[Editor’s Note: We are pleased to present the third installment from a book entitled Labor Diligently to Write: The Ancient Making of a Modern Scripture. It is being presented in serialized form as an aid to help readers prepare for the 2020 Come Follow Me course of study. This is a new approach for Interpreter, and we hope you find it helpful.]
Come, Follow Me — Book of Mormon (2020)
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Abstract: Later in his life, former Palmyra resident Fayette Lapham recounted with sharp detail an 1830 interview he conducted with Joseph Smith Sr. about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Among the details he reports that Lehi’s exodus from Jerusalem occurred during a “great feast.” This detail, not found in the published Book of Mormon, may reveal some of what Joseph Sr. knew from the lost 116 pages. By examining the small plates account of this narrative in 1 Nephi 1−5, we see not only that such a feast was possible, but that Lehi’s exodus and Nephi’s quest for the brass plates occurred at Passover. This Passover setting helps explain why Nephi killed Laban and other distinctive features of Lehi’s exodus. Read in its Passover context, the story of Lehi is not just the story of one man’s deliverance, but of the deliverance of humankind by the Lamb of God. The Passover setting in which it begins illuminates the meaning of the Book of Mormon as a whole.
[Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of the author’s new book, The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon’s Lost Stories (Salt Lake City: Kofford Books, 2019).]
[Editor’s Note: We are pleased to present the second installment from a book entitled Labor Diligently to Write: The Ancient Making of a Modern Scripture. It is being presented in serialized form as an aid to help readers prepare for the 2020 Come Follow Me course of study. This is a new approach for Interpreter, and we hope you find it helpful.]
Abstract: In a response to my review of their Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts volume, the series editors of the Joseph Smith Papers provided feedback and commentary on two important items. There are other, unaddressed issues this rejoinder examines.
Abstract: After Interpreter published my lengthy paper that discussed apparent bias and flaws in scholarship in the Joseph Smith Papers volume on the Book of Abraham, two members of the JSP Project team have responded with a defense of their volume. Their reply is welcome and points to some of the strengths in the methodology behind much of the volume. However, the specific evidence for bias and flawed scholarship seems to stand and merits further attention.
Abstract: The Joseph Smith Papers welcomes engagement with its work and gratefully acknowledges the important work of various scholars on the Book of Abraham. Recent reviews in the Interpreter of Revelations and Translations, Volume 4, however, significantly misunderstand the purposes and conventions of the project. This response corrects some of those misconceptions, including the idea that the transcript is riddled with errors and the idea that personal agendas drive the analysis in the volume. The complex history of the Book of Abraham can be understood through multiple faithful perspectives, and the Joseph Smith Papers Project affirms the value of robust, respectful, and professional dialogue about our shared history.
[Editor’s Note: We are pleased to present the first installment from a book entitled Labor Diligently to Write: The Ancient Making of a Modern Scripture. It is being presented in serialized form as an aid to help readers prepare for the 2020 Come Follow Me course of study. This is a new approach for Interpreter, and we hope you find it helpful.]
Abstract: The Book of Mormon peoples repeatedly indicated that they were descendants of Joseph, the son of Jacob who was sold into Egypt by his brothers. The plates of brass that they took with them from Jerusalem c. 600 bce provided them with a version of many Old Testament books and others not included in our Hebrew Bible. Sometime after publishing his translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith undertook an inspired revision of the Bible. The opening chapters of his version of Genesis contain a lot of material not included in the Hebrew Bible. But intriguingly, distinctive phraseology in those chapters, as now published in Joseph Smith’s Book of Moses, also show up in the Book of Mormon text. This paper presents a systematic examination of those repeated phrases and finds strong evidence for the conclusion that the version of Genesis used by the Nephite prophets must have been closely similar to Joseph Smith’s Book of Moses.
[Editor’s Note: This paper appeared first in the 1990 festschrift published to honor Hugh W. Nibley.1 It is reprinted here as a convenience for current scholars who are interested in intertextual issues regarding the Book of Mormon. It should be noted that Interpreter has published another paper that picks up this same insight and develops considerable additional evidence supporting the conclusions of the original paper.2 [Page 64]This reprint uses footnotes instead of endnotes, and there are two more footnotes in this reprint than there are endnotes in the original paper.]
Abstract: The multiple historical accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision have been an area of intense study, debate, and discussion for several decades. The newest addition to the discussion is a specialized monograph engaging the various accounts of the First Vision through the lens of psychology and, particularly, memory studies. This book, authored by Steven C. Harper, proves to be a valuable resource in answering some pressing questions about the integrity of the First Vision accounts, even though that was not the book’s explicitly stated purpose. This review highlights these contributions as interpreted through the lens of a Millennial reviewer — a demographic widely assumed to be facing challenges today in recontextualizing, repurposing, and appreciating the First Vision, with which this new book can help.
Review of Steven C. Harper, First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). 271 pages with index. $35.
Abstract: This article explores why Jesus so often healed in synagogues. By comparing the uses and purposes of Diaspora and Palestinian synagogues, this article argues that synagogues functioned as a hostel or community center of sorts in ancient Jewish society. That is, those needing healing would seek out such services and resources at the synagogue.
Review of David B. Ostler, Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2019), 206 pp. $32.95 (hardback), $20.95 (paperback).
Abstract: David Ostler’s book Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question addresses the daunting task of ministering to people who have grown disillusioned with the core doctrines and the community of believers they encounter in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is perhaps the most challenging ministering effort a leader or member of the Church can undertake, and Bridges provides valuable insight into the process of disaffection as well as specific things that Church leaders and members can do to create a healthy environment for members to work through challenges to their faith. This review discusses those strengths of Bridges as a resource and also explores areas where the well-intentioned approaches discussed in the book can backfire, causing more harm than healing in a community of believing Latter-day Saints.
Abstract: In 2015 Brian Stubbs published a landmark book, demonstrating that Uto-Aztecan, an American Indian language family, contains a vast number of Northwest Semitic and Egyptian loanwords spoken in the first millennium bc. Unlike other similar claims — absurd, eccentric, and without substance — Stubbs’s book is a serious, linguistically based study that deserves serious consideration. In the scholarly world, any claim of Old World influence in the New World languages is met with critical, often hostile skepticism. This essay is written in response to one such criticism.
Abstract: Sometimes, obedience to the principles of the Gospel and tending faithfully to our stewardships can seem — and can be — a burden. Moreover, we mortal humans are fallible and weak, and we’re free. Accordingly, I’m convinced that the Father (a supremely masterful strategist and tactician) builds in redundancies so as to ensure that his purposes will be achieved even when his mortal servants falter. At the very heart of his plan, though, there could be no redundancy. Only one person could do what absolutely, desperately, needed to be done.
Abstract: In this article, we offer a general critique of scholarship that has argued for Joseph Smith’s reliance on 1 Enoch or other ancient pseudepigrapha for the Enoch chapters in the Book of Moses. Our findings highlight the continued difficulties of scholars to sustain such arguments credibly. Following this general critique, we describe the current state of research relating to what Salvatore Cirillo took to be the strongest similarity between Joseph Smith’s chapters on Enoch and the Qumran Book of Giants — namely the resemblance between the name Mahawai in the Book of Giants and Mahujah/Mahijah in Joseph Smith’s Enoch account. We conclude this section with summaries of conversations of Gordon C. Thomasson and Hugh Nibley with Book of Giants scholar Matthew Black about these names. Next, we explain why even late and seemingly derivative sources may provide valuable new evidence for the antiquity of Moses 6–7 or may corroborate details from previously known Enoch sources. By way of example, we summarize preliminary research that compares passages in Moses 6–7 to newly available ancient Enoch texts from lesser known sources. We conclude with a discussion of the significance of findings that situate Joseph Smith’s Enoch account in an ancient milieu. Additional work is underway to provide a systematic and detailed analysis of ancient literary affinities in Moses 6–7, including an effort sponsored by Book of Mormon Central in collaboration with The Interpreter Foundation.
Abstract: I present evidence of two priesthoods in the Jewish Bible: an Aaronite priesthood, held by Aaron and passed down through his descendants; and a higher Mushite priesthood, held not only by Moses and his descendants but also by other worthy individuals, such as Joshua, an Ephraimite. The Mushite priests were centered in Shiloh, where Joshua settled the Ark of the Covenant, while the Aaronites became dominant in the Jerusalem temple. Like Joshua, the prophet Lehi, a descendant of the northern tribe of Manasseh, held the higher priesthood. His ministry, as recounted in the Book of Mormon, demonstrates four characteristics that show a clear connection to his ancestors’ origins in the northern Kingdom of Israel: (1) revelation through prophetic dreams, (2) the ministry of angels, (3) imagery of the Tree of Life, and (4) a positive attitude toward the Nehushtan tradition. These traits are precisely those which scholarship, based on the Documentary Hypothesis, attributes to texts in the Hebrew Bible that originated in the northern Kingdom of Israel rather than in Judah.
Abstract: The word Gentiles appears 141 times in the Book of Mormon (the singular Gentile appears only five times.) It appears more frequently than key words such as baptize, resurrection, Zion, and truth. The word Gentiles does not appear with equal frequency throughout the Book of Mormon; in fact, it appears in only five of its fifteen books: 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, 3 Nephi, Mormon, and Ether. Additionally, Book of Mormon speakers did not say Gentiles evenly. Some speakers said the word much less often than we might expect while others used it much more. Nephi1 used Gentiles the most (43 times), and Christ Himself used it 38 times. In addition to analyzing which speakers used the word, this study shows distinctive ways in which Book of Mormon speakers used this word.
Review of George B. Handley, If Truth Were A Child: Essays, (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2019), 253 pp. $19.99 (paperback).
Abstract: George B. Handley challenges his readers to reevaluate conventional definitions of truth and the approaches they employ to define their own truths. He argues that the individual quest for truth should include as many available resources as possible, whether those resources are secular or religious. His framework of intellectual and religious experience allows him to discuss truth in the context of literary theory and of the events that shaped his own faith. My review focuses on four themes: balancing experience and learning, balancing the individual and the community, balancing answers and faith, and balancing individual readings of holy texts. Ultimately, Handley’s discussion of those themes gives readers the tools to navigate the current public discourse more effectively, empowering them to look beyond their own perspectives to discover the good in everyone and find balance in their lives.
ABSTRACT: The interpreters were a pair of seer stones used by Book of Mormon prophets and provided to Joseph Smith for translating the Nephite record. Martin Harris described them as two white, marble- like stones that could be looked into when placed in a hat. Joseph Smith described them as spectacles with which he could read the record and later as two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow. Others described them as smooth stones, diamonds, or glasses. Reconciling these various descriptions and determining the actual appearance of the interpreters requires an assessment of the credibility of each source and an understanding of how the interpreters were used in translating. It also requires an understanding of how words such as glasses, transparent, and diamonds were used in Joseph Smith’s day, particularly in reference to seer stones. An assessment of the various descriptions of the interpreters in light of these factors lends support to both Martin Harris’s and Joseph Smith’s accounts. By these accounts, the interpreters were smooth, mostly white, perhaps translucent stones set in a long metal frame. Although they superficially resembled eyeglasses, the stones were set much too far apart to be worn as such. They were not clear like eyeglasses but were transparent in the sense that they, like other seer stones, could be “looked into” by a person gifted as a seer of visions.
Abstract: This study provides students of the Book of Mormon with the first comprehensive analysis of the many ways in which the word “spirit” is used in that volume of scripture. It demonstrates how the titles “Holy Ghost,” “Spirit of God,” “Spirit of the Lord,” “Holy Spirit,” and “the Spirit” are used interchangeably to refer to the third member of the Godhead. It also shows that the Holy Ghost was understood to be a separate being. The analysis is thoroughly integrated with scholarly studies of references to the spirit (rûah) in the Hebrew Bible. The functions of the Holy Ghost are also identified and explained.
Review of The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, eds. Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2018), 381 pages.
Abstract: Volume 4 of the Revelations and Translations series of the Joseph Smith Papers does not live up to the standards set in previous volumes. While the production values are still top notch, the actual content is substandard. Problems fill the volume, including misplaced photographs and numerous questionable transcriptions beyond the more than two hundred places where the editors admitted they could not read the documents. For this particular volume, producing it incorrectly is arguably worse than not producing it at all.