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

“A Life Lived in Crescendo”:
Selected Punctuation Marks of Joseph Smith’s Final Years

A “Come, Follow Me” Virtual Fireside Series

Sponsored by
The Interpreter Foundation, Book of Mormon Central, FAIR, & Meridian Magazine

Next Fireside: This Sunday, October 17 at 6:00 PM
Freemasonry and the Origins of Modern Temple Ordinances
with Jeff Bradshaw

For more information, including schedule, presenters and live-stream links, go to https://interpreterfoundation.org/conferences/a-life-lived-in-crescendo-firesides/

An Ishmael Buried Near Nahom

Abstract: Latter-day Saint scholars generally agree that “the place called… Nahom,” where Ishmael was buried (1 Nephi 16:34) is identified as the Nihm tribal region in Yemen. Significantly, a funerary stela with the name y s1mʿʾl — the South Arabian equivalent of Ishmael — was found near the Nihm region and dated to ca. 6th century bc. Although it cannot be determined with certainty that this is the Ishmael from the Book of Mormon, circumstantial evidence suggests that such is a possibility worth considering.

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Ancient Sacred Vestments:
Scriptural Symbols and Meanings

Abstract: In this essay Parry starts with the symbology of ritual vestments, and then discusses in detail how the ancient clothing worn in Old Testament temples are part of the rituals and religious gestures that are conducted by those who occupy the path that leads from the profane to the sacred. The profane is removed, one is ritually washed, anointed, invested with special clothing, offers sacrifices, is ordained (hands are filled), and offers incense at the altar, before entering the veil. Putting on clothes, in a Christian context, is often seen as symbol of putting on Christ, as witnessed by the apostle Paul using the word “enduo,” when talking about putting on Christ, a word mainly used in the Septuagint for donning sacred vestments (symbols also for salvation, righteousness, glory, strength and resurrection) in order to be prepared to stand before God. Parry then goes on explaining how priestly officiants wearing sacred vestments, emulated celestial persons who wear sacred vestments, making one an image of those celestial persons. He concludes with showing how the ancient garbs of the High Priest point to Christ.

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Be Ye Therefore Loyal, Even as Your Father Which is in Heaven is Loyal

Abstract: The scriptures are saturated with covenantal words and terms. Any serious or close reading of the scriptures that misses or ignores the covenantal words, phrases, and literary structure of scripture runs the risk of missing the full purpose of why God preserved the scriptures for us. This is especially true for the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon, which emerged out of an Old Testament cultural context. Research during the past century on ancient Near Eastern covenants has brought clarity to the covenantal meaning and context of a variety of words and literary structures in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon. This article builds on that revealing research to show that the English word “perfect” in a covenantal context in scripture can also be represented with the covenantal synonyms of “loyal, loyalty, faithful, and trustworthy.” God has revealed and preserved the scriptures as records of these covenants and of the consequences of covenantal loyalty or disloyalty. The Lord’s injunction to “be ye therefore perfect” (Matthew 5:48) is beautifully magnified when we realize that we are not simply asked to be without sin, but, rather, to “be ye therefore covenantally loyal” even as God has been eternally and covenantally loyal to us.

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Celebrating Exactitude,
When It’s Appropriate

Abstract: It’s almost always better to be right than to be wrong, to be exact than to be sloppy. In scholarship generally and serious scriptural study specifically, it’s important to work toward precision in both interpretation and explanation. However, the Lord is fully capable of reaching us where we are, despite our imperfect languages and our limited capacities. “These commandments are of me,” he says at D&C 1:24, “and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.”

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Framing the Book of Abraham:
Presumptions and Paradigms

Review of Dan Vogel, Book of Abraham Apologetics: A Review and Critique (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2021). 250 pp. $18.95 (softback).

Abstract: The Book of Abraham continues to undergo scrutiny in both academic and polemical publications. The latest offering of substance in the latter category, Dan Vogel’s Book of Abraham Apologetics: A Review and Critique, criticizes the work of those who argue for the antiquity and inspiration of the Book of Abraham and makes a sustained argument that the book is, instead, modern pseudepigrapha written by a pious fraud (Joseph Smith) in the nineteenth century. Book of Abraham Apologetics lays out a particular naturalistic approach to this text that works best only when certain metaphysical and methodological assumptions are taken for granted. This approach, however, as well as most of his arguments against the Book of Abraham’s historicity, are severely undermined both by Vogel’s inability to properly assess the evidence and his metaphysical or ideological commitments. This review critiques Vogel’s critique of Book of Abraham apologetics and offers an alternative to his questionable framing of the text and its interpretation.

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An Early Christian Context for the Book of Moses

Abstract: This study argues that the Book of Moses was an early Christian text. The book’s language, literary genre, and references to its own production could fit with a date in the late first century ad. Further, the study argues that a possible ritual context of the book was a baptismal ritual, as suggested by the detailed description of Adam’s baptism in Moses 6. A comparison between the content of the Book of Moses and early Christian sources on baptism shows some close resemblances, which may suggest that the Book of Moses was read aloud, and perhaps portrayed as a ritual drama, on sacred space during a baptismal ritual.

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The People of Canaan:
A New Reading of Moses 7

Abstract: Moses 7 is one of the most famous passages in all of Restoration scripture. It is also one of the most problematic in regard to its description of the people of Canaan as black (v. 8) and as a people who were not preached to by the patriarch Enoch (v. 12). Later there is also a mention of “the seed of Cain,” who also are said to be black (v. 22). This article examines the history of interpretation of Moses 7 and proposes an alternative understanding based on a close reading of the text. In contrast to traditional views, it argues that the reason for Enoch’s not preaching to the people of Canaan stems not from any sins the people had committed or from divine disfavor but from the racial prejudice of the other sons of Adam, the “residue of the people” (vv. 20, 22) who ironically are the only ones mentioned as “cursed” in the text (v. 20). In looking at the implications of this passage for the present-day Restoration, this article notes parallels between Enoch’s hesitancy and various attitudes toward black priesthood ordination throughout the Restoration traditions, including the Community of Christ where the same type of hesitancy existed. This article argues that, rather than being indicative of divine disfavor toward persons of African descent, this tendency is a response to the racist attitudes of particular eras, whether the period of the Old Testament patriarchs or the post-bellum American South. Nevertheless, God can be seen as working through and within particular contexts and cultures to spread the gospel to all of Adam’s children irrespective of race.

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The Good God Hermeneutic:
A Reconsideration of Religious Vocabulary

Review of Fiona Givens and Terryl Givens, All Things New: Rethinking Sin, Salvation, and Everything In Between (Faith Matters Press, 2020). 188 pages. $12.95 (paperback).

Abstract: Fiona and Terryl Givens once again deliver a book worthy of the comparatively wide readership they have gained within Latter- day Saint circles. Their orderly treatment of individual gospel concepts in this book can rightly be seen as a distillation and unification of their previous work, boldly attempting to awaken us from our ignorance of the sheer novelty and vitality contained in the Restoration vision of God and humanity. They convincingly argue that the historically wrought semantic baggage that comes with the most basic religious vocabulary we use must be consciously jettisoned to fully appreciate and articulate the meaning of the Restoration.

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Book of Abraham Polemics:
Dan Vogel’s Broad Critique of the Defense of the Book of Abraham

Review of Dan Vogel, Book of Abraham Apologetics: A Review and Critique (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2021). 250 pp. $18.95 (softback).

Abstract: Dan Vogel’s latest book claims to offer clear-cut evidence showing what, when, and how Joseph Smith fraudulently translated the Book of Abraham. While he claims to use an objective approach, he instead weaves a polemical agenda that ignores some of the most important scholarship in favor of the Book of Abraham. He ignores crucial evidence and relies on assumptions and hypotheses as if they were established facts. The arguments of apologists, which he claims to be reviewing and critiquing, are often overlooked or, when treated, attacked without letting readers know the substance of the apologetic argument. He neglects key arguments, and important documents that don’t fit his theory. The work is a valuable tool to explore Book of Abraham polemics, but it is not even-handed scholarship by any means. Vogel’s latest contribution does not overturn the evidence against his paradigm nor overthrow the growing body of insights into the antiquity of the Book of Abraham.

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Latter-day Houses of the Lord:
Developments in Their Design and Function

Abstract: This essay traces the modern-day usage and understanding of temples from the Kirtland Temple to Nauvoo and the Salt Lake Temple. Architecture was used to teach principles. While the Kirtland Temple was preparatory (think of the vision of Christ and the conference of keys by Abraham, Moses, Abraham, Elias, and finally Elijah), the Nauvoo Temple was dedicated to ritual usage. In 1879, the Church reduced temple usage to rituals, and thus assembly rooms are missing from later temples. Through his paper, Cowan shows how temples have changed according to revelation and how prophets have seen models in vision that then have been incorporated in the temples God’s people built.

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Additional Janus Parallels in the Book of Mormon

Abstract: A little more than 40 years ago, Cyrus Gordon discovered and described for the first time an ancient literary technique which he had found in the Hebrew Bible, and he gave it a name — a Janus parallel. That is why no one, more than 40 years ago, could have faked a Hebrew Janus parallel in an English translation of an ancient document. But, as I reasoned, if Janus parallels were a Hebrew literary device at the time Lehi left Jerusalem (for an analog see chiasmus), then such parallels probably can be found in the Book of Mormon. In this article I describe the technical methodology for discovering Janus parallels in an English translation, and I provide two new examples.

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Vox Populi and Vox Dei:
Allusive Explorations of Biblical and Book of Mormon Politeias

A review of David Charles Gore, The Voice of the People: Political Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2019). 229 pp. $15.95 (paperback).

Abstract: David Gore’s book The Voice of the People: Political Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon is a welcome reading of Book of Mormon passages which engage in conversation with the biblical politeia — those parts of the Hebrew Bible that explore the constituent parts of the Israelite governance under judges and kings. Gore asserts that the Book of Mormon politeia in Mosiah is in allusive dialogue not just with the Bible but also the Jaredite experience of kingship in Ether. This allusive (intertextual) feature is present not just in the Book of Mormon but any text (Dead Sea Scrolls, New Testament, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and other writings) in the biblical tradition. The textual connection is conveyed when the biblical Noah is a type and King Noah the anti-type. The same is true of the biblical Gideon, who is a narrative bridge between the period of the judges and the transformation to monarchy; the Book of Mormon Gideon serves a similar typological function, bridging the reign of kings to the period of judges. Our modern notions of federalism and democracy owe much to the biblical legacy of covenant and republicanism, and although the Book of Mormon political structures share some features with modern federalism, the roots of both go deep into the Hebrew Bible. The Book of Mormon politeia, also a branch of that biblical political legacy, requires that readers understand that filiation, and demands awareness of the dialogue between the Book of Mormon and the Bible on the subject, so such reading can enrich our understanding of both Hebraic scriptures.

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Better Kingdom-Building
through Triage

Abstract: We are called to take the Gospel to the entire world, but our numbers are few and our time and resources are limited. This is where cold calculation can help. A field-surgical technique pioneered during the Napoleonic Wars of the early nineteenth century and refined in the butchery of World War I a century later offers a useful model for making our missionary efforts more efficient and more effective.

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Mormon, Moses, and the Representation of Reality

Abstract: In this essay, Richard Bushman borrows a critical perspective from Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. He analyzes the representation of antiquity in two of Joseph Smith’s striking translations, the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses. The two texts, produced within a few years of one another, created distinctive stages on which to dramatize the human-God relationship. The question is: What can we learn from this comparison about God, prophets, and human destiny?

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Joseph Smith as a Book of Mormon Storyteller

Abstract: For nearly 200 years, skeptics have promoted different naturalistic explanations to describe how Joseph Smith generated all the words of the Book of Mormon. The more popular theories include plagiarism (e.g. of the Solomon Spaulding manuscript), collaboration (with Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, etc.), mental illness (bipolar, dissociative, or narcissistic personality disorders) and automatic writing, also called “spirit writing, “trance writing,” or “channeling.” A fifth and currently the most popular theory posits that Joseph Smith possessed all the intellectual abilities needed to complete the task. A variation on this last explanation proposes that he used the methods of professional storytellers. For millennia, bards and minstrels have entertained their audiences with tales that extended over many hours and over several days. This article explores their techniques to assess whether Joseph Smith might have adopted such methodologies during the three-month dictation of the Book of Mormon. Through extensive fieldwork and research, the secrets of the Serbo-Croatian storytellers’ abilities to dictate polished stories in real time have been identified. Their technique, also found with modification among bards throughout the world, involves the memorization of formulaic language organized into formula systems in order to minimize the number of mental choices the tale-teller must make while wordsmithing each phrase. These formulas are evident in the meter, syntax, or lexical combinations employed in the storyteller’s sentences. Professional bards train for many years to learn the patterns and commit them to memory. When compared to Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, the historical record fails to support that he had trained in the use of formula systems prior to 1829 or that his dictation employed a rhythmic delivery of the phrases. Neither are formula patterns detected in the printed 1830 Book of Mormon. Apparently, Smith did not adopt this traditional storyteller’s methodology to dictate the Book of Mormon.

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Alma’s Reality: Reading Alma as Sinful, Repentant, Traumatized, Questioning, and Righteous

Review of Kylie Nielson Turley, Alma 1–29: A Brief Theological Introduction (Provo, UT: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2020). 162 pages. $9.95 (paperback).

Abstract: Kylie Nielson Turley delves deep into the conversion and ministry of Alma the Younger, reading new life into a well-known narrative. By analyzing Alma’s story with the full weight of his humanity in mind, she breathes emotion into Alma’s conversion and missionary efforts. Her efforts to read Alma without a veneer of superhumanity result in a highly relatable figure who has known wickedness, repentance, loss, depression, and righteousness.

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Axes Mundi:
Ritual Complexes in Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon

Abstract: An axis mundi refers to a sacred place that connects heaven and earth and is believed to be the center of the world. These places are sanctified through ritual consecration or through a divine manifestation that results in qualitatively detaching that space from the surrounding cosmos. Often expressed in architecture as a universal pillar, these axes mundi incorporate and put in communication three cosmic levels — earth, heaven, and the underworld. As Mark Alan Wright notes, Mesoamerican sacred architecture was designed according to cosmological principles and finds a modern analogy in Latter-day Saint temples. Also, among Mesoamerican civilizations and in the Book of Mormon, the temple, the axis mundi, served as a place where worshipers go to engage in sacred rituals that bridge the divide between heaven and earth and allow the worshiper entry into the divine presence.

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The Practice and Meaning of Declaring Lineage in Patriarchal Blessings

Abstract: In this paper, I show that declarations of lineage in patriarchal blessings have, since the earliest days of the Restoration, evolved in terms of frequency of inclusion, which tribal lineages predominate, and understanding of the meaning of the declaration. I argue for a non- literal understanding consistent with scripture and science, but posit that these declarations have deep and important significance in connection with the gathering of Israel.

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The Origin and Purpose of the Book of Mormon Phrase
“If Ye Keep My Commandments Ye Shall Prosper in the Land”

Abstract: We are told in the Title Page of the Book of Mormon that the Book of Mormon was revealed in our day “to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever.” Hence, the covenantal context, structure, and logic of the Book of Mormon demand further consideration, exploration, and elucidation. A prosperous starting point is the phrase “If ye keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.” This covenantal phrase is used throughout the Book of Mormon as a summary of the theological logic of the suzerain-vassal treaty covenant type in which God sought to secure the fidelity of his people, who would receive in exchange continued prosperity in His appointed promised lands.

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Adam, Eve, the Book of Moses, and the Temple: The Story of Receiving Christ’s Atonement

Abstract: The authors begin by highlighting the importance of Book of Moses research that has discovered plausible findings for its historicity, rendering it at least reasonable to give the benefit of the doubt to sacred premises — even if, ultimately, the choice of premises is just that, a choice. Emphasizing the relevance of the Book of Moses to the temple, they note that the Book of Moses is not only an ancient temple text, but also the ideal scriptural context for a modern temple preparation course. Going further, the authors address an important question raised by some who have asked: “Since Christ is at the center of the gospel, why doesn’t the temple endowment teach the story of the life of Christ? What’s all this about Adam and Eve?” The answer given in detail in the paper is as follows: “The story of the life of Christ is the story of giving the Atonement. And the story of Adam and Eve is the story of receiving the Atonement. Their story is our story, too.”

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