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.

“We Might Have Enjoyed Our Possessions and the Land of Our Inheritance”:
Hebrew yrš and 1 Nephi 17:21

Abstract: The verbal expression “we might have enjoyed,” as used in a complaint that Nephi attributes to his brothers, “we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance” (1 Nephi 17:21), reflects a use of the Hebrew verb yrš in its progressive aspect, “to enjoy possession of.” This meaning is evident in several passages in the Hebrew Bible, and perhaps most visibly in the KJV translation of Numbers 36:8 (“And every daughter, that possesseth [Hebrew yōrešet] an inheritance [naḥălâ] in any tribe of the children of Israel, shall be wife unto one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the children of Israel may enjoy [yîršû] every man the inheritance [naḥălat] of his fathers”) and Joshua 1:15 (“then ye shall return unto the land of your possession [lĕʾereṣ yĕruššatkem or, unto the land of your inheritance], and enjoy it [wîrištem ʾôtāh].” Examining Laman and Lemuel’s complaint in a legal context helps us better appreciate “land[s] of … inheritance” as not just describing a family estate, but as also expressing a seminal Abrahamic Covenant concept in numerous Book of Mormon passages, including the covenant implications of the resettlement of the converted Lamanites and reconverted Zoramites as refugees in “the land of Jershon” (“place of inheritance”).

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Nephi’s Small Plates:
A Rhetorical Analysis

Abstract: In previous and pending publications I have proposed interpretations of various features of Nephi’s writings. In this paper I undertake a comprehensive discussion of the seven passages in which Nephi and his successor Jacob explain the difference between the large and the small plates and describe the divinely mandated profile for each. While most readers of the Book of Mormon have been satisfied with the simple distinction between the large plates in which the large plates are a comprehensive historical record of the Nephite experience and the small plates are a record of selected spiritual experiences, including revelations and prophecies, that approach has been challenged in some academic writing. What has been missing in this literature is a comprehensive and focused analysis of all seven of the textual profiles for these two Nephite records. In the following analysis, I invoke the insights of Hebrew rhetoric as developed by Hebrew Bible scholars over the past half century to articulate a vision of how these scattered explanations are designed and placed to support the larger rhetorical structures Nephi has built into his two books. The conclusions reached support the traditional approach to these texts.

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A Deeper Understanding of the Temple in 175 Entries

Review of Donald W. Parry, 175 Temple Symbols and Their Meanings (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2020). 310 pages. $26.99 (hardcover).

Abstract: In a must-have book written for a Latter-day Saint audience, Donald Parry offers profound insights into 175 features of ancient and modern temples, including architectural features, aspects of ritual, and temple-related doctrine.

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Covenant Theology
for Latter-day Saints

Review of Kerry Muhlestein, God Will Prevail: Ancient Covenants, Modern Blessings, and the Gathering of Israel (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2021). 177 pages. $14.99 (hardcover).

Abstract: Covenants are central in the Latter-day Saint temple liturgy, our scriptural canon is infused with them, and General Authorities have increasingly drawn attention to their importance in the last half-century. Yet many Latter-day Saints are still unfamiliar with the form and function of covenants and the role they play in God’s plan of salvation. Kerry Muhlestein, well-informed by his academic training in ancient history and scripture, provides a lucid introduction to covenants for Latter-day Saints.

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Honoring Joseph’s Theophany
Two Centuries Later

Review of Alexander L. Baugh, Steven C. Harper, Brent M. Rogers, and Benjamin C. Pykles, eds. Joseph Smith and his First Vision: Context, Place, and Meaning (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2021). 289 pages. $27.99 (hardcover).

Abstract: In the year 2020, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrated the 200th anniversary of the First Vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith. As a part of honoring that seminal moment in the Church’s history, the Church History Symposium focused on the context, place, and meaning of the First Vision. Selected papers from the conference have been published in Joseph Smith and his First Vision: Context, Place, and Meaning, edited by Alexander L. Baugh, Steven C. Harper, Brent M. Rogers, and Benjamin C. Pykles, offering new insights and research into Joseph Smith’s theophany in the Sacred Grove that has inspired millions worldwide to ask of God as Joseph did. The papers selected for publication are well-written and provide a great deal of new scholarship relating to the dramatic theophany that Joseph Smith experienced, and, as such, it is a great addition to any Latter-day Saint’s library.

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“The Lord God Will Proceed”:
Nephi’s Wordplay in 1 Nephi 22:8–12 and the Abrahamic Covenant

Abstract: Nephi quotes or alludes to four distinct Old Testament passages — Genesis 22:18; Isaiah 29:14; Isaiah 49:22–23; and Isaiah 52:10 — twice each in 1 Nephi 22:6, 8–12. These four texts form the basis of his description of how the Lord would bring to pass the complete fulfillment of the promises in the Abrahamic covenant for the salvation of the human family. These texts’ shared use of the Hebrew word gôyim (“nations” [> kindreds], “Gentiles”) provides the lexical basis for Nephi’s quotation and interpretation of these texts in light of each other. Nephi uses these texts to prophesy that the Lord would act in the latter-days for the salvation of the human family. However, Nephi uses Isaiah 29:14 with its key-word yôsīp (yôsip) to assert that iterative divine action to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant — taking the form of “a marvelous work and a wonder” — would be accomplished through a “Joseph.” Onomastic wordplay involving the names Abram⁄Abraham and Joseph constitute key elements in 1 Nephi 22:8–12.

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Verbal Punctuation in the
Book of Mormon I: (And) Now

Abstract: The Book of Mormon, being an ancient book, was originally written without typographic punctuation and employs verbal punctuation instead. This article looks at the use of “and now” as verbal punctuation in the Book of Mormon. The phrase is used to mark major breaks in the text, not only for chapters but also within chapters of the text. The Book of Mormon usage is borrowed from Classical Biblical Hebrew (the Hebrew used before the exile) and follows the pattern set by pre-exilic Hebrew scribes. While this usage dropped in the Old World after the Babylonian exile as Aramaic replaced Hebrew as the major language spoken, the Book of Mormon preserved the usage until the end of Nephite civilization.

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A Comparison of the Book of Mormon’s Subordinate That Usage

Abstract: This paper compares the Book of Mormon’s subordinate that usage with what is found in the King James Bible, pseudo-archaic writings, and the greater textual record. In this linguistic domain, the Book of Mormon manifests as thoroughly archaic, and it surpasses all known pseudo-archaic writings in breadth and depth of archaism. The implications of this set of linguistic data indicate that the translation as originally dictated by Joseph Smith cannot plausibly be explained as the result of Joseph’s own word choices, but it is consistent with the hypothesis that the wording was somehow provided to him.

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If God Does Not Exist,
Is Everything Permitted?

Abstract: Can people be good without believing in God? Obviously, yes. They can. Is atheistic naturalism capable of supplying a foundation for morality? That is a separate question, to which more than a few theists have answered No. However, a relatively new book by a very prominent student of religion and society suggests otherwise. A rational morality can, it argues, be founded upon atheistic naturalism — but it will necessarily be a modest and quite limited one, lacking universal scope and without a belief in human rights as objective “moral facts.”

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Christmas and a Condescending God

Abstract: As religious holidays go, Christmas has been domesticated unusually well — and effectively commercialized — among people and even whole cultures that don’t accept (or even care about) the central theological claim that Christmas asserts. After all, who doesn’t like cute little babies, at least when they’re not crying? But that theological claim is stunning. Radical. It’s radical in the strictest sense of that word, because it goes down deep, to the very root (Latin radix). Beyond the pleasant and comfortable sentimentality of favorite holiday foods, scenes of carolers in snowy villages, and warm family gatherings, Christmas dramatically distinguishes Christianity from every other major world religion.

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A Masterpiece on Resisting Our Impulses to Leave

Review of S. Michael Wilcox, Holding On: Impulses to Leave and Strategies to Stay (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2021). 128 pages. $11.99 (paperback).

Abstract: In his latest book, S. Michael Wilcox has written a masterpiece on grappling with doubts and overcoming our impulses to leave the Church. Wilcox displays a refreshing degree of personal vulnerability and openness, deep empathy and compassion for the struggling; and concrete and memorable suggestions for successfully dealing with faith crises. These traits give this book a power that no other work published by Deseret Book on this topic can match.

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Beyond Calculation: A Review
of Robert J. Sawyer’s Calculating God

Review of Robert J. Sawyer, Calculating God (New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2000). 336 pp. $23.99 (paperback).

Abstract: In an entertaining and provocative science fiction novel, Calculating God, Robert J. Sawyer presents us with a likable alien scientist visiting earth to obtain more data about God’s ongoing work of creation. The alien is astounded that a human scientist does not believe in God despite the obvious evidence. Sawyer’s work introduces a variety of reasonable scientific arguments for the existence of God in a series of cleverly conceived dialogs and uses dramatic events to develop some perspectives on God. Sawyer’s purpose is not to evangelize, and the troubling concept of an utterly impersonal God who emerges in Sawyer’s interplay between multiple worlds is quite alien to Christianity and especially to the revelations from Joseph Smith, which offer a much more hopeful perspective. Calculating God is a delightful read that raises some questions that need to be discussed more often, but to obtain meaningful answers, a different calculus is needed.

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Demythicizing the Lamanites’
“Skin of Blackness”

Abstract: Racial bias is antithetical to the Book of Mormon’s cardinal purpose: to proclaim the infinite grandeur of the atonement of Jesus Christ. The book teaches that the Lord welcomes and redeems the entire human family, “black and white, bond and free” — people of all hues from ebony to ivory. Critical thinkers have struggled to reconcile this leitmotif with the book’s mention of a “skin of blackness” that was “set upon” some of Lehi’s descendants. Earlier apologetics for that “mark” have been rooted in Old World texts and traditions. However, within the last twenty years, Mesoamerican archaeologists, anthropologists, and ethnohistorians have curated and interpreted artifacts that reveal an ancient Maya body paint tradition, chiefly for warfare, hunting, and nocturnal raiding. This discovery shifts possible explanations from the Old World to the New and suggests that any “mark” upon Book of Mormon people may have been self-applied. It also challenges arguments that the book demonstrates racism in either 600 bce or the early nineteenth-century.

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The Word of the Lord as a Metonym for Christ

Abstract: The word of the Lord and the word of God are common expressions in the Bible. Frequently, these phrases refer to the written or spoken covenantal words of God to his people as given through the prophets. However, exegetical study of these expressions has revealed that they also serve as metonyms, or substitutions for the name of God himself. In this paper I explore these metonymous usages of the Word of the Lord and the Word of God as stand-ins for Christ in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon.

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The Book of Mormon’s
Complex Finite Cause Syntax

Abstract: This paper describes and compares the Book of Mormon’s 12 instances of complex finite cause syntax, the structure exemplified by the language of Ether 9:33: “the Lord did cause the serpents that they should pursue them no more.” This is not King James language or currently known to be pseudo-archaic language (language used by modern authors seeking to imitate biblical or related archaic language), but it does occur in earlier English, almost entirely before the year 1700. In the Book of Mormon, the syntax is always expressed with the modal auxiliary verbs should and shall. Twenty-five original examples of this specific usage have been identified so far outside of the Book of Mormon (not counting two cases of creative biblical editing — see the appendix). The text’s larger pattern of clausal verb complementation after the verb cause, 58 percent finite in 236 instances, is utterly different from what we encounter in the King James Bible and pseudo-archaic texts, which are 99 to 100 percent infinitival in their clausal complementation. The totality of the evidence indicates that Joseph Smith would not have produced this causative syntax of the Book of Mormon in a pseudo-archaic effort. Therefore, this dataset provides additional strong evidence for a revealed-words view of the 1829 dictation.

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The Book of Moses as a Temple Text

Abstract: In this fascinating article, Jeff Bradshaw details how the Book of Moses might be understood as a temple text, including elements of temple architecture, furnishings, and ritual in the story of the Creation and the Fall. Bradshaw shows how the second half of the Book of Moses follows a general pattern of a specific sequence of covenants that will resonate with members of the Church who have received the temple endowment. The story of Enoch and his people provides a vivid demonstration of the final steps on the path that leads back to God and exaltation.

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Abraham’s Amen and Believing in Christ: Possible Applications in the Book of Mormon Text

Abstract: Following the discovery of delocutive verbs and their likely usage in the Hebrew Bible, Meredith Kline proposed that the verb האמין (he’emin) in Genesis 15:6 — traditionally interpreted as a denominative verb meaning “he believed” — should be understood as a delocutive verb meaning “he declared ‘amen.’” Rather than reading Genesis 15:6 as a passive statement — Abraham believed in Yahweh — Kline argued that we should interpret this verse in the active sense, that Abraham vocally declared his amen in Yahweh’s covenantal promise. In this light, I have analyzed various passages in the Book of Mormon that utilize similar verbiage — “believe in Christ,” for example — to examine how their meanings might be enhanced by interpreting the verbs as delocutives rather than denominatives.

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Personal Relative Pronoun Usage in the Book of Mormon:
An Important Authorship Diagnostic

Abstract: This study compares personal relative pronoun usage in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon with 11 specimens of Joseph Smith’s early writings, 25 pseudo-archaic texts, the King James Bible, and more than 200,000 early modern (1473–1700) and late modern (1701–1800+) texts. The linguistic pattern of the Book of Mormon in this domain — a pattern difficult to consciously manipulate in a sustained manner — uniquely points to a less-common early modern pattern. Because there is no matching of the Book of Mormon’s pattern except with a small percentage of early modern texts, the indications are that Joseph Smith was neither the author nor the English-language translator of this pervasive element of the dictation language of the Book of Mormon. Cross-verification by means of large database comparisons and matching with one of the finest pseudo-archaic texts confirm these findings.

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A Sympathetic but Flawed Look at Book of Mormon Historicity

Review of Terrence J. O’Leary, Book of Mormon: A History of Real People in Real Places (Pennsauken, NJ: BookBaby, 2020). 274 pages. Softcover, $20.

Abstract: Terrence O’Leary enters the field of books attempting to describe a geographical and cultural background to the Book of Mormon. Placing the action of the text in Mesoamerica, O’Leary explains the Book of Mormon against his understanding of the geography and therefore culture of the Book of Mormon peoples. He begins with the Jaredites, then moves to the Nephites and Mulekites. Along the way, he uses historical data to back up his ideas. While I agree with much of what he has written in principle, his lack of expertise in the cultures of Mesoamerica leads to times when he incorrectly uses some of his sources.

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Oh, That I Were an Angel!

Abstract: Alma’s conversion experience was both unusual and unusually powerful, and yet he fervently wished that he could provide others with the same experience. So much so, in fact, that he actually feared that he might be sinning in his wish by seeming to oppose the will of God. Increasingly, though, I find myself sharing that wish. My involvement with the Interpreter Foundation can correctly be regarded as one manifestation of that fact. I invite others to join us.

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