aztecan languages with two versions of Semitic and with Egyptian. This is followed by an analysis of puzzles in Uto Aztecan explained by Egyptian and Semitic ties as well as an exploration of grammatical and morphological parallels and many other details that further strengthen the case for an ancient connection to Near Eastern languages. Stubbs has made his work more accessible to general LDS readers with a less technical and highly readable work, Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, that relates his findings to the Book of Mormon and what we can infer about the languages of Book of Mormon peoples. The changes in those languages, correspond remarkably well with the infusions of Near Eastern language that can be seen in abundance in Uto-Aztecan. Numerous questions remain that may require lifetimes of further research, but the meticulous foundation Stubbs has laid must not be treated like past amateurish and erroneous efforts over the centuries to find Hebrew in Native American languages. This is a serious, scholarly work that rises above the standards typically used to establish authentic language families. The evidence for, say, Hebrew in Uto-Aztecan is actually more impressive than the linguistic evidence for Hebrew influence in Yiddish. While implications for these finds on the Book of Mormon can be overstated, what Stubbs has uncovered may be among the most impressive scholarly finds related to the Book of Mormon.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Consecration Brings Forth Zion, Not Just Disaster Relief: An Examination of Scholarly and Prophetic Statements on the Law of Consecration

Abstract: Active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints covenant to obey the law of consecration, and although I have long felt we discuss it too little, more Saints seem to be taking notice. Various historical and doctrinal opinions have been expressed on the law and on the “united order,” including some insightful and some unusual opinions by Kent W. Huff in his book Joseph Smith’s United Order.1 Using this book along with the contributions of several other scholars and Church leaders as a basis for discussion, I explore the history, meaning, and future of the “united order” as part of the larger law of consecration. Starting as an eleven-man organization in charge of Church business and operating under consecration principles, the united order — actually called the united firm — transformed into the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to historians, most Church members did not even know of its existence, let alone participate in it. Traditional understanding is that the firm’s consecration model provided the pattern for the Saints to follow. An alternative interpretation, described by Kent Huff, is that the Saints’ only real attempt at a formal consecration effort was for disaster relief. In fact, according to Huff, the Saints in general did not deed their property to the Church as we’ve learned in Church history classes. He further argues that even the former-day Saints in the City of Enoch, the early Christians in Jerusalem, and the Nephites right after Christ’s visit didn’t really have all things in common in the way most of us have imagined. I disagree with this interpretation and provide evidence against it, but I [Page 124]appreciate the historical information and several philosophical insights that Huff provides. Other scholars and historians challenge the widely-held notions that 1) tithing is a lower law, given because the Saints failed to live the full law of consecration, and that 2) a formal form of consecration (the united order) will eventually return. I advocate instead for the traditional understanding of the law of consecration and stewardship as taught by Church leaders, believing it is the path toward both freedom and equality the world is looking for, and I explain why I believe it — or a similar program — will eventually be reinstated. Continue reading

Email This Page

A Lengthening Shadow: Is Quality of Thought Deteriorating in LDS Scholarly Discourse Regarding Prophets and Revelation? Part Three

Abstract: Many mistakes that occur in scholarly endeavors are understandable. The truth is often difficult to discover, and this makes errors inevitable and expected. And, of course, some mistakes are so insignificant that to complain of them would be mere pedantry. But this is not true of all errors. Some are both obvious and of such significance to their topics that they are egregious. With respect to the gospel, there is reason to be concerned that this is occurring to some degree on the topic of prophets and the Lord’s revelations to them. Erroneous claims and arguments are not difficult to find, including some published under the auspices of reputable and mainstream entities. Is it possible that such errors are becoming common, and commonly accepted, in Latter-day Saint scholarly discourse? Part One considered multiple examples, primarily from Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason, that begin to suggest a positive answer to this question, and Part Two did the same with regard to examples from Grant Hardy. This Part considers several additional instances that can be treated more briefly and then provides a general conclusion to the two-part question that has guided this exploration. Continue reading

Email This Page

A Lengthening Shadow: Is Quality of Thought Deteriorating in LDS Scholarly Discourse Regarding Prophets and Revelation? Part Two

Abstract­: Many mistakes that occur in scholarly endeavors are understandable. The truth is often difficult to discover, and this makes errors inevitable and expected. And of course, some mistakes are so insignificant that to complain of them would be mere pedantry. But this is not true of all errors. Some are both obvious and of such significance to their topics that they are egregious. There is reason to be concerned that this is occurring to some degree on the topic of prophets and the Lord’s revelations to them. Erroneous claims and arguments are not difficult to find, including some published under the auspices of reputable and mainstream entities. Is it possible that such errors are becoming common, and commonly accepted, in LDS scholarly discourse? Part One considered multiple examples, primarily from Terryl Givens and Patrick Mason, that begin to suggest a positive answer to this question. This installment, Part Two, considers examples from Grant Hardy that also suggest an affirmative answer. Continue reading

Email This Page

A Lengthening Shadow: Is Quality of Thought Deteriorating in LDS Scholarly Discourse Regarding Prophets and Revelation? Part One

Abstract. Many mistakes that occur in scholarly endeavors are understandable. The truth is often difficult to discover, and this makes errors inevitable and expected. And, of course, some mistakes are so insignificant that to complain of them would be mere pedantry. But this is not true of all errors. Some are both obvious and of such significance to their topics that they are egregious. With respect to the gospel, there is reason to be concerned that this is occurring to some degree on the topic of prophets and the Lord’s revelations to them. Erroneous claims and arguments are not difficult to find, including some published under the auspices of reputable and mainstream entities. Is it possible that such errors are becoming common, and commonly accepted, in Latter-day Saint scholarly discourse? To help answer this question, it is useful to consider, among others, works by Terryl Givens, Patrick Mason, and Grant Hardy. This paper will do so in three Parts. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Life-giving “Water” of the Restoration

Abstract: Where there is water, there is life, not only literally, as in the Nile River in Egypt and in the cities of Mesopotamia, but also symbolically, as we read in the words of the prophet Ezekiel, who in vision saw a magnificent spring of fresh water flowing east from the temple, healing even the waters of the Dead Sea (Ezekiel 47). A psalm also testifies to the divine beneficence of water (Psalm 1) and John, in Revelation, quotes the Lord as giving to those “athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (21:10‒14), a “crystal clear river” that flows from the center of the temple in the New Jerusalem. Also in the last days, “in the barren deserts there shall come forth pools of living water” (Doctrine and Covenants 133:29). We, the writers and volunteer staff of the Interpreter Foundation, invite readers to help spread and defend the life-giving water of the Restoration, for “the harvest is plenteous, but the labourers are few” (Matthew 9:37). Continue reading

Email This Page

The Book of Mormon Versus the Consensus of Scholars: Surprises from the Disputed Longer Ending of Mark, Part 2

Abstract: Following the account of the ministry of Christ among the Nephites as recorded in the Book of Mormon, Christ gave a charge to His New World disciples (Mormon 9:22–25). These words are nearly like the commission of Christ to His apostles at the end of the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:9–20). According to the general consensus of modern Bible scholars, Christ did not speak those words; they are a later addition. If so, this is a problem for the Book of Mormon. Fortunately, recent modern scholarship offers compelling reasons for overturning the old consensus against the longer ending of Mark. Some of the factors from modern scholarship that indirectly help overcome a potentially serious objection to and apparent weakness in the Book of Mormon also help us better appreciate its strength as we explore unifying themes derived from an ancient Jewish perspective. Part 1 of this two-part series looked at the evidence for the unity of Mark and the plausibility of Mormon 9:22–25. In Part 2, we examine further Book of Mormon implications from the thematic evidence for the unity of Mark. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Book of Mormon Versus the Consensus of Scholars: Surprises from the Disputed Longer Ending of Mark, Part 1

Abstract: Following the account of the ministry of Christ among the Nephites as recorded in the Book of Mormon, Christ gave a charge to His New World disciples (Mormon 9:22–25). These words are very similar to the commission of Christ to His apostles at the end of the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:9–20). According to the consensus of modern Bible scholars, Christ did not speak those words; they are a later addition. If so, this is a problem for the Book of Mormon. Fortunately, recent modern scholarship offers compelling reasons for overturning the old consensus against the longer ending of Mark. Some of the factors from modern scholarship that indirectly help overcome a potentially serious objection to and apparent weakness in the Book of Mormon also help us better appreciate its strength as we explore unifying themes derived from an ancient Jewish perspective. In this Part 1 of a two-part series, we look at the evidence for the unity of Mark and the plausibility of Mormon 9:22–25. In Part 2 we examine further Book of Mormon implications from the thematic evidence for the unity of Mark. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Amlicites and Amalekites: Are They the Same People?

Abstract: Royal Skousen’s Book of Mormon Critical Text Project has proposed many hundreds of changes to the text of the Book of Mormon. A subset of these changes does not come from definitive evidence found in the manuscripts or printed editions but are conjectural emendations. In this paper, I examine one of these proposed changes — the merging of two dissenting Nephite groups, the Amlicites and the Amalekites. Carefully examining the timeline and geography of these groups shows logical problems with their being the same people. This paper argues that they are, indeed, separate groups and explores a plausible explanation for the missing origins of the Amalekites. Continue reading

Email This Page

How Big A Book? Estimating the Total Surface Area of the Book of Mormon Plates

Abstract: We do not have the Book of Mormon metal plates available to us. We cannot heft them, examine the engravings, or handle the leaves of that ancient record as did the Three Witnesses, the Eight Witnesses, and the many other witnesses to both the existence and nature of the plates. In such a situation, what more can we learn about the physical nature of the plates without their being present for our inspection? Building on available knowledge, this article estimates the total surface area of the plates using two independent approaches and finds that the likely surface area was probably between 30 and 86 square feet, or roughly 15% of the surface area of the paper on which the English version of the Book of Mormon is now printed. Continue reading

Email This Page

How Joseph Smith’s Grammar Differed from Book of Mormon Grammar: Evidence from the 1832 History

Abstract: Some of the grammar of Joseph Smith’s 1832 History is examined. Three archaic, extra-biblical features that occur quite frequently in the Book of Mormon are not present in the history, even though there was ample opportunity for use. Relevant usage in the 1832 History is typical of modern English, in line with independent linguistic studies. This leads to the conclusion that Joseph’s grammar was not archaizing in these three types of morphosyntax which are prominent in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon. This corroborating evidence also indicates that English words were transmitted to Joseph throughout the dictation of the Book of Mormon. Continue reading

Email This Page

Understanding Jacob’s Teachings about Plural Marriage from a Law of Moses Context

Abstract: This paper reviews the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob’s proscription against plural marriage, arguing that the verses in Jacob 24–30 should be interpreted in a Law of Moses context regarding levirate marriage, by which a man was responsible for marrying his dead brother’s wife if that brother died before having an heir. I also review how these verses have been used in arguments for and against plural marriage, and how levirate marriage practices worked in Mosaic tradition. Continue reading

Email This Page

Apostate Religion in the Book of Mormon

Abstract: Nephite missionaries in the first century BC had significant difficulty preaching the gospel among Nephites and Lamanites who followed Zoramite and Nehorite teaching. Both of these groups built synagogues and other places of worship suggesting that some of their beliefs originated in Israelite practice, but both denied the coming or the necessity of a Messiah. This article explores the nature of Zoramite and Nehorite beliefs, identifies how their beliefs and practices differed from orthodox Nephite teaching, and suggests that some of these religious differences are attributable to cultural and political differences that resonate in the present. Continue reading

Email This Page

“If Ye Will Hearken”: Lehi’s Rhetorical Wordplay on Ishmael in 2 Nephi 1:28–29 and Its Implications

Abstract: Nephi’s preservation of the conditional “first blessing” that Lehi bestowed upon his elder sons (Laman, Lemuel, and Sam) and the sons of Ishmael, contains a dramatic wordplay on the name Ishmael in 2 Nephi 1:28–29. The name Ishmael — “May El hear [him],” “May El hearken,” or “El Has Hearkened” — derives from the Semitic (and later Hebrew) verb šāmaʿ (to “hear,” “hearken,” or “obey”). Lehi’s rhetorical wordplay juxtaposes the name Ishmael with a clustering of the verbs “obey” and “hearken,” both usually represented in Hebrew by the verb šāmaʿ. Lehi’s blessing is predicated on his sons’ and the sons of Ishmael’s “hearkening” to Nephi (“if ye will hearken”). Conversely, failure to “hearken” (“but if ye will not hearken”) would precipitate withdrawal of the “first blessing.” Accordingly, when Nephi was forced to flee from Laman, Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, Lehi’s “first blessing” was activated for Nephi and all those who “hearkened” to his spiritual leadership, including members of Ishmael’s family (2 Nephi 5:6), while it was withdrawn from Laman, Lemuel, the sons of Ishmael, and those who sympathized with them, “inasmuch as they [would] not hearken” unto Nephi (2 Nephi 5:20). Centuries later, when Ammon and his brothers convert many Lamanites to the truth, Mormon revisits Lehi’s conditional blessing and the issue of “hearkening” in terms of Ishmael and the receptivity of the Ishmaelites. Many Ishmaelite-Lamanites “hear” or “hearken” to Ammon et al., activating Lehi’s “first blessing,” while many others — including the ex-Nephite Amalekites/Amlicites — do not, thus activating (or reactivating) Lehi’s curse. Continue reading

Email This Page

Joseph Smith: Monogamist or Polygamist?

Abstract: In the past decades much of the debate regarding Joseph Smith and plural marriage has focused on his motivation — whether libido or divine inspiration drove the process. Throughout these debates, a small group of observers and participants have maintained that Joseph did not practice polygamy at any time or that his polygamous sealings were nonsexual spiritual marriages. Rather than simply provide supportive evidence for Joseph Smith’s active involvement with plural marriage, this article examines the primary arguments advanced by monogamist proponents to show that important weaknesses exist in each line of reasoning. Continue reading

Email This Page

Exploring Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan Languages

Review of Brian D. Stubbs, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan, Provo, UT: Grover Publications, 2015. 436 pp. $30.

Some thirty-plus years ago, toward the beginning of my career as professor of linguistics at BYU, a young Brian Stubbs knocked at my office door to make what was, in my opinion, a wild claim — that he had found a significant number of cognates1 that would link a New World language family (Uto-Aztecan) to an Old World language family (pre-exilic Hebrew2 and later others). Continue reading

Email This Page

On Doubting Nephi’s Break Between 1 and 2 Nephi: A Critique of Joseph Spencer’s An Other Testament: On typology

Abstract: In 2012 Joseph Spencer published an analysis of 1st and 2nd Nephi that interprets a phrase in 1 Nephi 19:5 as implying the true break in Nephi’s writings is not between the two scriptural books we now use but rather to be found at the end of 2 Nephi 5 and that the spiritual core (the “more sacred part”) of the small plates is in 2 Nephi chapters 6–30. In this essay I have mobilized several arguments from the canons of literary interpretation and basics of the Hebrew language to demonstrate that this starting point for Spencer’s interpretation of Nephi’s writings is seriously flawed. Continue reading

Email This Page

Overcoming Obstacles: Becoming a Great Missionary

Review of Matthew Jensen, Overcoming Obstacles: Becoming a Great Missionary. S.l.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016. 44 pp. $5.50. Kindle edition, $1.50.

Abstract: Matthew Jensen’s book Overcoming Obstacles: Becoming a Great Missionary shows how missionaries can remove their “perfect missionary” mask and learn to truly care about their investigators and what is best for them. In the process, they will become great missionaries. Continue reading

Email This Page

Looking Deeper into Joseph Smith’s First Vision: Imagery, Cognitive Neuroscience, and the Construction of Memory

Abstract: Critics of Joseph Smith assert that he invented or imagined the First Vision and then deliberately altered the details in his subsequent first-person accounts of the event (also reflected in accounts recorded or related by others) to mislead his followers. That the details of the narrative changed so dramatically between the first version (1832) and the last authorized version (1842) is considered prima facie evidence that Joseph was deliberately inventing and embellishing his narrative to make it more credible. The only thing, say critics, that could possibly explain such divergent, and in some cases, radically different versions of the same event is either incredible forgetfulness or deliberate falsification. This paper, based on close textual analysis and the findings of contemporary scientific research on memory acquisition and retention — particularly memories of dramatic and powerful events — offers an alternative explanation, one that preserves the credibility and integrity of the prophet. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Healing and Exalting Powers of Christ Weave Together at Easter

Abstract: In this personal essay, Ann Madsen reflects on the ways in which the healing power of Christ converges with His exalting power at Easter. Cold gives way to warmth, pride to submission, and reflection to sanctification. The weekly Sacrament provides a time for cleansing, renewal, and drawing our thoughts toward the Lord. The path leads to us becoming like Him. Continue reading

Email This Page

Scriptures with Pictures: Methodology, Unexamined Assumptions, and the Study of the Book of Abraham

Abstract: Research on the origins and nature of the Book of Abraham and the accompanying facsimiles has long been hampered by faulty methodology. And while the last few years have seen a significant reexamination of the assumptions that represent the underpinning of our understandings of the Book of Abraham, some unexamined assumptions persist. This study addresses seven aspects of the Book of Abraham, which include a discussion of the sources, the process, the results, the content, the witnesses, and the historical background. For each of these aspects, this study identifies lingering assumptions and shows how a proper methodology can validate or eliminate these assumptions from the scholarly discourse. Continue reading

Email This Page

Looking Back,
Almost Five Years On

Abstract: As the axiom states, hindsight is 20/20. As Volume 24 of Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture nears the press, it seems relevant to look back to a tumultuous time nearly five years ago when the Interpreter Foundation was visualized and launched. If history has any value at all (particularly recent history), it provides a context for understanding the course on which we find ourselves. For the Interpreter Foundation, that course continues to be full of surprises and promise. Continue reading

Email This Page

“By the Blood Ye Are Sanctified”:
The Symbolic, Salvific, Interrelated, Additive, Retrospective, and Anticipatory Nature of the Ordinances of Spiritual Rebirth in John 3 and Moses 6

[Editor’s Note: This article is an updated and extended version of a presentation given at the Third Interpreter Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference: The Temple on Mount Zion, November 5, 2016, at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. For a video version of the presentation, see https://interpreterfoundation.org/conferences/2016-temple-on-mount-zion-conference/2016-temple-on-mount-zion-conference-videos/]

Abstract: In chapter 3 of the Gospel of John, Jesus described spiritual rebirth as consisting of two parts: being “born of water and of the spirit.”1 To this requirement of being “born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit,” Moses 6:59–60 adds that one must “be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; … For … by the blood ye are sanctified.”2 In this article, we will discuss the symbolism of water, spirit, and blood in scripture as they are actualized in the process of spiritual rebirth. We will highlight in particular the symbolic, salvific, interrelated, additive, retrospective, and anticipatory nature of these ordinances within the allusive and sometimes enigmatic descriptions of John 3 and Moses 6. Moses 6:51–68, with its dense infusion of temple themes, was revealed to the Prophet in December 1830, when the Church was in its infancy and more than a decade before the fulness of priesthood ordinances was made available to the Saints in Nauvoo. Our study of these chapters informs our closing perspective on the meaning of the sacrament, which is consistent with the recent re-emphasis of Church leaders that the “sacrament is a beautiful time to not just renew our baptismal covenants, but to commit to Him to renew all our covenants.”3 We discuss the relationship of the sacrament to the shewbread of Israelite temples, and its anticipation of the heavenly feast that will be enjoyed by those who have been sanctified by the blood of Jesus Christ. Continue reading

Email This Page

Bare Record: The Nephite Archivist, The Record of Records, and the Book of Mormon Provenance

Abstract: This paper looks at the Book of Mormon through the lens of library science and the concept of archival provenance. The Nephites cared deeply about their records, and Mormon documented a thorough chain of custody for the plates he edited. However, ideas of archival science and provenance are recent developments in the western world, unknown to biblical authors or to anyone at Joseph Smith’s time. Understanding this aspect of Mormon’s authorship and Joseph Smith’s translation provides additional evidence to the historical validity of the Book of Mormon. Continue reading

Email This Page

Seers and Stones:
The Translation of the Book of Mormon as Divine Visions of an Old-Time Seer

Abstract: Joseph Smith used the term the Urim and Thummim to refer to the pair of seer stones, or “interpreters,” he obtained for translating the Book of Mormon as well as to other seer stones he used in a similar manner. According to witness accounts, he would put the stone(s) in a hat and pull the hat close around his face to exclude the light, and then he would see the translated text of the Book of Mormon. By what property or principle these stones enabled Joseph Smith to see the translated text has long been a matter of conjecture among Mormons, but the stones have commonly been understood as divinely powered devices analogous to the latest human communications technology. An alternative view, presented here, is that the stones had no technological function but simply served as aids to faith. In this view, the stones did not themselves translate or display text. They simply inspired the faith Joseph Smith needed to see imaginative visions, and in those visions, he saw the text of the Book of Mormon, just as Lehi and other ancient seers saw sacred texts in vision. Although Joseph Smith also saw visions without the use of stones, the logistics of dictating a book required the ability to see the translated text at will, and that was what the faith-eliciting stones would have made possible. Continue reading

Email This Page

Meeting Zoram

Abstract: Zoram, the servant of Laban, is a character from the Book of Mormon who is only mentioned a few times and on whom little information is given. This article analyzes what information is given in the Book of Mormon and contextualizes its historical background, all coupled with the observations of Latter-day Saint Church leaders and scholars. Insight is provided concerning Zoram’s Hebraic descent in the tribe of Manasseh and his working duties under Laban’s command, along with how all this affected his role in assisting Lehi’s family. The meaning of his name in Hebrew and possible correlations to the meaning of his life’s events are explained. The oath between Nephi and Zoram is discussed, and the debate regarding whether Zoram was a slave or servant is addressed, to show that he was likely a free servant. Continue reading

Email This Page

Deuteronomy 17:14–20 as Criteria for Book of Mormon Kingship

Abstract: Deuteronomy 17:14–20 represents the most succinct summation in the Bible of criteria for kingship. Remarkably, the Book of Mormon narrative depicts examples of kingship that demonstrate close fidelity to the pattern set forth in Deuteronomy 17 (e.g., Nephi, Benjamin, or Mosiah II) or the inversion of the expected pattern of kingship (e.g., king Noah). Future research on Book of Mormon kingship through the lens of Deuteronomy 17:14–20 should prove fruitful. Continue reading

Email This Page

It Took a Village to Prepare for the Restoration

Abstract: “No man,” wrote the early seventeenth-century English poet John Donne, “is an island entire of itself.” Likewise, nothing in human history springs entirely from a vacuum, ex nihilo. Even the Restoration, although it was initiated by God and is orchestrated in the heavens, draws on resources created by previous generations of men and women. We are borne on a tide of scriptural texts and freedoms bequeathed to us by our ancestors, whom we should not forget. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Title of Liberty and Ancient Prophecy

Abstract: Captain Moroni cites a prophecy regarding Joseph of Egypt and his posterity that is not recorded in the Bible. He accompanies the prophecy with a symbolic action to motivate his warriors to covenant to be faithful to their prophet Helaman and to keep the commandments lest God would not preserve them as he had Joseph. Continue reading

Email This Page

“This Son Shall Comfort Us”: An Onomastic Tale of Two Noahs

Abstract: From an etiological perspective, the Hebrew Bible connects the name Noah with two distinct but somewhat homonymous verbal roots: nw (“rest”) and nm (“comfort,” “regret” [sometimes “repent”]). Significantly, the Enoch and Noah material in the revealed text of the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis (especially Moses 7–8) also connects the name Noah in a positive sense to the earth’s “rest” and the Lord’s covenant with Enoch after the latter “refuse[d] to be comforted” regarding the imminent destruction of humanity in the flood. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, connects the name Noah pejoratively to Hebrew nw (“rest”) and nm (“comfort” and “repentance” [regret]) in a negative evaluation of King Noah, the son of Zeniff. King Noah causes his people to “labor exceedingly to support iniquity” (Mosiah 11:6), gives “rest” to his wicked and corrupt priests (Mosiah 11:11), and anesthetizes his people in their sins with his winemaking. Noah and his people’s refusal to “repent” and their martyring of Abinadi result in their coming into hard bondage to the Lamanites. Mormon’s text further demonstrates how the Lord eventually “comforts” Noah’s former subjects after their “sore repentance” and “sincere repentance” from their iniquity and abominations, providing them a typological deliverance that points forward to the atonement of Jesus Christ. Continue reading

Email This Page

Addressing Prickly Issues

Review of A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine & Church History, ed. Laura Harris Hales. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2016. 264 pp. $24.99.

Abstract: This collection of essays conveniently assembles faithful and rigorous treatments of difficult questions related to LDS history and doctrine. While two or three of the essays are sufficiently flawed to give cause for concern and while some of its arguments have been expressed differently in earlier publications, overall this book can be confidently recommended to interested and doctrinally mature Latter-day Saints. Continue reading

Email This Page

Experiencing Battle in the Book of Mormon

Abstract: Historical chronicles of military conflict normally focus on the decisions and perspectives of leaders. But new methodologies, pioneered by John Keegan’s Face of Battle, have focused attention on the battle experience of the common soldier. Applying this methodology to a careful reading of details within the Book of Mormon shows an experience in battle that is just as horrific as it is authentic. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game: More Curious Works from Book of Mormon Critics

Abstract: A novel theory for the origins of Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life has been offered by Rick Grunder, who argues that the story was inspired by a June 1829 visit to Rochester where Joseph could have seen a “great and spacious building,” a river, an iron railing, and even fruit trees. The purported source for the great and spacious building, the Reynolds Arcade, has even been suggested by one critic as a place where Joseph might have found “rare maps,” such as a map of Arabia that could have guided his fabrication of Lehi’s trail. As beautiful as such theories may be to their champions, they utterly fail to account for Nephi’s text.

Among the shortcomings of Grunder’s theory and creative extensions of it, the timing is problematic, for Joseph’s visit to Rochester likely occurred well after 1 Nephi was dictated. The proposed parallels offer little explanatory power for Book of Mormon creation. (For comparison, two online appendices for this article have been provided to illustrate how interesting random parallels can be found that may be more compelling than those Grunder offers.1) Further, any inspiration from a visit to Rochester as the plates of Nephi were being translated fails to account for the influence of Lehi’s vision and Nephi’s text on other portions of the Book of Mormon that were translated long before Joseph’s trip to Rochester. Finally, Nephi’s account of the vision of the Tree of Life and surrounding text cannot be reasonably explained by Grunder’s theory of last-minute fabrication inspired by Rochester or by any other theory of modern fabrication, as it is far too rooted in the ancient world and far too artfully crafted to have come from Joseph Smith and his environment. Continue reading

Email This Page

Scary Ghost Stories in the Light of Day

Review of Carol Lynn Pearson, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men. Walnut Creek, CA: Pivot Point Books, 2016. 242 pp. $19.95.

I have always been interested in the topic of polygamy and have, over the past few decades, read just about every book and commentary on the topic that I could find. I have spent many hours in the Church History Library, the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library at BYU, and various other repositories poring over all of the source documents I could locate. Thus, I looked forward to reading a recent addition to the literary corpus on the subject contributed by Carol Lynn Pearson. Her book, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men, isn’t a scholarly look at polygamy, but instead lays out her case for expunging polygamy completely from our history and disavowing its possibility in any future realm. Continue reading

Email This Page

“Their Anger Did Increase Against Me”: Nephi’s Autobiographical Permutation of a Biblical Wordplay on the Name Joseph

Abstract: Nephi’s record on the small plates includes seven distinct scenes in which Nephi depicts the anger of his brethren against him. Each of these scenes includes language that recalls Genesis 37:5‒10, 20, the biblical scene in which Joseph’s brothers “hate him yet the more [wayyôsipû ʿôd] for his dreams and for his words” because they fear that he intends to “reign” and to “have dominion” or rule over them (Genesis 37:8). Later, they plot to kill him (Genesis 37:20). Two of these “anger” scenes culminate in Nephi’s brothers’ bowing down before him in the same way that Joseph’s brothers bowed down in obeisance before him. Nephi permutes the expression wayyôsipû ʿôd in terms of his brothers’ “continuing” and “increasing” anger, which eventually ripens into a hatred that permanently divides the family. Nephi uses language that represents other yāsap/yôsîp + verbal-complement constructions in these “anger” scenes, usage that recalls the name Joseph in such a way as to link Nephi with his ancestor. The most surprising iteration of Nephi’s permuted “Joseph” wordplay occurs in his own psalm (2 Nephi 4:16‒35). Continue reading

Email This Page

The Song I Cannot Sing

Scene One

The story of her birth is a raucous family tale that begins with her arrival into the world on December 19. Her parents named her Joy. She was the youngest in a line of eight children, and every one of them could tell a story, so a person couldn’t breathe for laughing. One or another of them would string this story up over the family dinner table each year — rushing to tell it, piling on top of each other’s words. And then they would sit back in their chairs as the room pealed with laughter like big, singing bells. Continue reading

Email This Page

Opportunity Lost

A Review of Carol Lynn Pearson, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Women and Men. Pivot Point Books, 2016, 226 pages with endnotes. $19.95.

Abstract: The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy boldly declares “that plural marriage never was — is not now — and never will be ordained of God” (21) and that the Mormon religion is guilty of “extraordinary spiritual abuse” (22) due to the practice. Seven distinct problems associated with plural marriage are identified, four of which have merit: polygamy history is often messy; earthly polygamy is unfair to women; widows and widowers are treated differently regarding future sealings; and the cancellation of sealings has not always paralleled the desires of the participants. Three additional issues form the bulk of the discussion and are based upon assumptions about eternity: polygamy is required in the celestial kingdom; child-to-parent sealings may be unfair in eternity; and eternal polygamy will be everlastingly unfair to women. This review addresses these observations, noting that the idea that all exalted beings are polygamists is false, revelation has not defined the exact nature of earthly parent–child relationships in the afterlife, and the dynamics of eternal plural marriage have not been revealed. The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy seeks to reinforce fears of the unknown while ignoring the abundant messages that God promises eternal joy and happiness to those who live worthily. Continue reading

Email This Page

Improvisation and Extemporaneous Change in the Book of Mormon (Part 2: Structural Evidences of Earlier Ancient versus Later Modern Constructions)

Abstract: Joseph Smith made various refining changes to the Book of Mormon text, most of them minor grammatical in nature. However, one type of textual change has been virtually unstudied in Book of Mormon scholarship: extemporaneous change that was present the moment Smith dictated the original text to his scribes. This type of change appears to have been improvisational, a fix or repair made in the middle of a thought or expression. I study these improvisations in depth — when they appeared historically, their purpose, and their authorship. The evidence of Article One points to ancient authors and editor-engravers whose extemporaneous changes appeared during the early layers of the Book of Mormon’s construction. But how were these improvisations affected by later contributors? In this paper, Part 2, we study the improvisational work of Moroni as compiler, finishing-editor, and conservator, and of Joseph Smith as modern translator. The findings tell us much about the Book of Mormon as scripture, and about the construction and compilation of scripture by ancient editors and authors. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Council of Fifty and Its Minutes: A Review

Review of Matthew J. Grow et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Administrative Records, Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846 (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2016). 525 pp. + introduction, appendixes, reference material, index, etc. $59.95.

Abstract: The publication of the Council of Fifty minutes is a momentous occasion in modern studies of Mormon history. The minutes are invaluable in helping historians understand the last days of Joseph Smith and his project to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth. They offer an important glimpse into the religious and political mindset of early Latter-day Saint leaders and shed much light on events once obscured by lack of access to the minutes. The Joseph Smith Papers Project has outdone itself in its presentation of the minutes in the latest volume of the series. The minutes are essential reading for anyone interested in early Mormon history. Continue reading

Email This Page

Improvisation and Extemporaneous Change in the Book of Mormon (Part 1: Evidence of an Imperfect, Authentic, Ancient Work of Scripture)

Abstract: Joseph Smith made various refining changes to the Book of Mormon text, most of them minor and grammatical in nature. However, one type of textual change has been virtually unstudied in Book of Mormon scholarship: extemporaneous change that was present the moment Smith dictated the original text to his scribes. This type of change appears to have been improvisational, a fix or repair made in the middle of a thought or expression. I study these improvisations in depth — where they might appear historically, their purpose, and their authorship — in two articles. The evidence points to ancient authors and editor-engravers whose extemporaneous changes appeared during the early layers of the Book of Mormon’s construction. In this paper, Article One, we study the improvisations found in the quoted ancient texts of ancient prophets, then in the embedded texts of authors who improvise, and finally in the improvisational narratives of the major editor-engravers — Mormon, Nephi, and Moroni. The findings tell us much about the Book of Mormon as scripture, and about the construction and compilation of scripture by ancient editors and authors. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Small Voice

Abstract: Revelation comes in various forms, some of them spectacular and some of them extremely subtle. The scriptures and the history of the Restoration offer numerous examples across the entire spectrum. Whatever its form, however, divine revelation remains divine revelation, and it is the avowed mission of the Interpreter Foundation to thoughtfully ponder such revelation, to try to explicate its meaning, and to illustrate its richness. In turn, such examination can itself provide an opportunity for personal revelation—both for the examiners and, we hope, for those who read or hear the results of their work. Continue reading

Email This Page

“Arise from the Dust”: Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon (Part 3: Dusting Off a Famous Chiasmus, Alma 36)

Abstract: In light of Noel Reynolds’ hypothesis that some material in the Book of Moses may have been present on the brass plates that Nephi used, exploration of concepts related to chains in the Book of Moses led to several insights involving a group of related motifs in the Book of Mormon where shaking off Satan’s chains and rising from the dust are linked, as discussed in Parts 1 and 2. Here we argue that an appeal to the Book of Mormon’s use of dust may fill in some gaps in the complex chiastic structure of Alma 36 and strengthen the case that it is a carefully crafted example of ancient Semitic poetry. Continue reading

Email This Page

Reading 1 Nephi With Wisdom

Abstract: Nephi is the prototypical wise son of the Wisdom tradition. As Proverbs advocates that a wise man cherishes the word of God, so Nephi cherishes the words of the wise. Nephi’s record begins with a declaration of his upbringing in the Wisdom tradition and his authenticity and reliability as a wise son and scribe (1 Nephi 1:1–3). His is a record of the learning of the Jews — a record of wisdom. If the Wisdom tradition is a foundation for Nephi’s scribal capabilities and outlook, perhaps the principles and literary skills represented by the scribal Wisdom tradition constitute the “learning of the Jews” that Nephi references so early in his account. Thus, if Nephi’s is a record of the learning of the Jews — a record of wisdom — we would be wise to read it with Wisdom — that is, through the lens of ancient Israelite and Middle Eastern Wisdom traditions. Continue reading

Email This Page

“Arise from the Dust”: Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon (Part 2: Enthronement, Resurrection, and Other Ancient Motifs from the “Voice from the Dust”)

Abstract: In light of Noel Reynolds’ hypothesis that some material in the Book of Moses may have been present on the brass plates that Nephi used, one may wonder if Nephi or other authors might also have drawn upon the use of chains in the Book of Moses. Further examination of this connection points to the significance of the theme of “dust” in Lehi’s words and the surrounding passages from Nephi and Jacob, where it can involve motifs of covenant keeping, resurrection, and enthronement. Recognizing the usage of dust-related themes in the Book of Mormon can enhance our understanding of the meaning and structure of several portions of the text. An appeal to the Book of Mormon’s use of dust may also help fill in some gaps in the complex chiastic structure of Alma 36 (to be treated in Part 3) and add meaning to other portions of that “voice from the dust,” the Book of Mormon. Continue reading

Email This Page

“Arise from the Dust”: Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon (Part 1: Tracks from the Book of Moses)

Abstract: In light of Noel Reynolds’ hypothesis that some material in the Book of Moses may have been present on the brass plates that Nephi used, one may wonder if Nephi or other authors might also have drawn upon the use of chains in the Book of Moses, particularly Satan’s “great chain [that] veiled … the earth with darkness” (Moses 7:26) and the “chains of darkness” (Moses 7:57). Though the phrase “chains of darkness” is not used in the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 1:23, quoting Lehi, combines chains and obscurity, where obscurity can have the meaning of darkness. In fact, there may be a Hebraic wordplay behind Lehi’s words when he tells his wayward sons to “come forth out of obscurity and arise from the dust,” based on the similarity between the Hebrew words for “obscurity” and “dust.” The association between dust and chains and several other newly found linkages to Book of Moses material is enriched by a study of Walter Brueggemann on the covenant-related meanings of “rising from the dust” and “returning to the dust” in the Bible, a topic we explore in Part 2.1 Then, after showing how dust-related themes in the Book of Mormon can enhance our understanding of several important passages, we build on that knowledge in Part 3 to “dust off” the most famous chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, where we will show that some apparent gaps and wordy regions in the complex chiastic structure of Alma 36 are more compact and meaningful than we may have realized. Both dust-related themes and themes from the Book of Moses assist in better [Page 180]appreciating the richness of that masterpiece of Hebraic poetry. Overall, a small amount of exploration motivated by Reynolds’ work may have led to several interesting finds that strengthen the case for Book of Moses content on the brass plates and deepen our appreciation of the use of ancient Near Eastern dust themes in the Book of Mormon, that majestic “voice from the dust.” Continue reading

Email This Page

The Parable of the Benevolent Father and Son

Abstract: A discussion is presented on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, including the departure of the young man into a faraway land, his return, and the welcome he received from his father. To better understand the cultural significance of this story, a Middle Eastern scholar (Kenneth Bailey) is referenced. The prodigal son breaks his father’s heart when he leaves home, but at the same time his older brother fails in his duty to his family. The father in the parable represents Christ, who is seen to take upon himself the shame of his returning boy and later of his older brother. The reinstatement of the prodigal son is confirmed by the actions of the father, who embraces him, dresses him in a robe, puts shoes on his feet, has a ring placed on his finger, brings him into his house, and kills the fatted calf for him. These actions have deep gospel and cultural significance. The older son’s failure to come into the feast for his brother is a public insult to his father, and his words to his father in the courtyard are a second public insult. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is shown to be similar to other stories from the scriptures, including Jesus’s meal with Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36–43), the Parable of the Man and His Great Supper (Luke 14:16–24), the Parable of the King and His Son’s Wedding (Matthew 22:2–14), and Lehi’s dream in 1 Nephi 8. Consistent elements across these stories include a feast/meal, a male authority figure who initiates or invites others to the feast, well-to-do guests who refuse the invitation, their criticism of the host of the feast and their fellowman, an application of grace, and the presence of the less favored individuals at the feast at the end of the stories. It is shown that the prodigal son represents the publicans and sinners of Jesus’s day, while the older son represents the scribes and Pharisees. Emphasis is placed on the remarkable countercultural and benevolent role played by the father/patriarch in these stories. Continue reading

Email This Page

On the Dating of Moroni 8-9

Abstract: Students of the Book of Mormon who have attempted to establish a rough (internal) date for the composition of Mormon’s two letters in Moroni 8–9 have come to different and inconsistent conclusions. Nonetheless, there seems to be evidence enough from the text to arrive at reasonably certain conclusions as to when the letters are supposed to have originated. At the same time, the fact that the text never bothers to state the exact circumstances under which the letters were produced is theologically suggestive. What might be the interpretive and especially theological implications that follow from the establishment of rough dates for the letters? This essay argues from textual evidence that the reader should understand the two letters to have been written at rather different times: Moroni 8 in the years 345–50, and Moroni 9 in the years 375–80. It then draws interpretive and theological conclusions about the import of these dates: principally that Moroni’s inclusion of the letters forces readers to recognize that Mormon’s history is inventive and theologically motivated. Continue reading

Email This Page

Reclaiming Jacob

Abstract. A chapter of Adam Miller’s Future Mormon concerns Jacob’s encounter with Sherem in Jacob 7. While novel, Miller’s treatment of Jacob and Sherem appears inadequate. He overlooks features of the text that seem to subvert his unconventional conclusions about them. This essay identifies a number of such matters, falling in four major categories, and shares thoughts on the need for perspective when discussing Jacob’s conduct — or the conduct of any prophet, for that matter. It also highlights the jeopardy we face of being the second group to fall for Sherem’s lies. Continue reading

Email This Page

Nephi’s Use of Inverted Parallels

Abstract: Did Nephi intentionally use chiasmus in his writings? An analysis of fifteen multi-level chiasm candidates in Nephi’s writings demonstrates a high statistical probability (99%+) that the poetic form was used intentionally by Nephi but only during two specific writing periods. This finding is buttressed by further analysis, which reveals a clear and unexpected literary pattern for which Nephi seems to have reserved his usage of chiasmus. The nature of obedience is a major theme in Nephi’s writings, and he regularly employed chiasms to explore the topic early in his writings. After a period during which he discontinued use of the technique, he returned to the poetic device toward the end of his life to signal a significant shift in his thoughts on the topic of obedience. Continue reading

Email This Page

“Creator of the First Day”: The Glossing of Lord of Sabaoth in D&C 95:7

Abstract: The calqued name-title Lord of Sabaoth, echoing James 5:4, occurs four times in the Doctrine and Covenants in revelations given to the prophet Joseph Smith from December 25, 1832 to August 6, 1833. Of these occurrences, only D&C 95:7 offers a gloss or interpretation for the name “the Lord of Sabaoth,” which is, by interpretation, “the creator of the first day, the beginning and the end.” Upon close inspection, this explanation makes excellent sense from an ancient Israelite etiological as well as (perhaps) an etymological standpoint. Past criticisms of the gloss in D&C 95:7 have focused on the wrongly assumed incongruity of first day and Sabaoth (hosts), and have neglected function of the divine name Yhwh in titles, most often represented in scripture by the term “Lord, as in the calqued name-title Lord of Hosts. Understanding the connection between Yhwh (the form of which suggests the meaning He creates,” “He brings into existence,” “he brings to pass), the divine council (the hosts), creation (on the first day or Day One), and the underlying grammatical meaning of Lord of Hosts = Yhwh ṣĕbāʾôt (i.e., He creates the [heavenly] hosts or He brings to pass the [heavenly] hosts) is crucial to understanding the calque Lord of Sabaoth and the explanation given in D&C 95:7. When considered in its entirety, this revealed gloss is right on target. The creation/‌begetting of the heavenly hosts was associated with the first day or Day One in ancient Israelite thought. They are described as finished or fully prepared by the end of the six creative periods (days in Genesis 2:1). Additionally, Lord of Sabaoth or Yhwh ṣĕbāʾôt is to be understood in connection with the similarly constructed name-title Yhwh ʾĕlōhîm (He creates gods,” “he causes gods to be, or he brings to pass gods). The meristic appositive title the beginning and the end implies that Yhwh is not only the author/creator of Israel and its salvation but the [Page 52]finisher thereof. Far from evidence of Joseph Smith’s lack of knowledge of Hebrew, the interpretive gloss in D&C 95:7 constitutes evidence of Joseph’s ability to obtain correct translations and interpretations through revelation. Continue reading

Email This Page

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

Email This Page

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

Email This Page

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

Email This Page

“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

Email This Page

Reading A Pentecostal Reads the Book of Mormon

Review of John Christopher Thomas, A Pentecostal Reads the Book of Mormon: A Literary and Theological Introduction, Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2016. 448 pp. + bibliography. $24.95

In recent years the Book of Mormon has enjoyed increased attention from the scholarly world.1 This is entirely welcomed by the Latter-day Saints, especially when such attention comes from a place of fairness
and open-mindedness. A praiseworthy example of how non-Mormon academics can fruitfully engage the Book of Mormon is John Cristopher Thomas’s new volume A Pentecostal Reads the Book of Mormon: A Literary and Theological Introduction.2 Thomas is well-equipped to approach the Book of Mormon on a literary and theological angle. He is, after all, an erudite biblical scholar whose work on New Testament text and theology has appeared in such prestigious venues as Sheffield Academic Press, T&T Clark, Eerdmans, Mohr Siebeck, Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, and Novum Testamentum.3 He is also friendly toward the Latter-day Saints, both in his academic work and, I’m told, in his personal dealings with his Mormon acquaintances.4 Continue reading

Email This Page

Remembering and Honoring Māori Latter-day Saints

Review of Robert Joseph, “Intercultural Exchange, Matakite Māori and the Mormon Church,” in Mana Māori and Christianity, ed. by Hugh Morrison, Lachy Paterson, Brett Knowles and Murray Rae (Wellington, New Zealand: Huia Publishers, 2012), pp. 43–72;1 and of Selwyn Kātene, ed, Turning the Hearts of the Children: Early Māori Leaders in the Mormon Church (Wellington, New Zealand: Steele Roberts Publishers, 2014). 231 pp. Glossary (pp. 220–22), Index (pp. 223–31). N.Z. $39.99.2

Abstract: Dr. Robert (Rob) Joseph’s essay on Māori matakite (seers) is described and assessed, along with the contents of a book, edited by Dr. Selwyn Kātene, consisting of essays on twelve nineteenth-century Māori Latter-day Saint “leaders.” All these essays are indications that Māori scholars are setting out and defending the Māori Latter-day Saint narrative. These essays also make available to future generations the stories of some of the Māori who subsequently helped set in place a Māori community of Latter-day Saints in Aotearoa (now the official Māori name for all of New Zealand rather than merely the name for the North Island). One crucial fact is that there were divine special revelations to Māori seers that opened the way for the message brought to them by Latter-day Saint missionaries. These essays will help Māori Saints (and others) remember and honor earlier encounters with the divine that yielded what was for at least a hundred years primarily a Māori community of Saints in New Zealand. Continue reading

Email This Page

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

Email This Page

Mormonism, Materialism, and Politics: Six Things We Must Understand in Order to Survive as Latter-day Saints

Abstract: We are called as Latter-day Saints to be a force for good in the world in every way possible, which necessarily includes active and positive engagement with political and social issues. At the same time, it is essential to our spiritual survival that we never allow ourselves to forget the radical difference between the philosophies of men — no matter how superficially harmonious some of these may seem with particular principles of the gospel or with some aspects of traditional Mormon culture — and the teachings of the prophets. In a world that constantly entices us with messages designed to lure us away from the eternal truths of the restored gospel and into the embrace of philosophies that are partially and contingently true at best and actively destructive at worst, we must exercise constant vigilance. This essay suggests and discusses six propositions that, if understood and embraced, should help us maintain that vigilance. Continue reading

Email This Page

Perhaps Close can Count in More than Horseshoes

Review of Gerald E. Smith, Schooling the Prophet: How the Book of Mormon Influenced Joseph Smith and the Early Restoration (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2015). pp 305. $19.95.

Abstract: Schooling the Prophet provides a good survey of many early Latter-day Saint doctrines. It suggests that there is a causal link between the Book of Mormon and those doctrines. Sometimes it makes the case; many times it is close but doesn’t quite support the thesis of the book. Continue reading

Email This Page

“How Thankful We Should Be to Know the Truth”: Zebedee Coltrin’s Witness of the Heavenly Origins of Temple Ordinances

Abstract: In this article, we examine circumstantial evidence for the claim of Zebedee Coltrin, contained in a secondhand report within a heretofore unpublished letter, that Jesus Christ came personally to the Kirtland Temple over an extended period to give instruction about temple work. After summarizing what Joseph Smith seems to have known about temple ordinances by 1836, we attempt to show when and how the experience reported in the letter might have occurred. We give short biographies of the participants in the story of the letter: Luna Ardell “Dell” Hinckley Paul, Zebedee Coltrin, and “Brother Potter.” We cite Matthew. B. Brown’s observations on the question of why it might have been expedient that the Saints wait several years before receiving the full complement of temple ordinances that were eventually administered in Nauvoo. Both a typescript and a reproduction of the manuscript of the letter are provided, as is an additional letter to family members from co-author K-Lynn Paul describing the circumstances under which his grandmother’s letter was found and donated to the Church. The Dell Paul letter is consistent with arguments that the Prophet learned much about temple ordinances through personal experiences with heavenly beings, translations, and revelations as much as a decade before he got to Nauvoo. If the letter’s claim that Jesus Christ “stood and talked to them just as I am talking to you” is accurately reported, it provides an additional witness of the Savior’s frequent presence in Kirtland in 1836. Continue reading

Email This Page

Beyond Agency as Idolatry

Review of Adam S. Miller, Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2016)

Adam Miller has already established himself as the most venturesome and original of LDS thinkers exploring our complex inheritance of Mormon beliefs with the tools of contemporary academic philosophy. Richard Bushman, certainly the most highly honored living scholar of Mormonism, in a foreword to an earlier collection of Miller’s essays, Rube Goldberg Theology, praised the author as today’s “most original and provocative Latter-day Saint theologian.” This originality and provocation are all the more impressive given Miller’s institutional prominence in the LDS academic establishment as, practically, the leading philosopher/theologian of BYU’s Maxwell Institute, where he is a series co-editor as well as co-founder of the book publisher Salt Press, which was absorbed by the Institute in 2013. Continue reading

Email This Page

A Brighter Future for Mormon Theology: Adam S. Miller’s Future Mormon

Review of Adam S. Miller, Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2016)

Adam S. Miller’s Future Mormon, his collection of “Essays in Mormon Theology,” is one of the most intriguing reads I’ve encountered in LDS studies. It is a book intended to make students of Mormonism, especially those within the Church, challenge lazy assumptions in our theological thinking and rethink our approach to help us build a stronger faith. Some of Miller’s work here will be readily grasped and appreciated by LDS students, while other parts may be more radical or opaque. From my perspective, the gems should make the book a valued addition to any LDS library, in spite of my occasional disagreement and failure to grasp a few sections. I look forward to more from this author. Continue reading

Email This Page

“There’s the Boy I Can Trust”: Dennison Lott Harris’ First-Person Account of the Conspiracy of Nauvoo and Events Surrounding Joseph Smith’s “Last Charge” to the Twelve Apostles

Abstract: A well-known account from early Church history describes how, in the spring of 1844, two young men, Dennison Lott Harris and Robert Scott, helped protect Joseph Smith from dissidents plotting against his life. Almost completely unknown, however, is Dennison’s account of his subsequent role as a firsthand witness to events that appear to have taken place on the morning of 26 March 1844, just prior to the meeting in which Joseph Smith gave his “Last Charge” to the Quorum of the Twelve and “roll[ed] the kingdom off [his] shoulders” onto theirs in the presence of the Council of Fifty. This article provides the background necessary to understand all these events and publishes for the first time a complete, annotated transcript of Dennison’s 1881 verbal statement to First Presidency counselor Joseph F. Smith. In addition, the article includes a discussion of the significance of apostolic succession then and now, drawing in part on the encounters of Catholic scholars John M. Reiner and Stephen H. Webb with Mormonism. In the Appendix, I reproduce an 1884 article from The Contributor that gives a secondhand version of Dennison’s account of the conspiracy of Nauvoo. Continue reading

Email This Page

Joseph Smith and the Doctrine of Sealing

Abstract: Brian Hales has observed that we cannot understand Joseph Smith’s marriage practices in Nauvoo without understanding the related theology. However, he implies that we are hampered in coming to a complete understanding of that theology because the only primary evidence we have of that theology is the revelation now recorded as Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants and a few entries in William Clayton’s journal. This paper argues that we have more primary evidence about Joseph Smith’s sealing theology than we realize. The accounts we have of the First Vision and of Moroni’s first visits in 1823 have references to the sealing power embedded in them, ready for Joseph to unpack when he was spiritually educated enough to ask the right questions. Continue reading

Email This Page

Reflecting on the “Marks of Jesus”

Abstract: Loss, pain, and suffering are too often, it seems, co-sojourners through our lives. To one degree or another, we all become familiar with these elements of a life lived in an imperfect world. It is inevitable — and virtually universal — that such companions foster questions about the meaning of life and whether there is a God who is the author, director, and finisher of that meaning. For those who conclude that God is real and has part in our lives, suffering can have or acquire eternal significance, enhanced by the personal realization that God, too, suffers and has suffered. In the Christian paradigm, God shares our suffering and we, in turn, share in His. In the depths of our sorrow we have, literally, a “co-sufferer” sharing our journey. As Christians, we are called upon to take upon ourselves the name of Christ. This act not only gives us a new name, but may require us to bear loss, pain, and suffering as did Christ — to acquire the “marks of Jesus” in our own lives. Indeed, for some, such bearing may be a key part of becoming what God plans for us to become. Continue reading

Email This Page

Beauty Way More Than Skin Deep

Review of Royal Skousen, Robin Scott Jensen, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations Volume 3, Part 1: Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon 1 Nephi–Alma 35 (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2015). pp 575. $89.99.

Abstract: All of the volumes in the Joseph Smith Papers series are beautifully presented, with important photographic and excellent typographic versions of the texts. This volume continues by providing this treatment for the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon.
Continue reading

Email This Page

“O Ye Fair Ones” — Revisited

Abstract: The best explanation for the name “Nephi” is that it derives from the Egyptian word nfr, “good,” “goodly,” “fine,” “fair,” “beautiful.” Nephi’s autobiographical wordplay on his own name in his self-introduction (and elsewhere throughout his writings) revolves around the evident meaning of his name. This has important implications for how the derived gentilic term “Nephites” was understood over time, especially among the Nephites themselves. Nephi’s early ethno-cultural descriptions of his people describe them as “fair” and “beautiful” (vis-à-vis the Lamanites). These early descriptions subsequently become the basis for Nephite ethno-cultural self-perceptions. The Nephites’ supposition that they were the “good” or “fair ones” was all too frequently at odds with reality, especially when Nephite “chosenness” was understood as inherent or innate. In the end the “good” or “fair ones” fell (Mormon 6:17‒20), because they came to “delight in everything save that which is good” (Moroni 9:19). The Book of Mormon thus constitutes a warning against our own contemporary cultural and religious tendency toward exceptionalism. Mormon and Moroni, like Nephi their ancestor through his writings on the small plates, endeavor through their own writing and editorial work to show how the “unbelieving” descendants of the Nephites and Lamanites can again become the “good” and the “fair ones” by choosing to come unto Christ, partaking of his “goodness,” and doing the “good” stipulated by the doctrine of Christ.
Continue reading

Email This Page

The Ammonites Were Not Pacifists

Abstract: Although it is common to believe that the Ammonites were pacifists, the report of their story demonstrates that this is a mistake. Appreciating the Ammonites’ non-pacifism helps us think more clearly about them, and it also explains several features of the text. These are textual elements that surprise us if we assume that the Ammonites were pacifists, but that make perfect sense once we understand that they were not. Moreover, in addition to telling us that the Ammonites were not pacifists, the text also gives us the actual reason the Ammonites came to eschew all conflict — and we learn from this why significant prophetic leaders (from King Benjamin to Alma to Mormon) did not reject the sword in the same way. The text also reveals the intellectual flaw in supposing that the Ammonites’ early acts of self-sacrifice set the proper example for all disciples to follow. Continue reading

Email This Page

Nephi’s Change of Heart

Abstract: How long did it take Nephi to compose his portions of the “small account?” Careful text analysis and data mining suggest that “Nephi’s” texts may have been composed across periods as great as forty years apart. I propose a timeline with four distinct periods of composition. The merits of this timeline are weighed, and some thoughts are explored as to how this timeline alters the reader’s perceptions of Nephi. The net effect is that Nephi becomes more sympathetic, more personable, and more relatable as his record progresses and that the totality of Nephi’s writings are best understood and interpreted when the factor of time is considered. Continue reading

Email This Page

Many Witnesses to a Marvelous Work

Review of Dennis Largey, Andrew Hedges, John Hilton III, and Kerry Hull, eds. The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon: A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in cooperation with Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 2015, pp 308.

Abstract: At the end of October each year, speakers from the Church Educational System, as well as other gospel scholars, gather at Brigham Young University to make presentations at the Sidney B. Sperry Symposium. The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon: A Marvelous Work and a Wonder is a compilation of the addresses given at the forty-fourth symposium, in 2015. This volume does not so much delve into the doctrine of the Book of Mormon as it studies the history behind its coming into the world. Just as the doctrine itself is inspirational, the story behind the coming forth of the Book of Mormon serves as an inspiration and a testament to its truthfulness. Continue reading

Email This Page

Turning to the Lord With the Whole Heart: The Doctrine of Repentance in the Bible and the Book of Mormon

Abstract: Repentance is considered one of the foundational principles of the gospel. As demonstrated in this article, there is a harmony in how repentance is portrayed in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Book of Mormon. In all three books the principle of repentance is shown to be a two-part process of turning away from sin and returning to the Lord through good works. Just as faith has been called “active belief,” repentance could be called “active remorse,” and must be accompanied by good works to be effective in our lives. The goal and end result of sincere repentance is a turning to the Lord with the whole heart, enabling us to return to the presence of God. Continue reading

Email This Page

Reading 1 Peter Intertextually With Select Passages From the Old Testament

Abstract: Literary studies, especially intertextual approaches, are relevant for exploring how scriptures are constructed and interpreted. Reading 1 Peter intertextually reveals the thoughtful way that Peter selected suitable, relevant, and applicable Old Testament scripture to encourage faithfulness for his audience. Peter draws from Isaiah 40 in 1 Peter 1:24-25 to preach comfort; Isaiah 40 is one of the hallmark Old Testament chapters focused on comfort. 1 Peter 2:2-3 quotes from Psalm 34 which is a hymn dedicated to the salvation that God’s servants experience when they faithfully turn to Him during times of distress and persecution. And when 1 Peter 1:16 invites people to be holy, that call is grounded in the meaning and significance of a portion of the ancient Israelite Holiness Code, Leviticus 19. In summary, Peter demonstrates his scriptural mastery by dipping his pen into some of the most appropriate Old Testament passages available to support his message of faith and encouragement to his audience. Continue reading

Email This Page

Now That We Have the Words of Joseph Smith, How Shall We Begin to Understand Them? Illustrations of Selected Challenges within the 21 May 1843 Discourse on 2 Peter 1

Abstract: In this article, I explore some of the opportunities and challenges that lie before us as we try to reach a better understanding of the prophetic corpus that has come to us from Joseph Smith. I turn my attention to a specific instance of these opportunities and challenges: the 21 May 1843 discourse on the doctrine of election, which Joseph Smith discussed in conjunction with the “more sure word of prophecy” mentioned in 2 Peter 1:19. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Scalp of Your Head: Polysemy in Alma 44:14–18

Abstract: The fear that Moroni’s soldier’s speech (Alma 44:14) aroused in the Lamanite soldiers and the intensity of Zerahemnah’s subsequently redoubled anger are best explained by the polysemy (i.e., multiple meanings within a lexeme’s range of meaning) of a single word translated “chief” in Alma 44:14 and “heads” in Alma 44:18. As editor of a sacred history, Mormon was interested in showing the fulfilment of prophecy when such fulfilment occurred. Mormon’s description of the Lamanites “fall[ing] exceedingly fast” because of the exposure of the Lamanites’ “bare heads” to the Nephites’ swords and their being “smitten” in Alma 44:18 — just as “the scalp of their chief” was smitten and thus fell (Alma 44:12–14) — pointedly demonstrates the fulfilment of the soldier’s prophecy. In particular, the phrase “bare heads” constitutes a polysemic wordplay on “chief,” since words translated “head” can alternatively be translated “chief,” as in Alma 44:14. A similar wordplay on “top” and “leader” in 3 Nephi 4:28–29, probably again represented by a single word, also partly explains the force of the simile curse described there. Continue reading

Email This Page

“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

Email This Page

A Pilgrim’s Faith

Review of Russell Stevenson, Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables. (self-published, 2014), 140 pp., 14.95.

Abstract: The history of the African-American community and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a confused one since the Church’s early days. Few blacks joined the fledgling group, and those that united with the Saints met with a mixed reception. This short biography by historian Russell Stevenson is the story of one of these pioneering souls, Elijah Ables, who was also the first black priesthood holder. Continue reading

Email This Page

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

Email This Page

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

Email This Page

Conversations with Mormon Historians

Review of Alexander L. Baugh and Reid L. Neilson, eds., Conversations with Mormon Historians, Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in cooperation with Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 2015. pp.580 + xv, including index. $34.99.

Abstract: Conversations with Mormon Historians is a compilation of interviews with sixteen Latter-day Saint scholars. The book reveals why they went into their chosen professions, their rise to prominence as historians, and their thoughts regarding important topics such as the Prophet Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Continue reading

Email This Page

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

Email This Page

“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

Email This Page

Alma — Young Man, Hidden Prophet

Abstract: The biographical introduction of Alma the Elder into the Book of Mormon narrative (Mosiah 17:2) also introduces the name Alma into the text for the first time, this in close juxtaposition with a description of Alma as a “young man.” The best explanation for the name Alma is that it derives from the Semitic term ǵlm (Hebrew ʿelem), “young man,” “youth,” “lad.” This suggests the strong probability of an intentional wordplay on the name Alma in the Book of Mormon’s underlying text: Alma became “[God’s] young man” or “servant.” Additional lexical connections between Mosiah 17:2 and Mosiah 14:1 (quoting Isaiah 53:1) suggest that Abinadi identified Alma as the one “to whom” or “upon whom” (ʿal-mî) the Lord was “reveal[ing]” his arm as Abinadi’s prophetic successor. Alma began his prophetic succession when he “believed” Abinadi’s report and pled with King Noah for Abinadi’s life. Forced to flee, Alma began his prophetic ministry “hidden” and “concealed” while writing the words of Abinadi and teaching them “privately.” The narrative’s dramatic emphasis on this aspect of Alma’s life suggests an additional thread of wordplay that exploits the homonymy between Alma and the Hebrew root *ʿlm, forms of which mean “to hide,” “conceal,” “be hidden,” “be concealed.” The richness of the wordplay and allusion revolving around Alma’s name in Mosiah 17–18 accentuates his importance as a prophetic figure and founder of the later Nephite church. Moreover, it suggests that Alma’s name was appropriate given the details of his life and that he lived up to the positive connotations latent in his name. Continue reading

Email This Page

Mormonism and the Scientific Persistence of Circles: Aristotle, Spacetime, and One Eternal Round

Abstract: The prominence of circles and circular motion has been one present in scientific discussion of the structure of the universe from Aristotle to Einstein. Development through Ptolemy, Copernicus and Kepler created elliptical variations, but in essence, the scientific community has been unable to break free of a certain degree of circular motion that ultimately seems fundamental to the very nature of the universe. Just as the circle featured prominently in Aristotle’s cosmology, it remains an integral aspect of reality, though perhaps it is more difficult to pick out in its present forms as planetary ellipses and curved space-time. In this paper I analyze the intellectual tradition surrounding the circle as a reflection of God’s eternal nature as discussed in Doctrine and Covenants 3:2. Essentially, I argue that the traditional Mormon conception of “one eternal round” is evidence of the eternal and divine nature of circles, which, the tradition indicates, is an inescapable feature of physical reality, and indicative of God and his purposes. Continue reading

Email This Page

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 2 of 2

Abstract: The Arabian Peninsula has provided a significant body of evidence related to the plausibility of Nephi’s account of the ancient journey made by Lehi’s family across Arabia. Relatively few critics have seriously considered the evidence, generally nitpicking at details and insisting that the evidences are insignificant. Recently more meaningful responses have been offered by well educated writers showing familiarity with the Arabian evidences and the Book of Mormon. They argue that Nephi’s account is not historical and any apparent evidence in its favor can be attributed to weak LDS apologetics coupled with Joseph’s use of modern sources such as a detailed map of Arabia that could provide the name Nahom, for example. Further, the entire body of Arabian evidence for the Book of Mormon is said to be irrelevant because Nephi’s subtle and pervasive incorporation of Exodus themes in his account proves the Book of Mormon is fiction. On this point we are to trust modern Bible scholarship (“Higher Criticism”) which allegedly shows that the book of Exodus wasn’t written until long after Nephi’s day and, in fact, tells a story that is mere pious fiction, fabricated during or after the Exile. Continue reading

Email This Page

Mormonism at Oxford and What It Signifies

Review of Terryl Givens and Philip L. Barlow. The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). 647 pp. + index. $150.00

Abstract: The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism is a welcomed addition to the current scholarly discussion surrounding the history, theology, and culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It should be read and studied by all interested students of Mormonism and signals that the scriptures, theology, and history of the Latter-day Saints are all increasingly being taken seriously in mainstream academia. Continue reading

Email This Page

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map: Part 1 of 2

Abstract: The Arabian Peninsula has provided a significant body of evidence related to the plausibility of Nephi’s account of the ancient journey made by Lehi’s family across Arabia. Relatively few critics have seriously considered the evidence, generally nitpicking at details and insisting that the evidences are insignificant. Recently more meaningful responses have been offered by well educated writers showing familiarity with the Arabian evidences and the Book of Mormon. They argue that Nephi’s account is not historical and any apparent evidence in its favor can be attributed to weak LDS apologetics coupled with Joseph’s use of modern sources such as a detailed map of Arabia that could provide the name Nahom, for example. Further, the entire body of Arabian evidence for the Book of Mormon is said to be irrelevant because Nephi’s subtle and pervasive incorporation of Exodus themes in his account proves the Book of Mormon is fiction. On this point we are to trust modern Bible scholarship (“Higher Criticism”) which allegedly shows that the book of Exodus wasn’t written until long after Nephi’s day and, in fact, tells a story that is mere pious fiction, fabricated during or after the Exile. Continue reading

Email This Page

Nice Try, But No Cigar: A Response to Three Patheos Posts on Nahom (1 Nephi 16:34)

Abstract: A series of three Patheos posts on the subject of Nahom rings out-of-tune bells all over the place.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. The three pieces at the Patheos website written by an author known only as “RT” are well written and show an acquaintance with LDS sources that discuss the trek of Lehi and Sariah as recounted in the book of First Nephi in the Book of Mormon.1 That said, such an observation does not mean that gaping holes are not lacking in the basic research. Continue reading

Email This Page

“See That Ye Are Not Lifted Up”: The Name Zoram and Its Paronomastic Pejoration

Abstract: The most likely etymology for the name Zoram is a third person singular perfect qal or pôʿal form of the Semitic/Hebrew verb *zrm, with the meaning, “He [God] has [is] poured forth in floods.” However, the name could also have been heard and interpreted as a theophoric –rām name, of which there are many in the biblical Hebrew onomasticon (Ram, Abram, Abiram, Joram/Jehoram, Malchiram, etc., cf. Hiram [Hyrum]/Huram). So analyzed, Zoram would connote something like “the one who is high,” “the one who is exalted” or even “the person of the Exalted One [or high place].” This has important implications for the pejoration of the name Zoram and its gentilic derivative Zoramites in Alma’s and Mormon’s account of the Zoramite apostasy and the attempts made to rectify it in Alma 31–35 (cf. Alma 38–39). The Rameumptom is also described as a high “stand” or “a place for standing, high above the head” (Heb. rām; Alma 31:13) — not unlike the “great and spacious building” (which “stood as it were in the air, high above the earth”; see 1 Nephi 8:26) — which suggests a double wordplay on the name “Zoram” in terms of rām and Rameumptom in Alma 31. Moreover, Alma plays on the idea of Zoramites as those being “high” or “lifted up” when counseling his son Shiblon to avoid being like the Zoramites and replicating the mistakes of his brother Corianton (Alma 38:3-5, 11-14). Mormon, perhaps influenced by the Zoramite apostasy and the magnitude of its effects, may have incorporated further pejorative wordplay on the Zoram-derived names Cezoram and Seezoram in order to emphasize that the Nephites had become lifted up in pride like the Zoramites during the judgeships of those judges. The Zoramites and their apostasy represent a type of Latter-day Gentile pride and apostasy, which Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni took great pains to warn against. Continue reading

Email This Page

“My People Are Willing”: The Mention of Aminadab in the Narrative Context of Helaman 5-6

Abstract: Aminadab, a Nephite by birth who later dissented to the Lamanites, played a crucial role in the mass conversion of three hundred Lamanites (and eventually many others). At the end of the pericope in which these events are recorded, Mormon states: “And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words” (Helaman 6:36), whereas he “began to withdraw” his Spirit from the Nephites “because of the wickedness and the hardness of their hearts” (Helaman 6:35). The name Aminadab is a Semitic/Hebrew name meaning “my kinsman is willing” or “my people are willing.” As a dissenter, Aminadab was a man of two peoples. Mormon and (probably) his source were aware of the meaning of Aminadab’s name and the irony of that meaning in the context of the latter’s role in the Lamanite conversions and the spiritual history of the Nephites and Lamanites. The narrative’s mention of Aminadab’s name (Helaman 5:39, 41) and Mormon’s echoes of it in Helaman 6:36, 3 Nephi 6:14, and elsewhere have covenant and temple significance not only in their ancient scriptural setting, but for latter-day readers of the Book of Mormon today. Continue reading

Email This Page

Telling the Story of the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon

Review of MacKay, Michael Hubbard and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, From Darkness unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, Provo, UT, and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University and Deseret Book, 2015. pp. 256 + xvii, including notes and index. $24.99

Abstract: The book From Darkness unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat is an outstanding resource for anyone interested in early Latter-day Saint history and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. It provides a compelling narrative about the recovery, translation, and publication of the Book of Mormon that utilizes the most cutting-edge historical scholarship available today. Continue reading

Email This Page

Latter-day Saint Youths’ Construction of Sacred Texts

Abstract: The texts that religious youth negotiate are often deeply embedded in their sociocultural practices, which can have profound influences on their religious literacy development, construction and manifestation of religious identities, and the development of their faith. Yet, although 85% of American youth claim a specific religious tradition, literacy research has not explored how these youth construct their views of sacred texts. In this two-year qualitative study of the literacy practices of nine Latter-day Saint youth, interviews and observations were used to explore what texts these youth considered sacred and how their views of these texts were informed by their religiocultural beliefs, values, and practices. Analyses indicate that views of sacred texts were informed by the regularity with which the youth engaged with these texts and their specific personal experiences with them. This work breaks new ground in the study of religion as social practice by exploring how religiocultural ways of doing and being influenced the development of young people’s construction of sacred texts. Implications for religious instruction are provided. Continue reading

Email This Page

Science and Mormonism

Editor’s Note: In celebration of the long-awaited publication of the expanded proceedings of the 2013 Interpreter Science and Mormonism Symposium — Cosmos, Earth, and Man (Orem and Salt Lake City: The Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2016), we share an expanded version of the introduction to that volume in this issue of the journal. The second Interpreter Science and Mormonism Symposium, subtitled Body, Brain, Mind, and Spirit, will be held at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah in the Classroom Building, Room 101, from 8:30 am-3:30 pm on March 12, 2016. For more information about the book and the upcoming symposium, see MormonInterpreter.com.

Abstract: From the beginning, Latter-day Saints have rejected the notion that science and religion are incompatible. In this article, we give an overview of studies that have surveyed the professional participation of Mormons in science and the views of American academics and scientists on religion in general, Mormons in particular, and why many thoughtful people in our day might be disinclined to take religion seriously. We conclude with a brief survey of current LDS perspectives on science. Our brief survey demonstrates that it is not only futile for religion and science to battle each other; it is also unnecessary. Continue reading

Email This Page

Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the American Renaissance: An Update

Abstract: This is a follow-up to my article, “Joseph Smith and the American Renaissance,” published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought in 2002.1 My purpose in writing that article was to consider Joseph Smith in relation to his more illustrious contemporary American authors — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman. In that article I tried to demonstrate that in comparison with these writers, Joseph Smith did not possess the literary imagination, talent, authorial maturity, education, cultural milieu, knowledge base, or sophistication necessary to produce the Book of Mormon; nor, I argued, had he possessed all of these characteristics, nor was the time in which the book was produced sufficient to compose such a lengthy, complex, and elaborate narrative. This addendum takes the comparison one step further by examining each writer’s magnum opus and the background, previous writings, and preliminary drafts that preceded its publication — then comparing them with Joseph Smith’s publication of the Book of Mormon. That is, each of the major works of these writers of prose, fiction, and poetry as well as the scriptural text produced by Joseph Smith has a history — one that allows us to trace its evolution from inception to completion. Continue reading

Email This Page

Cloud Illusions and the Perfect Day

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
from up and down, and still somehow
it’s cloud illusions I recall.1

But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.2

The Sun makes life possible on Earth. It’s the source of virtually all of the energy that we use or need. No wonder many ancient civilizations worshipped it as a god. During the daytime, it’s the principal reason that we can see anything. Indeed, it’s so bright in itself that we find it difficult, if not impossible, to look directly at it. Continue reading

Email This Page

Onomastic Wordplay on Joseph and Benjamin and Gezera Shawa in the Book of Mormon

Abstract: The Book of Mormon contains several quotations from the Hebrew Bible that have been juxtaposed on the basis of shared words or phrases, this for the purpose of interpreting the cited scriptural passages in light of one another. This exegetical technique — one that Jesus himself used — came to be known in later rabbinic times as Gezera Shawa (“equal statute”). In several additional instances, the use of Gezera Shawa converges with onomastic wordplay. Nephi uses a Gezera Shawa involving Isaiah 11:11 and Isaiah 29:14 twice on the basis of the yāsap verb forms yôsîp/yôsīp (2 Nephi 25:17 and quoting the Lord in 2 Nephi 29:1) to create a stunning wordplay on the name “Joseph.” In another instance, King Benjamin uses Gezera Shawa involving Psalm 2:7, 2 Samuel 7:14, and Deuteronomy 14:1 (1–2) on the basis of the Hebrew noun bēn (“son”; plural bānîm, bānôt, “sons” and “daughters”) on which to build a rhetorical wordplay on his own name. This second wordplay, which further alludes to Psalm 110:1 on account of the noun yāmin (“right hand”), was ready-made for his temple audience who, on the occasion of Mosiah’s coronation, were receiving their own “endowment” to become “sons” and “daughters” at God’s “right hand.” The use of Gezera Shawa was often christological — e.g., Jacob’s Gezera Shawa on (“stone”) in Jacob 4:15–17 and Alma’s Gezera Shawa on Zenos’s and Zenock’s phrase “because of thy Son” in Alma 33:11–16 (see Alma 33:4 17). Taken together, these examples suggest that we should pay more attention to scripture’s use of scripture and, in particular, the use of this exegetical practice. In doing so, we will better discern the messages intended by ancient prophets whose words the Book of Mormon preserves. Continue reading

Email This Page

“They Were Moved with Compassion” (Alma 27:4; 53:13): Toponymic Wordplay on Zarahemla and Jershon

Abstract: As in Hebrew biblical narrative, wordplay on (or play on the meaning of) toponyms, or “place names,” is a discernable feature of Book of Mormon narrative. The text repeatedly juxtaposes the toponym Jershon (“place of inheritance” or “place of possession”) with terms inherit, inheritance, possess, possession, etc. Similarly, the Mulekite personal name Zarahemla (“seed of compassion,” “seed of pity”), which becomes the paramount Nephite toponym as their national capital after the time of Mosiah I, is juxtaposed with the term compassion. Both wordplays occur and recur at crucial points in Nephite/Lamanite history. Moreover, both occur in connection with the migration of the first generation Lamanite converts. The Jershon wordplay recurs in the second generation, when the people of Ammon receive the Zoramite (re)converts into the land of Jershon, and wordplay on Zarahemla recurs subsequently, when the sons of these Lamanite converts come to the rescue of the Nephite nation. Rhetorical wordplay on Zarahemla also surfaces in important speeches later in the Book of Mormon. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Faith to See: Burning in the Bosom and Translating the Book of Mormon in Doctrine and Covenants 9

Abstract: Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9 is conventionally interpreted as the Lord’s description of the method by which the Book of Mormon was translated. A close reading of the entire revelation, however, suggests that the Lord was not telling Oliver Cowdery how to translate but rather how to know whether it was right for him to translate and how to obtain the faith necessary to do so. Faith would have enabled Oliver Cowdery to overcome his fear and translate, just as it would have enabled Peter (in Matthew 14) to overcome his fear and walk on water. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Yoke of Christ: A Light Burden Heavy With Meaning

Abstract: Christ’s famous call to take his yoke upon us in Matthew 11 may merit more analysis than it has commonly received. Taking up the yoke may have connections to other things that are taken upon us as well, including the name of Christ, temple covenants, priestly robes, and sacred anointing. These all reflect a relationship of obedience and service to the Master, who set the example by taking the heaviest yoke of all upon him, including the yoke-like beam of the cross that he carried to Golgotha and the full weight of human sin and misery as he suffered for us. Our yoke is easy, and the burden of the cross we are called to take up (Matthew 16:24; 3 Nephi 12:30) is light indeed relative to what he bore or to bearing the weight of our own sins. However, his call, while rooted in grace, implies actual effort and work, not belief alone. It is a call for faithful service, linked to him in sacred covenants most fully expressed in the sacred temple. A review of ancient scripture, early Christian writing, some Jewish perspectives, and modern revelation gives us insights into the richness of meaning that may be associated with taking upon us the yoke of Christ and entering into his rest. Continue reading

Email This Page

Samuel the Lamanite, Christ, and Zenos: A Study of Intertextuality

Abstract: During Christ’s mortal ministry at Jerusalem, his teachings often drew upon the writings of Isaiah, Moses, and other prophets with whom his audience was familiar. On the other hand, Christ never seems to quote Nephi, Mosiah, or other Book of Mormon prophets to the Jews and their surrounding neighbors, despite being the ultimate source for their inspired writings. It is because of this apparent confinement to Old Testament sources that intertextual parallels between the words of Christ in Matthew 23–24 and the words of Samuel the Lamanite in Helaman 13–15 jump out as intriguing. This paper explores the intertextual relationship between these chapters in Helaman and Matthew and suggests that the parallels between these texts can be attributed to a common source available to both Samuel and Christ, the writings of the prophet Zenos. Continue reading

Email This Page

To “See and Hear”

The world of the Nephite nation was born out of the world of seventh century bc Jerusalem. The traditions and tragedies of the nation of Judah set the stage for what would happen over the next ten centuries of Book of Mormon history. In his opening statements, Nephi tells of an explosion of divinely commissioned ministers preaching in the holy city. He declares that Jerusalem was a place of “many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent” (1 Nephi 1:4).1 Nephi alludes to the prophetic service of Jeremiah (c. bc 626-587), Zephaniah (c. bc 640-609, Obadiah (c. bc 587), Nahum,2 Habakkuk,3 Urijah,4 and possibly many others.5 This disproportionate number of prophets in the city was accompanied by an increasing wave of imitators.6 Amidst this apparent competition between valid and invalid prophetic representatives, Jeremiah sets a standard of who can be trusted in this visionary arena. As Stephen Smoot has written, “The Book of Mormon exhibits, in many respects, an intimate familiarity with ancient Israelite religious concepts. One such example is the Book of Mormon’s portrayal of the divine council. Following a lucid biblical pattern, the Book of Mormon provides a depiction of the divine council and several examples of those who were introduced into the heavenly assembly and made partakers in divine secrets.”7 It is this rich heritage of prophetic representatives of deity that so richly influenced Book of Mormon authors. Of these many prophets who were actively preaching in Jerusalem, Jeremiah stands out in Nephi’s writings (1 Nephi 5:13; 7:14). Jeremiah continues to be an influence on Nephite culture throughout their history (Helaman 8:20; cf. 3 Nephi 19:4). It will be Jeremiah’s writings that will influence the Nephite perspective on “Call Narratives” and views of the “Divine Council” throughout the Book of Mormon. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Case of Plural Was in the Earliest Text

Abstract: Because it is primarily an Early Modern English text (in terms of its English language), the earliest text of the Book of Mormon understandably employs plural was — for example, “the words which was delivered” (Alma 5:11). It does so in a way that is substantially similar to what is found in many writings of the Early Modern period ­— that is, it manifests the syntactic usage, variation, and differential rates typical of that era. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Case of the {-th} Plural in the Earliest Text

Abstract: The earliest text of the Book of Mormon employs the {-th} plural — for example, “Nephi’s brethren rebelleth” — in a way that is substantially similar to what is found in many writings of the Early Modern period. The earliest text neither underuses nor overuses the construction, and it manifests inflectional variation and differential usage rates typical of Early Modern English. The totality of the evidence tells us that the Book of Mormon is most reasonably classified as a 16th- or 17th-century text, not as a 19th-century text full of biblical hypercorrections. Continue reading

Email This Page

Untangling Scripture from the Philosophies of Men

Review of Terryl L. Givens, Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2014). 424 pp.

Abstract: Terryl Givens’ masterful work Wrestling the Angel takes on the daunting task of examining the history of Christian belief while also examining the worldly philosophies which shaped its scriptural interpretation. As in the biblical story of Jacob’s struggle with the angel, we all must forge our own testimonies while confronting a secular world including godless philosophies. Sometimes testimony wins, and tragically sometimes the world wins and a testimony is lost. In dealing with this intellectual “matter unorganized,” interpretation of the secular philosophy becomes the key. With the right interpretation, philosophies deemed “secular” or “godless” can be seen as helpful and even providentially provided by the Lord to help provide a philosophical grounding for a testimony instead of destroying it. Aspects of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant can be seen as laying a groundwork for much of contemporary American philosophy, Continental philosophy, and a possible basis for interpretations of these philosophies, which help rather than hinder the spread of the gospel. Kant’s concept of the synthetic a priori, for example, can help us understand how humans organize our individual ideas about reality from “matter unorganized,” perhaps in a way similar to how our “human” God organizes our world. Kant’s philosophy had vast influences, arguably resulting in a new way to see the relationship between God and mankind, which is compatible with the gospel. Finally I examine Givens’ view of humanism and how it can be interpreted as helpful rather than hindering the gospel. Continue reading

Email This Page

Joseph Smith Read the Words

2 Nephi 27:20, 22, 24

wherefore thou shalt read the words which I shall give unto thee.. . .Wherefore when thou hast read the words which I have commanded thee . . .the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him:

This study examines the assertions of two investigators who have discussed the nature of the translation of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s role in it: Brant Gardner and Orson Scott Card. Their writings on the subject have declared that Smith’s own language frequently made its way into the wording of the Book of Mormon. However, a comparison of the earliest text with the textual record tells us that this is an incorrect view of the translation. The linguistic fingerprint of the Book of Mormon, in hundreds of different ways, is Early Modern English. Smith himself — out of a presumed idiosyncratic, quasi-biblical style — would not have translated and could not have translated the text into the form of the earliest text. Had his own language often found its way into the wording of the earliest text, its form would be very different from what we encounter. It is still appropriate to call Joseph Smith the translator of the Book of Mormon, but he wasn’t a translator in the usual sense of the term. He was a translator in the sense of being the human involved in transferring or re-transmitting a concrete form of expression (mostly English words) received from the Lord. The above language of 2 Nephi 27 indicates such a state of affairs as well. And so I have undertaken to critique some of the observations that have been made with respect to Book of Mormon translation, and to lay out an entirely different view of the text, which has been argued for by Royal Skousen for quite a while now. Continue reading

Email This Page

The More Part of the Book of Mormon Is Early Modern English

Royal Skousen has done an excellent job of summarizing the use of the construction “the more part of + ‹ NOUN PHRASE ›” (and close variants) in the Book of Mormon at Helaman 6:21 in his Analysis of Textual Variants. In this phrase, the adjective more conveys an obsolete meaning of ‘greater’. My concern here is to compare Book of Mormon usage to that of the King James Bible and the textual record and to place it in its proper time. Continue reading

Email This Page

Jesus Christ’s Interactions with the Women of the New Testament

Abstract: In this paper, Christ’s ministry is characterized by his relationship with the females found in the four gospels. The drastic differences between the ways Jesus and society treated women are emphasized. The culture into which Christ was born had degraded women for generations. Under Christ’s leadership first-century priesthood brethren were shown how to treat women. However, after Christ’s ascension Hellenistic philosophy pervaded the Christian Church’s thinking and accelerated an apostate perception of women. This study explores Jesus’s actions and teachings which restored women’s true identity. In short, this paper focuses on the reverence, respect, and loving kindnesses, that Christ showed women. By studying Jesus’s example we are taught that women are an integral part of divine creation having individual worth. Continue reading

Email This Page

The “Fiery Darts of the Adversary” in 1 Nephi 15:24

After receiving a revelation (1 Nephi 11–14) that clarified the meaning of his father Lehi’s dream (1 Nephi 8), Nephi explained to his rebellious brothers the significance of the various symbols of that dream. Concerning the “rod of iron,” which led to the tree of life, Nephi recorded, Continue reading

Email This Page

Making Visible the Beauty and Goodness of the Gospel

Abstract: Apologetics is typically seen as a purely cerebral activity designed to convince others of the truth or, at least, of the plausibility of certain propositions, typically but not always religious. In the case of the Gospel, however, mere intellectual assent isn’t enough—not in the eyes of God and, probably, not for the typical mortal human being. To please God, we must live our lives according to the Gospel, not merely concede its truth. But living such lives to the end requires that we love God and the Gospel and find them desirable, in addition to checking off a list of required faith-statements. Can apologetics play a role in encouraging and cultivating such attitudes as well as in convincing our heads? This article maintains that apologetics can and should play such a role, and invites those with the appropriate gifts and abilities to make the effort to do so. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Old Testament and Presuppositions

Review of Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation- Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, Second ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015). 197 pp. $19.99.

Abstract: Peter Enns identifies three problematic assumptions Evangelicals make when reading the Old Testament. LDS readers tend to share these assumptions, and Enns’ solutions work equally well for them. Continue reading

Email This Page

Understanding Genesis and the Temple

Review of John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2009). 192 pp. $9.85.

Abstract: Genesis 1 meant something very particular to the Israelites in their time and place. However, because that contextual knowledge was lost to us for thousands of years, we tend to misread it. Walton offers an interpretation of Genesis 1 that juxtaposes it with temple concepts, simultaneously allaying some of the scientific issues involved. Continue reading

Email This Page

Nephi’s Good Inclusio

Abstract: As John Gee noted two decades ago, Nephi is best explained as a form of the Egyptian word nfr, which by Lehi’s time was pronounced neh-fee, nay-fee, or nou-fee. Since this word means “good,” “goodly,” “fine,” or “fair,” I subsequently posited several possible examples of wordplay on the name Nephi in the Book of Mormon, including Nephi’s own autobiographical introduction (1 Nephi 1:1: “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents … having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God”). It should be further pointed out, however, that Nephi also concludes his personal writings on the small plates using the terms “good” and “goodness of God.” This terminological bracketing constitutes a literary device, used anciently, called inclusio or an envelope figure. Nephi’s literary emphasis on “good” and “goodness” not only befits his personal name, but fulfills the Lord’s commandment, “thou shalt engraven many things … which are good in my sight” (2 Nephi 5:30), a command which also plays on the name Nephi. Nephi’s autobiographical introduction and conclusion proved enormously influential on subsequent writers who modeled autobiographical and narrative biographical introductions on 1 Nephi 1:1-2 and based sermons — especially concluding sermons — on Nephi’s “good” conclusion in 2 Nephi 33. An emphasis in all these sermons is that all “good”/“goodness” ultimately has its source in God and Christ. Continue reading

Email This Page

A Modern View of Ancient Temple Worship

Review of Matthew S. Brown, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Stephen D. Ricks, and John S. Thompson, eds., Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of the Expound Symposium 14 May 2011 (Orem and Salt Lake City, UT: The Interpreter Foundation/Eborn Books, 2014). 293pp., $24.95 (hardcover)

Abstract: This well-produced, noteworthy volume adds to the growing number of resources available to help make more meaningful the complex and historically rich experience of the temple. Continue reading

Email This Page

Vanquishing the Mormon Menace

A review of Mason, Patrick Q. The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. pp. 252 + xi, including notes and index. $31.95.

Abstract: Patrick Mason has offered a fascinating look at the history of nineteenth century anti-Mormonism in the American South with his 2011 volume The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South. Situating nineteenth century Southern anti-Mormonism in its historical context, Mason narrates a vivid account of how Mormons at times faced violent opposition that stemmed from deep cultural, religious, and political differences with mainstream American Protestants. Mason’s volume is an excellent resource for those interested in Mormon history. Continue reading

Email This Page

“He Is a Good Man”: The Fulfillment of Helaman 5:6-7 in Helaman 8:7 and 11:18-19

Abstract: Mormon, as an author and editor, was concerned to show the fulfillment of earlier Nephite prophecy when such fulfillment occurred. Mormon took care to show that Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman, fulfilled their father’s prophetic and paranetic expectations regarding them as enshrined in their given names — the names of their “first parents.” It had been “said and also written” (Helaman 5:6-7) that Nephi’s and Lehi’s namesakes were “good” in 1 Nephi 1:1. Using onomastic play on the meaning of “Nephi,” Mormon demonstrates in Helaman 8:7 that it also came to be said and written of Nephi the son of Helaman that he was “good.” Moreover, Mormon shows Nephi that his brother Lehi was “not a whit behind him” in this regard (Helaman 11:19). During their lifetimes — i.e., during the time of the fulfillment of Mosiah’s forewarning regarding societal and political corruption (see Mosiah 29:27) that especially included secret combinations — Nephi and Lehi stood firm against increasingly popular organized evil. Continue reading

Email This Page

A Vital Resource for Understanding LDS Perspectives on War

Review of Duane Boyce, Even Unto Bloodshed: An LDS Perspective on War (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015). 312 pp., including appendices and index. $29.95.

Abstract: Even Unto Bloodshed: An LDS Perspective of War by Duane Boyce is a thorough and engrossing philosophical discussion describing the failure of secular and spiritual pacifism. Boyce provides a detailed summary of secular views regarding just war and pacifism, and systematic rebuttals of almost every major pacifist thinker in LDS thought. The text is far more brief describing the LDS theory of just war, but remains an essential resource for creating that theory. Continue reading

Email This Page

Was Joseph Smith Smarter Than the Average Fourth Year Hebrew Student? Finding a Restoration-Significant Hebraism in Book of Mormon Isaiah

Abstract: The brass plates version of Isaiah 2:2, as contained in 2 Nephi 12:2, contains a small difference, not attested in any other pre-1830 Isaiah witness, that not only helps clarify the meaning but also ties the verse to events of the Restoration. The change does so by introducing a Hebraism that would have been impossible for Joseph Smith, the Prophet, to have produced on his own. Continue reading

Email This Page

Image is Everything: Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Abstract: Soon after the appearance of my Interpreter review of Jeremy Runnells’ Letter to a CES Director, he promised to provide his personal response. Although this response has not yet appeared, he did post an essay called “The Sky is Falling” by his friend Johnny Stephenson. After I read the essay closely in May, I realized that it provides, however unintentionally, a valuable set of discussion points with illustrative examples. My response begins with some preliminaries, surveys essential background issues concerning facts, ideology, and cognitive dissonance, and then addresses his historical arguments regarding the First Vision and priesthood restoration accounts. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Return of Rhetorical Analysis to Bible Studies

Review of:

Jack R. Lundbom, Biblical Rhetoric and Rhetorical Criticism. Hebrew Bible Monographs 45 (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2013), 354 pp., $130.00.

Roland Meynet, Rhetorical Analysis: An Introduction to Biblical Rhetoric. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 256 (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 392 pp., $200.00.

Abstract: There is now a growing consensus that the eighth and seventh centuries produced a distinctive Hebrew rhetoric that enabled writers, even down into New Testament times, to use both words and structures to communicate with readers in ways that have been largely invisible to modern Western interpreters. In this essay, the efforts of two leaders of this movement in Biblical studies to explain and defend their respective versions of this developing approach are reviewed. Continue reading

Email This Page

“How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place”
A Review of Danel W. Bachman,
“A Temple Studies Bibliography”

Abstract: “A Temple Studies Bibliography,” located on the Academy for Temple Studies website (http://www.templestudies.org/home/introduction-to-a-temple-studies-bibliography/), boasts over 8,000 entries focused on ancient temples from the Mediterranean and the Near East and modern expressions of temple building and worship, primarily in the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) community. This review details the bibliography’s extensive strengths and comprehensive nature, identifies current limitations that will be resolved with full release of the resource, suggests future improvements, and gives examples of how this bibliography can be used to enhance scholarship in the growing field of temple studies. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Temple: A Multi-Faceted Center and Its Problems

Editor’s Note: At the request of BYU Law Professor John W. Welch, Dr. Berman graciously provided this article for publication as an introduction to a series of lectures he will be giving in Utah on October 7 and 8, 2015. The first lecture will focus on the differences between the Tabernacle and the Temple, the second lecture will discuss recent findings linking inscriptions from Ramesses II to the sea account in Exodus, and the third lecture will touch on issues in biblical law. These lectures are co-sponsored by the Academy for Temple Studies, BYU Studies, the Ancient Near Eastern Studies Department in the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, the J. Reuben Clark Law School, and The Interpreter Foundation, and details can be found online. This article is adapted from The Temple: Its Symbolism and Meaning Then and Now (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, first ed., 1995).

Abstract: One of the primary identities of the Temple is that it is the place of hashra’at ha-shekhinah, the site at which God’s presence is most manifest. It is no surprise then, that the Temple is the focal point of prayer. Yet, as the site at which God’s presence is most intimately manifest, the Temple is also the center of the nation in several major spheres of collective life. This centrality is exhibited in the structure of the Book of Deuteronomy. Chapters 12-26 depict commandments that are to be the social and religious frame of life in the land of Israel. Within this section the central shrine, “the place in which God shall establish His name,” is mentioned nearly twenty times. The Temple is cast as the center for sacrifices (ch. 12), the consumption of tithes (14:23-25), the celebration of the festivals (ch. 16), and the center of the judicial system (ch. 17). In this chapter we will explore how the Temple constitutes the national center for social unity, education, and justice. The concentration of activity and jurisdiction at the Temple, however, renders it prone to abuse, and in the second half of this chapter, we will probe the social and religious ills that emerged as an endemic part of the Temple’s existence.

Continue reading

Email This Page

Zarahemla Revisited: Neville’s Newest Novel

Abstract: This article is the third in a series of three articles responding to the recent assertion by Jonathan Neville that Benjamin Winchester was the anonymous author of three unsigned editorials published in Nauvoo in 1842 in the Times and Seasons. The topic of the unsigned editorials was the possible relationship of archeological discoveries in Central America to places described in the Book of Mormon narrative. The first article shows that, contrary to Neville’s claims, Winchester was not a proponent of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon, but rather a hemispheric one. Since this was a view commonly held by early Mormons, his ideas did not warrant any anonymity for their dissemination. The second article shows that, also contrary to Neville’s claims, Joseph Smith was not opposed to considering Central American geographic parallels to the Book of Mormon. The Prophet even seemed to find such possibilities interesting and supportive of the Book of Mormon. This third article shows that despite Neville’s circumstantial speculations, the historical and stylometric evidence is overwhelmingly against Winchester as the author of the Central America editorials. Continue reading

Email This Page

You More than Owe Me This Benefit: Onomastic Rhetoric in Philemon

Abstract: Wordplay and punning involving the names Philemon (Φιλήμων, “affectionate one”) and Onesimus (Ὀνήσιμος, “useful”) and their meanings, with concomitant paronomasia involving the name-title Χριστός (Christos) and various homonymic terms, constitutes a key element in Paul’s polite, diplomatic, and carefully-worded letter to Philemon, the Christian owner of a converted slave named Onesimus. Paul artfully uses Philemon’s own name to play on the latter’s affections and to remind him that despite whatever Onesimus may owe (ὀφείλει, opheilei) Philemon, Philemon more than owes (προσοφείλεις, prosopheileis) his very self — i.e., his life as a Christian and thus his eternal wellbeing — to Paul. Hence, Philemon “more than owes” Paul his request to have Onesimus — who was once “useless” or “unprofitable” and “without Christ,” but is now “profitable” and “well-in-Christ” — as a fellow worker in the Gospel. In a further (polyptotonic) play on Onesimus, Paul expresses his urgent desire to “have the benefit” (ὀναίμην, onaimēn) of Onesimus in the Lord out of Philemon’s own free will and with his blessing, since all three are now brothers in Christ, and thus slaves to Christ, their true “master.” In the context of Paul’s use of –χρηστός (–chrēstos) and ὀναίμην (onaimēn), Paul’s desire for Philemon’s voluntary “good deed” or “benefit” (τὸ ἀγαθόν σου, to agathon sou) is to be understood as the granting of Onesimus and as the point and climax of this publicly-read letter. Continue reading

Email This Page

Toward Ever More Intelligent Discipleship

Abstract: The temporarily rather comfortable “fit” between the Restored Gospel and American civic religion is a thing of the past, and we contemporary Latter-day Saints seem to find ourselves in a more and more marginalized position, theologically and socially. This was where our predecessors, both earlier in this dispensation and among the first Christians, were located, and it may not be an altogether bad thing. It will, for instance, force us to take our beliefs more seriously, less casually. And it may well drive us back to the unique resources provided by the Restoration, which have much to offer. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Theory of Evolution is Compatible with Both Belief and Unbelief in a Supreme Being

Abstract: The crux of the creation–evolution conflict is a futile desire to scientifically prove or disprove the existence of God. The conflict is manifest in the common belief that creation means a divine, supernatural process and that evolution denotes an atheistic, accidental event. Evolution involves a random change in an inherited trait followed by selection for or against the altered trait. If humans use this principle to design machines, solve complex mathematical problems, engineer proteins, and manipulate living organisms, then certainly a super-intelligent being could have used evolution to create life on earth. This reasoning indicates that evolution does not prove atheism and that evolution is a constructive process. The theory of evolution is a mechanistic description and therefore, like all other scientific principles, is neutral on the question of God’s existence. Evolution is compatible with the simple scriptural accounts of creation. Consequently, belief or unbelief in God is put back where it should be — on individual choice. Continue reading

Email This Page

A Treasure Trove of Questions

A review of James E. Faulconer, The New Testament Made Harder: Scripture Study Questions. The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2015, 518 pages with endnotes. $21.95 (paperback).

Abstract: The New Testament Made Harder is a book that collects study questions that follow the Gospel Doctrine reading schedule. The book contains very little commentary and does not provide answers to the questions posed. The main objective is not to provide information, but rather to encourage students of the New Testament to think more deeply about what they are reading. For those who are willing to put forth the effort, they will find this book to be a helpful tool in learning to analyze the scriptures more closely.

Continue reading

Email This Page

John Bernhisel’s Gift to a Prophet: Incidents of Travel in Central America and the Book of Mormon

Abstract: The claim that God revealed the details of Book of Mormon geography is not new, but the recent argument that there was a conspiracy while the Prophet was still alive to oppose a revealed geography is a novel innovation. A recent theory argues that the “Mesoamerican theory” or “limited Mesoamerican geography” originated in 1841 with Benjamin Winchester, an early Mormon missionary, writer, and dissident, who rejected the leadership of Brigham Young and the Twelve after 1844. This theory also claims that three unsigned editorials on Central America and the Book of Mormon published in the Times and Seasons on September 15 and October 1, 1842, were written by Benjamin Winchester, who successfully conspired with other dissidents to publish them against the will of the Prophet. Three articles address these claims. The first article addressed two questions: Did Joseph Smith, as some have claimed, know the details of and put forth a revealed Book of Mormon geography? Second, what is a Mesoamerican geography and does it constitute a believable motive for a proposed Winchester conspiracy? This second article provides additional historical background on the question of Joseph Smith’s thinking on the Book of Mormon by examining the influence of John L. Stephen’s 1841 work, Incidents of Travel in Central America, upon early Latter-day Saints, including Joseph Smith. Continue reading

Email This Page

The Treason of the Geographers: Mythical “Mesoamerican” Conspiracy and the Book of Mormon

Abstract: The claim that God revealed the details of Book of Mormon geography is not new, but the recent argument that there was a conspiracy while the Prophet was still alive to oppose a revealed geography is a novel innovation. A recent theory argues that the “Mesoamerican theory” or “limited Mesoamerican geography” originated in 1841 with Benjamin Winchester, an early Mormon missionary, writer, and dissident, who rejected the leadership of Brigham Young and the Twelve after 1844. This theory also claims that three unsigned editorials on Central America and the Book of Mormon published in the Times and Seasons on September 15 and October 1, 1842 were written by Benjamin Winchester, who successfully conspired with other dissidents to publish them against the will of the Prophet. Three articles address these claims. This first article addresses two questions: Did Joseph Smith, as some have claimed, know the details of and put forth a revealed Book of Mormon geography? Second, what is a Mesoamerican geography and does it constitute a believable motive for a proposed Winchester conspiracy? Continue reading

Email This Page

Learning Nephi’s Language: Creating a Context for 1 Nephi 1:2

Nephi’s Language Without Context: An Enigma

It was not long after the Book of Mormon was published before Nephi’s statement that he wrote using “the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 1:2) started raising eyebrows.1 It has continued to perplex even the best LDS scholars, who have put forward no fewer than five different interpretations of the passage.2 Some have even pointed out that there seems to be no logical reason for Nephi’s statement, since anyone who could read the text would know what language it was written in.3 Continue reading

Email This Page

Not Leaving and Going On to Perfection

A Review of Samuel M. Brown’s First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple, Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2014. 167 pp., index. $16.95.

In his most recent book, First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple (hereafter First Principles), Samuel M. Brown observes that “the Plan of Salvation [is] fundamentally about relationships.”1 This recognition drove the prophet Joseph Smith and early Church members to “forge communities [of saints] that could endure beyond the veil of death” (151). Today, the importance of the temple and its ordinances to family relationships, eternal in their design, are clear to most Latter-day Saints. However, our collective view of the meaning of the principles and ordinances that precede the temple — and lead us to it — is somewhat murkier. Brown demonstrates that what Latter-day Saints sometimes perfunctorily regard merely as “the first principles and ordinances of the gospel” (Articles of Faith 1:4) are — every bit as much as the temple itself is — about relationships. In fact, one cannot fully contextualize the temple and its ordinances unless one understands this aspect of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. Continue reading

Email This Page