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

2022 Temple on Mount Zion Conference

The Sixth Interpreter
Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference

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/
for more information

Freemasonry and the Origins of Latter-day Saint Temple Ordinances

By Jeffrey M. Bradshaw

and

Dictionary of Proper Names and Foreign Words in the Book of Mormon

By Stephen D. Ricks, Paul Y. Hoskisson, Robert F. Smith and John Gee

Published by The Interpreter Foundation in cooperation with Eborn Books

Now shipping

Go to
https://interpreterfoundation.org/books/ for more information

Seek Ye Words of Wisdom

>Studies of the Book of Mormon, Bible, and Temple in Honor of Stephen D. Ricks

Edited by Donald W. Parry, Gaye Strathearn, and Shon D. Hopkin

Jointly published by The Interpreter Foundation and BYU Religious Education

Now available for pre-ordering

Go to
https://interpreterfoundation.org/books/ for more information

Understanding How the Scriptures Came to Be

Review of Michael R. Ash, Rethinking Revelation and the Human Element in Scripture: The Prophet’s Role as Creative Co-Author (Redding, CA: FAIRLatterDaySaints.org, 2021). 770 pages. $34.95 (paperback).

Abstract: A new book by Mike Ash examines to what degree the human mind is involved in receiving revelation. Ash sums up his view by saying, “prophets have a special calling, but not a special brain.” He then spends 700+ pages describing what that means and how it works. In essence, prophets do not go into a trance-like state, put a pen in their hand, and engage in a process of automatic writing only to wake from the trance and read what has been given. Instead, Ash helps us see how God uses the brains and personality of any particular prophet to bring His word forth. God does not bypass the prophet’s humanness; rather, He relies on it to contextualize His words for a particular people in a particular time.

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The Last Nephite Scribes

Abstract In an earlier paper, I concluded that Lehi and Nephi were highly trained Josephite scribes and were associated with an official Jerusalem scribal school that preserved ancient Manassite traditions. There they acquired advanced writing skills and classical Hebrew and Egyptian, which would become the scriptural languages of the Nephite peoples. These they maintained in the new promised land and passed on from generation to generation through the entire thousand-year Nephite dispensation, even though the Nephite language itself would naturally evolve. Evidence of how they did this surfaces repeatedly throughout the Book of Mormon. The following paper documents how both Mormon and his son Moroni abridged and concluded the religious, military, and political records of Book of Mormon peoples, thus preserving key elements of the vast Nephite records collection for a later dispensation. That scribal process parallels the roles and schools of other cultures of the ancient Near East.

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The Continuing Saga of Saints

Review of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days: Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent: 1893–1955 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2022). 757 pages. $6.90 (paperback).

Abstract: Volume 3 of Saints is a readable and engaging narrative discussing a dynamic and transitional period of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As with the previous volumes in the series, it is approachable and enjoyable for almost all reading audiences.

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“For Their Good Have I Written Them”:
The Onomastic Allusivity and Literary Function of 2 Nephi 25:8

Abstract: Nephi’s writings exhibit a distinctive focus on “good” and divine “goodness,” reflecting the meaning of Nephi’s Egyptian name (derived from nfr) meaning “good,” “goodly,” “fine,” or “fair.” Beyond the inclusio playing on his own name in terms of “good” and “goodness” (1 Nephi 1:1; 2 Nephi 33:3–4, 10, 12), he uses a similar inclusio (2 Nephi 5:30–31; 25:7–8) to frame and demarcate a smaller portion of his personal record in which he incorporated a substantial portion of the prophecies of Isaiah (2 Nephi 6–24). This smaller inclusio frames the Isaianic material as having been incorporated into Nephi’s “good” writings on the small plates with an express purpose: the present and future “good” of his and his brothers’ descendants down to the latter days.

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Examining the Origins
of Temple Worship

Review of Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Freemasonry and the Origins of Latter-day Saint Temple Ordinances (Orem, UT: The Interpreter Foundation, 2022). 556 pages. $39.99 (paperback).

Abstract: With the precision of a renowned surgeon, the finesse of a master politician, the insights of an eminent theologian, and the artistic skill of an eloquent poet, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw masterfully examines the influence of Masonic rituals and symbolism on the most sacred rites of Latter-day Saints as found in our holy temples.

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Hannah’s Adversity and
Peninnah’s Redemption

Abstract: Most biblical students are familiar with the story of Hannah, who after years of barrenness, finally gave birth to the prophet Samuel. Some will remember her adversary, Peninnah, who allegedly tormented Hannah to tears. My objective in this article is to reclaim Peninnah’s good name by reinterpreting the passage found in 1 Samuel 1:6.

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“But That Thou Wouldst Clear My Way Before Me”:
A Note on the Personal and Emotional Rendering of an Ancient Idiom in 2 Nephi 4:33

Abstract: The biblical Hebrew collocation pinnâ derek or pannû derek (cf. Egyptian Ἰr wꜣ.t [n]), often rendered “prepare the way” or “prepare a way” in English, is an evident stylistic feature of Nephi’s writings. The most basic meaning of this idiom is “clear my way,” which is how it is rendered in 2 Nephi 4:33. Zenos’s use of “prepare the way” (Jacob 5:61, 64) in the context of “clear[ing] away” bad branches also reflects this most basic meaning.

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There Is No Beauty
That We Should Desire Him

Abstract: In two separate passages Isaiah appears to describe the mortal Messiah as lacking in physical beauty and perhaps as even having some type of physical disfigurement (see Isaiah 52:14 and 53:2–4). On the contrary, Joseph, David, Esther, and Judith — portrayed in the biblical text as physical saviors or deliverers of Israel — are represented as beautiful in form and appearance. In fact, their beauty seems to be a significant factor in the successful exercise of their power as physical saviors of Israel. Unlike Joseph, David, Esther, and Judith, Christ may have been foreordained to descend to his mortal state with a less than attractive physical appearance and as someone who experienced illness throughout his life so that “he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12).

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Should I Be My Brother’s Keeper?
Yes and No

Abstract: We typically teach and often even sing that we should be our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers. And we do it with the very best and most holy of intentions. For many of us, indeed, loving and caring for our brothers and sisters is at the very heart of what it means to live a life of truly Christian discipleship. And rightly so. But there’s another way to think about this matter. I’ve pondered it for decades, and now, maybe some others will also find it thought-provoking.

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A Comet, Christ’s Birth, and Josephus’s Lunar Eclipse

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.

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Lehi’s Dream, Nephi’s Blueprint:
How Nephi Uses the Vision of the Tree of Life as an Outline for 1 and 2 Nephi

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.

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The Body As the Temple of God

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).

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Witnessing to the New Witness

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.

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Abridging the Records of the Zoramite Mission:
Mormon as Historian

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.

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“This Great Mystery”:
Gathering Still Other Sheep through the New Covenant of Peace

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.

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Modern Near East Archaeology and the Brass Plates

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.

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Plural Marriage: Beauty for Ashes

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.

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Jonathan Edwards’s Unique Role
in an Imagined Church History

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.

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An Unfortunate Approach to Joseph Smith’s Translation of Ancient Scripture

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.

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Contending without Contention

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.

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