Abstract: This paper looks at the two types of heads used in the Book of Mormon. It argues against a recent theory that these heads served as mnemonic cues that enabled Joseph Smith to extemporaneously compose and dictate the text. Instead, it argues that the function and form of heads in the Book of Mormon finds ancient precedent in Egyptian literary culture and scribal practice. A brief addendum on the ancient precedent for the chapter breaks in the original text of the Book of Mormon is also provided.
2020 Temple on Mount Zion Conference
Due to the COVID-19 situation, this will be a live-streaming-only conference.
See conference details at https://interpreterfoundation.org/conferences/2020-temple-on-mount-zion-conference/
Sacred Time, Sacred Space, & Sacred Meaning
Proceedings of the Third Interpreter Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference “The Temple on Mount Zion,” 5 November 2016
Abstract: In this essay, Robert Millet describes the work and impact of C. S. Lewis as it pertains to the Latter-day Saints. He explores possible reasons why Church leaders have felt comfortable quoting Lewis in General Conference more than any other non-Latter-day Saint writer and provides a substantial list of the subjects for which his writings have had special appeal to the Saints. While acknowledging Lewis’ personal faults and the obvious points of difference between his faith and our own, Millet concludes with an expression of gratitude for his “lasting lessons and his noble legacy.”
Review of Colby Townsend, “Returning to the Sources: Integrating Textual Criticism in the Study of Early Mormon Texts and History,” Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies 10, no. 1 (2019): 55–85, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/imwjournal/vol10/iss1/6/.
Abstract: In the present article, Part 2 of 2 of a set of articles supporting Colby Townsend’s efforts to raise awareness of the importance of textual criticism, we focus on his argument that Joseph Smith created the Book of Moses names Mahijah and Mahujah after seeing a table of name variants in the Hebrew text of Genesis 4:18 in a Bible commentary written by Adam Clarke. While we are not averse in principle to the general possibility that Joseph Smith may have relied on study aids as part of his translation of the Bible, we discuss why in this case such a conjecture raises more questions than it answers. We argue that a common ancient source for Mahujah and Mahijah in the Book of Moses and similar names in the Bible and an ancient Dead Sea Scrolls Enoch text named the Book of Giants cannot be ruled out. More broadly, we reiterate and expand upon arguments we have made elsewhere that the short and fragmentary Book of Giants, a work not discovered until 1948, contains much more dense and generally more pertinent resemblances to Moses 6‒7 than the much longer 1 Enoch, the only ancient Enoch text outside the Bible that was published and translated into English in Joseph Smith’s lifetime.
Abstract: Louis Midgley discusses the rise and fall in popularity of Alexis de Toqueville’s unrivaled volumes entitled Democracy in America and the impressive renaissance of interest they have enjoyed since 1930. They were published at a time when Europe was looking for guiding principles to replace aristocratic governments with democratic regimes. Importantly, however, Toqueville also reflected broadly on the crucial roles of religion and family in sustaining the virtues necessary for stable democracies. Toqueville’s arguments that faith in God and in immortality are essential for maintaining a strong society of a free people are more crucial than ever to Latter-day Saints and all those wishing to preserve democracy in America today.
Review of Colby Townsend, “Returning to the Sources: Integrating Textual Criticism in the Study of Early Mormon Texts and History.” Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies 10, no. 1 (2019): 55–85, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/imwjournal/vol10/iss1/6/.
Abstract: This contribution focuses on the earliest and one of the most significant chapters of the Book of Moses: Moses 1, sometimes called the “Visions of Moses.” Kent Jackson summarizes the sources available relating to the production of this chapter, illuminating obscure corners of its often misunderstood background with his extensive knowledge of the history, manuscripts, and significance of the Joseph Smith Translation.
Abstract: Omni greatly revered his ancestors and their personal accounts on the small plates of Nephi. A close examination of Omni’s brief autobiography (Omni 1:1–3) evidences borrowing from all four of his predecessors’ writings. Moreover, his self-description, “I of myself am a wicked man,” constitutes far more than a confession of religious dereliction. That self-assessment alludes to Nephi’s autobiographical wordplay on his name in terms “good” and “having been born of goodly parents” and his grandfather Enos’s similarly self-referential wordplay in describing his own father Jacob as a “just man.” Omni’s name most likely represents a hypocoristic form of a longer theophoric name, *ʾomnîyyāhû (from the root *ʾmn), meaning “Yahweh is [the object of] my faith” or “Yahweh is my guardian [or, nursing father],” but could also be heard or understood as a gentilic, “faithful one” or “trustworthy one.” These observations have implications for Omni’s stated defense of his people the Nephites (traditionally, the “good” or “fair ones”) against the Lamanites, those who had dwindled in “unbelief” (cf. Hebrew lōʾ-ʾēmun). In the end, Omni’s description of himself as “a wicked man” should be viewed in the context of his reverence for “goodly” and “just” ancestors and brought into balance with those sacred trusts in which he did prove faithful: preserving his people, his genealogy, and the small plates themselves.
Abstract: In this article, Paul Hoskisson discusses the question of whether Janus parallelism, a sophisticated literary form found in the Hebrew Bible and elsewhere in manuscripts of the ancient Near East, might also be detected in the Book of Mormon. Because the Book of Mormon exists only in translation, answering this question is not a simple matter. Hoskisson makes the case that 1 Nephi 18:16 may provide the first plausible example of Janus parallelism in the Book of Mormon.
Abstract: Authors of two recent articles believe they have found evidence that Joseph Smith, in preparing his revision of the Bible, drew ideas from a contemporary Bible commentary by British scholar Adam Clarke. The evidence, however, does not bear out this claim. I believe that none of the examples they provide can be traced to Clarke’s commentary, and almost all of them can be explained easily by other means. The authors do not look at their examples within the broader context of the revisions Joseph Smith made to the Bible, and thus they misinterpret them. Some of the revisions they attribute to Clarke are ones that Joseph Smith had made repeatedly before he arrived at the passages where they believe he got ideas from Clarke. In addition, there is a mountain of material in Clarke that is not reflected in the Joseph Smith Translation, and there is a mountain of material in the Joseph Smith Translation that cannot be explained by reference to Clarke. The few overlaps that do exist are vague, superficial, and coincidental.
Review of Benjamin E. Park, Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier (New York City: Liveright Publishing, 2020). 336 pages. $28.95 (hardback).
Abstract: Benjamin Park recently wrote a substantive revisionist history of Nauvoo, Illinois, the one-time Church capital under the leadership of Joseph Smith, Jr. This article serves as a critical review of Park’s work. Congratulating the author for placing this well-known Latter-day Saint story within the larger Jacksonian American democratic context, as well as for utilizing a great many primary sources hardly used before, Richard Bennett in this critical review assesses both the strengths and the weaknesses of this important new book. While complimenting Park for his significant contributions on politics, women, and race in Nauvoo, Bennett nonetheless finds much to criticize in what he sees as a unidimensional, highly political study that disregards many previous studies of Nauvoo and fails to address many other critically important facets of the city’s life and history from its inception in 1839 until the Saints’ departure in 1846.
Abstract: Every human enterprise — even the best, including science and scholarship — is marred by human weakness, by our inescapable biases, incapacities, limitations, preconceptions, and sometimes, yes, sins. It is a legacy of the Fall. With this in mind, we should approach even the greatest scientific, cultural, and academic achievements with both grateful appreciation and humility. J. B. Phillips’s rendition of Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 13:12 captures the thought nicely: “At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face! At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me!”
Abstract: John Gee gives us a sketch of the divine judgment as presented in the gospel of John. “In John’s gospel, the individual is the defendant; Jesus is the judge; the devil is the prosecuting attorney; and the Holy Ghost is the defense attorney.” Somewhat surprisingly, this model “fits more closely the Roman model of judgment than the Jewish one.” He concludes with a lesson for the reader: “Since all will have to stand before the judgment bar, all of us will need to heed the counsel of our defense attorney.”
Review of Samuel Morris Brown, Joseph Smith’s Translation: The Words and Worlds of Early Mormonism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020). 314 pages. $34.95 (hardback).
Abstract: Samuel M. Brown opens up a new and expansive view of Joseph Smith as a religious thinker. Written for an academic audience, Brown is intentionally dealing with what can be seen and understood about Joseph Smith’s various translations, a term that Brown uses not only for texts, but for concepts of bringing the world of the divine into contact with the human domain. This is a history of the interaction of a person and the world of his thought, from the first text (the Book of Mormon) to the last, which Brown considers to be the temple rites.
Abstract: In this essay, James E Faulconer confronts an age-old issue that seems to divide Latter-day Saint Christians from other Christians, namely, “what it means to say that God is transcendent and embodied.” Early Christians also believed that God is embodied and transcendent, but with important differences in how that seemingly paradoxical combination of assertions can be explained. In his brilliant analysis, Faulconer shows how God “transcends us because He is embodied.”
Abstract: Paronomasia in the Hebrew text of Exodus creates narrative links between the name Miriam (Mary) and the “waters” (mayim) of the Re[e]d Sea from which Israel is “pulled” and the nearby “bitter” waters of Marah. Nephi sees Mary (Mariam), the mother of Jesus, associated with the “love of God,” and thus to both “the tree of life” and “the fountain of living waters” (1 Nephi 11:25) vis-à-vis “the fountain of filthy water” (1 Nephi 12:16). Mormon was named after “the land of Mormon” (3 Nephi 5:12). He associates his given name with “waters,” which he describes as a “fountain of pure water” (Mosiah 18:5), and with the good “desires” and “love” that Alma the Elder’s converts manifest at the time of their baptism (Mosiah 18:8, 10‒11, 21, 28). Mormon’s accounts of the baptisms of Alma the Elder’s people, Limhi’s people, the people at Sidom (Alma 15:13), and a few repentant Nephites at Zarahemla who responded to Samuel the Lamanite’s preaching (Helaman 16:1), anticipate Jesus’s eventual reestablishment of the church originally founded by Alma, the baptism of his disciples, and their reception of the Holy Ghost — “that which they most desired” (see 3 Nephi 19:9‒14, 24). Desire serves as a key term that links all of these baptismal scenes. Mormon’s analogy of “the bitter fountain” and its “bitter water” vis-à-vis the “the good fount” and its “good water” — which helps set up his discussion of “the pure love of Christ,” which “endureth forever” (Moroni 7:47‒48) — should be understood against the backdrop of Lehi’s dream as Nephite “cultural narrative” and the history of Alma the Elder’s people at the waters of Mormon. As Mormon’s people lose the “love [which] endureth by faith unto prayer” (Moroni 8:26; see also Moroni 8:14‒17; 9:5) they become like the “bitter fountain” (Moroni 7:11) and do not endure to the end in faith, hope, and charity on the covenant path (cf. 2 Nephi 31:20; Moroni 7:40‒88; 8:24‒26). The name Mormon [Page 262](“desire is enduring” or “love is enduring”), as borne by the prophet-editor of the Book of Mormon, embraces the whole cloud of these associations.
Abstract: This chapter argues that “the scriptural triad of faith, hope, and charity should be understood as something more than a general set of personal attributes that must be developed in order for disciples to become like Christ. Instead, as part of the ‘guarded tradition the Apostle’ [Paul] that is transmitted to readers in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere in scripture, these terms have been used to describe a distinct progression of ‘stages in a Christian’s earthly experience.’ The three stages that correlate to faith, hope, and charity were described by Joseph Smith as the ‘three principal rounds’ of a ladder of heavenly ascent. Each round marks a chief juncture in priesthood ordinances and on the pathway to eternal life.”
Review of William L. Davis, Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020). 250 pages with index. $90.00 (hardback), $29.95 (paperback).
Abstract: Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon introduces a new perspective in the examination of the construction of the Book of Mormon. With an important introduction to the elements of early American extemporaneous speaking, Davis applies some of those concepts to the Book of Mormon and suggests that there are elements of the organizational principles of extemporaneous preaching that can be seen in the Book of Mormon. This, therefore, suggests that the Book of Mormon was the result of extensive background work that was presented to the scribe as an extended oral performance.
A review of William L. Davis, Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2020, 264 pp. paperback $29.95, hardcover $90, e-book $22.99, ISBN: 1469655675, 9781469655673.
Abstract: Within the genre of Book of Mormon studies, William L. Davis’s Visions in a Seer Stone presents readers with an innovative message that reports how Joseph Smith was able to produce the words of the Book of Mormon without supernatural assistance. Using oral performance skills that Smith ostensibly gained prior to 1829, his three-month “prodigious flow of verbal art and narrative creation” (7) became the Book of Mormon. Davis’s theory describes a two-part literary pattern in the Book of Mormon where summary outlines (called “heads) in the text are consistently expanded in subsequent sections of the narrative. Termed “laying down heads,” Davis insists that such literary devices are anachronistic to Book of Mormon era and constitute strong evidence that Joseph Smith contributed heavily, if not solely, to the publication. The primary weaknesses of the theory involve the type and quantity of assumptions routinely accepted throughout the book. The assumptions include beliefs that the historical record does not support or even contradicts (e.g. Smith’s 1829 superior intelligence, advanced composition abilities, and exceptional memorization proficiency) and those that describe Smith using oral performance skills beyond those previously demonstrated as humanly possible (e.g. the ability to dictate thousands of first-draft phrases that are also refined final-draft sentences). Visions in a Seer Stone will be most useful to individuals who, like the author, are willing to accept these assumptions. To more skeptical readers, the theory [Page 152]presented regarding the origin of the Book of Mormon will be classified as incomplete or inadequate.
Abstract: This thorough treatment of the mention of baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29 gives a meticulous analysis of Paul’s Greek argument, and lays out the dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of theories that have been put forth with respect to its interpretation. Barney concludes that “the most natural reading” and the “majority contemporary scholarly reading” is that of “vicarious baptism.” Therefore, “the Prophet Joseph Smith’s reading of the passage to refer to such a practice was indeed correct.”
Abstract: This article examines Jacob’s statement “God hath taken away his plainness from [the Jews]” (Jacob 4:14) as one of several scriptural texts employing language that revolves around the Deuteronomic canon formulae (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32 [13:1]; cf. Revelation 22:18‒19). It further examines the textual dependency of Jacob 4:13‒14 on Nephi’s earlier writings, 1 Nephi 13 and 2 Nephi 25 in particular. The three texts in the Hebrew Bible that use the verb bʾr (Deuteronomy 1:5; 27:8; Habakkuk 2:2) — each having covenant and “law” implications — all shed light on what Nephi and Jacob may have meant when they described “plain” writing, “plain and precious things [words],” “words of plainness,” etc. Jacob’s use of Zenos’s allegory of the olive tree as a means of describing the Lord’s restoring or re-“adding” what had been “taken away,” including his use of Isaiah 11:11 (Jacob 6:2) as a hermeneutical lens for the entire allegory, further connects everything from Jacob 4:14 (“God hath taken away”) to Jacob 6:2 with the name “Joseph.” Genesis etiologizes the name Joseph in terms of divine “taking away” (ʾāsap) and “adding” (yōsēp; Genesis 30:23‒24; cf. Numbers 36:1‒5). God’s “tak[ing] away his plainness” involved both divine and human agency, but the restoration of his plainness required divine agency. For Latter-day Saints, it is significant the Lord accomplished this through a “Joseph.”