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

2022 Temple on Mount Zion Conference

The Sixth Interpreter
Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference

Vidoes of the conference talks are now available at
https://interpreterfoundation.org/conferences/2022-temple-on-mount-zion-conference/
 

Freemasonry and the Origins of Latter-day Saint Temple Ordinances

By Jeffrey M. Bradshaw

and

Dictionary of Proper Names and Foreign Words in the Book of Mormon

By Stephen D. Ricks, Paul Y. Hoskisson, Robert F. Smith and John Gee

Published by The Interpreter Foundation in cooperation with Eborn Books

Now shipping

Go to
https://interpreterfoundation.org/books/ for more information

Seek Ye Words of Wisdom

>Studies of the Book of Mormon, Bible, and Temple in Honor of Stephen D. Ricks

Edited by Donald W. Parry, Gaye Strathearn, and Shon D. Hopkin

Jointly published by The Interpreter Foundation and BYU Religious Education

Now available for pre-ordering

Go to
https://interpreterfoundation.org/books/ for more information

“Being of that Lineage”:
Generational Curses and Inheritance in the Book of Abraham

Abstract: The seeming appearance of a lineal or generational curse in the Book of Abraham has been used erroneously to marginalize people and justify racist ideas in Latter-day Saint history. To avoid any further misinterpretation of scripture in ways that are hurtful to others, the following attempts to elucidate the meaning of lineal curses within the Book of Abraham’s claimed ancient provenance. “Cursed” often reflected a simple legalistic concept, applicable to any person regardless of race, that meant one was currently in a state of disinheritance. An individual might be in a state of disinheritance if they violated any requirement necessary to receive their inheritance, and any descendant who remained an heir of a person who no longer had an inheritance to give was also considered disinherited or “cursed,” even though they may have personally done nothing wrong. This ancient understanding of cursing as disinheritance provides better context and clarity to many of Joseph Smith’s revelations and translations, including the Book of Abraham. Arguably, the scriptures and revelations of the Latter-day Saint tradition, including the Bible, indicate that the eternal blessings of a kingdom (land) and priestly kingship/queenship (priesthood) originate from God but must be inherited through an unbroken ancestral chain forged via covenant. Indeed, the express purpose of sealing children to parents in modern Latter-day Saint temples is to make them “heirs.” Consequently, moving towards a better understanding of the roles inheritance and disinheritance play in receiving the divine blessings of the covenant might be beneficial generally and help readers avoid racist interpretations of the Book of Abraham and other scripture. This is especially the case when it is understood that being disinherited, in a gospel context, does not need to be a permanent status when one relies on the grace of the Holy Messiah and [Page 98]submits to those divine laws and covenant rites whereby one can literally inherit the promised blessings.

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Rethinking the Encounter between Jacob and Sherem

Abstract: The Book of Mormon story of Jacob and Sherem has been evaluated and interpreted from many different viewpoints over the years. In his retelling of the story, Jacob crafted a cautionary tale of religious hubris and self-importance that can serve as an important lesson for members of the church today. In this paper I use various methodologies to examine the interaction between Jacob and Sherem — including comparative scriptural analysis, semantics, and Hebraic syntax and structural elements — in an attempt to increase our understanding of the relationship between Jacob and Sherem.

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Twenty Years After “Paradigms Regained,” Part 1: The Ongoing, Plain, and Precious Significance of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship for Latter-day Saint Studies

Abstract: Twenty years ago, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies published “Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship and Its Significance for Mormon Studies” as its second FARMS Occasional Paper. The first part of this essay provides an overview of Doctor Barker’s scholarship and its wider reception through early 2022, and then includes a broad survey of Latter-day Saint interaction with her work to the present. Part 2 of this essay (forthcoming) will address specific criticisms and appreciations of Barker’s work.

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When an Evident Fact
Cannot Be Allowed to Be True

Abstract: Miracles occur relatively often in scripture, as do people who, for various reasons, want or even need to deny their occurrence. The arguments that are deployed to justify such denial haven’t changed all that much over the centuries. In fact, they’re still around today.

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The Diachronic Usage of Exclamation Marks across the Major Book of Mormon Editions

Abstract: The usage of the exclamation mark has changed over time but continues to serve as an important textual interpretation aid. Punctuation itself has not been a permanent fixture in English, rather it was slowly introduced to English documents with changing standard usages after the invention of the printing press. Here we highlight the use of the exclamation mark across major editions of the Book of Mormon and document the presence of the exclamation mark in a reference table.

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A Research Note: Continuing Exploration and Research in Oman

Abstract: The significance of the ongoing studies into the potential location of the Old World “Bountiful,” which Nephi reminds us was “prepared of the Lord” (1 Nephi 17:5), and is documented in great detail by him, can hardly be overstated. Bountiful’s resources had to be truly substantial and unique to enable the Lehites to recover from years of land travel from Jerusalem and to build a ship capable of reaching the New World. Exploration and scientific studies of the Dhofar region of southern Oman, the only section of the Arabian coast containing the feature Nephi describes, continue to the present. Here I briefly discuss, chronologically, recent developments of special significance to Book of Mormon studies.

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A Backstory for the Brass Plates

Abstract: This paper brings contemporary Ancient Near East (ANE) scholarship in several fields together with the ancient scriptures restored through Joseph Smith to construct a new 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, and the history and archaeology of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Levant, together with the traditions of ancient Israel and the ancient scriptures restored to Joseph Smith, to construct a contextualized perspective for understanding Lehi, Nephi, and the Brass Plates as they would have been understood by their contemporaries — as prominent bearers of the Josephite textual tradition. This essay offers a hypothetical, but comprehensive backstory for the Brass Plates. Because of its hypothetical character, it cannot be claimed that it is the true account. Rather it is an attempt to build a plausible backstory given the current state of knowledge in the relevant fields of academic research and the facts provided in the ancient scriptures restored through Joseph Smith.

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A Rejoinder to Jonathan Neville’s “Response to Recent Reviews”

Abstract: Jonathan Neville has offered a response to my two recent reviews of his works; however, in his response, Neville offers a poor defense regarding what he wrote and misrepresents my reviews of his works. As such, I present the following rejoinder in response to Neville’s concerns.

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A Man That Can Translate and Infinite Goodness: A Response to Recent Reviews

Abstract: Since 1829, various theories about the production of the Book of Mormon have been proposed. Modern scholarship has moved away from the idea that Joseph Smith actually translated ancient engravings into English. Two books, A Man That Can Translate and Infinite Goodness, propose a “neo-orthodox” view, offering evidence that Joseph did translate ancient engravings into English. Recent reviews in the Interpreter of these two books significantly misunderstand and misrepresent the argument. This response corrects some of those misconceptions.

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“Unto the Taking Away of Their Stumbling Blocks”:
The Taking Away and Keeping Back of Plain and Precious Things and Their Restoration in 1 Nephi 13–15

Abstract: In the latter part (1 Nephi 13–14) of his vision of the tree of life (1 Nephi 11–14), Nephi is shown the unauthorized human diminution of scripture and the gospel by the Gentile “great and abominable church” — that plain and precious things/words, teachings, and covenants were “taken away” or otherwise “kept back” from the texts that became the Bible and how people lived out its teachings. He also saw how the Lord would act to restore those lost words, teachings, and covenants among the Gentiles “unto the taking away of their stumbling blocks” (1 Nephi 14:1). The iterative language of 1 Nephi 13 describing the “taking away” and “keeping back” of scripture bears a strong resemblance to the prohibitions of the Deuteronomic canon-formula texts (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:31 [MT 13:1]). It also echoes the etiological meanings attached to the name Joseph in Genesis 30:23–24 in terms of “taking away” and “adding.” Nephi’s prophecies of scripture and gospel restoration on account of which “[the Gentiles] shall be no more [cf. Hebrew lōʾ yôsîpû … ʿôd] brought down into captivity, and the house of Israel shall no more [wĕlōʾ yôsîpû … ʿôd] be confounded” (1 Nephi 14:2) and “after that they were restored, they should no more be confounded [(wĕ)lōʾ yôsîpû … ʿôd], neither should they be scattered again [wĕlōʾ yôsîpû … ʿôd]” (1 Nephi 15:20) depend on the language of Isaiah. Like other Isaiah-based prophecies of Nephi (e.g., 2 Nephi 25:17, 21; 29:1–2), they echo the name of the prophet through whom lost scripture and gospel covenants would be restored — i.e., through a “Joseph.”

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Understanding How the Scriptures Came to Be

Review of Michael R. Ash, Rethinking Revelation and the Human Element in Scripture: The Prophet’s Role as Creative Co-Author (Redding, CA: FAIRLatterDaySaints.org, 2021). 770 pages. $34.95 (paperback).

Abstract: A new book by Mike Ash examines to what degree the human mind is involved in receiving revelation. Ash sums up his view by saying, “prophets have a special calling, but not a special brain.” He then spends 700+ pages describing what that means and how it works. In essence, prophets do not go into a trance-like state, put a pen in their hand, and engage in a process of automatic writing only to wake from the trance and read what has been given. Instead, Ash helps us see how God uses the brains and personality of any particular prophet to bring His word forth. God does not bypass the prophet’s humanness; rather, He relies on it to contextualize His words for a particular people in a particular time.

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The Last Nephite Scribes

Abstract In an earlier paper, I concluded that Lehi and Nephi were highly trained Josephite scribes and were associated with an official Jerusalem scribal school that preserved ancient Manassite traditions. There they acquired advanced writing skills and classical Hebrew and Egyptian, which would become the scriptural languages of the Nephite peoples. These they maintained in the new promised land and passed on from generation to generation through the entire thousand-year Nephite dispensation, even though the Nephite language itself would naturally evolve. Evidence of how they did this surfaces repeatedly throughout the Book of Mormon. The following paper documents how both Mormon and his son Moroni abridged and concluded the religious, military, and political records of Book of Mormon peoples, thus preserving key elements of the vast Nephite records collection for a later dispensation. That scribal process parallels the roles and schools of other cultures of the ancient Near East.

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The Continuing Saga of Saints

Review of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days: Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent: 1893–1955 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2022). 757 pages. $6.90 (paperback).

Abstract: Volume 3 of Saints is a readable and engaging narrative discussing a dynamic and transitional period of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As with the previous volumes in the series, it is approachable and enjoyable for almost all reading audiences.

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“For Their Good Have I Written Them”:
The Onomastic Allusivity and Literary Function of 2 Nephi 25:8

Abstract: Nephi’s writings exhibit a distinctive focus on “good” and divine “goodness,” reflecting the meaning of Nephi’s Egyptian name (derived from nfr) meaning “good,” “goodly,” “fine,” or “fair.” Beyond the inclusio playing on his own name in terms of “good” and “goodness” (1 Nephi 1:1; 2 Nephi 33:3–4, 10, 12), he uses a similar inclusio (2 Nephi 5:30–31; 25:7–8) to frame and demarcate a smaller portion of his personal record in which he incorporated a substantial portion of the prophecies of Isaiah (2 Nephi 6–24). This smaller inclusio frames the Isaianic material as having been incorporated into Nephi’s “good” writings on the small plates with an express purpose: the present and future “good” of his and his brothers’ descendants down to the latter days.

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Examining the Origins
of Temple Worship

Review of Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Freemasonry and the Origins of Latter-day Saint Temple Ordinances (Orem, UT: The Interpreter Foundation, 2022). 556 pages. $39.99 (paperback).

Abstract: With the precision of a renowned surgeon, the finesse of a master politician, the insights of an eminent theologian, and the artistic skill of an eloquent poet, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw masterfully examines the influence of Masonic rituals and symbolism on the most sacred rites of Latter-day Saints as found in our holy temples.

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Hannah’s Adversity and
Peninnah’s Redemption

Abstract: Most biblical students are familiar with the story of Hannah, who after years of barrenness, finally gave birth to the prophet Samuel. Some will remember her adversary, Peninnah, who allegedly tormented Hannah to tears. My objective in this article is to reclaim Peninnah’s good name by reinterpreting the passage found in 1 Samuel 1:6.

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“But That Thou Wouldst Clear My Way Before Me”:
A Note on the Personal and Emotional Rendering of an Ancient Idiom in 2 Nephi 4:33

Abstract: The biblical Hebrew collocation pinnâ derek or pannû derek (cf. Egyptian Ἰr wꜣ.t [n]), often rendered “prepare the way” or “prepare a way” in English, is an evident stylistic feature of Nephi’s writings. The most basic meaning of this idiom is “clear my way,” which is how it is rendered in 2 Nephi 4:33. Zenos’s use of “prepare the way” (Jacob 5:61, 64) in the context of “clear[ing] away” bad branches also reflects this most basic meaning.

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There Is No Beauty
That We Should Desire Him

Abstract: In two separate passages Isaiah appears to describe the mortal Messiah as lacking in physical beauty and perhaps as even having some type of physical disfigurement (see Isaiah 52:14 and 53:2–4). On the contrary, Joseph, David, Esther, and Judith — portrayed in the biblical text as physical saviors or deliverers of Israel — are represented as beautiful in form and appearance. In fact, their beauty seems to be a significant factor in the successful exercise of their power as physical saviors of Israel. Unlike Joseph, David, Esther, and Judith, Christ may have been foreordained to descend to his mortal state with a less than attractive physical appearance and as someone who experienced illness throughout his life so that “he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12).

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Should I Be My Brother’s Keeper?
Yes and No

Abstract: We typically teach and often even sing that we should be our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers. And we do it with the very best and most holy of intentions. For many of us, indeed, loving and caring for our brothers and sisters is at the very heart of what it means to live a life of truly Christian discipleship. And rightly so. But there’s another way to think about this matter. I’ve pondered it for decades, and now, maybe some others will also find it thought-provoking.

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A Comet, Christ’s Birth, and Josephus’s Lunar Eclipse

Abstract: A comet seen by the Chinese in 5 bc has been considered by some authors as a possibility for the Star of Bethlehem. This article starts with that premise and argues that Book of Mormon evidences reinforce that likelihood. The comet path can account for all events surrounding the Star of Bethlehem. Based on typologies in the scriptures, eyewitness reports, and the comet’s timing, the date of Christ’s birth can be determined. A proposal can then be made as to when and why the wise men began travelling to Jerusalem. The comet left a trail of debris the wise men saw on the night they located the house where Jesus was. The wise men and Joseph and Mary left Judea in mid-June of 5 bc and the slaughter of the innocents occurred later in that month. Using Josephus’s “Antiquities,” this article then argues strongly that Herod’s death occurred sometime after a lunar eclipse on September 15, 5 bc and before the next Passover. This serves also to support his death in the spring of 4 bc, contrary to some scholars who opt for a 1 bc death. This study reaffirms the reality of the Star of Bethlehem.

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