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.
2018 Temple on Mount Zion Conference
Saturday, November 10, 20189:00 am–5:00 pm
251 N. Eldon Tanner Building,
Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
For more information:
The Nature of the Original Language of the Book of Mormon
The video of the recent presentation by Royal Skousen at BYU on The Nature of the Original Language of the Book of Mormon is now available at https://interpreterfoundation.org/presentation-on-the-nature-of-the-original-language-of-the-book-of-mormon/.
Abstract: Christmas is upon us, and it is a special, magical time. I have seen the love of God touch countless lives through the glorious music of the season.
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.
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.
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.
A review of Turtle Bunbury, 1847: A Chronicle of Genius, Generosity & Savagery (Dublin: Gill Books, 2016). 388 pages, $43.00, hardback.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
[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
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
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
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
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
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
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