Abstract: A comet seen by the Chinese in 5 bc has been considered by some authors as a possibility for the Star of Bethlehem. This article starts with that premise and argues that Book of Mormon evidences reinforce that likelihood. The comet path can account for all events surrounding the Star of Bethlehem. Based on typologies in the scriptures, eyewitness reports, and the comet’s timing, the date of Christ’s birth can be determined. A proposal can then be made as to when and why the wise men began travelling to Jerusalem. The comet left a trail of debris the wise men saw on the night they located the house where Jesus was. The wise men and Joseph and Mary left Judea in mid-June of 5 bc and the slaughter of the innocents occurred later in that month. Using Josephus’s “Antiquities,” this article then argues strongly that Herod’s death occurred sometime after a lunar eclipse on September 15, 5 bc and before the next Passover. This serves also to support his death in the spring of 4 bc, contrary to some scholars who opt for a 1 bc death. This study reaffirms the reality of the Star of Bethlehem.
2022 Temple on Mount Zion Conference
The Sixth Interpreter
Saturday, November 5, 2022
Sponsored by The Interpreter Foundation
Invited guests: Margaret Barker (presenting from England) and Samuel Zinner
Go to https://interpreterfoundation.org/conferences/2022-temple-on-mount-zion-conference/
Freemasonry and the Origins of Latter-day Saint Temple Ordinances
By Jeffrey M. Bradshaw
Published by The Interpreter Foundation in cooperation with Eborn Books
With over 150 color photographs and figures
Now shipping in softcover and eBook formats
Undaunted Witnesses of the Book of Mormon
Explore the history of the Three Witnesses as well as other witnesses of the Book of Mormon with Camrey Bagley Fox, Emma Smith in the movie Witnesses, and Dr. Gerrit Dirkmaat, Associate Professor of Church History at BYU. Were the eleven official witnesses—twelve if you include Joseph Smith himself—of the Book of Mormon reliable? What about the unofficial witnesses who interacted with the plates in various ways—including a number of women? Were the plates actually made of gold? How could witnesses really hear the voice of God and yet come to doubt His prophet? Become more familiar with these early saints, none of whom ever denied their claims, but instead boldly proclaimed their testimonies.
UNDAUNTED: Witnesses of the Book of Mormon is a companion docudrama to the theatrical feature film WITNESSES. Produced by the Interpreter Foundation, UNDAUNTED provides a deep-dive into the lives of those who claimed to have seen and handled the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. Learn more about UNDAUNTED at https://witnessesundaunted.com/.
Witnesses of the Book of Mormon — Insights is a series of mini-films providing even greater depth into the many insightful interviews during the course of this project. Episodes will be released each Saturday at 7pm MDT on this and other websites, including YouTube. Go to https://interpreterfoundation.org/category/witnesses-insights/ for links to all of the released episodes, with each post including the embedded video, an audio recording, and a transcript of the episode. The mini-films are also available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/c/theinterpreterfoundation.
Abstract: This essay harnesses the late twentieth-century discovery of Hebrew rhetoric by Bible scholars to identify Lehi’s dream as the foundation of the carefully constructed unity in Nephi’s writings and to identify previously unrecognized elements of that dream which are distributed throughout his final work. The teachings and prophecies in 1 and 2 Nephi are shown to derive from their shared dream/vision. Further, the entirety of Nephi’s writings in the Small Plates is shown to be a tightly designed rhetorical production that establishes the centrality of Christ’s identity, mission, and teachings for current and future generations of Lehi’s descendants and ultimately for the entire world. For decades, interpreters of the Book of Mormon and its teachings have singled out the vision of the tree of life given first to Lehi and subsequently to his son Nephi as one of the book’s most prominent elements that require careful study. While literary and visual artists continue to find inspiration in the human dramas retold throughout the book, the text itself features visualizations1 of its basic doctrinal messages: (1) God on his throne in heavenly council, (2) the tree of life with the straight and narrow path, the iron rod, and the great and spacious building, and (3) the allegory of the olive tree. As I will explain below, those three visual images are part of Lehi’s and Nephi’s great vision and provide the blueprint for the complex of covenant history and [Page 232]doctrinal teaching recorded by multiple authors throughout the entire book. This article will trace that blueprint in the structure and content of Nephi’s Small Plates with limited side glances at the rest of the text.
Abstract: Metaphors occur when there is a contradiction in the senses of the words used that cause the text to be interpreted non-literally, as Paul Ricoeur has noted. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians describing the body as a temple has been taken to be one such scriptural metaphor: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? … know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). As a metaphor, it is a strong one. The supposed contradiction between a temple and a body includes the inanimate nature of the temple, its holiness in contrast to the natural man, and its unchanging, eternal purpose. The non-literal interpretation of both the body and the temple being a place where the spirit of God can dwell is emphasized in the metaphorical reading and rightly allows us to consider how we may invite the spirit into our lives. Yet to reduce the “body as temple” doctrine to a mere metaphor robs us of the deeper understanding of the body and its role in our spiritual progression and exaltation in the Plan of Happiness. Using the common characteristics archeologists and temple scholars use to classify various sites as temples across the world, this paper shows how the human body can rightly and without contradiction be called a temple of God (D&C 93:35).
Review of Robert A. Rees, A New Witness to the World (Salt Lake City: By Common Consent Press, 2020). 244 pages. $9.95 (paperback).
Abstract: Robert A. Rees has written about the Book of Mormon for over sixty years. In this book are collected sixteen essays that all focus on different aspects of the text of the Book of Mormon, and two that provide a personalized interaction. The topics range from the examination of the spiritual biographies of Nephi and Ammon to the issue of automatic writing as a possibility for the dictation of the Book of Mormon to an essay examining the Nephite 200-year peace.
Abstract: Since the mid-twentieth century, scholarly studies of the literary craftsmanship of biblical texts have revealed considerable insights into the intended purposes of the authors of these scriptural narratives. The present study applies the analytical methods of these studies to Mormon’s abridgment of Alma’s records of the Zoramite mission (Alma 31–35), revealing intricate patterns of literary conventions ranging from the most specific (e.g., diction, syntax, and figures of speech) to the most general (e.g., rhetoric, tone, and structural logic). From this perspective, Alma 31 provides a framework to distinguish Nephite and Zoramite religious practices and structure the narrative of the entire Zoramite mission, including the missionaries’ teachings. More broadly, Mormon’s account of the Zoramite mission sets the stage for the general degradation of Nephite society that focuses his abridgment of Nephi’s Large Plates for the next one hundred years.
Abstract: The Book of Mormon sheds light on a “great mystery” located in John 10:16 (D&C 10:64). In this paper, using a comparative method that traces intersecting pastoral imagery, I argue that John 10:16–18 (as opposed to merely John 10:16) not only refers to Jesus’s visit to the Lehites in Bountiful and the lost tribes of Israel (the standard LDS view), but that it has a scripturally warranted covenant-connection to the emergence and dissemination of the Nephite record. Specifically, the Book of Mormon, according to the Good Shepherd (3 Nephi 15:12–16:20), effectively serves as his recognizable voice to the inhabitants of the earth across time and space. The Nephite record has come forth so that the Lord’s sheep (those who hear his voice in and through that record in the final dispensation) may be safely gathered into the fold before he comes in glory to reign as a second King David. The Nephite record’s coming forth to eventually establish peace on earth was foretold by prophets such as Isaiah (Isaiah 52:7–10), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:23–25; 37:15–26), and Nephi (1 Nephi 13:34–37, 40–14:2; 1 Nephi 22:16–28). The value of this comparative approach is to recast our understanding of various passages of scripture, even as additional value is assigned to the Nephite record as the covenant of peace.
Abstract: Contemporary Palestinian archaeology has produced two major threats to traditional interpretations of the history of ancient Israel. The first threat, which derives from scientific discomfort with the exodus story as an explanation for the sudden population expansion in southern Palestine at the beginning of the Iron Age (c. 1200 bce), has led to a wide variety of theories about how these Israelites could have been drawn from existing populations in the general area. This challenge is answerable in ways that preserve the exodus account, which is fundamental to the Book of Mormon as well as the Bible. The second threat is the glaring mismatch between the biblical glorification of David and Solomon’s “empire” and disparagement of the northern kingdom combined with the archaeological finding that the cities of the northern kingdom were far larger and more advanced than Jerusalem and the south. This discrepancy between archaeology and the biblical record provided support for the widely embraced theory that everything from Genesis through Kings had been revised to promote the political and religious preeminence of Judah above the other tribes. This second challenge does fit the archaeology and contemporary textual interpretations. But it also provides stronger grounding for the hypothesis that Nephi’s Brass Plates could have been produced by an ancient Manassite scribal school of which he and his father were highly trained members, and which may have been out of sync with the Jewish scribal schools and the elders of Jerusalem.
Abstract: When Eliza R. Snow agreed to become one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives, she feared she would never be looked upon as a decent woman. Nevertheless, she accepted Joseph Smith’s proposal and eventually became a strong advocate of the practice. Reading about her understanding of plural marriage and the many testimonies of others who practiced it, I have realized that plural marriage teaches us much about humility, keeping God’s commandments, and following His prophets. In nineteenth-century America, it provided a way for women and men to set aside self and embark on a soul-refining journey filled with trials and obstacles that parallel many of the trials and obstacles of our day.
Review of Jonathan Neville, Infinite Goodness: Joseph Smith, Jonathan Edwards, and the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Digital Legends Press, 2021. 339 pages. $22.99 (paperback).
Abstract: This is the second of two papers reviewing Jonathan Neville’s latest books on the translation of the Book of Mormon. In Infinite Goodness, Neville claims that Joseph Smith’s vocabulary and translation of the Book of Mormon were deeply influenced by the famous Protestant minister Jonathan Edwards. Neville cites various words or ideas that he believes originate with Edwards as the original source for the Book of Mormon’s language. However, most of Neville’s findings regarding Edwards and other non-biblical sources are superficial and weak, and many of his findings have a more plausible common source: the language used by the King James Bible. Neville attempts to make Joseph a literary prodigy, able to read and reformulate eight volumes of Edwards’s sermons — with enough genius to do so, but not enough genius to learn the words without Edwards’s help. This scenario contradicts the historical record, and Neville uses sources disingenuously to impose his idiosyncratic and wholly modern worldview onto Joseph Smith and his contemporaries.
Review of Jonathan Neville, A Man That Can Translate: Joseph Smith and the Nephite Interpreters. Salt Lake City: Digital Legends Press, 2020. 385 pages. $22.99 (paperback).
Abstract: This is the first of two papers that explore Jonathan Neville’s two latest books regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon. Neville has long argued that Joseph Smith did not use a seer stone during the translation of the Book of Mormon, and he has more recently expanded his historical revisionism to dismiss the multitude of historical sources that include the use of a seer stone. Neville’s “Demonstration Hypothesis” is explored in A Man That Can Translate, arguing that Joseph recited a memorized text from Isaiah rather than translate Isaiah from the Book of Mormon record. This hypothesis, meant to redefine how Joseph Smith used a seer stone during the translation of the Book of Mormon, however, fails to deal with the historical record seriously or faithfully. Neville, in a purported effort to save Joseph Smith’s character, ironically describes Joseph as a liar, reinvigorating old anti-Latter-day Saint claims that Joseph simply recited a memorized text, even to the point that Neville defends hostile sources while targeting Church-published histories and publications. He further attacks the witnesses of the translation in an effort to discredit their testimonies regarding the seer stone, and repeatedly misrepresents these sources. Coming from a Latter-day Saint, such claims are troubling and demand a response.
Abstract: “Think not,” said the Savior at Matthew 10:34, “that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” And this has in fact been the case — too often literally, but certainly figuratively. In the Old Testament, the Lord accurately foretold the situation that we commonly see: “I will take you one of a city,” he explained, “and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion” (Jeremiah 3:14). Unfortunately, those who aren’t so “taken” are often not entirely happy with the beliefs and practices of those who are. “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth?” Jesus told his audience at Luke 12:51–52. “I tell you, Nay; but rather division.” But is Jesus not the Prince of Peace? Has he not also commanded us “That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39)? Jude 1:3 tells us that we “should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” but we are also told not to be contentious in carrying out that assignment. Doing both simultaneously can be an extraordinarily great challenge. But it is the Lord’s challenge to us.
Review of Blaire Ostler, Queer Mormon Theology: An Introduction (Newburgh, IN: By Common Consent Press, 2021). 152 pages. $10.95 (paperback).
Abstract: Blaire Ostler attempts to show how “Mormon theology is inherently queer” and may be expanded to be fully “inclusive” of LGBTQ+ members. Unfortunately, Ostler conflates God’s love with indulgence for behavior that he has described as sinful. She offers a pantheistic/panentheistic conception of deity that collapses any differences between men and women in sharp contrast to the Latter-day Saint understanding that men and women are complementary and require one another for exaltation and eternal life. Many of this book’s arguments are sophistry and the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. None of it is compatible with revealed truth contained in The Family: A Proclamation to the World and consistently taught by prophets, seers, and revelators.
Abstract: In the Book of Mormon, many people received a remarkable spiritual outpouring following a declaration or demonstration of full belief in what they had already received or were about to receive. This paper examines nine examples of this that exhibit strong similarities in both language and substance. These examples demonstrate that the key to receiving a spiritual outpouring is to “believe all the words” of God that one has already received or is about to receive, after which great blessings will follow. However, such full belief must be thoughtful and inspired, not merely credulous. The findings of this paper provide another example of the rich narrative and doctrinal patterns in the Book of Mormon.
Abstract: Khor Rori, which forms the mouth of Wadi (Valley) Darbat, is the largest inlet along the Dhofar coast of southern Arabia. The khor was excavated into a harbor by the erosive action of the river that flows through Wadi Darbat. In ancient times, Khor Rori was the only harbor in the Dhofar Region that could accommodate large sailing ships. The first colonizers of Khor Rori, who arrived around the ninth century bc, must have realized that this particular khor, because of its morphology, was an ideal natural port for trading their frankincense with other seafaring nations. Because Khor Rori has long been considered an important candidate for Bountiful and offers the advantage of not only the rich vegetation in Wadi Darbat and good sources of flowing water, it is also a safe harbor where a ship could have been built — indeed, the harbor would later become a busy port noted for building ships and much trade. This article provides updates since the original publications about Khor Rori, better documenting its advantages and exploring the possibility that essential raw materials for shipbuilding and shipwright expertise might have already existed at Khor Rori in Nephi’s day.
Abstract: This study assesses some of the interpretations of the name Liahona, which are unsatisfactory from a linguistic perspective. Since a dialect of Hebrew is the most likely underlying language of the Book of Mormon, the approach taken in this study parses the word Liahona into three meaningful segments in Hebrew: l-iah-ona; a Biblical Hebrew transliteration would be l-Yāh-Ɂōnấ. This name is a grammatical construction that attaches the prepositional prefix l- to Yāh, the name of “the Lord,” followed by the noun *Ɂōnấ. The preposition l- in this context denotes the following name as the agent or the one who is responsible for the following noun, i.e., l-Yāh designates the Lord as the agent, author, or producer of the *Ɂōnấ. Languages are complex, and etymological conjectures in ancient languages are hypothetical; therefore, the explanations and justifications presented here, of necessity, are speculative in nature. Etymological explanations have to involve the complexity of linguistics and sound changes. The hoped-for result of this study is that a simple and reasonable explanation of the meaning of Liahona will emerge from the complexity, and a more reasonable translation of Liahona will be the result.
Abstract: Under the duress of a lengthy war, and prompted by recent Lamanite military successes, as well as incensed at the government’s failure to resupply Helaman’s armies with provisions and to send men to reinforce the city Nephihah, Moroni sent a second scathing letter to the leaders of the Nephite nation in the Nephite capital city Zarahemla. As other scholars have noted, the name Zarahemla likely denotes “seed of compassion” or “seed of sparing.” In this article, I propose that Moroni’s rhetoric in the letter includes an acerbic word-irony involving the meaning of Zarahemla perhaps achieved in terms of the Hebrew verb yaḥmōl (“[he] will spare,” from ḥml, “spare,” “have compassion.” This word-irony points out that although the Lord had spared the people of Zarahemla and the Nephites in the past, the uncompassionate behavior of the nation’s leaders in Zarahemla was creating conditions under which the Lord would not spare the leadership in Zarahemla. Moroni wrote, “Behold, I come unto you, even in the land of Zarahemla, and smite you with the sword … For behold, the Lord will not suffer that ye shall live and wax strong in your iniquities to destroy his righteous people. Behold, can you suppose that the Lord will spare you…?” (Alma 60:30–32). The covenant background of this threat will also be explored.
Review of Patrick Q. Mason and J. David Pulsipher, Proclaim Peace: The Restoration’s Answer to an Age of Conflict (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2021). 290 pages $19.99 (softcover).
Abstract: Proclaim Peace is the first full-length volume discussing nonviolent theology in Latter-day Saint thought. It seeks to provide a new understanding of Restoration texts that aligns Mormon thought with modern pacifist traditions. Unfortunately, the book suffers from methodology issues that include an overly creative reading of some scriptures to support pacifist theories and the minimization of others’ theories. The book fails to interact with just-war ethics in meaningful ways that could enhance their ethic of peace. As a result, the book is longer than other pacifist texts but suffers from the same problems as previous entries in talking past those with differing opinion. The text will likely only appeal to a small audience of like-minded individuals who already share the same theories.
Review of David F. Holland, Moroni: A Brief Theological Introduction (Provo, UT: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2021). 147 pages. $9.95 (paperback).
Abstract: David Holland, the youngest son of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, is the John Bartlett Professor of New England Church History at Harvard Divinity School. Consistent with his training and focus, Holland has approached Moroni as an historian. Hence, despite the subtitle to this series about books in the Book of Mormon, Holland has done neither systematic nor dogmatic theology in his contribution.
Abstract: The story often referred to as Alma’s conversion narrative is too often interpreted as a simplistic plagiarism of Paul’s conversion-to-Christianity story in the book of Acts. Both the New and Old Testaments appropriate an ancient narrative genre called the prophetic commissioning story. Paul’s and Alma’s commissioning narratives hearken back to this literary genre, and to refer to either as pilfered is to misunderstand not just these individual narratives but the larger approach Hebraic writers used in composing biblical and Book of Mormon narrative. To the modern mind the similarity in stories triggers explanations involving plagiarism and theft from earlier stories and denies the historicity of the narratives; ancient writers — especially of Hebraic narrative — had a quite different view of such concerns. To deny the historical nature of the stories because they appeal to particular narrative conventions is to impose a mistaken modern conceptual framework on the texts involved. A better and more complex grasp of Hebraic narrative is a necessary first step to understanding these two (and many more) Book of Mormon and biblical stories.
Abstract: The historian who wrote 2 Kings 23:5 and Mormon, who wrote Mosiah 11:5, used identical expressions to describe King Josiah’s and King Noah’s purges of the priests previously ordained and installed by their fathers. These purges came to define their respective kingships. The biblical writer used this language to positively evaluate Josiah’s kingship (“And he put down [w<ĕhišbît] the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained”), whereas Mormon levies a negative evaluation against Noah (“For he put down [cf. Hebrew (wĕ)hišbît] all the priests that had been consecrated by his father”). Mormon employs additional “Deuteronomistic” language in evaluating Mosiah, Noah, and other dynastic Book of Mormon leaders, suggesting that the evident contrast between King Noah and King Josiah is deliberately made.