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/.

Witnesses of the Book of Mormon — Insights 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/witnesses-insights/ 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.

Jonathan Edwards’s Unique Role
in an Imagined Church History

Review of Jonathan Neville, Infinite Goodness: Joseph Smith, Jonathan Edwards, and the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Digital Legends Press, 2021. 339 pages. $22.99 (paperback).

Abstract: This is the second of two papers reviewing Jonathan Neville’s latest books on the translation of the Book of Mormon. In Infinite Goodness, Neville claims that Joseph Smith’s vocabulary and translation of the Book of Mormon were deeply influenced by the famous Protestant minister Jonathan Edwards. Neville cites various words or ideas that he believes originate with Edwards as the original source for the Book of Mormon’s language. However, most of Neville’s findings regarding Edwards and other non-biblical sources are superficial and weak, and many of his findings have a more plausible common source: the language used by the King James Bible. Neville attempts to make Joseph a literary prodigy, able to read and reformulate eight volumes of Edwards’s sermons — with enough genius to do so, but not enough genius to learn the words without Edwards’s help. This scenario contradicts the historical record, and Neville uses sources disingenuously to impose his idiosyncratic and wholly modern worldview onto Joseph Smith and his contemporaries.

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An Unfortunate Approach to Joseph Smith’s Translation of Ancient Scripture

Review of Jonathan Neville, A Man That Can Translate: Joseph Smith and the Nephite Interpreters. Salt Lake City: Digital Legends Press, 2020. 385 pages. $22.99 (paperback).

Abstract: This is the first of two papers that explore Jonathan Neville’s two latest books regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon. Neville has long argued that Joseph Smith did not use a seer stone during the translation of the Book of Mormon, and he has more recently expanded his historical revisionism to dismiss the multitude of historical sources that include the use of a seer stone. Neville’s “Demonstration Hypothesis” is explored in A Man That Can Translate, arguing that Joseph recited a memorized text from Isaiah rather than translate Isaiah from the Book of Mormon record. This hypothesis, meant to redefine how Joseph Smith used a seer stone during the translation of the Book of Mormon, however, fails to deal with the historical record seriously or faithfully. Neville, in a purported effort to save Joseph Smith’s character, ironically describes Joseph as a liar, reinvigorating old anti-Latter-day Saint claims that Joseph simply recited a memorized text, even to the point that Neville defends hostile sources while targeting Church-published histories and publications. He further attacks the witnesses of the translation in an effort to discredit their testimonies regarding the seer stone, and repeatedly misrepresents these sources. Coming from a Latter-day Saint, such claims are troubling and demand a response.

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Contending without Contention

Abstract: “Think not,” said the Savior at Matthew 10:34, “that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” And this has in fact been the case — too often literally, but certainly figuratively. In the Old Testament, the Lord accurately foretold the situation that we commonly see: “I will take you one of a city,” he explained, “and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion” (Jeremiah 3:14). Unfortunately, those who aren’t so “taken” are often not entirely happy with the beliefs and practices of those who are. “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth?” Jesus told his audience at Luke 12:51–52. “I tell you, Nay; but rather division.” But is Jesus not the Prince of Peace? Has he not also commanded us “That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39)? Jude 1:3 tells us that we “should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” but we are also told not to be contentious in carrying out that assignment. Doing both simultaneously can be an extraordinarily great challenge. But it is the Lord’s challenge to us.

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The Queer Philosophies of Men Mingled with Scripture

Review of Blaire Ostler, Queer Mormon Theology: An Introduction (Newburgh, IN: By Common Consent Press, 2021). 152 pages. $10.95 (paperback).

Abstract: Blaire Ostler attempts to show how “Mormon theology is inherently queer” and may be expanded to be fully “inclusive” of LGBTQ+ members. Unfortunately, Ostler conflates God’s love with indulgence for behavior that he has described as sinful. She offers a pantheistic/panentheistic conception of deity that collapses any differences between men and women in sharp contrast to the Latter-day Saint understanding that men and women are complementary and require one another for exaltation and eternal life. Many of this book’s arguments are sophistry and the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. None of it is compatible with revealed truth contained in The Family: A Proclamation to the World and consistently taught by prophets, seers, and revelators.

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“Believe All the Words”:
A Key to Spiritual Outpouring

Abstract: In the Book of Mormon, many people received a remarkable spiritual outpouring following a declaration or demonstration of full belief in what they had already received or were about to receive. This paper examines nine examples of this that exhibit strong similarities in both language and substance. These examples demonstrate that the key to receiving a spiritual outpouring is to “believe all the words” of God that one has already received or is about to receive, after which great blessings will follow. However, such full belief must be thoughtful and inspired, not merely credulous. The findings of this paper provide another example of the rich narrative and doctrinal patterns in the Book of Mormon.

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Khor Rori:
A Maritime Resources-Based Candidate for Nephi’s Harbor

Abstract: Khor Rori, which forms the mouth of Wadi (Valley) Darbat, is the largest inlet along the Dhofar coast of southern Arabia. The khor was excavated into a harbor by the erosive action of the river that flows through Wadi Darbat. In ancient times, Khor Rori was the only harbor in the Dhofar Region that could accommodate large sailing ships. The first colonizers of Khor Rori, who arrived around the ninth century bc, must have realized that this particular khor, because of its morphology, was an ideal natural port for trading their frankincense with other seafaring nations. Because Khor Rori has long been considered an important candidate for Bountiful and offers the advantage of not only the rich vegetation in Wadi Darbat and good sources of flowing water, it is also a safe harbor where a ship could have been built — indeed, the harbor would later become a busy port noted for building ships and much trade. This article provides updates since the original publications about Khor Rori, better documenting its advantages and exploring the possibility that essential raw materials for shipbuilding and shipwright expertise might have already existed at Khor Rori in Nephi’s day.

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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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