Abstract: In the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, based upon verses composed by an eleventh-century Persian mathematician and astronomer, the English Victorian poet Edward FitzGerald eloquently portrays human life in an indifferent, deterministic universe that lacks any evident purpose and is bereft of divine Providence. The poem’s suggested response to such a universe is an unambitious life of hedonism, distraction, and gentle despair. It is curiously modern, and those considering the adoption of anything like its worldview might want to read it, and to think about its implications, very carefully.
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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Temples of the Imagination
AI-generated Temples, Human-Generated Insights
By Jeffrey Thayne and Nathan Richardson
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2022 Temple on Mount Zion Conference
The Sixth Interpreter
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Old Testament Bibliography Collection
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Theosis in the Book of Mormon:
The Work and Glory of the Father, Mother and Son, and Holy Ghost
Abstract: While some scholars have suggested that the doctrine of theosis — the transformation of human beings into divine beings — emerged only in Nauvoo, the essence of the doctrine was already present in the Book of Mormon, both in precept and example. The doctrine is especially well developed in 1 Nephi, Alma 19, and Helaman 5. The focus in 1 Nephi is on Lehi and Nephi’s rejection of Deuteronomist reforms that erased the divine Mother and Son, who, that book shows, are closely coupled as they, the Father, and Holy Ghost work to transform human beings into divine beings. The article shows that theosis is evident in the lives of Lehi, Sariah, Sam, Nephi, Alma, Alma2, Ammon2, Lamoni, Lamoni’s wife, Abish, and especially Nephi2. The divine Mother’s participation in the salvation of her children is especially evident in Lehi’s dream, Nephi’s vision, and the stories of Abish and the Lamanite Queen.
A Restoration of Paul’s Understanding of Faith as a Relationship of Action
Review of Brent J. Schmidt, Relational Faith: The Transformation and Restoration of Pistis as Knowledge, Trust, Confidence, and Covenantal Faithfulness (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2022). 356 pages, $21.95 (softcover).
Abstract: Brent Schmidt builds on his earlier book on relational grace by tackling the topic of relational faith. For those interested in historical trends in religious thought, this book provides intimate details of Greek and Latin terms and the gradual corruption of the original Pauline concept of faith by Augustine and other early and influential thinkers and theologians. Leading the reader through the conceptual reworking of the idea of faith by examining both well-known and lesser-known reformers, but somewhat skirting the faith-works debate, Schmidt ends up nevertheless convincingly demonstrating two facts. First, that faith as concrete action, not just as abstract belief, is a distinguishing doctrinal foundation that is consistently preached by leaders of the Church today. Second, Joseph Smith’s concept of faith as a covenantal relationship built on mutual trust was not a latter-day invention. Instead, it is a restoration of the concept of faith as originally understood by members of the church at the time of Paul.
A New and Most Welcome Resource for Book of Abraham Studies
Review of Stephen O. Smoot, John Gee, Kerry Muhlestein, and John S. Thompson, “A Guide to the Book of Abraham,” BYU Studies Quarterly 61, no. 4 (2022). 302 pages.
Abstract: The new and special issue of BYU Studies containing “A Guide to the Book of Abraham” provides a welcome and easy-to-read approach to the historicity and issues surrounding the Book of Abraham in a way that will engage those beginning their studies in the Book of Abraham just as equally as those who have already become familiar with the subject.
Understanding the Lamanite Mark
Abstract: The Book of Mormon describes a dark mark on the skin that distinguished people who rebelled against God and his laws from those who obeyed God. The Old Testament refers to a mark that fits this description and has nothing to do with natural skin color. The law of Moses prohibited the Lord’s covenant people from cutting sacrilegious marks (ancient tattoos) into their skin. The Bible simply calls these prohibited tattoos “marks” (Leviticus 19:28). This biblical meaning of the word mark, together with biblical meanings of other related words, helps us understand all Book of Mormon passages associated with the Lamanite mark.
“In the Cause … of their God”:
Clarifying Some Issues Regarding the Book of Mormon and a Gospel View of War
Abstract: A recent effort to think about war concludes that the Book of Mormon displays two righteous approaches to conflict: a violent approach that is justified and therefore “blessed;” and a nonviolent approach that is higher than this and therefore “more blessed” (an approach that is also said to be effective in ending conflict). This effort, however, turns out to be unsuccessful for multiple reasons. Attending to these reasons can be valuable, since doing so can help clarify several important issues about the Book of Mormon and a gospel view of war.
Unavailable Genetic Evidence, Multiple Simultaneous Promised Lands, and Lamanites by Location?
Possible Ramifications of the Book of Mormon Limited Geography Theory
Abstract: This paper is composed of three parts connected consecutively because their conclusions build upon each other. The first part investigates the transportation methods used in the Book of Mormon, concluding that horse and river travel contributed little and that foot travel dominated all journeying. The second part uses that conclusion to estimate the overall dimensions of the Promised Land by examining Alma the Elder’s journey from Nephi to Zarahemla. This exercise reaffirms the 200-by-500-mile size promoted by John L. Sorenson decades ago. The third part looks at four ramifications of this 100,000 square-mile Promised Land footprint when stamped upon a map of the Western Hemisphere. (1) It allows for more than one Promised Land (occupied by other God-led immigrants) to exist simultaneously in the Americas. (2) It predicts that no matter where the Book of Mormon Promised Land was originally located, most Native Americans today would have few or no direct ties to the Jaredites-Lehites-Mulekites. (3) It demonstrates that research efforts to identify evidence of the Book of Mormon peoples could be exploring locations thousands of miles away from their original settlements. And (4) If any of the post-400 ce localized population losses in the Americas due to disease, war, or unknown causes involved the original Promised Land location, then the primary locus of organic evidence of the existence of the Jaredite-Lehite-Mulekite populations might have been largely destroyed.
The Teachings of Silvanus:
A Little-Known Gem from Nag Hammadi
Abstract: Scholars have recently suggested that The Teachings of Silvanus, a text from Nag Hammadi Codex VII, is the product of several authors with the earliest portion dating to the late first or early second century and the latest portion to the third or early fourth century. Silvanus’ provenance, therefore, allows this single document to serve as a potential microcosm evidencing the change and alteration of early Christian thought and doctrine. Latter-day Saints have long contended that the Restored Gospel is more closely aligned with the earliest strains of Christianity vis-à-vis the creedal form. Through the lens of Silvanus, Latter-day Saint and Calvinist positions are evaluated relative to the early and late Silvanus authors and are found to be most compatible with the early and late portions of the text, respectively.
The Goodness of the Cross
and Good Friday:
Lessons from Bavaria
Abstract: It is natural to wonder how the day on which Jesus was crucified could come to be known as Good Friday. In this exploration of the topic, John Welch examines the many events which occurred on that fateful day and the meaning they have for us today.
How Things Look from Here
Abstract: Do defenders of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ see themselves as fighting a desperate rearguard battle against the evidence, hoping to save at least a faint shred of credibility for its claims? Hardly. But, at the same time, we don’t pretend to be able to prove those claims beyond any possibility of doubt. Such a prospect, we think, was never God’s intent. “For now we see through a glass, darkly,” as the prophet and apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12. “Now [we] know in part.” That is an important part of the plan. There is abundant evidence to justify discipleship, but there can also be plausible-seeming grounds, if one prefers, for rejecting it.
Moving Beyond the Historicity Question, or a Manifesto for Future Book of Mormon Research
Review of Daniel Becerra, Amy Easton-Flake, Nicholas J. Frederick, and Joseph M. Spencer, Book of Mormon Studies: An Introduction and Guide (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2022). 184 pages. $19.99 (hardback), $15.99 (paperback).
Abstract: Book of Mormon Studies: An Introduction and Guide by four Brigham Young University religion professors reviews the field of Book of Mormon studies from the late nineteenth century to the current day. After the historical review of the field, the authors lay out a research agenda for the twenty-first century that, by and large, moves on from the Book of Mormon historicity question that so engaged twentieth-century scholars. This review examines the authors’ claims and demonstrates that the scope of the book is not as broad as it could or should be. Absent perspectives, blind spots, incomplete twenty-first–century research trends, and a discussion of research tools should have been included in the book but were not included. This review ends with a discussion of “the gatekeeper problem” in Book of Mormon studies.
“That They Might Come Again unto the Remnant of the House of Jacob”:
Onomastic Allusions to Joseph in 3 Nephi 26:8–10 and 4 Nephi 1:49
Abstract: The prophecies in 3 Nephi 26:8–10 and 4 Nephi 1:49 are third-generation members of the same family of texts derived from Isaiah 11:11–12 and Isaiah 29:4, all of which ultimately rely on yāsap (yôsîp or yôsip) idioms to describe the gathering of Israel and the concomitant coming forth of additional scripture. Mormon, following Nephi, apparently engages in a specific kind of wordplay on the name Joseph in 3 Nephi 26:8–10 and 4 Nephi 1:49 that ultimately harks back to the divine promises made to Joseph in Egypt (2 Nephi 25:21; see also especially 2 Nephi 3:4–16, Genesis 50:24–34 JST) and to his descendants. This wordplay looks forward to the name and role of the prophetic translator through whom additional scripture “[would] be brought again” and “[would] come again” in the last days.
In New Zealand: Even More Faithful Latter-day Saints
Review of Selwyn Kātene, ed., Let Their Light So Shine: Mormon Leaders in New Zealand (Wellington, NZ: Huia Publishers, 2021). “Foreword” by Charles A. Rudd (pp. vii–viii); “Preface” by Peter Lineham (p. ix–x); “Introduction” by Selwyn Kātene (pp. 1–3); “Contributors” (pp. 215–18); “Glossary” (and “Mormon Terms”) (pp. 219–21); “Index” (pp. 222–30). NZ $30.00 Hardbound.
Abstract: This is a review of the third in the series of books of essays on what Selwyn Kātene again calls “Mormon Leaders in New Zealand.” This volume as at least as excellent, if not even better, than the other two volumes, which received very favorable reviews. Every effort must be made to preserve and publish an accurate history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Zealand/Aotearoa. Such effort is to be praised, especially when it is set out in such a handsome and exceptionally well-edited and published version as one finds in this entire valuable series. Despite this and the two other previous volumes in this series, there are yet more Latter-day Saints whose stories of faith and dedicated service in building the Kingdom of God in this beautiful land must be told in future volumes of this truly remarkable series.
Nephi’s “Bountiful”: Contrasting Both Candidates
Readers should be aware that both Khor Kharfot and Wadi Sayq are now protected sites under Omani law. Neither area can be visited without a permit issued by the government of Oman. They are not accessible by road at any point. Please contact the author if further clarification is needed.
Abstract: In May 2022, George Potter published an article that makes the most comprehensive case to date that Khor Rori in southern Oman is the most likely location for the place “Bountiful” described by Nephi. However, despite its many positives, there are a number of reasons to question the suitability of Khor Rori and to favor the other major candidate for Bountiful, Khor Kharfot. I propose that a careful reading of Nephi’s account coupled with recent discoveries based on field work show Khor Kharfot to be a superior candidate meeting all criteria we can extract from the text. To support a thorough comparison, aspects of both candidates are weighed, including pictorial comparisons of key features. I am in full agreement with Potter that with the entire eastern coast of Arabia now explored, only two candidates for Bountiful remain in contention — Khor Rori and Khor Kharfot. No other location still merits serious consideration.
Elias: Prophet of the Restoration
Abstract: The Prophet Elias is a puzzle, with a handful of pieces scattered through the standard works and the teachings of Joseph Smith. Rather than proving a point conclusively, this paper will put the pieces together to show a new picture of this important figure. The interpretation in this article weaves together the scriptures regarding Elias into a cohesive narrative, with the prophet Noah at the center. The pieces of the puzzle investigated here are Elias’s role as the angel Gabriel in the New Testament, on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Kirtland Temple, in the Book of Revelation, and in D&C 27. These few visitations occur during significant transfers of priesthood power. Elias — the keyholder — is identified as holding “the keys of bringing to pass the restoration of all things spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began, concerning the last days” (D&C 27:6). This vast calling of restoring all things in the last days requires the original Elias (Noah) at the heavenly helm and various agents of Elias (John the Baptist and John the Beloved, among others) working on the earth during different phases of the restoration.
Toward a Greater Appreciation of the Word Adieu in Jacob 7:27
Abstract: The phrase “Brethren, adieu” (Jacob 7:27) has been criticized over the years as an obvious anachronism in the Book of Mormon. That criticism holds no validity whatsoever, as others have pointed out, since many English words have French origins. It’s worth considering, though, a deeper meaning of the word. In French, it carries a nuance of finality — that the separation will last until a reunion following death (à Dieu, or until God). This deeper meaning of adieu appears to have been known by Shakespeare and frontier Americans although the second meaning is not generally recognized by English speakers today. However, Jacob 7:27 appears to reflect this deeper meaning as do certain uses of another valediction in the Book of Mormon — that of farewell. With the deeper meaning of adieu in mind, the parallel structure in Jacob 7:27 — “down to the grave,” reflecting the finality of adieu — becomes more apparent. The question of whether Joseph Smith was aware of the deeper meaning of adieu is taken up by looking at how the word was used in the Joseph Smith Papers. The take-away is that rather than reflecting an error on the part of Joseph Smith, the word adieu, with its deeper nuance of finality until God, is not only an appropriate term, it appears to strengthen rather than undermine the case for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
“According to the Spirit of Revelation and Prophecy”:
Alma2’s Prophetic Warning of Christ’s Coming to the Lehites (and Others)
Abstract: Some students of the Book of Mormon have felt that while the coming of the Lord to the Lehites was clearly revealed to and taught by Nephi1, those prophecies having to do with the subject may not have been widely circulated or continuously preserved among the Nephites, while others have argued for continuity of knowledge about Nephi1’s prophecies among writers and their contemporary audiences. Reexamination of the Book of Mormon in light of these issues reveals that the teaching that Christ would appear among the Lehites was actually taught with some consistency by Alma2 and was, it would seem, common knowledge among the Nephites. It appears that the predicted coming was well established, even if the nature of it was not. Specifically, I argue that Alma2 often taught of the coming of Christ to the Lehites but in context with other events such as Jesus’s coming to the Jews and to others not of the known fold. To make this case, I concentrate on Alma2’s writings, especially those in Alma 5 (borrowing liberally also from Alma 7, 13, 16, 39, Helaman 16:4–5, 13–14, and 3 Nephi 8–10). Alma 5 houses many prophetic statements that urgently point to the coming of the Lord to the Nephite church. The value of this approach is to attempt to demonstrate that Alma 5 contains more than has been supposed and, in effect, challenges claims for discontinuity in the middle portion of the Nephite record. This approach should tend to renew our interest in the other nuanced teachings of the prophet Alma2 and others.
Twenty Years After “Paradigms Regained,” Part 2: Responding to Margaret Barker’s Critics and Why Her Work Should Matter to Latter‑day Saints
Abstract: Here I address specific criticisms of Margaret Barker’s work. First, I set the stage by discussing Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as a map and compass for navigating this kind of controversy. I show how his observations cast light on debates about Jesus in the Gospel of John, which in turn resemble present debates. In this context, I then consider some notable criticisms of Barker’s work as “not mainstream” and consider an instructive appreciation of Barker by Father John McDade in his “Life of Jesus Research.” I then respond in detail to a recent BYU Studies essay that was critical of Barker’s work.
Assyria and the “Great Church” of Nephi’s Vision
Abstract: The Book of Mormon begins at a pivotal point in Israelite history and in the history of the ancient Near East more broadly. With the fall of Assyria and the power vacuum that grew out of Assyria’s demise, questions of sovereignty were of paramount concern. It was at that time that Lehi led his family into the wilderness after witnessing the impending destruction of Jerusalem in vision. Nephi, “desir[ing] to know the things that his father had seen” (1 Nephi 11:1), describes his own vision, where he saw the coming of the “Son of God” (1 Nephi 11:7), the destruction of his own people, and the “formation of a great church” (1 Nephi 13:4) that would “destroy the saints of God” (1 Nephi 13:9). These elements, along with others in Nephi’s vision, seem to reflect the underlying insecurity of the time concerning divinely appointed sovereignty and the right to rule. Because of the deeply personal nature of Nephi’s vision and its pressing relevance, we might expect it to contain elements that represent the cultural and social realities of his time. When we approach Nephi’s vision in this way, surprising parallels can be found between the “great church” of his vision and the Assyrian Empire. These parallels help provide a new context for viewing Nephi’s vision that can heighten our awareness of the loving kindness the “Son of God” displays as the universal sovereign.
Abstract: Believers in the God of Abraham — who include not only Jews and Christians but also Muslims — are exhorted to call upon him every day, as well as in times of need. We are promised that he will respond to petitionary prayers. Moreover, we are assured that, in the end, believers will prosper, that their faith or trust in him will prove justified. But we are not promised that rewards, compensation, or justice will come to us on our mortal timetable — and this raises sometimes burningly acute questions about Providence and even, for more than a few, about either God’s benevolence, his care, or his sheer existence. So we are also exhorted to be patient. And that sets us up for many of mortality’s greatest tests. In the meantime, while faithfully waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled, we ourselves are to work toward their fulfillment “with all [our] heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23, NIV).