Printed Journal Welcome to Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, 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.

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This week
in history

Tracing Ancient Threads of the Book of Moses

After reflection and consultation with the organizing committee, we have decided to postpone the Book of Moses conference that was scheduled for May 1-2 until September 18-19.

The program schedule, abstracts and presenter biographies are now available at

Offering Americans Religious and Political Salvation

Review of Derek R. Sainsbury, Storming the Nation: The Unknown Contributions of Joseph Smith’s Political Missionaries (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2020). 400 pages. $27.99 (hardback).

Abstract: Derek Sainsbury’s book discusses Joseph Smith’s quest for the presidency of the United States of America and how more than six hundred missionaries were sent out across the United States not only to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ but also to electioneer for Joseph Smith and his political platform. The book offers a concise history of and fascinating information about the 1844 electioneering mission and the men and woman who offered fellow Americans both religious and political salvation.

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Ascending into the Hill of the Lord:
What the Psalms Can Tell Us About the Rituals of the First Temple

Abstract: In this article, the author attempts to shed light on practices alluded to in the Psalms that may have formed part of the ritual system and theology of Solomon’s original temple. He describes various aspects of the ritual system of pre-exilic Israel, including pilgrimage, questioning at the gates, epiphany, and royal rites. In the culmination of these rites, the king, who likely led the procession up to the temple, was enthroned on or beside the Lord’s own throne and transformed or “reborn” as a Son of God, appearing before the people in glorious fashion as the representative of Yahweh.

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Times of Reckoning and Set Times in Abraham 3

Abstract: The third chapter of Abraham considers two types of times regarding the moon, the earth, and the planets: “times of reckoning” and “set times.” A straightforward interpretation of these two times, if correct, sheds light on the cosmology known to Abraham. “Times of reckoning” may be understood as the times of celestial movements directly observed or reckoned by someone standing on the surface of the earth. These times would most likely be synodic, meaning the motion being considered is referenced to the sun, but they could also be sidereal, meaning referenced to the stars. Observed from the earth’s surface, times of reckoning would naturally have a geocentric perspective. “Set times,” on the other hand, may refer to times of motion established or set by God. These would be the orbital motions intrinsic to the bodies themselves. They would be sidereal and, with the exception of the moon — which would still be geocentric, would be from a heliocentric or even wider galactocentric point of view. With this interpretation, Abraham 3:5‒10 may be an account of God elevating Abraham’s knowledge of heavenly motions from that which is seen and measured by looking at the sky to that which actually exists in space. Such knowledge, likely possessed by the prophet Mormon as well, provided a natural means for Abraham to teach Pharaoh of the supremacy of God.
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A Note in Favor of Rereading Great Works, Including the Scriptures

Abstract: When I was young, I learned an important lesson that has stayed with me through my life. This lesson has led me, on many occasions, to reread great works by great authors. The scriptures are no exceptions, and rereading them can be beneficial to any reader.

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The Sacred Embrace and the Sacred Handclasp in Ancient Mediterranean Religions

Abstract: This article describes examples of the sacred embrace and the sacred handclasp in the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms of ancient Egypt, in ancient Mediterranean regions, and in the classical and early Christian world. It argues that these actions are an invitation and promise of entrance into the celestial realms. The sacred embrace may well have been a preparation, the sacred handclasp the culminating act of entrance into the divine presence.
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Vaughn J. Featherstone’s
Atlanta Temple Letter

Abstract: In this essay, I examine a letter written by Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone in 1983 and deposited in the cornerstone of the Atlanta Georgia Temple. The letter is addressed to twenty-first century members of the Church and is written with the expectation that these future Saints will have been alive for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I consider the claims made about this letter from a recent viral video entitled “7 Year Tribulation in the SEVENTH Seal TIMELINE.”

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Understanding Ritual Hand Gestures of the Ancient World: Some Basic Tools

Abstract: The ritual use of hand gestures in covenant-making in ancient times is a topic of peculiar interest to Latter-day Saints. In this article, David Calabro summarizes results drawn from his doctoral research, providing readers with some tools to evaluate ancient gestures. The questions he suggests are novel, as is the way they are couched in an organized scheme. The author concludes that Latter-day Saints, who belong to a tradition saturated with ritual gestures, should be among those most educated about them.

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Answering the Critics in
44 Rebuttal Points

Abstract: After publishing several articles in peer-reviewed journals, the author published Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary (2011), the new standard in comparative Uto-Aztecan, favorably reviewed1 and heartily welcomed by specialists in the field. Four years later, another large reference work, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (2015), was also favorably reviewed2 but not as joyfully welcomed among specialists as its predecessor. While some saw it as sound, more were silent. Some disliked the topic, but no one produced substantive refutations of it. In August 2019, Chris Rogers published a review,3 but John S. Robertson’s response to Rogers’s review4 and my response in the first 24 items rebutted below shed new light on his criticisms. Following on the heels of Rogers’s review, Magnus Pharao Hansen, specializing in Nahuatl, blogged objections to 14 Nahuatl items among the 1,528 sets.5 Rogers’s and Hansen’s articles gave rise to some critical commentary as well as to a few valid questions. What follows clarifies the misconceptions in Rogers’s [Page 238]review, responds to Hansen’s Nahuatl issues, and answers some reasonable questions raised by others.

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Standing in the Holy Place:
Ancient and Modern Reverberations of an Enigmatic New Testament Prophecy

Abstract: On the Mount of Olives, just prior to the culminating events of the Passion week, Jesus gave one of the most controversial prophecies of the New Testament, saying, among other things, that the “abomination of desolation” will “stand in the holy place.” In Joseph Smith-Matthew the Prophet renders this passage in a way that radically changes its meaning. Rather than describing how the “abomination of desolation” will “stand in the holy place,” the jst version enjoins the apostles to “stand in the holy place” when the “abomination of desolation” appears. Though several Latter-day Saint scholars have offered interpretations and personal applications of these words as given in modern scripture, it appears that no one has heretofore seriously explored how this change in meaning might be explained and defended. This article will show that other passages in the Bible, in connection with the light shed by Jewish midrash and contemporary scholarship, demonstrate that the idea behind Joseph Smith’s revision of the passage, far from being a modern invention, reverberates throughout the religious thought of earlier times. The article concludes with an appendix that tries to draw out a possibility for a specific interpretation of the prophecy about the “abomination of desolation” at the time of Christ and in the latter days.

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Lehi’s Dream and the Plan of Salvation

Abstract: Lehi’s dream symbolically teaches us about many aspects of Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation. The central message of Lehi’s dream is that all must come unto Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Each of us has the choice to pursue the path that leads to eternal joy and salvation or to choose a different way and experience undesirable outcomes. In this paper, elements of Lehi’s dream and supporting scriptures are analyzed to see how they relate to key aspects of the plan of salvation and our journey through life.

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The Tabernacle:
Mountain of God in the Cultus of Israel

Abstract: In this article, Michael Morales considers how the building of the Tabernacle had been pre-figured from the earliest narratives of Genesis onward. It describes some of the parallels between the creation, deluge, and Sinai narratives and the tabernacle account; examines how the high priest’s office functions as something of a new Adam; and considers how the completed tabernacle resolves the storyline of Genesis and Exodus, via the biblical theme of “to dwell in the divine Presence.”

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Table Rules:
A Response to Americanist Approaches to the Book of Mormon

Review of Elizabeth Fenton and Jared Hickman, Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). 456 pages. $99 (hardback), $35 (paperback).

Abstract: Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon is an ambitious collection of essays published by Oxford University Press. By “Americanist” the editors refer to their preferred mode of contextualization: to situate the Book of Mormon as a response to various currents of nineteenth- century American thought. The “table rules” in this case determine who gets invited to the table and what topics can be discussed, using what types of evidence. The approach is legitimate, and the contributors offer a range of interesting perspectives and observations. Several essays base their arguments on the notion that the Book of Mormon adapts itself to a series of racist tropes common in the nineteenth century. In 2015, Ethan Sproat wrote an important essay that undercuts the arguments of those authors, but none of them address his case or evidence. This raises the issue of the existence of other tables operating under different assumptions, confronting the same text, and reaching very different conclusions. How are we to judge which table’s rules produce the best readings?

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Cube, Gate, and Measuring Tools:
A Biblical Pattern

Abstract: This article explores the biblical pattern that relates the temple-related symbols of the cube, the gate, and measuring tools. The tools of architecture and measurement were associated with the kingship motifs of creation and conquering chaos, and on the day when a person was initiated as a king in ancient Israel, all of these concepts were applied to him.

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How Not to Read Isaiah

Abstract: In the Book of Mormon, Nephi draws upon his own knowledge of the Jewish people, their culture and language, and the surrounding area to add to his understanding of Isaiah’s words, and commends that approach to his reader. In his book The Vision of All, it is clear that Joseph Spencer lacks knowledge in these topics, and it negatively affects his interpretation of Isaiah. Specifically, this lack of knowledge causes him to misinterpret the role of the Messiah in Isaiah’s teachings, something that was clear to Isaiah’s ancient readers.

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An Other Approach to Isaiah Studies

Abstract: A recent review of Joseph M. Spencer’s book The Vision of All: Twenty-Five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record made the case that the book contains several challenges and problems, in particular that it advocates a theologically deficient interpretation of Isaiah that denies Isaiah’s witness of Jesus Christ. This response provides an alternative reading of Spencer’s work and suggests these assertions are often based on misunderstanding. At stake in this conversation is the question of whether or not there is more than one valid way to read Isaiah that draws upon a faithful, Restoration perspective. While Spencer may interpret and frame some things differently than some other Latter-day Saint scholars, the prophecies of Isaiah provide enough richness and possibility to accommodate a chorus of faithful approaches.

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A Democratic Salvation

Abstract: Over the centuries, many religious thinkers — precisely because they are religious thinkers — have put a premium on intellectual attainment as a prerequisite for salvation. This has sometimes yielded an elitism or snobbishness that is utterly foreign to the teachings of the Savior. The Gospel as taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints values education and knowledge, certainly. But not unduly. Intellectuals, while heartily welcome among the Saints and, when faithful, much appreciated for their potential contributions to the Church, have no claim on any special status in the Kingdom simply because of their (real or pretended) intellectuality, whether here or in the hereafter.

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Death to Seducers!
Examples of Latter-day Saint-led Extralegal Justice in Historical Context

Abstract: Some people have suggested a strain of violence within nineteenth- century Latter-day Saint culture as violent as and perhaps more so than that of most Americans around them. Critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints point to a few well-known acts of extralegal violence as evidence of a culture of violence that permeated the early Church. But were these examples of violence really out of the norm of nineteenth-century American society? This article looks at examples of extralegal punishment for certain crimes, placing them and the examples of extralegal punishment in Utah within a greater historical and cultural context.

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Becoming Men and Women of Understanding:
Wordplay on Benjamin
— An Addendum

Abstract: Royal and divine sonship/daughterhood (bānîm = “children”/“sons,” bānôt = “daughters”) is a prevalent theme throughout the Book of Mosiah. “Understanding” (Hebrew noun, bînâ or tĕbûnâ; verb, bîn) is also a key theme in that book. The initial juxtaposition of “sons” and “understanding” with the name “Benjamin” (binyāmîn, “son of the right hand”) in Mosiah 1:2–7 suggests the narrator’s association of the underlying terms with the name Benjamin likely on the basis of homophony. King Benjamin repeatedly invokes “understand” in his speech (forms of “understand” were derived from the root *byn in Hebrew; Mosiah 2:9, 40; 4:4; cf. 3:15) — a speech that culminates in a rhetorical wordplay on his own name in terms of “sons”/“children,” “daughters,” and “right hand” (Mosiah 5:7, 9). “Understand,” moreover, recurs as a paronomasia on the name Benjamin at key points later in the Book of Mosiah (Mosiah 8:3, 20; 26:1–3), which bring together the themes of sonship and/or “understanding” (or lack of thereof) with King Benjamin’s name. Later statements in the Book of Mosiah about “becoming” the “children of God” or “becoming his sons and daughters” (Mosiah 18:22; 27:25) through divine rebirth allude to King Benjamin’s sermon and the wordplay on “Benjamin” there. Taken as a literary whole, the book of Mosiah constitutes a treatise on “becoming” — i.e., divine transformation through Christ’s atonement (cf. Mosiah 3:18–19). Mormon’s statement in Alma 17:2 about the sons of Mosiah having become “men of a sound understanding” thus serves as a fitting epilogue to a narrative arc begun as early as Mosiah 1:2.

[Page 240]My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding” (Proverbs 5:1)

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“Feast upon the Words of Christ”

Review of Book of Mormon Central, “ScripturePlus” (; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Gospel Library” (; and Living Tree Software, “ScriptureNotes” (


Abstract: ScriptureNotes is a valuable tool for serious, in-depth scripture study, and it definitely has the best search functionality. ScripturePlus, in its current state, is good for daily reading of the Book of Mormon, thanks to its helpful linked resources. But if you often mark or underline as you read, you’ll need to use Gospel Library, which is also the only app that includes the Church’s vast resources beyond the scriptures.

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