“Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith’s Study of the Ancient World,” BYU, March 7-8

Curious about Joseph Smith’s relationship to, and appropriation of, the ancient world? Then you’re in luck. You can follow up-to-date changes at the conference’s website.
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Approaching Antiquity:

Joseph Smith’s Study of the Ancient World

CHURCH HISTORY SYMPOSIUM

March 7-8, 2013

Jointly Sponsored by

The Department of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University

The Church History Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Symposium Committee

Lincoln H. Blumell (Co-Chair), Department of Ancient Scripture

Matthew J. Grey (Co-Chair), Department of Ancient Scripture

Steven C. Harper, LDS Church History Department

Andrew H. Hedges, LDS Church History Department

Linda Godfrey (Secretary), Department of Church History and Doctrine

 

Thursday, March 7 – Brigham Young University (Provo)

9:00-10:00 (HBLL Auditorium): Key Note Address

  • Lincoln H. Blumell (Ancient Scripture, BYU), Welcome (10min)
  • Richard L. Bushman (History, Columbia University), “The Academic Study of Antiquity in Antebellum America” (45min)

10:15-11:45 (HBLL Auditorium): Scholars, Scripts, and Folklore of Antiquity

  • Andrew H. Hedges (LDS Church History Department), Moderator
  • Richard E. Bennett (Church History, BYU), “‘To The Most Learned Men of this Generation’: Martin Harris and His Visits East, 1828” (25min)
  • Michael Hubbard MacKay (LDS Church History Department), “‘Git Them Translated’: Joseph Smith, Ancient Characters, and Translating the Plates” (25min)
  • Steven C. Harper (LDS Church History Department), “Joseph Smith’s Relationships to Hermeticism and Masonry” (25min)
  • Richard L. Bushman (History, Columbia University), Respondent (15min)

1:30-3:30 (HBLL Auditorium): Joseph Smith and Ancient Texts

  • Matthew J. Grey (Ancient Scripture, BYU), Moderator
  • Jared Ludlow (Ancient Scripture, BYU), “Joseph Smith’s Reading of Jewish Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha” (25min)
  • Lincoln H. Blumell (Ancient Scripture, BYU), “What has Palmyra to do with Jerusalem? Joseph Smith and the Writings of Flavius Josephus” (25min)
  • Thomas A. Wayment (Ancient Scripture, BYU), “Joseph Smith and Early Christian Apocrypha” (25min)
  • Kristian S. Heal (Maxwell Institute, BYU), “Joseph Smith and the Early Church Fathers” (25min)
  • Benjamin E. Park (History, University of Cambridge), Respondent  (15min)

3:45-4:45 (HBLL Auditorium): Joseph Smith’s Interest in the Ancient Americas

  • Andrew H. Hedges (LDS Church History Department), Moderator
  • Mark Alan Wright (Ancient Scripture, BYU), “Joseph Smith and Native    American Artifacts” (25min)
  • Matthew Roper (Maxwell Institute, BYU), “Joseph Smith and the Ruins: Central   American Archaeology and Early Views about the Book of Mormon” (25min)
  • Andrew H. Hedges (LDS Church History Department), Respondent (10min)

7:00-8:30 (JSB Auditorium): Plenary Session

  • Elder Steven E. Snow (Church Historian and Recorder), Conducting
  • Opening Song, “Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise”
  • Special Musical Number, “If You Could Hie to Kolob”
  • David F. Holland (History, UNLV), “Joseph Smith and Antiquity: Points of Contact between the Prophet and the Ancient Sources” (50min)

Friday, March 8 – LDS Church Conference Center (Salt Lake City)

9:00-11:45: Joseph Smith, the Bible, and 19th Century Biblical Scholarship

  • Steven C. Harper (LDS Church History Department), Moderator
  • Kent P. Jackson (Ancient Scripture, BYU), “Joseph Smith and the Bible” (25min)
  • Nicholas J. Frederick (Ancient Scripture, BYU), “Joseph Smith and the Gospel of John” (25min)
  • Justin R. Bray (LDS Church History Department), “The Seventy Disciples in Early 19th Century Christian Thought” (25min)
  • Break (10min)
  • Samuel Brown (Medical Ethics and Humanities, University of Utah School of Medicine), “The Prisca Theology in Early Mormonism” (25min)
  • Matthew B. Bowman (Religion, Hampden-Sydney College), “Joseph Smith and 19th c. Biblical Commentaries” (25min)
  • David F. Holland (History, UNLV), Respondent (20min)

1:45-3:15: Joseph Smith’s Study of Biblical Languages

  • Lincoln H. Blumell (Ancient Scripture, BYU), Moderator
  • Matthew J. Grey (Ancient Scripture, BYU), “‘The Word of God in the Original’: Joseph Smith’s Study of Hebrew and its Impact on His Translations, Thought, and Theology” (25min)
  • Craig K. Manscill (Church History, BYU), “‘By the Help of God I Can Read in the Hebrew Bible’: Hyrum Smith’s Study of Hebrew” (25min)
  • John W. Welch (Law, BYU), “Joseph Smith’s Awareness of Greek and Latin”  (25min)
  • Kevin L. Barney (Independent Scholar), Respondent (15min)

3:30-5:00: Joseph Smith and 19th Century Egyptology

  • Lincoln H. Blumell (Ancient Scripture, BYU), Moderator
  • John Gee (Maxwell Institute, BYU), “Joseph Smith and Ancient Egypt” (25min)
  • Kerry Muhlestein (Ancient Scripture, BYU), “Joseph Smith and Egyptian Artifacts: Towards a Preliminary Paradigm for Evaluating Prophetic and Mundane Ideas Regarding Aspects of the Ancient World” (25min)
  • Brian M. Hauglid (Ancient Scripture, BYU), “‘Endowed with a Knowledge of Hidden Languages’: Joseph Smith and the Egyptian Project” (25min)
  • John S. Thompson (Egyptology, University of Pennsylvania), Respondent (15min)

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I’ll be there, so if anyone comes be sure to say “hi.”

  2. Sharee Hughes says:

    This sounds interesting. I think I would like to attend. Nothing is stated about a charge, so I’m assuming there isn’t one. I also noticed there are no female speakers, so are the feminists going to kick up a stink? :-) And Kevin, since you are on my list of people I would like to meet, I’ll try to come up and say “hi,”

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    There’s no charge. And Sharee, I’ll be happy to meet you. (Yes, the lack of female speakers is unfortunate.)

  4. Wow, this will be beyond interesting. I feel sick to my stomach I cannot be there since there are far too many topics I have had almost a life long interest in. Hopefully bloggers who attend have mercy on us from far away lands and post highlights.

    For a long time after reading the Nag Hammadi Library and many hermeneutic and gnostic texts such as the Pistis Sophia and the Books of Jeu, I have found so many elements that seemed to be available to Joseph Smith somehow, and knowing perfectly well some of the books were discovered and/or were available in English past his death, I am often left to wonder how he could have learned of such things. Anything relating JS to the apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, hermeticism, and the early church fathers is priceless, since often times it is difficult to know how much of this information could have been available to Joseph Smith.

  5. Stephen Smoot says:

    “Anything relating JS to the apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, hermeticism, and the early church fathers is priceless, since often times it is difficult to know how much of this information could have been available to Joseph Smith.”

    To me it is not so much a question of what could or might have been available to Joseph Smith, but rather what historical evidence there is that he was familiar with it.

    The “what could have been available” approach is something I call the Quinn Fallacy, after D. Michael Quinn’s book on the supposed “magical” background of early Mormonism. Quinn’s methodology seemed to consist largely of just pointing to any source on magic, hermeticism, the occult, the apocrypha, etc. that could have been available to Joseph Smith and then assume that it was, and that Joseph must have used it, and that it influenced him somehow. It’s the parallelomania Nibley is accused of on steroids.

    It’s an important question, to be sure, but not entirely sufficient. We need to take it to the next step. Instead, we need to ask if there is any historical evidence of Joseph Smith’s interaction with this material. In other words, is there evidence of him directly engaging with this material, and, if so, how did it influence him, if at all? An example of this is in John Lloyd Stephen’s “Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán”, which we not only know Joseph Smith read, but also interacted with in the formulation of his opinion of Book of Mormon geography.

    Which is why I am excited for this conference, as I’m sure these and other questions will be discussed.

  6. As I’ve written elsewhere, I think the questions should so much be “was Joseph Smith influenced by these writers,” because such questions mostly lead to circular arguments, remain parochial, and mostly bifurcate the field; rather, the more important questions are “what did Joseph Smith do with the ideas floating around him?”, “what do both Joseph Smith and [fill in whatever figure/intellecutal source of your choice] tell us about their surrounding religious climate?”, and “how does early Mormonism’s eclectic collection of answers to common questions dissent from, compare with, and appropriate the same building blocks of cultural assumptions shared by their contemporaries?”

  7. Ben P, Amen.

  8. Sharee Hughes says:

    I found out that the reason there are no female presenters at this conference is because no women submitted abstracts. One woman working on the Joseph Smith Papers was even invited to participate, but declined. So here’s hoping we don’t hear any complaints from the feminists about the lack of gender equality at this event.

  9. Re: #5

    Having evidence for things would be great, but such gems rarely come along. I am an engineer not a historian; and from my perspective even evidence has its limits and no matter what type of evidence is found (since there are several types of evidence) it has to be founded in plausibility. Knowing Joseph Smith’s environment and what materials could be available to him is the first step to create plausibility, over which all evidence will have to rest.

    Even in light of evidence, conclusions yielded by it can be wrong. Therefore, in my opinion, conclusions in history (if they are ever reached) should be approached in an open-ended fashion. That is how I read Quinn’s material. I disagree with your evaluation of his book of the Magic Word View that existed in Joseph Smiths time (and in which his mother Lucy as well as his friends Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery were active participants, whether it was the order of Abrac or the use of divination through witch hazel rods and peep stones). I think his research on the things that were available to them is extremely valuable, and would help a lot many naive Mormons who are easily scandalized by the amount of superstition linked to Joseph himself and his family. Whether you like the conclusions or not, the realities he exposes, if anything, help humanize Joseph and help create understanding around his experiences, views and practices.

    I don’t care much for strict direct evidence, I am confident there is little to be found. I am a Mexican, and living in Mexico I am rather familiar with the superstitious beliefs of people in the area where I live. I am aware how elements of this superstition is linked to Brazilian and African Voodoo, although I have never really read a book of Voodoo teachings, I know quite a bit about it through cultural exposure. To dismiss the cultural environment in which individuals develop their characters simply because there is no direct evidence that they actually learned specifics available in it is also fallacious.

    I respect historians, but I like to take my own approaches when it comes to their conclusions.

  10. Stephen Smoot says:

    “Having evidence for things would be great, but such gems rarely come along.”

    Right. But until we do see the diamonds glistening in the dirt, we can’t start making necklaces.

    “and from my perspective even evidence has its limits and no matter what type of evidence is found (since there are several types of evidence) it has to be founded in plausibility”

    But first we must decide if X, Y, or Z can be admitted as “evidence” to begin with. Step one is to determine what the evidence is, step two is to determine how important the individual pieces of evidence are (not all evidence is created equal), step three is to evaluate what the evidence tells us, and step four is to draw a tentative conclusion based on the evidence at hand. Many of the environmentalists who want Joseph Smith pilfering through Ethan Smith or, to use my favorite example, because of its sheer implausibility, Immanuel Kant to get his ideas usually skip the first couple of steps, and immediately assume that any possible access to a source, or any “parallels” therein, constitutes sufficient evidence to say, “A ha! This must have influenced Joseph Smith.”

    To be fair, I know of apologists who commit the same fallacy with ancient sources and the Book of Mormon. Hugh Nibley himself was guilty of this at times.

    “Knowing Joseph Smith’s environment and what materials could be available to him is the first step to create plausibility, over which all evidence will have to rest.”

    But plausibility is different than probability, or direct convergence. Hence the example of John Lloyd Stephens, whom we know with historical precision was read by Joseph Smith and utilized in formulating his views on Book of Mormon geography.

    If someone can show me Joseph Smith was reading Ethan Smith with the same certitude we can show he was reading John Lloyd Stephens, then I’ll start to be impressed with the “parallels” between the Book of Mormon and “View of the Hebrews”. Until then, not so much.

    “Whether you like the conclusions or not, the realities he exposes, if anything, help humanize Joseph and help create understanding around his experiences, views and practices.”

    I wouldn’t have so much of a problem with Quinn if he stopped in the 19th century and upstate New York. Bushman was careful to restrict the possible influence of “magic”, a highly problematic term, on Joseph Smith (which, incidentally, I don’t deny) to his immediate upstate NY or wider New England environment. But when Quinn goes back into Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries to try and find “magical” influence (sometimes in German, French, and Latin texts, no less) for Joseph Smith and early Mormonism, well, color me unimpressed. Thus, I stand by my characterizing of the Quinn Fallacy: if any source could or might have been read by or influenced the thinking of Joseph Smith, it did. Time, place, availability, probability, etc. be damned!

    Oh, and then there’s the fact that Quinn’s central thesis was inextricably dependent on the authenticity of the Salamander Letter. But that’s a different story.

  11. …and thus we see why the old, tired questions and arguments needed to be replaced by the new generation of scholarship.

  12. Ben P: well stated in #6, I love it. It’s a shame some folks in the discussion overlooked your comment.

  13. “…and thus we see why the old, tired questions and arguments needed to be replaced by the new generation of scholarship.”

    “Ben P: well stated in #6, I love it. It’s a shame some folks in the discussion overlooked your comment.”

    I’m presenting a paper at the MSH conference which should explore some of those questions.

  14. Stephen Smoot,

    “But when Quinn goes back into Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries to try and find “magical” influence (sometimes in German, French, and Latin texts, no less) for Joseph Smith and early Mormonism, well, color me unimpressed.”

    I don’t think that’s what he did at all. The way I remember it (and I read that book a long time ago) is that he was making proposals for the possible roots of the magic world view brought by the pilgrims from Europe, which I found actually pretty enriching. I don’t remember Quinn ever attempting to create a direct link between Joseph Smith and 17th century European views on magic. Rather he mentions glass seeing was nothing new already in the times of Joseph Smith and that it has been part of the magic world view within the ancestry of European colonizers. I think you read a bit too much into things, then after you make your own pragmatic conclusions you begin to break them apart, then you use all that circus to question the author. To each its own, I guess.

    I live close to people with very rudimentary and very primitive views of magic, superstition, religion, divination, etc. They tend to live their lives by implementing all of them into their cosmos. There is actually an esoteric store inside the shopping mall in my town, where you can purchase divination items, peeping stones, fortune potions, etc. A lot of people I know believe this stuff, not because they are evil and not because they had direct contact with the original sources of these beliefs, but because they have been brought in a culture that has slowly assimilated them and they have prevailed through the centuries. I am sure most of these people don’t even know where the roots of what they so strongly believe come from.

    That is the context I see many things regarding Joseph Smith. Just because he believed or implemented certain things into his world view, I don’t think there is the need for him to have had direct contact with the original sources of his world view. I am not bothered at all to think there was a possibility that vague (or not so vague) concepts from View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith got to him through Oliver Cowdery or some other means of word of mouth. I am also not bothered if he was influenced by Captain Kid, his slippery treasure near the port of Moroni in the island of Commorah (currently Comoros). I am fascinated all these things create plausibility (not probability and not evidence). I don’t pretend to know how things are connected, I do enjoy knowing all the elements were somehow there, possibly available to him. I actually don’t expect any historian to understand “probability” anyway.

    I am far beyond needing to rely on Joesph Smith being the conceptual prophet most Mormons desire or believe him to be. I am also not interested in “proving” his works have different roots than he claimed. All that struggle is beneath my personal religious, historical and spiritual needs. I don’t need him to be a prophet, and I don’t need him to be a liar.

    Like I said, I am not a historian and I would never care for (or attempt to) officially publish a hypothesis that pretended to present these things as factual links to Joseph Smith’s works and narratives. I am a hobbyist and I enjoy trying to make sense out of those. I am satisfied and fascinated by plausibility. If there is ever enough “evidence” (whatever that means) to make a strong hypothesis linking all these elements to Joseph Smith experiences, I will welcome it. But I will hardly dismiss the plausibility simply because a hypothesis cannot be made because a group of people who decide what evidence cannot reach a specific veredict. I am not as pragmatic, especially in light of my own history, the history of my people and the culture I grew up in.

    So, I doubt someone will show you there is evidence Joseph Smith did in fact read or studied Ethan Smith’s book. To me, it does not matter that much, because Joseph Smith reading the book is but one of the means he could have gotten concepts out of it. Yes, it would be a convenient mean to create a hypothesis, but that is not what I personally long for when studying these subjects.

    I respect you are excited about the conference for different reasons I am. But I hardly concede as to what you consider “fallacious.” I don’t think the procedures and protocols listed above can avoid “fallacy” 100%, but I also support them.

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