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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An American Indian Language Family with Middle Eastern Loanwords:
Responding to A Recent Critique

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.

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Recent Reflections While
Partaking of the Sacrament

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.

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Could Joseph Smith Have Drawn on Ancient Manuscripts When He Translated the Story of Enoch?:
Recent Updates on a Persistent Question

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.
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Lehi, Joseph, and
the Kingdom of Israel

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.

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Gentiles in the Book of Mormon

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.

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Never Static, Never Simple:
One Woman’s Conversations Within the Marginalia of
If Truth Were a Child

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.

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What Did the Interpreters
(Urim and Thummim) Look Like?

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.

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The Language of the Spirit
in the Book of Mormon

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.

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The Joseph Smith Papers Project Stumbles

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.

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Jacob Did Not Make a False Prediction

Review of Adam S. Miller, “Reading Signs or Repeating Symptoms,” in Christ and Antichrist: Reading Jacob 7, eds. Adam S. Miller and Joseph M. Spencer (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2017), 10 pages (chapter), 174 pages (book).

Abstract. The Neal A. Maxwell Institute recently published a volume on the encounter between Jacob and Sherem in Jacob 7. Adam Miller’s contribution to this book is a reiteration of views he published earlier in his own volume. One of Miller’s claims is that Jacob made a false prediction about the reaction Sherem would have to a sign if one were given him — an assertion that is already beginning to shape the conventional wisdom about this episode. This shaping is unfortunate, however, since the evidence indicates that this view of Jacob’s prediction is a mistake. Once we see this, it is easier to avoid other mistakes that seem evident in Miller’s approach.

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Welding Another Link in Wonder’s Chain:
The Task of Latter-day Saint Intellectuals in the Church’s Third Century

Abstract: This is a challenging moment for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints. Both its efforts at retention and missionary work are less effective than they have been in the past. At this moment, what is the most important task facing Latter-day Saint intellectuals? In contrast to those who argue that faithful thinkers and writers should focus either on defending the faith or providing criticisms of the Church’s failings, this essay argues that the Latter-day Saint clerisy should focus on celebrating the Restoration and finding new language in which to express what makes the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ a compelling and attractive force in people’s lives. The language which we have used in the past no longer seems to be as compelling as once it was. This is unsurprising. The history of the Church shows a cyclical pattern focused on missionary work, with seasons of harvest giving way to fallow times and seasons of planting. However, over time the Church tends to transform itself in the image of its most successful messages for proclaiming the Gospel. Latter-day Saint intellectuals have an important, albeit subordinate, role in finding such messages. Pursuing the project of celebrating the Restoration need not involve either usurping the prerogatives of Church leaders nor compromising one’s intellectual integrity. In this moment in the history of the Church, it is the most important project to which Latter-day Saint thinkers can turn their attention.

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Text as Afterthought:
Jana Riess’s Treatment of the Jacob-Sherem Episode

Review of Jana Riess, “‘There Came a Man’: Sherem, Scapegoating, and the Inversion of Prophetic Tradition,” in Christ and Antichrist: Reading Jacob 7, eds. Adam S. Miller and Joseph M. Spencer (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2017), 17 pages (chapter), 174 pages (book).

Abstract: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute recently published a book on the encounter between Jacob and Sherem in Jacob 7. Jana Riess’s contribution to this volume demonstrates the kind of question-asking and hypothesis formation that might occur on a quick first pass through the text, but it does not demonstrate what obviously must come next, the testing of those hypotheses against the text. Her article appears to treat the text as a mere afterthought. The result is a sizeable collection of errors in thinking about Jacob and Sherem.

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Comparing Phonemic Patterns
in Book of Mormon Personal Names
with Fictional and Authentic Sources:
An Exploratory Study

Abstract: In 2013 we published a study examining names from Solomon Spalding’s fictional manuscript, J. R. R. Tolkien’s fictional works, and nineteenth-century US census records. Results showed names created by authors of fiction followed phonemic patterns that differed from those of authentic names from a variety of cultural origins found in the US census. The current study used the same methodology to compare Book of Mormon names to the three name sources in the original study and found that Book of Mormon names seem to have more in common with the patterns found in authentic names than they do with those from fictional works. This is not to say that Book of Mormon names are similar to nineteenth- century names, but rather that they both showed similar patterns when phonotactic probabilities were the common measure. Of course, many more invented names and words from a variety of authors and time periods will need to be analyzed along with many more authentic names across multiple time periods before any reliable conclusions can be drawn. This study was exploratory in nature and conducted to determine if this new line of research merits further study. We concluded it does.

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A Precious Resource with Some Gaps

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: The publication of high-resolution documents and carefully prepared transcripts related to the origins of the Book of Abraham in The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts is a remarkable achievement that can help students of Church history and of the Book of Abraham explore many aspects of that volume of scripture for themselves. The book, especially when coupled with the resources and advanced interface of the Joseph Smith Papers website, will provide lasting value for scholars, students, and anyone wishing to better understand the Book of Abraham and its complex origins. However, there are some gaps in the book that must be understood, including a mix of minor errors, questionable assumptions, and a few major problems that can unnecessarily lead readers to question the ancient roots and the divine inspiration behind the Book of Abraham. A future addendum could help resolve many such issues and would be a welcome addition. However, there may be a fundamental flaw in the commentary that tends to align with the way critics of the Church approach the Book of Abraham as a product of Joseph’s environment rather than a text rooted in revelation and antiquity. Sadly, in spite of hundreds of footnotes with extensive references to the research and perspectives of some scholars, this volume tends to exclude a great deal of relevant research provided by some noteworthy scholars. For example, it fails to mention even once the past scholarship of Hugh Nibley on these documents and generally neglects the work of other scholars that can point to the strengths of the Book of Abraham and give tools for coping with the thorny issues. The openness about the conundrums of the [Page 14]Book of Abraham should be encouraged, but it should be balanced with at least an awareness that there are noteworthy positives that readers can weigh against the question marks, and that there are frameworks that can help faithful readers understand how a divinely revealed text can be produced by the same man who wanted to begin learning Egyptian and Hebrew after he had already provided divine translation. Such a balance is needed in a book from the Church dealing with such sensitive issues, where misunderstanding has led some people out of the Church. Sadly, in spite of its many achievements in opening the doors to the documents associated with the Book of Abraham, this book lacks the balance that is needed.

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Shazer: An Etymological Proposal in Narrative Context

Abstract: In 1 Nephi 16:13–14, Nephi mentions the name Shazer as a toponym the Lehite clan bestowed on a site in western Arabia “four days” journey south-southeast of the valley of Laman. The Lehites used this site as a base camp for a major hunting expedition. A footnote to the first mention of the name Shazer in the 1981 and 2013 Latter-day Saint editions of the Book of Mormon has virtually enshrined “twisting, intertwining” as the presumed meaning of this toponym. However, the structure of Nephi’s text in 1 Nephi 16:12–13 suggests that the name Shazer serves as the bracketing for a chiastic description of the Lehites’ hunting expedition from the site. This chiasm recommends hunting as a possible starting point for seeking a more precise etymology for Shazer, one related to food supply. Consequently, I briefly argue for Shazer as a Semitic word (possibly also a loanword from an Old Arabic dialect) and a close cognate with both Hismaic šaṣar (“young gazelle,” plural šaṣr) and Arabic šaṣara (a type of “gazelle”).

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Compassion as the Heart of the Gospel

Abstract: The Greek philosopher Aristotle, clearly one of the world’s great geniuses, created the concept of the “unmoved mover,” which moves “other things, but is, itself, unmoved by anything else.” This label became the standard Jewish, Christian, and Muslim description of an impersonal God — a God without body, parts or passions — a concept that has, for nearly 20 centuries, dominated western theology, philosophy, and science. The problem for thinkers in these religious traditions is that the God depicted in the Bible and the Qur’an is plainly personal. A careful review of the Bible and modern scripture reveals a “compassionate, feeling” God. Numerous scriptures confirm that God, in fact, “feels more deeply than we can even begin to imagine.”

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A Nourishing and Accessible Read

Review of Michaela Stephens, To Defend Them By Stratagem: Fortify Yourself with Book of Mormon War Tactics (Gilbert, AZ: Lion’s Whelp Publications, 2018). 246 pp. $12.99 (paperback).

Abstract: Sometimes it is easy to overlook, disregard, or discount the “war chapters” in the Book of Mormon. Michaela Stephens’ new book about these chapters deserves wider attention, as it is an excellent study resource that provides valuable devotional and academic insights while remaining accessible to lay readers.

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“And They Shall Be Had Again”:
Onomastic Allusions to Joseph in Moses 1:41 in View of the So-called Canon Formula

Abstract: Moses 1:41 echoes or plays on the etymological meaning of the name Joseph — “may he [Yahweh] add,” as the Lord foretells to Moses the raising up of a future figure through whom the Lord’s words, after having been “taken” (away) from the book that Moses would write, “shall be had again among the children of men.” Moses 1:41 anticipates and employs language reminiscent of the so-called biblical canon formulas, possible additions to biblical texts meant to ensure the texts’ stability by warning against “adding” or “diminishing” (i.e., “taking away”) from them (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:2; 5:22 [MT 5:18]; 12:32 [MT 13:1]; cf. Revelation 22:18– 19). This article presupposes that the vision of Moses presents restored text that was at some point recorded in Hebrew.

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Prospering in the Land:
A Comparison of Covenant Promises in Leviticus and First Nephi 2

Abstract: A careful examination of the Abrahamic covenant, as contained in Leviticus 26, and the covenant established with the Lehites during their exodus to the New World, found in 1 Nephi 2, shows deliberate similarities. These similarities are important to understand, as the role of covenant is central in both ancient Israelite practice and current Latter-day Saint theology.

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“Yes, It’s True, But I Don’t Think They Like to Hear it Quite That Way”:
What Spencer W. Kimball Told Elaine Cannon

Abstract: Elaine Cannon, who was general president of the Young Women some four decades ago, had an interesting conversation with President Spencer W. Kimball in 1978. According to Sister Cannon’s firsthand account, President Kimball revealed important insight into how he thought about himself as the prophet as well as how he thought leaders should talk to the general membership about that topic. Sister Cannon’s report is thus a valuable part of the historical record regarding both Spencer W. Kimball and prophets generally.

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