Abstract: An axis mundi refers to a sacred place that connects heaven and earth and is believed to be the center of the world. These places are sanctified through ritual consecration or through a divine manifestation that results in qualitatively detaching that space from the surrounding cosmos. Often expressed in architecture as a universal pillar, these axes mundi incorporate and put in communication three cosmic levels — earth, heaven, and the underworld. As Mark Alan Wright notes, Mesoamerican sacred architecture was designed according to cosmological principles and finds a modern analogy in Latter-day Saint temples. Also, among Mesoamerican civilizations and in the Book of Mormon, the temple, the axis mundi, served as a place where worshipers go to engage in sacred rituals that bridge the divide between heaven and earth and allow the worshiper entry into the divine presence.
“A Life Lived in Crescendo”:
A “Come, Follow Me” Virtual Fireside Series
Beginning Sunday, June 27, at 6:00 PM
True to the End: The Martyrdom
For more information, including schedule, presenters and live-stream links, go to https://interpreterfoundation.org/conferences/a-life-lived-in-crescendo-firesides/
Tracing Ancient Threads in the Book of Moses
April 23-24, 2021
Abstract: In this paper, I show that declarations of lineage in patriarchal blessings have, since the earliest days of the Restoration, evolved in terms of frequency of inclusion, which tribal lineages predominate, and understanding of the meaning of the declaration. I argue for a non- literal understanding consistent with scripture and science, but posit that these declarations have deep and important significance in connection with the gathering of Israel.
Abstract: We are told in the Title Page of the Book of Mormon that the Book of Mormon was revealed in our day “to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever.” Hence, the covenantal context, structure, and logic of the Book of Mormon demand further consideration, exploration, and elucidation. A prosperous starting point is the phrase “If ye keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land.” This covenantal phrase is used throughout the Book of Mormon as a summary of the theological logic of the suzerain-vassal treaty covenant type in which God sought to secure the fidelity of his people, who would receive in exchange continued prosperity in His appointed promised lands.
Abstract: The authors begin by highlighting the importance of Book of Moses research that has discovered plausible findings for its historicity, rendering it at least reasonable to give the benefit of the doubt to sacred premises — even if, ultimately, the choice of premises is just that, a choice. Emphasizing the relevance of the Book of Moses to the temple, they note that the Book of Moses is not only an ancient temple text, but also the ideal scriptural context for a modern temple preparation course. Going further, the authors address an important question raised by some who have asked: “Since Christ is at the center of the gospel, why doesn’t the temple endowment teach the story of the life of Christ? What’s all this about Adam and Eve?” The answer given in detail in the paper is as follows: “The story of the life of Christ is the story of giving the Atonement. And the story of Adam and Eve is the story of receiving the Atonement. Their story is our story, too.”
Abstract: The phrase goodness of God does occur occasionally in the Hebrew Bible but has not been considered by Old Testament scholars to be an independent principle in Israelite theology. Rather, it has been interpreted as just another way of talking about God’s acts of hesed, or loving kindness for his covenant people and is usually interpreted in the context of the covenants Israel received through Abraham and Moses. The Book of Mormon clearly echoes that Old Testament pattern but also presents two additional conceptual frameworks that are explained in terms of the goodness of God. It advances an explicit divine plan of redemption or salvation that existed before Abraham — even before the creation of the earth — which had as its purpose making eternal life possible for God’s human children universally — not just the descendants of Abraham. And it also teaches the gospel or doctrine of Christ that provides the path individuals must walk to take full advantage of that plan — as they become good like God and qualify to enter his presence and receive eternal life. Nephite usage radically expands the Old Testament concept by portraying this mortal probation as each person’s God-given opportunity to become good like God. The goodness of God is frequently invoked by the Nephite prophets as a basic theological concept which can explain why God advanced his plan of salvation for men before the world was and why he is completely reliable in blessing and protecting those who have entered the covenant path by embracing his gospel and striving to endure to the end. The Nephites also used the phrase in the Old Testament pattern to explain the acts of God in delivering, blessing, and preserving his covenant people. Furthermore, some usages seem to invoke all three of these contexts simultaneously, demonstrating the comfortable integration of each of these perspectives in Nephite theological understanding.
Abstract: This article offers evidence that at least some Book of Mormon authors may have understood the potential for post-mortal preaching of the gospel. Indeed, they may have recognized that the future Book of Mormon would be a tool to spread the gospel not only among the living but also among those in the spirit world. Prophecies about the message of the Book of Mormon and the restored gospel being for all mankind may have broader scope than previously recognized, with application on both sides of the veil.
Abstract: This paper addresses the early Christian transition from temple-based Judaism to the Constantinian basilica of the fourth century. David argues that some Christians of the second and early third centuries may have had places of worship that, while not monumental in scale, qualify typologically as temples and were understood as such. These sacred structures may have been used for the performance of baptisms for the dead, as suggested by Doctrine and Covenants 124. In support of this thesis, he takes as case studies the Christian places of worship at ancient Edessa and Dura Europos, based on a combination of textual sources and archaeological remains. David then briefly applies these findings to a question posed years ago in studies by Hugh Nibley and John Lundquist, “What Is a Temple?”
Abstract: The Semitic/Hebrew name Samuel (šĕmûʾēl) most likely means “his name is El” — i.e., “his name [the name that he calls upon in worship] is El” — although it was also associated with “hearing” (šāmaʿ) God (e.g., 1 Samuel 3:9–11). In the ancient Near East, the parental hope for one thus named is that the son (and “his name”) would glorify El (a name later understood in ancient Israel to refer to God); or, like the biblical prophet Samuel, the child would hear El/God (“El is heard”). The name šĕmûʾēl thus constituted an appropriate symbol of the mission of the Son of God who “glorified the name of the Father” (Ether 12:8), was perfectly obedient to the Father in all things, and was the Prophet like Moses par excellence, whom Israel was to “hear” or “hearken” in all things (Deuteronomy 18:15; 1 Nephi 22:20; 3 Nephi 20:32). Jesus may have referred to this in a wordplay on the name Samuel when he said: “I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead” (3 Nephi 23:9). Samuel the Lamanite had particularly emphasized “believ[ing] on the name” of God’s Son in the second part of his speech (see Helaman 14:2, 12–13) in advance of the latter’s coming. Samuel thus seems to use a recurrent or thematic rhetorical wordplay on his own name as an entry point to calling the Nephites to repent and return to living the doctrine of Christ, which activates the blessings of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Mormon took great care to show that all of the signs and prophecies that Samuel gave the Nephites of Zarahemla were fulfilled at the time of Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection as Jesus glorified the Father’s name in [Page 50]every particular, and found further fulfillment in some particulars during Mormon’s own life and times.
Abstract: This essay makes a compelling argument for Jacob, the brother of Nephi, having deep knowledge of ancient Israelite temple ritual, concepts, and imagery, based on two of Jacob’s sermons in 2 Nephi 9 and Jacob 1-3. For instance, he discusses the duty of the priest to expiate sin and make atonement before the Lord and of entering God’s presence. Jacob quotes temple-related verses from the Old Testament, like Psalm 95. The allusions to the temple are not forced, but very subtle. Of course, Jacob’s central topic, the atonement, is a temple topic itself, and its opposite, impurity, is also expressed by Jacob in terms familiar and central to an ancient temple priest. The temple is also shown as a gate to heaven.
Review of Raphael Lataster, Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse (Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2019). 508 pages. Hardback, $210.
Abstract: In a recent book, Raphael Lataster correctly argues that the acceptance of the general premises of New Testament scholarship, exemplified in the writings of Bart Ehrman, brings into question whether Jesus ever existed. Latter-day Saints who are serious about their witness of Jesus Christ need to be aware that acceptance of these presuppositions undermines their witness of the reality of Jesus Christ and his atonement and makes their faith vain.
Abstract: This note explores a literary comparison between Nephi’s confronting of Laban and shrinking from the act of shedding blood, to Jesus’s experience in the Garden of Gethsemane of shrinking from the act of shedding blood. Comparing these two stories suggests that we can profitably read Nephi’s experience with Laban as Nephi’s personal Gethsemane.
Abstract: Is the Gospel profound? Yes, it is. And one of the goals of the Interpreter Foundation is to call attention to that sometimes-overlooked profundity. In one sense, though, the question is a peripheral one. If we were drowning — which, figuratively and from the vantage point of eternity, we absolutely are — we wouldn’t complain at a life preserver thrown to us if it were chipped, poorly painted, or unattractive, let alone if it were defective as a work of great art. We would simply be grateful to be saved. In another sense, the Gospel is clearly profound because it answers the deepest and most basic of human questions.
Abstract: In this essay Stephen Ricks takes a close look at the literary structure of a psalm, reintroducing us to chiasmus both in modern and ancient texts, including the Book of Mormon, then uses this literary structure to show how the psalm contains the basic historic credo of the Israelites, as seen in Deuteronomy and mirrored in 1 Nephi 17. Ricks then goes on to show how an essential part of the psalm is a covenant (“a binding agreement between man and God, with sanctions in the event of the violation of the agreement”), which ties it back to the temple. Ricks shows this by pointing out the points of covenant: Preamble, review of God’s relations with Israel, terms of the covenant, formal witnesses, blessings and curses, and reciting the covenant and depositing the text. This form is maintained in Exodus 19, 20, 23, and 24, and in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 1-6. Psalm 105 follows this form, too. In the sacrament prayers, which in Mormon understanding is a covenant, points 1 to 5 are also present.
Book Note: Richard E. Bennett, 1820: Dawning of the Restoration (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University / Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2020). 380 pages. Hardcover, $31.99.
Abstract: Richard E. Bennett’s 1820: Dawning of the Restoration takes a look at this significant year in a global historical context. He has produced a fascinating book for both members of the Church and non-members.
Review of Richard E. Bennett, 1820: Dawning of the Restoration (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University / Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2020). 380 pages. Hardcover, $31.99.
Abstract: Richard E. Bennett’s latest volume, 1820: Dawning of the Restoration, is not a book about the First Vision. Instead, it describes the world in 1820 through thirteen biographies that provide useful context to the seminal event. Included are Napoleon Bonaparte, Jean Francois Champollion, Alexander I, Ludwig van Beethoven, Theodore Gericault, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George IV/Queen Caroline, John Wesley/William Wilberforce/Hannah More, Simon Bolivar, John Williams, Henry Clay, Alexander Von Humboldt, and Joseph Smith. Topics of military conquest, music, science, literature, art, linguistics, religion, politics, and the industrial revolution receive extensive coverage for 1820 and the surrounding decades. Even if readers are not seeking an expanded understanding of the world that launched the Restoration, this well-written and highly researched compilation would be an interesting and rewarding read.
Abstract: In this rich and detailed description, S. Kent Brown paints an evocative, historically contextualized account of Jesus Christ’s first visit to the Jerusalem Temple since his infancy, when at age twelve he traveled with his family to attend Passover.
Review of Adam S. Miller, Mormon: A Brief Theological Introduction (Provo, UT: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2020). 162 pages. $9.95 (paperback).
Abstract: Adam Miller has created a thoughtful and enlightening theological study of the book of Mormon. It is obvious from his textual commentary that Miller has given a significant amount of thought and effort into teasing out practical insights from the book’s original authors. Except for some clumsy distractions that occasionally appear in his text, I would highly recommend Miller’s analysis of Mormon’s and Moroni’s apocalyptic narratives.
Abstract: Modern readers too often misunderstand ancient narrative. Typical of this incomprehension has been the inclination of modern biblical critics to view repetitions as narrative failures. Whether you call such repetitions types, narrative analogies, type scenes, midrashic recurrences, or numerous other names, this view of repeated elements has dominated modern readings of Hebraic narratives for at least 200 years. Robert Alter, who introduced a new yet antique understanding of repetitions in the Hebrew Bible in the 1980s, began to reverse this trend. Such repeated elements aren’t failures or shortcomings but are themselves artistic clues to narrative meaning that call readers to appreciate the depth of the story understood against the background of allusion and tradition. Richard Hays has brought similar insights to Christian scripture. The Book of Mormon incorporates the same narrative features as are present in other Hebraic narrative. The ancient rabbis highlighted the repeating elements in biblical narrative, noting that “what happens to the fathers, happens to the sons.” The story of Moroni’s raising the standard of liberty in Alma 46 illustrates the repetitive expectation by seeing the events of the biblical Joseph’s life repeated in the lives of these Nephite descendants of Joseph. Such recurrence in narratives can, considering the insights of Alter and Hays, reveal richness and depth in the narrative without detracting from the historical qualities of the text.
Abstract: David J. Larsen, after showing how many of the Qumran texts rely on the “Royal Psalms” in the Bible—which have a vital connection to the temple drama—then goes on to exaltation in the views of the Qumran community. He indicates how Adam and Eve are archetypal for Israelite temple ritual, which makes humans kings and priests, bringing the participant into the presence of God by a journey accompanied with covenants, making him part of the Divine Council. Bestowed with knowledge of the divine mysteries, one then becomes a teacher helping others on the way through divine mysteries, who then, as a group are raised to the same end. It is, Larsen shows, a journey where one is dressed in royal and priestly robes and receives a crown of righteousness, in a ritual setting.
Review of Hugh Nibley Observed, edited by Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Shirley Ricks, and Stephen Whitlock (Orem, UT: Interpreter Foundation, 2021). 820 pages. $45.00 (hardback), $35.00 (paperback).
Abstract: Those who knew Brother Nibley best knew he was a remarkable man of both depth and breadth. This new volume plumbs both that depth and breadth in the recounting of personal stories and colorful history. This volume is a welcome addition to any library.