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

Undaunted Witnesses

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/.

Undaunted Witnesses 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/undaunted-witnesses/ 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.

Liahona: “Prepared of
the Lord, a Compass”

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.

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“Can You Suppose
That the Lord Will Spare You?”:
Moroni’s Charged Rhetoric
in Alma 60:30–32

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.

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Rich Vein or Fools Gold?

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.

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An Elegant Book on Gifts, Gifting, and Remembering

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.

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Alma’s Prophetic
Commissioning Type Scene

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.

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Putting Down the Priests:
A Note on Royal Evaluations, (wĕ)hišbît, and Priestly Purges in 2 Kings 23:5 and Mosiah 11:5

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.

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Our Faithful Lord:
Passover to Easter

Abstract: Studying the origins and traditions of Passover enriches our understanding of Easter. We can deepen our own worship and expand our ritual memory by an acquaintance with these traditions. Latter-day Saints possess unique understandings that further illuminate the constancy and plenitude of the Lord’s covenantal relationship with us.

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Experiential Knowledge and the Covenantal Relationship in Alma 7

Abstract: A favorite scripture of many faithful saints is Alma 7 where it describes how the Savior came to Earth to understand, in the flesh, not only human sin, but human suffering. He did this in order to succor and heal us. Despite its obvious appeal, two points may seem curious to some readers. First, the doctrinal power of verses 11–13, which form a chiasm, has as its apex not the “mercy in succoring us,” as might be expected, but the “in the flesh” detail. Why? Upon closer examination, it appears that, in addition to performing the Atonement, Christ needed a mortal experience in order to add a complete experiential knowledge to his omniscient cognitive knowledge. That could only be obtained, in its fulness, “according to the flesh,” hence the emphasis in the chiasm. A second possible curiosity is that Alma ends his beautiful teaching with his brief testimony, which lends an air of closure. Then, the topic appears to change completely and seemingly inexplicably to a discussion of repentance and baptism. Again, why? Closer examination reveals that the next two verses (14–15) form a second chiasm. If the first chiasm can be viewed as a statement of what Christ offers us, the second may be viewed as what we offer Christ. He runs to us in 7:11–13; we run to him in 7:14–15. When viewed together, the two chiasms form a two-way covenantal relationship, which Alma promises will result in our eternal salvation.

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“The Messenger of Salvation”:
The Messenger-Message Christology of D&C 93:8 and Its Implications for Latter-day Saint Missionary Work and Temple Worship

Abstract: Several of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s earliest revelations, beginning with Moroni’s appearance in 1823, quote the prophecy of Malachi 3:1 with the Lord “suddenly com[ing] to his temple” as “messenger of the covenant.” Malachi 3:1 and its quoted iterations in 3 Nephi 24:1; Doctrine and Covenants 36:8; 42:36; 133:2 not only impressed upon Joseph and early Church members the urgency of building a temple to which the Lord could come, but also presented him as the messenger of the Father’s restored covenant. Malachi’s prophecy concords with the restored portion of the “fulness of the record of John” and its “messenger” Christology in D&C 93:8 in which Jesus Christ is both “the messenger of salvation” (the “Word”) and the Message (also “the Word”). The ontological kinship of God the Father with Jesus, angels (literally messengers), and humankind in Joseph’s early revelations lays the groundwork for the doctrine of humankind’s coeternality with God (D&C 93:29), and the notion that through “worship” one can “come unto the Father in [Jesus’s] name, and in due time receive of his fulness” (D&C 93:19; cf. D&C 88:29). D&C 88 specifies missionary work and ritual washing of the feet as a means of becoming, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, “clean from the blood of this generation” (D&C 88:75, 85, 138). Such ritual washings continued as a part of the endowment that was revealed to Joseph Smith during the Nauvoo period. Missionary work itself constitutes a form of worship, and temple worship today continues to revolve around missionary work for the living (the endowment) and for the dead (ordinances). The endowment, like the visions in which prophets were given special missionary commissions, [Page 2]situates us ritually in the divine council, teaches us about the great Messenger of salvation, and empowers us to participate in his great mission of saving souls.

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An Unexpected Case for
an Anthropomorphic God

Abstract: Given the knowledge of the corporeal, embodied nature of God that the Prophet Joseph Smith received in his 1820 First Vision, Latter-day Saints have argued from their earliest days that the Bible is most accurately understood as teaching precisely the same thing — that God has a body and that humans are literally created in his physical image. Now, a new book from an unlikely (and quite unintentional) ally makes a strong case for our position. It is a book that will both gratify Latter-day Saints and, at some points, offend them. In any event, readers of Interpreter should be aware of it.

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“The Wind and the Fire
to Be My Chariot”:
The Anachronism that Wasn’t

Abstract: In the Book of Abraham, God tells Abraham in Haran, “I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot” (Abraham 2:7). While this initially might appear to be an anachronism, as the chariot is normally thought to have been introduced later, archaeological finds of chariots at the site of Harran predate Abraham by hundreds of years.

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Serpents of Fire and Brass: A
Contextual Study of the Brazen Serpent Tradition in the Book of Mormon

Abstract: The story of the Israelites getting bitten in the wilderness by “fiery serpents” and then being miraculously healed by the “serpent of brass” (Numbers 21:4–9) is one of the most frequently told stories in scripture — with many of the retellings occurring in the Book of Mormon. Nephi is the first to refer to the story, doing so on two different occasions (1 Nephi 17:41; 2 Nephi 25:20). In each instance, Nephi utilizes the story for different purposes which dictated how he told the story and what he emphasized. These two retellings of the brazen serpent narrative combined to establish a standard interpretation of that story among the Nephites, utilized (and to some extent developed) by later Nephite prophets. In this study, each of the two occasions Nephi made use of this story are contextualized within the iconography and symbolism of pre-exilic Israel and its influences from surrounding cultures. Then, the (minimal) development evident in how this story was interpreted by Nephites across time is considered, comparing it to the way ancient Jewish and early Christian interpretation of the brazen serpent was adapted over time to address specific needs. Based on this analysis, it seems that not only do Nephi’s initial interpretations fit within the context of pre-exilic Israel, but the Book of Mormon’s use of the brazen serpent symbol is not stagnant; rather, it shows indications of having been a real, living tradition that developed along a trajectory comparable to that of authentic ancient traditions.

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Lehi and Nephi
as Trained Manassite Scribes

Abstract: This paper brings together contemporary Ancient Near East scholarship in several fields to construct an updated 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, Hebrew rhetoric, and the history and archaeology of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Levant, together with the traditions of ancient Israel to construct a contextualized perspective for understanding Lehi, Nephi, and their scribal training as they would have been understood by their contemporaries. Lehi and Nephi are shown to be the beneficiaries of the most advanced scribal training available in seventh-century BCE Jerusalem and prominent bearers of the Josephite textual tradition. These insights give much expanded meaning to Nephi’s early warning that he had been “taught somewhat in all the learning of [his] father” (1 Nephi 1:1). This analysis will be extended in a companion paper to provide the framework that enables the recognition and tracking of an official Nephite scribal school that ultimately provided Mormon with the records that he abridged to produce our Book of Mormon.

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Overwriting Ether:
Moroni’s Transfiguration of Jaredite Scripture

Review of Rosalynde Frandsen Welch, Ether: A Brief Theological Introduction (Provo, UT: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2020). 128 pages. $9.95 (paperback).

Abstract: The Book of Ether is a sometimes-overlooked gem of a text within the Book of Mormon, a history within a history that deserves careful and innovative investigation. Rosalynde Frandsen Welch offers such with a novel perspective in her entry in the Maxwell Institute’s series of “brief theological introductions” to the books within the Book of Mormon. The principal focus of Welch’s analysis is on issues concerning Moroni’s editorial purposes, how he interacts with his source text, and the ethics of his agenda for his abridgment of the Jaredite record. She critiques what she sees as Moroni’s lack of interest in the Jaredite record for its own sake and his attempts to “Christianize” the indigenous religion and culture of the former inhabitants of the land he occupies. Additionally, Welch presents Moroni as offering his future audience a “reader-centered theology of scripture” that seeks to transfer the authority of Scripture from the author to the reader. This review finds some of Welch’s proposals to be problematic but recognizes the great value of her beautifully written contribution to the academic study of the Book of Ether and the Book of Mormon.

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“We Might Have Enjoyed Our Possessions and the Land of Our Inheritance”:
Hebrew yrš and 1 Nephi 17:21

Abstract: The verbal expression “we might have enjoyed,” as used in a complaint that Nephi attributes to his brothers, “we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance” (1 Nephi 17:21), reflects a use of the Hebrew verb yrš in its progressive aspect, “to enjoy possession of.” This meaning is evident in several passages in the Hebrew Bible, and perhaps most visibly in the KJV translation of Numbers 36:8 (“And every daughter, that possesseth [Hebrew yōrešet] an inheritance [naḥălâ] in any tribe of the children of Israel, shall be wife unto one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the children of Israel may enjoy [yîršû] every man the inheritance [naḥălat] of his fathers”) and Joshua 1:15 (“then ye shall return unto the land of your possession [lĕʾereṣ yĕruššatkem or, unto the land of your inheritance], and enjoy it [wîrištem ʾôtāh].” Examining Laman and Lemuel’s complaint in a legal context helps us better appreciate “land[s] of … inheritance” as not just describing a family estate, but as also expressing a seminal Abrahamic Covenant concept in numerous Book of Mormon passages, including the covenant implications of the resettlement of the converted Lamanites and reconverted Zoramites as refugees in “the land of Jershon” (“place of inheritance”).

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Nephi’s Small Plates:
A Rhetorical Analysis

Abstract: In previous and pending publications I have proposed interpretations of various features of Nephi’s writings. In this paper I undertake a comprehensive discussion of the seven passages in which Nephi and his successor Jacob explain the difference between the large and the small plates and describe the divinely mandated profile for each. While most readers of the Book of Mormon have been satisfied with the simple distinction between the large plates in which the large plates are a comprehensive historical record of the Nephite experience and the small plates are a record of selected spiritual experiences, including revelations and prophecies, that approach has been challenged in some academic writing. What has been missing in this literature is a comprehensive and focused analysis of all seven of the textual profiles for these two Nephite records. In the following analysis, I invoke the insights of Hebrew rhetoric as developed by Hebrew Bible scholars over the past half century to articulate a vision of how these scattered explanations are designed and placed to support the larger rhetorical structures Nephi has built into his two books. The conclusions reached support the traditional approach to these texts.

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A Deeper Understanding of the Temple in 175 Entries

Review of Donald W. Parry, 175 Temple Symbols and Their Meanings (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2020). 310 pages. $26.99 (hardcover).

Abstract: In a must-have book written for a Latter-day Saint audience, Donald Parry offers profound insights into 175 features of ancient and modern temples, including architectural features, aspects of ritual, and temple-related doctrine.

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Covenant Theology
for Latter-day Saints

Review of Kerry Muhlestein, God Will Prevail: Ancient Covenants, Modern Blessings, and the Gathering of Israel (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2021). 177 pages. $14.99 (hardcover).

Abstract: Covenants are central in the Latter-day Saint temple liturgy, our scriptural canon is infused with them, and General Authorities have increasingly drawn attention to their importance in the last half-century. Yet many Latter-day Saints are still unfamiliar with the form and function of covenants and the role they play in God’s plan of salvation. Kerry Muhlestein, well-informed by his academic training in ancient history and scripture, provides a lucid introduction to covenants for Latter-day Saints.

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Honoring Joseph’s Theophany
Two Centuries Later

Review of Alexander L. Baugh, Steven C. Harper, Brent M. Rogers, and Benjamin C. Pykles, eds. Joseph Smith and his First Vision: Context, Place, and Meaning (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2021). 289 pages. $27.99 (hardcover).

Abstract: In the year 2020, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrated the 200th anniversary of the First Vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith. As a part of honoring that seminal moment in the Church’s history, the Church History Symposium focused on the context, place, and meaning of the First Vision. Selected papers from the conference have been published in Joseph Smith and his First Vision: Context, Place, and Meaning, edited by Alexander L. Baugh, Steven C. Harper, Brent M. Rogers, and Benjamin C. Pykles, offering new insights and research into Joseph Smith’s theophany in the Sacred Grove that has inspired millions worldwide to ask of God as Joseph did. The papers selected for publication are well-written and provide a great deal of new scholarship relating to the dramatic theophany that Joseph Smith experienced, and, as such, it is a great addition to any Latter-day Saint’s library.

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“The Lord God Will Proceed”:
Nephi’s Wordplay in 1 Nephi 22:8–12 and the Abrahamic Covenant

Abstract: Nephi quotes or alludes to four distinct Old Testament passages — Genesis 22:18; Isaiah 29:14; Isaiah 49:22–23; and Isaiah 52:10 — twice each in 1 Nephi 22:6, 8–12. These four texts form the basis of his description of how the Lord would bring to pass the complete fulfillment of the promises in the Abrahamic covenant for the salvation of the human family. These texts’ shared use of the Hebrew word gôyim (“nations” [> kindreds], “Gentiles”) provides the lexical basis for Nephi’s quotation and interpretation of these texts in light of each other. Nephi uses these texts to prophesy that the Lord would act in the latter-days for the salvation of the human family. However, Nephi uses Isaiah 29:14 with its key-word yôsīp (yôsip) to assert that iterative divine action to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant — taking the form of “a marvelous work and a wonder” — would be accomplished through a “Joseph.” Onomastic wordplay involving the names Abram⁄Abraham and Joseph constitute key elements in 1 Nephi 22:8–12.

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