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This week
in history

Sacred Time, Sacred Space, & Sacred Meaning

Proceedings of the Third Interpreter Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference “The Temple on Mount Zion,” 5 November 2016
Temple on Mount Zion Series 4
Stephen D. Ricks and Jeffrey M. Bradshaw (eds.)
The hardcover is now available for purchase from Amazon at $24.99
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Temples All the Way Down:
Some Notes on the Mi‘raj of Muhammad

[Page 111]Abstract: In this article, Daniel C. Peterson describes the famous “night” journey that Muhammad allegedly made from Arabia to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem through the heavens and into the presence of God. His ascension through various gates of heaven, passing by the gatekeepers, is compared with biblical and Latter-day Saint teachings. Elements of the dream strongly resemble the biblical description of the Garden of Eden with its two special trees.

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Sensationalism: A One-sided Perspective

[Page 107]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: While Benjamin Park shows promise as a writer and historian, his book, Kingdom of Nauvoo, opts for poorly sourced sensationalism instead of illuminating the joy of Nauvoo’s true history.

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Missing Words: King James Bible Italics, the Translation of the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith as an Unlearned Reader

[Page 45]Abstract: Chapters from Isaiah quoted in the Book of Mormon use the King James Bible as a base text yet frequently vary from it in minor ways, particularly in the earliest text of the Book of Mormon. A disproportionate number of these variants are due to the omission or replacement of words italicized in the KJV. Many of the minor variants were eliminated by the printer for the 1830 edition or by Joseph Smith himself for the 1837 edition, but others remain. Some of the minor variants are easily explained as errors of dictation, transcription, or copying, but others are not so readily accounted for. While some are inconsequential, others negatively affect Isaiah’s text by confusing its meaning or violating grammatical norms. Most have no clear purpose. The disruptive character of these variants suggests they are secondary and were introduced by someone who was relatively uneducated in English grammar and unfamiliar with the biblical passages being quoted. They point to Joseph Smith, the unlearned man who dictated the Book of Mormon translation. Even so, it seems unlikely that a single individual would have intentionally produced these disruptive edits. They are better explained as the product of the well-intentioned but uncoordinated efforts of two individuals, each trying to adapt the Book of Mormon translation for a contemporary audience. Specifically, many of these variants are best explained as the results of Joseph Smith’s attempts to restore missing words to a text from which some words (those italicized in the KJV) had been purposefully omitted by a prior translator. The proposed explanation is consistent with witness accounts of the Book of Mormon translation that portray Joseph Smith visioning a text that was already translated into English. It is also supported by an 1831 newspaper article that describes Joseph Smith dictating one of the Book of Mormon’s biblical [Page 46]chapters minus the KJV’s italicized words. An understanding of the human element in the Book of Mormon translation can aid the student of scripture in distinguishing the “mistake of men” from those variants that are integral to the Book of Mormon’s Bible quotations.

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The Sôd of Yhwh and the Endowment

[Page 39]Abstract: Most scholars agree that sôd, when used in relationship to God, refers to the heavenly council, which humans may sometimes visit to learn divine mysteries or obtain a prophetic message to deliver to humankind. Biblical texts on this subject can be compared to passages in Latter-day Saint scripture (e.g., 1 Nephi 1:8-18; Abraham 3:22-23). In this article, William Hamblin succinctly summarizes this concept and argues that the Latter-day Saint temple endowment serves as a ritual and dramatic participation in the divine council of God, through which God reveals to the covenanter details of the plan of salvation — the hidden meaning and purpose of creation and the cosmos.
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Offering Americans Religious and Political Salvation

[Page 35]Review of Derek R. Sainsbury, Storming the Nation: The Unknown Contributions of Joseph Smith’s Political Missionaries (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2020). 400 pages. $27.99 (hardback).

Abstract: Derek Sainsbury’s book discusses Joseph Smith’s quest for the presidency of the United States of America and how more than six hundred missionaries were sent out across the United States not only to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ but also to electioneer for Joseph Smith and his political platform. The book offers a concise history of and fascinating information about the 1844 electioneering mission and the men and woman who offered fellow Americans both religious and political salvation.

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Ascending into the Hill of the Lord:
What the Psalms Can Tell Us About the Rituals of the First Temple

[Page 15]Abstract: In this article, the author attempts to shed light on practices alluded to in the Psalms that may have formed part of the ritual system and theology of Solomon’s original temple. He describes various aspects of the ritual system of pre-exilic Israel, including pilgrimage, questioning at the gates, epiphany, and royal rites. In the culmination of these rites, the king, who likely led the procession up to the temple, was enthorned on or beside the Lord’s own throne and transformed or “reborn” as a Son of God, appearing before the people in glorious fashion as the representative of Yahweh.

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Times of Reckoning and Set Times in Abraham 3

[Page 1]Abstract: The third chapter of Abraham considers two types of times regarding the moon, the earth, and the planets: “times of reckoning” and “set times.” A straightforward interpretation of these two times, if correct, sheds light on the cosmology known to Abraham. “Times of reckoning” may be understood as the times of celestial movements directly observed or reckoned by someone standing on the surface of the earth. These times would most likely be synodic, meaning the motion being considered is referenced to the sun, but they could also be sidereal, meaning referenced to the stars. Observed from the earth’s surface, times of reckoning would naturally have a geocentric perspective. “Set times,” on the other hand, may refer to times of motion established or set by God. These would be the orbital motions intrinsic to the bodies themselves. They would be sidereal and, with the exception of the moon — which would still be geocentric, would be from a heliocentric or even wider galactocentric point of view. With this interpretation, Abraham 3:5‒10 may be an account of God elevating Abraham’s knowledge of heavenly motions from that which is seen and measured by looking at the sky to that which actually exists in space. Such knowledge, likely possessed by the prophet Mormon as well, provided a natural means for Abraham to teach Pharaoh of the supremacy of God.
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A Note in Favor of Rereading Great Works, Including the Scriptures

[Page vii]Abstract: When I was young, I learned an important lesson that has stayed with me through my life. This lesson has led me, on many occasions, to reread great works by great authors. The scriptures are no exceptions, and rereading them can be beneficial to any reader.

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The Sacred Embrace and the Sacred Handclasp in Ancient Mediterranean Religions

[Page 319]Abstract: This article describes examples of the sacred embrace and the sacred handclasp in the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms of ancient Egypt, in ancient Mediterranean regions, and in the classical and early Christian world. It argues that these actions are an invitation and promise of entrance into the celestial realms. The sacred embrace may well have been a preparation, the sacred handclasp the culminating act of entrance into the divine presence.
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Vaughn J. Featherstone’s
Atlanta Temple Letter

[Page 309]Abstract: In this essay, I examine a letter written by Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone in 1983 and deposited in the cornerstone of the Atlanta Georgia Temple. The letter is addressed to twenty-first century members of the Church and is written with the expectation that these future Saints will have been alive for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I consider the claims made about this letter from a recent viral video entitled “7 Year Tribulation in the SEVENTH Seal TIMELINE.”

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Understanding Ritual Hand Gestures of the Ancient World: Some Basic Tools

[Page 293]Abstract: The ritual use of hand gestures in covenant-making in ancient times is a topic of peculiar interest to Latter-day Saints. In this article, David Calabro summarizes results drawn from his doctoral research, providing readers with some tools to evaluate ancient gestures. The questions he suggests are novel, as is the way they are couched in an organized scheme. The author concludes that Latter-day Saints, who belong to a tradition saturated with ritual gestures, should be among those most educated about them.

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Answering the Critics in
44 Rebuttal Points

[Page 237]Abstract: After publishing several articles in peer-reviewed journals, the author published Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary (2011), the new standard in comparative Uto-Aztecan, favorably reviewed1 and heartily welcomed by specialists in the field. Four years later, another large reference work, Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (2015), was also favorably reviewed2 but not as joyfully welcomed among specialists as its predecessor. While some saw it as sound, more were silent. Some disliked the topic, but no one produced substantive refutations of it. In August 2019, Chris Rogers published a review,3 but John S. Robertson’s response to Rogers’s review4 and my response in the first 24 items rebutted below shed new light on his criticisms. Following on the heels of Rogers’s review, Magnus Pharao Hansen, specializing in Nahuatl, blogged objections to 14 Nahuatl items among the 1,528 sets.5 Rogers’s and Hansen’s articles gave rise to some critical commentary as well as to a few valid questions. What follows clarifies the misconceptions in Rogers’s [Page 238]review, responds to Hansen’s Nahuatl issues, and answers some reasonable questions raised by others.

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Standing in the Holy Place:
Ancient and Modern Reverberations of an Enigmatic New Testament Prophecy

[Page 163]Abstract: On the Mount of Olives, just prior to the culminating events of the Passion week, Jesus gave one of the most controversial prophecies of the New Testament, saying, among other things, that the “abomination of desolation” will “stand in the holy place.” In Joseph Smith-Matthew the Prophet renders this passage in a way that radically changes its meaning. Rather than describing how the “abomination of desolation” will “stand in the holy place,” the jst version enjoins the apostles to “stand in the holy place” when the “abomination of desolation” appears. Though several Latter-day Saint scholars have offered interpretations and personal applications of these words as given in modern scripture, it appears that no one has heretofore seriously explored how this change in meaning might be explained and defended. This article will show that other passages in the Bible, in connection with the light shed by Jewish midrash and contemporary scholarship, demonstrate that the idea behind Joseph Smith’s revision of the passage, far from being a modern invention, reverberates throughout the religious thought of earlier times. The article concludes with an appendix that tries to draw out a possibility for a specific interpretation of the prophecy about the “abomination of desolation” at the time of Christ and in the latter days.

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Lehi’s Dream and the Plan of Salvation

[Page 141]Abstract: Lehi’s dream symbolically teaches us about many aspects of Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation. The central message of Lehi’s dream is that all must come unto Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Each of us has the choice to pursue the path that leads to eternal joy and salvation or to choose a different way and experience undesirable outcomes. In this paper, elements of Lehi’s dream and supporting scriptures are analyzed to see how they relate to key aspects of the plan of salvation and our journey through life.

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The Tabernacle:
Mountain of God in the Cultus of Israel

[Page 97]Abstract: In this article, Michael Morales considers how the building of the Tabernacle had been pre-figured from the earliest narratives of Genesis onward. It describes some of the parallels between the creation, deluge, and Sinai narratives and the tabernacle account; examines how the high priest’s office functions as something of a new Adam; and considers how the completed tabernacle resolves the storyline of Genesis and Exodus, via the biblical theme of “to dwell in the divine Presence.”

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Table Rules:
A Response to Americanist Approaches to the Book of Mormon

[Page 67]Review of Elizabeth Fenton and Jared Hickman, Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). 456 pages. $99 (hardback), $35 (paperback).

Abstract: Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon is an ambitious collection of essays published by Oxford University Press. By “Americanist” the editors refer to their preferred mode of contextualization: to situate the Book of Mormon as a response to various currents of nineteenth- century American thought. The “table rules” in this case determine who gets invited to the table and what topics can be discussed, using what types of evidence. The approach is legitimate, and the contributors offer a range of interesting perspectives and observations. Several essays base their arguments on the notion that the Book of Mormon adapts itself to a series of racist tropes common in the nineteenth century. In 2015, Ethan Sproat wrote an important essay that undercuts the arguments of those authors, but none of them address his case or evidence. This raises the issue of the existence of other tables operating under different assumptions, confronting the same text, and reaching very different conclusions. How are we to judge which table’s rules produce the best readings?

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Cube, Gate, and Measuring Tools:
A Biblical Pattern

[Page 41]Abstract: This article explores the biblical pattern that relates the temple-related symbols of the cube, the gate, and measuring tools. The tools of architecture and measurement were associated with the kingship motifs of creation and conquering chaos, and on the day when a person was initiated as a king in ancient Israel, all of these concepts were applied to him.

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How Not to Read Isaiah

[Page 29]Abstract: In the Book of Mormon, Nephi draws upon his own knowledge of the Jewish people, their culture and language, and the surrounding area to add to his understanding of Isaiah’s words, and commends that approach to his reader. In his book The Vision of All, it is clear that Joseph Spencer lacks knowledge in these topics, and it negatively affects his interpretation of Isaiah. Specifically, this lack of knowledge causes him to misinterpret the role of the Messiah in Isaiah’s teachings, something that was clear to Isaiah’s ancient readers.

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The Importance of Authorial Intention

[Page 21]Abstract: It is important when evaluating the words of others to consider the intention of their writing. It also does not hurt to consider what may go on behind the scenes before an article (or a book review) even reaches a particular readership.

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An Other Approach to Isaiah Studies

[Page 1]Abstract: A recent review of Joseph M. Spencer’s book The Vision of All: Twenty-Five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record made the case that the book contains several challenges and problems, in particular that it advocates a theologically deficient interpretation of Isaiah that denies Isaiah’s witness of Jesus Christ. This response provides an alternative reading of Spencer’s work and suggests these assertions are often based on misunderstanding. At stake in this conversation is the question of whether or not there is more than one valid way to read Isaiah that draws upon a faithful, Restoration perspective. While Spencer may interpret and frame some things differently than some other Latter-day Saint scholars, the prophecies of Isaiah provide enough richness and possibility to accommodate a chorus of faithful approaches.

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