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

Sacred Time, Sacred Space, & Sacred Meaning

Proceedings of the Third Interpreter Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference “The Temple on Mount Zion,” 5 November 2016
Temple on Mount Zion Series 4
Stephen D. Ricks and Jeffrey M. Bradshaw (eds.)
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Formed in and Called from the Womb

[Page 153]Abstract: Drawing on his deep knowledge of biblical Hebrew, Dana Pike gives us a close reading of Jeremiah 1:5, the most important Old Testament verse relating to the Latter-day Saint understanding of premortal existence of human spirits and the foreordination of prophets to their appointed callings. He shows that the plain sense of this verse cannot be easily dismissed: first, and consistent with Latter-day Saint understanding, God knew Jeremiah before he was conceived and that afterward, in a second phase that transpired in the womb, he was, “according to the Israelite perspective preserved in the Bible,” appointed to become a prophet.

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An Intelligent, Thoughtful Work on One of the Richest Portions of the Book of Mormon

[Page 145]Review of Terryl Givens, 2nd Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction (Provo, UT: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2020). 124 pages. $9.95 (paperback).

Abstract: Terryl Givens’s well-written and enjoyable book does much to equip readers of the Book of Mormon with new tools to appreciate the riches of a text often viewed as the most difficult part of the Book of Mormon. Givens helps us recognize Nephi’s sorrow over Jerusalem and his passionate hope and joy centered in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He helps us understand the weightier matters that Nephi focuses on to encourage us to accept the covenants of the Lord and to be part of Zion. Readers will better respect 2 Nephi as a vital part of the Restoration with content critically important for our day.

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Nephi’s Obsession, Or,
How to Talk with Nephi about God

[Page 131]Review of Joseph M. Spencer, 1 Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction (Provo, UT: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2020). 146 pages. $9.99 (paperback).

Abstract: Joseph Spencer’s intimate familiarity with the Book of Mormon text, based upon years of close textual study and informed by a well- developed theological sensibility, is in full evidence in this lead-off volume in Neal A. Maxwell Institute’s new series of books on the various books of the Book of Mormon. Leaving to prophets and apostles the responsibility for “declaring official doctrine,” this new series approaches the book with the tools of the “scholarly practice” of theology. In Spencer’s case at least, his practice is understood to be (1) informed by an emphasis on grace that is skeptical of claims of personal righteousness and (2) very much engaged with contemporary moral and social issues grounded in a fundamental concern for “equality.” Accordingly, Spencer’s reading is much more interested in “what God is doing in history with what we call the Abrahamic covenant” than with the more popular (non-scholarly) concerns of “everyday faithful living;” it is also more interested in Nephi’s “realistic” and “mature” regret over his youthful over-boldness than in his confident statements of righteous faith. In the end, Spencer’s extremely careful but theologically tendentious reading alerts us very skillfully to certain features of Nephi’s imperfect humanity but reveals a consistent preoccupation with any possible faults in the prophet that might be extracted from an ingenious reading of the text. Finally, concerning women in the Book of Mormon, Spencer again expertly raises provocative questions about barely heard female voices but is too eager to frame these questions from the standpoint of the “modern sensibility” of “sexual egalitarianism.”

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Notes on Mormonism and the Trinity

[Page 87]Abstract: With “awe, humility, and circumspection,” Daniel C. Peterson provides a useful summary and discussion of Latter-day Saint beliefs as they relate to traditional Christian conceptions of the Trinity. In particular, his discussions reveals the many nuances of the questions raised, including the precise nature of the unity of the three persons of the Godhead and how the overall conception relates to doctrines of salvation and practical discipleship, which continued to be a controversial issue in both the Eastern and Western Churches for centuries. Peterson argues that the Latter-day Saint doctrine affirms both biblical precedents and, to a degree, some modern theological trends such as social theories of the Trinity.

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Count Your Many Mormons:
Mormon’s Personalized and Personal Messages in Mosiah 18 and 3 Nephi 5

[Page 75]Abstract: The present work analyzes the narrative art Mormon employs, specifically Mormon’s unique strategies for personalized and personal messaging, which can be seen in how Mormon connects the narration of the baptism at the waters of Mormon in Mosiah chapter 18 with his self- introductory material in 3 Nephi chapter 5. In these narratives, Mormon seems to simultaneously present an overt personalized message about Christ and a covert personal connection to Alma1 through the almost excessive repetition of his own name. Mormon discreetly plants evidence to suggest his intention for the careful re-reader to discover that Mormon was a 12th generation descendant of the first Alma. Mormon’s use of personalizing and personal messages lends emotive power to his narratives and shines a light on Mormon’s love for Christ’s church.

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The Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaA)—
Catalogue of Textual Variants

[Page 55]Abstract: In this erudite survey of textual variants in the “Great Isaiah Scroll” from Qumran, Donald W. Parry lays out the major categories of these differences with illustrative examples. This significant description of the most significant book of Old Testament prophecy provides ample evidence of Parry’s conclusion that the “Great Isaiah Scroll” “sets forth such a wide diversity and assortment of textual variants that [it] is indeed a catalogue, as it were, for textual criticism.”

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A Priesthood Restoration Narrative for Latter-day Saints Believers

[Page 49]Review of Michael Hubbard MacKay, Prophetic Authority: Democratic Hierarchy and the Mormon Priesthood (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2020). 184 pages. $22.95 (paperback).

Abstract: With ready access to all the documents acquired by the Joseph Smith Papers project, Michael Hubbard MacKay, co-editor of the Joseph Smith Papers’ Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, presents a new historical reconstruction of the priesthood restoration in Prophetic Authority: Democratic Hierarchy and the Mormon Priesthood. MacKay summarizes how Joseph Smith’s initial authority was based primarily on charisma drawn from the Book of Mormon translation and his revelations. The transition next to apostolic authority — derived from priesthood keys restored by Peter, James and John — is also detailed. MacKay contextualizes the priesthood as part of Smith’s efforts to offer “salvation to humankind and [bind] individuals to Christ” (37‒38). Historical controversies are handled with frankness and depth. This study constitutes an important upgrade in the historiography of this controversial topic.

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“We May Not Understand Our Words”:
The Book of Abraham and
the Concept of Translation in
The Pearl of Greatest Price

[Page 1]Review of Terryl Givens with Brian Hauglid, The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism’s Most Controversial Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). 285 pages. $34.95 (hardback).

Abstract: In recent years there has been an effort among some scholars to make sense of the historical sources surrounding Joseph Smith’s claims to be a translator of ancient records. Terryl Givens, with some assistance from Brian Hauglid, has explored the evidence surrounding the Book of Abraham and suggests that, in this case, Joseph Smith may not have translated an ancient record of Abraham’s writings into English as typically believed in the Latter-day Saint community. Consequently, Givens provides four alternative ways the work of “translating” may have been understood or practiced by the Prophet and his scribes. This essay highlights some evidence that was overlooked, misunderstood, and glossed by Givens, calling into question his fourfold attempt at redefining what it meant for Joseph Smith to translate this ancient record.

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It Came from Beyond

[Page vii]Abstract: The early Latter-day Saints viewed the Book of Mormon not only as a symbol of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling but also as the most powerful evidence for that calling. However, perhaps because they were ardent believers in the Bible who had been formed in a distinctly Bible-drenched culture and perhaps also because many of them had come to the Book of Mormon relatively late in their lives, they tended to quote from the Nephite record only rarely. Surprisingly, this was the case even for Joseph Smith himself — which can be taken as a sign that he didn’t write the book.

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The Covenant of Christ’s Gospel in the Book of Mormon

[Page 283]Abstract: With the trained eye of an anthropologist and a historian, Steven Olsen refutes claims that the Book of Mormon is a simple hodge-podge of biblical phrases and responses to controversies that Joseph Smith absorbed from his surroundings. Through a careful discussion of four main claims, he illustrates his thesis that the Book of Mormon “evidences a high degree of focus and coherence, as though its principal writers intentionally crafted the record from a unified and comprehensive perspective.” He shows that the Book of Mormon is not merely a history in the conventional sense, but rather is purposeful in the selection and expression of its core themes.

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Notes on Book of Mormon Heads

[Page 263]Abstract: This paper looks at the two types of heads used in the Book of Mormon. It argues against a recent theory that these heads served as mnemonic cues that enabled Joseph Smith to extemporaneously compose and dictate the text. Instead, it argues that the function and form of heads in the Book of Mormon finds ancient precedent in Egyptian literary culture and scribal practice. A brief addendum on the ancient precedent for the chapter breaks in the original text of the Book of Mormon is also provided.

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The Theology of C. S. Lewis:
A Latter-day Saint Perspective

[Page 243]Abstract: In this essay, Robert Millet describes the work and impact of C. S. Lewis as it pertains to the Latter-day Saints. He explores possible reasons why Church leaders have felt comfortable quoting Lewis in General Conference more than any other non-Latter-day Saint writer and provides a substantial list of the subjects for which his writings have had special appeal to the Saints. While acknowledging Lewis’ personal faults and the obvious points of difference between his faith and our own, Millet concludes with an expression of gratitude for his “lasting lessons and his noble legacy.”

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Where Did the Names Mahaway and Mahujah Come From?
A Response to Colby Townsend’s “Returning to the Sources,”
Part 2 of 2

[Page 181]Review of Colby Townsend, “Returning to the Sources: Integrating Textual Criticism in the Study of Early Mormon Texts and History,” Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies 10, no. 1 (2019): 55–85,


Abstract: In the present article, Part 2 of 2 of a set of articles supporting Colby Townsend’s efforts to raise awareness of the importance of textual criticism, we focus on his argument that Joseph Smith created the Book of Moses names Mahijah and Mahujah after seeing a table of name variants in the Hebrew text of Genesis 4:18 in a Bible commentary written by Adam Clarke. While we are not averse in principle to the general possibility that Joseph Smith may have relied on study aids as part of his translation of the Bible, we discuss why in this case such a conjecture raises more questions than it answers. We argue that a common ancient source for Mahujah and Mahijah in the Book of Moses and similar names in the Bible and an ancient Dead Sea Scrolls Enoch text named the Book of Giants cannot be ruled out. More broadly, we reiterate and expand upon arguments we have made elsewhere that the short and fragmentary Book of Giants, a work not discovered until 1948, contains much more dense and generally more pertinent resemblances to Moses 6‒7 than the much longer 1 Enoch, the only ancient Enoch text outside the Bible that was published and translated into English in Joseph Smith’s lifetime.

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Tocqueville on New Prophets and the Tyranny of Public Opinion

[Page 163]Abstract: Louis Midgley discusses the rise and fall in popularity of Alexis de Toqueville’s unrivaled volumes entitled Democracy in America and the impressive renaissance of interest they have enjoyed since 1930. They were published at a time when Europe was looking for guiding principles to replace aristocratic governments with democratic regimes. Importantly, however, Toqueville also reflected broadly on the crucial roles of religion and family in sustaining the virtues necessary for stable democracies. Toqueville’s arguments that faith in God and in immortality are essential for maintaining a strong society of a free people are more crucial than ever to Latter-day Saints and all those wishing to preserve democracy in America today.

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Textual Criticism and the Book of Moses: A Response to Colby Townsend’s “Returning to the Sources,” Part 1 of 2

[Page 99]Review of Colby Townsend, “Returning to the Sources: Integrating Textual Criticism in the Study of Early Mormon Texts and History.” Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies 10, no. 1 (2019): 55–85,

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The Visions of Moses and Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation

[Page 89]Abstract: This contribution focuses on the earliest and one of the most significant chapters of the Book of Moses: Moses 1, sometimes called the “Visions of Moses.” Kent Jackson summarizes the sources available relating to the production of this chapter, illuminating obscure corners of its often misunderstood background with his extensive knowledge of the history, manuscripts, and significance of the Joseph Smith Translation.

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“I of Myself Am a Wicked Man”:
Some Notes on Allusion and Textual Dependency in Omni 1:1-2

[Page 71]Abstract: Omni greatly revered his ancestors and their personal accounts on the small plates of Nephi. A close examination of Omni’s brief autobiography (Omni 1:1–3) evidences borrowing from all four of his predecessors’ writings. Moreover, his self-description, “I of myself am a wicked man,” constitutes far more than a confession of religious dereliction. That self-assessment alludes to Nephi’s autobiographical wordplay on his name in terms “good” and “having been born of goodly parents” and his grandfather Enos’s similarly self-referential wordplay in describing his own father Jacob as a “just man.” Omni’s name most likely represents a hypocoristic form of a longer theophoric name, *ʾomnîyyāhû (from the root *ʾmn), meaning “Yahweh is [the object of] my faith” or “Yahweh is my guardian [or, nursing father],” but could also be heard or understood as a gentilic, “faithful one” or “trustworthy one.” These observations have implications for Omni’s stated defense of his people the Nephites (traditionally, the “good” or “fair ones”) against the Lamanites, those who had dwindled in “unbelief” (cf. Hebrew lōʾ-ʾēmun). In the end, Omni’s description of himself as “a wicked man” should be viewed in the context of his reverence for “goodly” and “just” ancestors and brought into balance with those sacred trusts in which he did prove faithful: preserving his people, his genealogy, and the small plates themselves.

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Janus Parallelism:
Speculation on a Possible Poetic Wordplay in the Book of Mormon

[Page 61]Abstract: In this article, Paul Hoskisson discusses the question of whether Janus parallelism, a sophisticated literary form found in the Hebrew Bible and elsewhere in manuscripts of the ancient Near East, might also be detected in the Book of Mormon. Because the Book of Mormon exists only in translation, answering this question is not a simple matter. Hoskisson makes the case that 1 Nephi 18:16 may provide the first plausible example of Janus parallelism in the Book of Mormon.

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Some Notes on Joseph Smith
and Adam Clarke

[Page 15] Abstract: Authors of two recent articles believe they have found evidence that Joseph Smith, in preparing his revision of the Bible, drew ideas from a contemporary Bible commentary by British scholar Adam Clarke. The evidence, however, does not bear out this claim. I believe that none of the examples they provide can be traced to Clarke’s commentary, and almost all of them can be explained easily by other means. The authors do not look at their examples within the broader context of the revisions Joseph Smith made to the Bible, and thus they misinterpret them. Some of the revisions they attribute to Clarke are ones that Joseph Smith had made repeatedly before he arrived at the passages where they believe he got ideas from Clarke. In addition, there is a mountain of material in Clarke that is not reflected in the Joseph Smith Translation, and there is a mountain of material in the Joseph Smith Translation that cannot be explained by reference to Clarke. The few overlaps that do exist are vague, superficial, and coincidental.

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A Uni-Dimensional Picture of a Multi-Faceted Nauvoo Community

[Page 1]Review of Benjamin E. Park, Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier (New York City: Liveright Publishing, 2020). 336 pages. $28.95 (hardback).

Abstract: Benjamin Park recently wrote a substantive revisionist history of Nauvoo, Illinois, the one-time Church capital under the leadership of Joseph Smith, Jr. This article serves as a critical review of Park’s work. Congratulating the author for placing this well-known Latter-day Saint story within the larger Jacksonian American democratic context, as well as for utilizing a great many primary sources hardly used before, Richard Bennett in this critical review assesses both the strengths and the weaknesses of this important new book. While complimenting Park for his significant contributions on politics, women, and race in Nauvoo, Bennett nonetheless finds much to criticize in what he sees as a unidimensional, highly political study that disregards many previous studies of Nauvoo and fails to address many other critically important facets of the city’s life and history from its inception in 1839 until the Saints’ departure in 1846.

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