Abstract: Every human enterprise — even the best, including science and scholarship — is marred by human weakness, by our inescapable biases, incapacities, limitations, preconceptions, and sometimes, yes, sins. It is a legacy of the Fall. With this in mind, we should approach even the greatest scientific, cultural, and academic achievements with both grateful appreciation and humility. J. B. Phillips’s rendition of Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 13:12 captures the thought nicely: “At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face! At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me!”
Sacred Time, Sacred Space, & Sacred Meaning
Proceedings of the Third Interpreter Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference “The Temple on Mount Zion,” 5 November 2016
Tracing Ancient Threads of the Book of Moses
Due to the COVID-19 situation, this will be a live-streaming-only conference.
Abstract: John Gee gives us a sketch of the divine judgment as presented in the gospel of John. “In John’s gospel, the individual is the defendant; Jesus is the judge; the devil is the prosecuting attorney; and the Holy Ghost is the defense attorney.” Somewhat surprisingly, this model “fits more closely the Roman model of judgment than the Jewish one.” He concludes with a lesson for the reader: “Since all will have to stand before the judgment bar, all of us will need to heed the counsel of our defense attorney.”
Review of Samuel Morris Brown, Joseph Smith’s Translation: The Words and Worlds of Early Mormonism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020). 314 pages. $34.95 (hardback).
Abstract: Samuel M. Brown opens up a new and expansive view of Joseph Smith as a religious thinker. Written for an academic audience, Brown is intentionally dealing with what can be seen and understood about Joseph Smith’s various translations, a term that Brown uses not only for texts, but for concepts of bringing the world of the divine into contact with the human domain. This is a history of the interaction of a person and the world of his thought, from the first text (the Book of Mormon) to the last, which Brown considers to be the temple rites.
Abstract: In this essay, James E Faulconer confronts an age-old issue that seems to divide Latter-day Saint Christians from other Christians, namely, “what it means to say that God is transcendent and embodied.” Early Christians also believed that God is embodied and transcendent, but with important differences in how that seemingly paradoxical combination of assertions can be explained. In his brilliant analysis, Faulconer shows how God “transcends us because He is embodied.”
Abstract: Paronomasia in the Hebrew text of Exodus creates narrative links between the name Miriam (Mary) and the “waters” (mayim) of the Re[e]d Sea from which Israel is “pulled” and the nearby “bitter” waters of Marah. Nephi sees Mary (Mariam), the mother of Jesus, associated with the “love of God,” and thus to both “the tree of life” and “the fountain of living waters” (1 Nephi 11:25) vis-à-vis “the fountain of filthy water” (1 Nephi 12:16). Mormon was named after “the land of Mormon” (3 Nephi 5:12). He associates his given name with “waters,” which he describes as a “fountain of pure water” (Mosiah 18:5), and with the good “desires” and “love” that Alma the Elder’s converts manifest at the time of their baptism (Mosiah 18:8, 10‒11, 21, 28). Mormon’s accounts of the baptisms of Alma the Elder’s people, Limhi’s people, the people at Sidom (Alma 15:13), and a few repentant Nephites at Zarahemla who responded to Samuel the Lamanite’s preaching (Helaman 16:1), anticipate Jesus’s eventual reestablishment of the church originally founded by Alma, the baptism of his disciples, and their reception of the Holy Ghost — “that which they most desired” (see 3 Nephi 19:9‒14, 24). Desire serves as a key term that links all of these baptismal scenes. Mormon’s analogy of “the bitter fountain” and its “bitter water” vis-à-vis the “the good fount” and its “good water” — which helps set up his discussion of “the pure love of Christ,” which “endureth forever” (Moroni 7:47‒48) — should be understood against the backdrop of Lehi’s dream as Nephite “cultural narrative” and the history of Alma the Elder’s people at the waters of Mormon. As Mormon’s people lose the “love [which] endureth by faith unto prayer” (Moroni 8:26; see also Moroni 8:14‒17; 9:5) they become like the “bitter fountain” (Moroni 7:11) and do not endure to the end in faith, hope, and charity on the covenant path (cf. 2 Nephi 31:20; Moroni 7:40‒88; 8:24‒26). The name Mormon [Page 262](“desire is enduring” or “love is enduring”), as borne by the prophet-editor of the Book of Mormon, embraces the whole cloud of these associations.
Abstract: This chapter argues that “the scriptural triad of faith, hope, and charity should be understood as something more than a general set of personal attributes that must be developed in order for disciples to become like Christ. Instead, as part of the ‘guarded tradition the Apostle’ [Paul] that is transmitted to readers in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere in scripture, these terms have been used to describe a distinct progression of ‘stages in a Christian’s earthly experience.’ The three stages that correlate to faith, hope, and charity were described by Joseph Smith as the ‘three principal rounds’ of a ladder of heavenly ascent. Each round marks a chief juncture in priesthood ordinances and on the pathway to eternal life.”
Review of William L. Davis, Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020). 250 pages with index. $90.00 (hardback), $29.95 (paperback).
Abstract: Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon introduces a new perspective in the examination of the construction of the Book of Mormon. With an important introduction to the elements of early American extemporaneous speaking, Davis applies some of those concepts to the Book of Mormon and suggests that there are elements of the organizational principles of extemporaneous preaching that can be seen in the Book of Mormon. This, therefore, suggests that the Book of Mormon was the result of extensive background work that was presented to the scribe as an extended oral performance.
A review of William L. Davis, Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2020, 264 pp. paperback $29.95, hardcover $90, e-book $22.99, ISBN: 1469655675, 9781469655673.
Abstract: Within the genre of Book of Mormon studies, William L. Davis’s Visions in a Seer Stone presents readers with an innovative message that reports how Joseph Smith was able to produce the words of the Book of Mormon without supernatural assistance. Using oral performance skills that Smith ostensibly gained prior to 1829, his three-month “prodigious flow of verbal art and narrative creation” (7) became the Book of Mormon. Davis’s theory describes a two-part literary pattern in the Book of Mormon where summary outlines (called “heads) in the text are consistently expanded in subsequent sections of the narrative. Termed “laying down heads,” Davis insists that such literary devices are anachronistic to Book of Mormon era and constitute strong evidence that Joseph Smith contributed heavily, if not solely, to the publication. The primary weaknesses of the theory involve the type and quantity of assumptions routinely accepted throughout the book. The assumptions include beliefs that the historical record does not support or even contradicts (e.g. Smith’s 1829 superior intelligence, advanced composition abilities, and exceptional memorization proficiency) and those that describe Smith using oral performance skills beyond those previously demonstrated as humanly possible (e.g. the ability to dictate thousands of first-draft phrases that are also refined final-draft sentences). Visions in a Seer Stone will be most useful to individuals who, like the author, are willing to accept these assumptions. To more skeptical readers, the theory [Page 152]presented regarding the origin of the Book of Mormon will be classified as incomplete or inadequate.
Abstract: This thorough treatment of the mention of baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29 gives a meticulous analysis of Paul’s Greek argument, and lays out the dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of theories that have been put forth with respect to its interpretation. Barney concludes that “the most natural reading” and the “majority contemporary scholarly reading” is that of “vicarious baptism.” Therefore, “the Prophet Joseph Smith’s reading of the passage to refer to such a practice was indeed correct.”
Abstract: This article examines Jacob’s statement “God hath taken away his plainness from [the Jews]” (Jacob 4:14) as one of several scriptural texts employing language that revolves around the Deuteronomic canon formulae (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32 [13:1]; cf. Revelation 22:18‒19). It further examines the textual dependency of Jacob 4:13‒14 on Nephi’s earlier writings, 1 Nephi 13 and 2 Nephi 25 in particular. The three texts in the Hebrew Bible that use the verb bʾr (Deuteronomy 1:5; 27:8; Habakkuk 2:2) — each having covenant and “law” implications — all shed light on what Nephi and Jacob may have meant when they described “plain” writing, “plain and precious things [words],” “words of plainness,” etc. Jacob’s use of Zenos’s allegory of the olive tree as a means of describing the Lord’s restoring or re-“adding” what had been “taken away,” including his use of Isaiah 11:11 (Jacob 6:2) as a hermeneutical lens for the entire allegory, further connects everything from Jacob 4:14 (“God hath taken away”) to Jacob 6:2 with the name “Joseph.” Genesis etiologizes the name Joseph in terms of divine “taking away” (ʾāsap) and “adding” (yōsēp; Genesis 30:23‒24; cf. Numbers 36:1‒5). God’s “tak[ing] away his plainness” involved both divine and human agency, but the restoration of his plainness required divine agency. For Latter-day Saints, it is significant the Lord accomplished this through a “Joseph.”
Abstract: In these glimpses of the early private life of a very public figure, Stephen E. Robinson provides a portrait that will enable readers to see how the child became father to the man.
Abstract: Many Book of Mormon students are aware that several locations along Lehi’s Trail through the Arabian Peninsula now have surprising and impressive evidence of plausibility, including the River Laman, Valley of Lemuel, Nahom, and Bountiful. One specific named location that has received much less attention is Shazer, a brief hunting stop mentioned in only two verses. After reviewing the potential etymology of the name, Warren Aston provides new information from discoveries made during field work in late 2019 at the prime candidate for the Valley of Lemuel, discoveries that lead to new understanding about the path to Shazer. Contrary to previous assumptions about Lehi’s journey, Aston shows there was no need to backtrack through the Valley of Lemuel to begin the “south-southeast” journey toward Shazer. It appears that Nephi’s description of crossing the river from the family’s campsite and then going south-southeast toward Shazer is exactly what can be done from the most likely candidate for a campsite in the most likely candidate for the Valley of Lemuel. In light of fieldwork and further information, Aston also reviews the merits of several locations that have been proposed for Shazer and points to a fully plausible, even probable, location for Shazer. The account of Shazer, like Nahom, the River of Laman/Valley of Lemuel, and Bountiful, may now be a fourth Arabian pillar anchoring and supporting the credibility of the Book of Mormon’s Old World account.
Abstract: This prefatory material to the festschrift for John W. Welch gives an overview of his exceptional life, full of variety and intensity. As James R. Rasband writes: “His candle burns bright whatever the project.” Hoskisson and Peterson characterize “Jack” as a “polymath” as they give a thumbnail sketch of the history of FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies), which he founded and of the book which honors his numerous contributions. A final contribution to this installment provides a useful collection of highlights of his personal and professional life.
Abstract: How does God relate to time? How do we? Modern science and revelation offer distinctive and fascinating perspectives to these questions. Specifically, the physical mechanisms underlying time have doctrinal parallels, they appear to be operative at the Fall, and they correlate with several phenomena that make God’s mercy possible.
Abstract: We are often at the dubious mercy of people, forces, and events that are beyond our control. But a trust in Providence — a word that is used relatively seldom these days for power that transcends even those people, forces, and events and that can, in the end, overrule them for our good — can nonetheless give us serene confidence. That such providential power exists, that it is personal and caring, is one of the fundamental messages of the scriptures and the prophets.
Abstract: Some critics of the Book of Mormon suppose that the DNA characteristics of modern Native Americans should be compatible with “Israelite” rather than with Asian genetics. The authors point out that while DNA is a valid tool to study ancient and modern populations, we must be careful about drawing absolute conclusions. They show that many of the conclusions of critics are based on unwarranted assumptions. There are specific limitations that cannot be ignored when using the available genetic data to infer conclusions regarding the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples. Such conclusions are not founded on solid science but are the interpretation of a few, as genetic data fails to produce conclusive proof weighing credibly in favor of or against the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
Abstract: An article recently published in an online journal entitled “The Entheogenic Origins of Mormonism: A Working Hypothesis” posits that Joseph Smith used naturally occurring chemicals, called “entheogens,” to facilitate visionary experiences among his early followers. The entheogenic substances were reportedly derived from two mushrooms, a fungus, three plants (including one cactus), and the secretions from the parotid glands of the Sonoran Desert toad. Although it is an intriguing theory, the authors consistently fail to connect important dots regarding chemical and historical cause-and-effect issues. Documentation of entheogen acquisition and consumption by the early Saints is not provided, but consistently speculated. Equally, the visionary experiences recounted by early Latter-day Saints are highly dissimilar from the predictable psychedelic effects arising from entheogen ingestion. The likelihood that Joseph Smith would have condemned entheogenic influences as intoxication is unaddressed in the article.
Abstract: Mark Alan Wright describes a common type of ritual specialist among the Maya called a “daykeeper.” He discusses similarities and differences with descriptions of ritual specialists in the Book of Mormon, including those who used the Urim and Thummim, performed rituals of healing, experienced near-death episodes at the inauguration of their calling, kept track of calendars, mastered astronomy, and invoked God to bring rain. He finds several intriguing similarities, but also differences — the most important one being that the Nephites understood that the power to do all these things came from the God of Israel rather than the local pantheon.
Abstract: This article highlights the striking resemblances between Moses 1 and a corresponding account from the Apocalypse of Abraham (ApAb), one of the earliest and most important Jewish texts describing heavenly ascent. Careful comparative analysis demonstrates a sustained sequence of detailed affinities in narrative structure that go beyond what Joseph Smith could have created out of whole cloth from his environment and his imagination. The article also highlights important implications for the study of the Book of Moses as a temple text. Previous studies have suggested that the story of Enoch found in the Pearl of Great Price might be understood as the culminating episode of a temple text woven throughout chapters 2–8 of the Book of Moses. The current article is a conceptual bookend to these earlier studies, demonstrating that the account of heavenly ascent in Moses 1 provides a compelling prelude to a narrative outlining laws and liturgy akin to what could have been used anciently as part of ritual ascent within earthly temples.
Abstract: John S. Thompson explores scholarly discussions about the relationship of the Egyptian tree goddess to sacred trees in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the temple. He describes related iconography and its symbolism in the Egyptian literature in great detail. He highlights parallels with Jewish, Christian, and Latter-day Saint teachings, suggesting that, as in Egyptian culture, symbolic encounters with two trees of life — one in the courtyard and one in the temple itself — are part of Israelite temple theology and may shed light on the difference between Lehi’s vision of the path of initial contact with Tree of Life and the description of the path in 2 Nephi 31 where the promise of eternal life is made sure.