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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BYU Religious Studies Center Bibliography Collection

Including 251 books, 65 issues of Religious Educator, videos, podcasts, and four Symposia/Conferences

Now available at https://interpreterfoundation.org/bibliographies/rsc/

2022 Temple on Mount Zion Conference

The Sixth Interpreter
Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference

Vidoes of the conference talks are now available at
https://interpreterfoundation.org/conferences/2022-temple-on-mount-zion-conference/
 

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

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.

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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.

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Beautiful Patience

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).

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An Important New Study of Freemasonry
and the Latter-day Saints:
What’s Good, What’s Questionable, and What’s Missing in Method Infinite

Review of Cheryl L. Bruno, Joe Steve Swick III, and Nicholas S. Literski, Method Infinite: Freemasonry and the Mormon Restoration (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2022). 544 pages. $44.95 (hardback); $34.95 (softcover).

Abstract: There is much to celebrate in this important new study of Freemasonry and the Latter-day Saints. To their credit, the authors have succeeded in creating a work that is richer than earlier studies of the subject, probing many previously unexplored hints of Masonic influence on Latter-day Saint life and thought from the beginning of the Restoration through the end of the nineteenth century. That said, the book’s dauntingly broad survey suffers from uneven quality on some of the many topics it ambitiously tackles. While recognizing the study’s considerable merits, its shortcomings must also be considered. For this reason, I’ve divided this review into three parts: What’s Good, What’s Questionable, and What’s Missing. I conclude with methodological observations about best practices in the use of the comparative analysis in studies of important and challenging subjects such as this one.

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“We Don’t Know, So We Might as Well”: A Flimsy Philosophy for Same-Sex Sealings

Review of Nate Oman, “A Welding Link of Some Kind,” Thoughts from a Tamed Cynic (Substack, September 27, 2022).

Abstract: Nate Oman claims to demonstrate a theological path that allows for same-sex sealings within existing Latter-day Saint doctrine. In fact, he claims that such an adjustment would be not only compatible with most Church doctrine but more scripturally sound than current teachings and policies regarding same-sex relationships. However, he falls short of his declared objective. His essay sets up an exaggerated pattern of dramatic theological overhauls in Latter-day Saint theology, downplays existing revelation on the subject of sealings and exaltation, and proposes a new theology to justify his policy conclusions. In the end, his essay completely ignores the root cause of the contention surrounding the issue: the nature of doctrine and the truth claims of the restored Church.

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Puritans, Pagans, and Imperfect Christmas Gifts

Abstract: Early American campaigns against Christmas illustrate both the irrepressibility of the impulse to celebrate Christ and what is lost when we reject the good that comes from suspect sources. Both lessons point us toward the Savior’s gracious acceptance of our own imperfect offerings.

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We Live in the Olden Days:
Reflections on the Importance of Scientific and Theological Humility

Abstract: Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a unique perspective on truth. Our knowledge that Salvation likely involves participation in complex eternal activities requiring significantly more understanding than we currently possess naturally leads us to seek truth and, in addition, to seek an understanding of that truth. Under these circumstances, our inability to fully understand many truths, both revealed and discovered, can lead to confusion. A lack of complete understanding of accepted scientific truth generally leads the serious truth-seeker to enhanced investigative and educational efforts without doubting the ultimate veracity of the concept under investigation; we all believe in gravity, but no one completely understands it. In a similar manner, the fact that an individual is bothered by such an incompletely understood truth is rarely seen as reason to reject it; gravity bothers me a lot — were it not for gravity, I could fly. Unfortunately, an inability to fully understand some revealed truths all too often leads to rejection of that truth rather than an acceptance of one’s conceptual limitations and an enhanced effort at understanding the concept in question. Such an approach can be as disastrous (although often not as immediately disastrous) as disregard of the reality of gravity. Consideration of examples of both scientific and spiritual experience may lead to a more rational reaction to truths that we do not, and sometimes at our present level of understanding, simply cannot, completely comprehend.

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The Words of Gad the Seer: An Apparently Ancient Text With Intriguing Origins and Content

Review of Meir Bar-Ilan, Words of Gad the Seer (Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace Publishing, 2016); Christian Israel, The Words of Gad the Seer: Bible Cross-Reference Edition (self-published, 2020); and Ken Johnson, Ancient Book of Gad the Seer: Referenced in 1 Chronicles 29:29 and Alluded to in 1 Corinthians 12:12 and Galatians 4:26 (self-published, 2016).

Abstract: A long-overlooked Hebrew document from an ancient Jewish colony in Cochin, India, purports to contain the words of Gad the Seer. Professor Meir Bar-Ilan has translated the text into English and has stirred interest in the fascinating document. At least two other English translations are also now available. Here we examine the story of the coming forth of the text and some issues of possible interest to Latter-day Saints, including some of Bar-Ilan’s insights in evaluating the antiquity of disputed texts. Bar-Ilan’s translation of this intriguing document and his related publications may be valuable for anyone with an interest in the Hebrew scriptures and ancient Judaism.

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“Being of that Lineage”:
Generational Curses and Inheritance in the Book of Abraham

Abstract: The seeming appearance of a lineal or generational curse in the Book of Abraham has been used erroneously to marginalize people and justify racist ideas in Latter-day Saint history. To avoid any further misinterpretation of scripture in ways that are hurtful to others, the following attempts to elucidate the meaning of lineal curses within the Book of Abraham’s claimed ancient provenance. “Cursed” often reflected a simple legalistic concept, applicable to any person regardless of race, that meant one was currently in a state of disinheritance. An individual might be in a state of disinheritance if they violated any requirement necessary to receive their inheritance, and any descendant who remained an heir of a person who no longer had an inheritance to give was also considered disinherited or “cursed,” even though they may have personally done nothing wrong. This ancient understanding of cursing as disinheritance provides better context and clarity to many of Joseph Smith’s revelations and translations, including the Book of Abraham. Arguably, the scriptures and revelations of the Latter-day Saint tradition, including the Bible, indicate that the eternal blessings of a kingdom (land) and priestly kingship/queenship (priesthood) originate from God but must be inherited through an unbroken ancestral chain forged via covenant. Indeed, the express purpose of sealing children to parents in modern Latter-day Saint temples is to make them “heirs.” Consequently, moving towards a better understanding of the roles inheritance and disinheritance play in receiving the divine blessings of the covenant might be beneficial generally and help readers avoid racist interpretations of the Book of Abraham and other scripture. This is especially the case when it is understood that being disinherited, in a gospel context, does not need to be a permanent status when one relies on the grace of the Holy Messiah and [Page 98]submits to those divine laws and covenant rites whereby one can literally inherit the promised blessings.

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Rethinking the Encounter between Jacob and Sherem

Abstract: The Book of Mormon story of Jacob and Sherem has been evaluated and interpreted from many different viewpoints over the years. In his retelling of the story, Jacob crafted a cautionary tale of religious hubris and self-importance that can serve as an important lesson for members of the church today. In this paper I use various methodologies to examine the interaction between Jacob and Sherem — including comparative scriptural analysis, semantics, and Hebraic syntax and structural elements — in an attempt to increase our understanding of the relationship between Jacob and Sherem.

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Twenty Years After “Paradigms Regained,” Part 1: The Ongoing, Plain, and Precious Significance of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship for Latter-day Saint Studies

Abstract: Twenty years ago, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies published “Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship and Its Significance for Mormon Studies” as its second FARMS Occasional Paper. The first part of this essay provides an overview of Doctor Barker’s scholarship and its wider reception through early 2022, and then includes a broad survey of Latter-day Saint interaction with her work to the present. Part 2 of this essay (forthcoming) will address specific criticisms and appreciations of Barker’s work.

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When an Evident Fact
Cannot Be Allowed to Be True

Abstract: Miracles occur relatively often in scripture, as do people who, for various reasons, want or even need to deny their occurrence. The arguments that are deployed to justify such denial haven’t changed all that much over the centuries. In fact, they’re still around today.

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The Diachronic Usage of Exclamation Marks across the Major Book of Mormon Editions

Abstract: The usage of the exclamation mark has changed over time but continues to serve as an important textual interpretation aid. Punctuation itself has not been a permanent fixture in English, rather it was slowly introduced to English documents with changing standard usages after the invention of the printing press. Here we highlight the use of the exclamation mark across major editions of the Book of Mormon and document the presence of the exclamation mark in a reference table.

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A Research Note: Continuing Exploration and Research in Oman

Abstract: The significance of the ongoing studies into the potential location of the Old World “Bountiful,” which Nephi reminds us was “prepared of the Lord” (1 Nephi 17:5), and is documented in great detail by him, can hardly be overstated. Bountiful’s resources had to be truly substantial and unique to enable the Lehites to recover from years of land travel from Jerusalem and to build a ship capable of reaching the New World. Exploration and scientific studies of the Dhofar region of southern Oman, the only section of the Arabian coast containing the feature Nephi describes, continue to the present. Here I briefly discuss, chronologically, recent developments of special significance to Book of Mormon studies.

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A Backstory for the Brass Plates

Abstract: This paper brings contemporary Ancient Near East (ANE) scholarship in several fields together with the ancient scriptures restored through Joseph Smith to construct a new starting point for interpretation of the teachings of the Book of Mormon. It assembles findings from studies of ancient scribal culture, historical linguistics and epigraphy, and the history and archaeology of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Levant, together with the traditions of ancient Israel and the ancient scriptures restored to Joseph Smith, to construct a contextualized perspective for understanding Lehi, Nephi, and the Brass Plates as they would have been understood by their contemporaries — as prominent bearers of the Josephite textual tradition. This essay offers a hypothetical, but comprehensive backstory for the Brass Plates. Because of its hypothetical character, it cannot be claimed that it is the true account. Rather it is an attempt to build a plausible backstory given the current state of knowledge in the relevant fields of academic research and the facts provided in the ancient scriptures restored through Joseph Smith.

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A Rejoinder to Jonathan Neville’s “Response to Recent Reviews”

Abstract: Jonathan Neville has offered a response to my two recent reviews of his works; however, in his response, Neville offers a poor defense regarding what he wrote and misrepresents my reviews of his works. As such, I present the following rejoinder in response to Neville’s concerns.

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A Man That Can Translate and Infinite Goodness: A Response to Recent Reviews

Abstract: Since 1829, various theories about the production of the Book of Mormon have been proposed. Modern scholarship has moved away from the idea that Joseph Smith actually translated ancient engravings into English. Two books, A Man That Can Translate and Infinite Goodness, propose a “neo-orthodox” view, offering evidence that Joseph did translate ancient engravings into English. Recent reviews in the Interpreter of these two books significantly misunderstand and misrepresent the argument. This response corrects some of those misconceptions.

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“Unto the Taking Away of Their Stumbling Blocks”:
The Taking Away and Keeping Back of Plain and Precious Things and Their Restoration in 1 Nephi 13–15

Abstract: In the latter part (1 Nephi 13–14) of his vision of the tree of life (1 Nephi 11–14), Nephi is shown the unauthorized human diminution of scripture and the gospel by the Gentile “great and abominable church” — that plain and precious things/words, teachings, and covenants were “taken away” or otherwise “kept back” from the texts that became the Bible and how people lived out its teachings. He also saw how the Lord would act to restore those lost words, teachings, and covenants among the Gentiles “unto the taking away of their stumbling blocks” (1 Nephi 14:1). The iterative language of 1 Nephi 13 describing the “taking away” and “keeping back” of scripture bears a strong resemblance to the prohibitions of the Deuteronomic canon-formula texts (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:31 [MT 13:1]). It also echoes the etiological meanings attached to the name Joseph in Genesis 30:23–24 in terms of “taking away” and “adding.” Nephi’s prophecies of scripture and gospel restoration on account of which “[the Gentiles] shall be no more [cf. Hebrew lōʾ yôsîpû … ʿôd] brought down into captivity, and the house of Israel shall no more [wĕlōʾ yôsîpû … ʿôd] be confounded” (1 Nephi 14:2) and “after that they were restored, they should no more be confounded [(wĕ)lōʾ yôsîpû … ʿôd], neither should they be scattered again [wĕlōʾ yôsîpû … ʿôd]” (1 Nephi 15:20) depend on the language of Isaiah. Like other Isaiah-based prophecies of Nephi (e.g., 2 Nephi 25:17, 21; 29:1–2), they echo the name of the prophet through whom lost scripture and gospel covenants would be restored — i.e., through a “Joseph.”

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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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