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.
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
After reflection and consultation with the organizing committee, we have decided to postpone the Book of Moses conference that was scheduled for May 1-2 until September 18-19.
The program schedule, abstracts and presenter biographies are now available at https://interpreterfoundation.org/conferences/2020-book-of-moses-conference/
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.
Abstract: Although unknown as deities in Joseph Smith’s day, the names of four associated idolatrous gods (Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, and Korash) mentioned in the Book of Abraham are attested anciently. Two of them are known to have connections with the practices attributed to them in the Book of Abraham. The odds of Joseph Smith guessing the names correctly is astronomical.
Abstract: In this article, Daniel C. Peterson describes the famous “night” journey that Muhammad allegedly made from Arabia to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem through the heavens and into the presence of God. His ascension through various gates of heaven, passing by the gatekeepers, is compared with biblical and Latter-day Saint teachings. Elements of the dream strongly resemble the biblical description of the Garden of Eden with its two special trees.
Review of Benjamin E. Park, Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier (New York City: Liveright Publishing, 2020). 336 pages. $28.95 (hardback).
Abstract: While Benjamin Park shows promise as a writer and historian, his book, Kingdom of Nauvoo, opts for poorly sourced sensationalism instead of illuminating the joy of Nauvoo’s true history.
Abstract: Chapters from Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon use the King James Bible as a base text yet frequently vary from it in minor ways, particularly in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon. A disproportionate number of these variants are due to the omission or replacement of words italicized in the KJV. Many of the minor variants were eliminated by the printer for the 1830 edition or by Joseph Smith himself for the 1837 edition, but others remain. Some of the minor variants are easily explained as errors of dictation, transcription, or copying, but others are not so readily accounted for. While some are inconsequential, others negatively affect Isaiah’s text by confusing its meaning or violating grammatical norms. Most have no clear purpose. The disruptive character of these variants suggests they are secondary and were introduced by someone who was relatively uneducated in English grammar and unfamiliar with the biblical passages being quoted. They point to Joseph Smith, the unlearned man who dictated the Book of Mormon translation. Even so, it seems unlikely that a single individual would have intentionally produced these disruptive edits. They are better explained as the product of the well-intentioned but uncoordinated efforts of two individuals, each trying to adapt the Book of Mormon translation for a contemporary audience. Specifically, many of these variants are best explained as the results of Joseph Smith’s attempts to restore missing words to a text from which some words (those italicized in the KJV) had been purposefully omitted by a prior translator. The proposed explanation is consistent with witness accounts of the Book of Mormon translation that portray Joseph Smith visioning a text that was already translated into English. It is also supported by an 1831 newspaper article that describes Joseph Smith dictating one of the Book of Mormon’s biblical [Page 46]chapters minus the KJV’s italicized words. An understanding of the human element in the Book of Mormon translation can aid the student of scripture in distinguishing the “mistake of men” from those variants that are integral to the Book of Mormon’s Bible quotations.
Abstract: Most scholars agree that sôd, when used in relationship to God, refers to the heavenly council, which humans may sometimes visit to learn divine mysteries or obtain a prophetic message to deliver to humankind. Biblical texts on this subject can be compared to passages in Latter-day Saint scripture (e.g., 1 Nephi 1:8-18; Abraham 3:22-23). In this article, William Hamblin succinctly summarizes this concept and argues that the Latter-day Saint temple endowment serves as a ritual and dramatic participation in the divine council of God, through which God reveals to the covenanter details of the plan of salvation — the hidden meaning and purpose of creation and the cosmos.
Review of Derek R. Sainsbury, Storming the Nation: The Unknown Contributions of Joseph Smith’s Political Missionaries (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2020). 400 pages. $27.99 (hardback).
Abstract: Derek Sainsbury’s book discusses Joseph Smith’s quest for the presidency of the United States of America and how more than six hundred missionaries were sent out across the United States not only to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ but also to electioneer for Joseph Smith and his political platform. The book offers a concise history of and fascinating information about the 1844 electioneering mission and the men and woman who offered fellow Americans both religious and political salvation.
Abstract: In this article, the author attempts to shed light on practices alluded to in the Psalms that may have formed part of the ritual system and theology of Solomon’s original temple. He describes various aspects of the ritual system of pre-exilic Israel, including pilgrimage, questioning at the gates, epiphany, and royal rites. In the culmination of these rites, the king, who likely led the procession up to the temple, was enthroned on or beside the Lord’s own throne and transformed or “reborn” as a Son of God, appearing before the people in glorious fashion as the representative of Yahweh.
Abstract: The third chapter of Abraham considers two types of times regarding the moon, the earth, and the planets: “times of reckoning” and “set times.” A straightforward interpretation of these two times, if correct, sheds light on the cosmology known to Abraham. “Times of reckoning” may be understood as the times of celestial movements directly observed or reckoned by someone standing on the surface of the earth. These times would most likely be synodic, meaning the motion being considered is referenced to the sun, but they could also be sidereal, meaning referenced to the stars. Observed from the earth’s surface, times of reckoning would naturally have a geocentric perspective. “Set times,” on the other hand, may refer to times of motion established or set by God. These would be the orbital motions intrinsic to the bodies themselves. They would be sidereal and, with the exception of the moon — which would still be geocentric, would be from a heliocentric or even wider galactocentric point of view. With this interpretation, Abraham 3:5‒10 may be an account of God elevating Abraham’s knowledge of heavenly motions from that which is seen and measured by looking at the sky to that which actually exists in space. Such knowledge, likely possessed by the prophet Mormon as well, provided a natural means for Abraham to teach Pharaoh of the supremacy of God.
Abstract: When I was young, I learned an important lesson that has stayed with me through my life. This lesson has led me, on many occasions, to reread great works by great authors. The scriptures are no exceptions, and rereading them can be beneficial to any reader.
Abstract: This article describes examples of the sacred embrace and the sacred handclasp in the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms of ancient Egypt, in ancient Mediterranean regions, and in the classical and early Christian world. It argues that these actions are an invitation and promise of entrance into the celestial realms. The sacred embrace may well have been a preparation, the sacred handclasp the culminating act of entrance into the divine presence.
Abstract: In this essay, I examine a letter written by Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone in 1983 and deposited in the cornerstone of the Atlanta Georgia Temple. The letter is addressed to twenty-first century members of the Church and is written with the expectation that these future Saints will have been alive for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I consider the claims made about this letter from a recent viral video entitled “7 Year Tribulation in the SEVENTH Seal TIMELINE.”
Abstract: The ritual use of hand gestures in covenant-making in ancient times is a topic of peculiar interest to Latter-day Saints. In this article, David Calabro summarizes results drawn from his doctoral research, providing readers with some tools to evaluate ancient gestures. The questions he suggests are novel, as is the way they are couched in an organized scheme. The author concludes that Latter-day Saints, who belong to a tradition saturated with ritual gestures, should be among those most educated about them.
Abstract: After publishing several articles in peer-reviewed journals, the author published Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary (2011), the new standard in comparative Uto-Aztecan, favorably reviewed1 and heartily welcomed by specialists in the field. Four years later, another large reference work, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (2015), was also favorably reviewed2 but not as joyfully welcomed among specialists as its predecessor. While some saw it as sound, more were silent. Some disliked the topic, but no one produced substantive refutations of it. In August 2019, Chris Rogers published a review,3 but John S. Robertson’s response to Rogers’s review4 and my response in the first 24 items rebutted below shed new light on his criticisms. Following on the heels of Rogers’s review, Magnus Pharao Hansen, specializing in Nahuatl, blogged objections to 14 Nahuatl items among the 1,528 sets.5 Rogers’s and Hansen’s articles gave rise to some critical commentary as well as to a few valid questions. What follows clarifies the misconceptions in Rogers’s [Page 238]review, responds to Hansen’s Nahuatl issues, and answers some reasonable questions raised by others.
Abstract: On the Mount of Olives, just prior to the culminating events of the Passion week, Jesus gave one of the most controversial prophecies of the New Testament, saying, among other things, that the “abomination of desolation” will “stand in the holy place.” In Joseph Smith-Matthew the Prophet renders this passage in a way that radically changes its meaning. Rather than describing how the “abomination of desolation” will “stand in the holy place,” the jst version enjoins the apostles to “stand in the holy place” when the “abomination of desolation” appears. Though several Latter-day Saint scholars have offered interpretations and personal applications of these words as given in modern scripture, it appears that no one has heretofore seriously explored how this change in meaning might be explained and defended. This article will show that other passages in the Bible, in connection with the light shed by Jewish midrash and contemporary scholarship, demonstrate that the idea behind Joseph Smith’s revision of the passage, far from being a modern invention, reverberates throughout the religious thought of earlier times. The article concludes with an appendix that tries to draw out a possibility for a specific interpretation of the prophecy about the “abomination of desolation” at the time of Christ and in the latter days.