2011 Christmas gift book guide

In a couple of decades, connoisseurs will gather around the shelves of their bibliophilistic conceit and all concur: 2011 was a very good year. [Read more...]

Review: LDS Beliefs

More than sixty years ago a 46 year old member of the First Council of Seventy published Mormon Doctrine [Read more...]

President Beck

Just a quick note to say that I am really enjoying President Beck’s Women’s Conference talk.

How We Got the Book of Mormon: An interview with co-author Richard E. Turley Jr.

Richard E. Turley Jr. is currently an Assistant Church Historian with responsibilities over the Church History Library. With William Slaughter he has recently co-authored How We Got the Book of Mormon (Deseret Book – read Blair Hodges’ review here) and he has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about it.
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An Interview with Robin Scott Jensen on the JSP Published Revelations

Robin Scott Jensen is an editor with the Joseph Smith Papers, working extensively on the Revelations and Translations series. He has kindly agreed to answer a few questions regarding the material of the recently released, Revelations and Translations, Volume 2: Published Revelations (review here). A little over a year ago, Robin answered questions on the Manuscript Revelations Books (here and here). We thank him for his time and engagement.

Question: Today the name “Doctrine and Covenants” registers primarily as the name of book of scripture to Latter-day Saints. When the first edition was printed, however, the words had specific meanings and to a certain degree represented a shift in Mormon parlance. Can you discuss the evolution and use of the terms “commandment,” “revelation,” and “covenant” as they are employed in R1 and R2?
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Review: The Joseph Smith Papers, Published Revelations

At an early release publicity event, volume editor Robin Jensen stood at a table and grabbed a pile of what seemed to be spiral bound reams of paper. These were the research materials deprecated by the single new volume celebrated at the meeting. Volume 2 in the Revelations and Translations series of the Joseph Smith Papers presents a battery of materials, heretofore available to researchers, but in very inconvenient or unreliable formats. For example, before this volume was published, the easiest way to access images of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants was on an anti-Mormon website. Published Revelations (hereafter referred to as R2) delivers in the most important ways and it provides some tantalizing pathways for researchers to approach the texts of interest. The JSP team have wielded their sharpened editorial skills to present the texts of Joseph Smith’s (et al.) revelations as they were variously published during his lifetime, using a mix of transcripts and duotone facsimiles. In the days immediately following this review, we will also be publishing an interview with Jensen, in which he discusses some interesting aspects of the volume and its documents.
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A Pioneer Day Talk

I was asked to speak in Sacrament Meeting yesterday about pioneers, it being the 24th. I began by recounting my experience of finding Green Flake’s grave following the description I posted a couple of weeks ago (note that some of the latter comments in this post assume that the Flake material is freshly delivered). I then proceeded along this outline:
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Teaching the Priesthood Restriction

After the lesson, one individual in particular waited to talk to me, and holding up a phone showed me a picture of a grandchild hugging a black person. They were to be married in a few months. I can’t claim special revelatory knowledge, but after the discussions of that day–of what we do know–this good person, who had struggled, was now healed. We both blinked back tears.
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Review: Church History Library Catalog

My first research trip to the Archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was many years ago, when it was nestled on the main floor of the Church Office Building. One had to pass through a security door and by a desk that displayed a proscription against carrying packages beyond. I never asked, assuming it was a lingering memorial to the bizarre and lethal events of previous decades. As I remember, I spent the first, and maybe second day, sitting in front of a computer, pouring over the catalog, trying hundreds of different search queries and listing collection after collection to review as the time allowed.
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Mormonism’s Adoption Theology

The recently released summer issue of Journal of Mormon History leads off with two articles on “Mormonism’s Adoption Theology.” The first, “Early Mormon Adoption Theology and the Mechanics of Salvation,” was authored by Sam Brown. As it ties in with his In Heaven as It Is on Earth (forthcoming, Oxford University Press) you will have to read the hard copy. I wrote the second article, “Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism,” which is available here. Prefacing these articles is a short introduction, which follows:
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“From a small to a great capacity”

Today I drove by a small pioneer cemetery as I have countless times. This time, with my two oldest children, I stopped. When my sons asked me what we were doing, I explained that this was a cemetery, and that I wondered if we knew anyone that was buried there. “Oh, a grave yard.” Yes.
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Last rites and my personal intersection with history

As noted on the sidebar, the recently released issue of BYU Studies includes an article, which I wrote on Mormon last rites. It describes the liturgical dynamics in Mormonism, accounting for the rise, and transmission of rituals over time. Specifically, I look at deathbed rituals (e.g., dedicating the dying to the Lord), ritualized care of the corpse, and grave dedication. There is some fun stuff about how things become formal part of Mormon liturgy and how priesthood rituals, become priesthood rituals. Additionally, the editors ask that I include a few paragraphs of personal reflection, perhaps relating how the topic of the paper reflects on my status as a believer to include in a sidebar. Not having done such a thing for other projects, I thought it would be appropriate to share here what appears there:
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Review: In the Whirlpool

I imagine that in the minds of most American Mormons, there is a faint recollection of a grainy image of church leaders sitting together in the striped vestments of Federal criminality. The reality of virtually all general church leaders and many local leaders either being incarcerated or on the lam is so incongruent to modern lived experience as to be almost absurd. Enter Reid Neilson, the current chief operator at the LDS Historical Department, who has edited a collection of letters written by Apostle and Church President Wilford Woodruff to a family with whom he hid from the Marshals.
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Random thoughts about healing relics and appreciation for the JSP

In the article Kris and I wrote about the development of Mormon healing to 1847, we discussed the rise of healing relics:
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I am a Mormon

I am a Mormon and I reject all adjectives and sub-categorizations. I have no respect for attempts to conventionalize them. Regardless of what individual members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe, how they approach scripture, history or politics, they are my people, my fellow-citizens and my kin.
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Review: Shakers, Mormons, and Religious Worlds

It has generally been the case that when those interested in Mormon history gather to chat about the latest publications, it is frequently primary documents which elicit much excitement. When synthesis is subject of the chatter, one hears names like Alexander or Bushman or Walker invoked. Only in the dark recesses of lonely hallways does one hear of others: Jonathan Z. Smith, Victor Turner, or Mary Douglas.

When people discuss the new New Mormon History (or the post-new Mormon History, or whatever), I think many envision something like Steve Taysom’s Shakers, Mormons and Religious Worlds. I also think that there are people that for any number of reasons (not excluding generational bias) just won’t like Taysom’s volume, which analyzes Shaker and Mormon boundary maintenance. He employs what the kids like to call “theory.” [Read more...]

Of the Constitution and the Canon

Along with many others this weekend, I attended the Duck Beach of Mormon history nerds: the annual MHA Conference. This year it was in St. George, Utah. It was as splendid as ever. I did not present this year, but I did respond to a panel.

Emily Jensen wrote an article on David Pulsipher’s paper—a history of Latter-day Saint exegesis of the Anti-Nephi-Lehi passages of the Book of Mormon. I noticed that Emily did not comment on the cogent remarks of the responder. Bah. [Read more...]

“Heavenly Manifestations”: Provenance and Modern Devotion

This semester I have been teaching an “Adult Religion Class” as part of the BYU Continuing Education program. Doctrine and Covenants. It has been great fun. This week the lesson was on Section 138—Joseph F. Smith’s vision of the Descensus Christi ad Inferos. We have a great classroom dynamic and the students have proven themselves eager and capable to tackle scholarly approaches to our history. [Read more...]

Minutes by minute: Relief Society documents and more

Within the last few hours, the Joseph Smith Papers Project website was updated to include the Documents volume covering 1834-1835, and the entirety of Minute Book 1 and the Record of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.

O, Lord! help our widows, and fatherless children! So mote it be. Amen. With the sword, and with the word of truth, defend thou them. So mote it be. Amen.

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The new media

The following is a talk I delivered yesterday during the adult session of Stake Conference.

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The Eighth Day

Today, I will press my hands on my son who was born eight days ago and I will bless him. [Read more...]

Of visions, angels and swords

I have to admit that I am pretty weak when it comes to the Hebrew Bible. But my perception is that the divine sword of the Lord is wielded by angels, typically in vision, to show God’s displeasure with the principles of the narrative in which they appear.
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Female healing article now available

The last six years have been a lot of fun, and I count myself very fortunate to have been able to work on this project and to work on it with Kristine. Honestly, there were moments in the Church History Library when I thought to myself, “If I never have the opportunity to see anything else or work on another project, I will still be full.” We owe many friends and institutions much for their support. Thank you.
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The work of healing

Ardis’ recent post about the details of early twentieth century temple practice reminded me of a favorite document. There is a great devotional angle, but there are many fun details for the historians of Mormon practice as well.

In February 1931, Mary McClellan sat down with her daughter Zitelle to record some of her life’s history to be included in a ward publication: Gleaners’ Treasures of Truth. Mary and her husband George lived in Colonia Morelos when church leaders determined sitting out the Mexican revolution was no longer feasible. Unlike some who had means sufficient for relocation, the Lloyds suffered desperately. The family settled in Bisbee, Arizona, just across the boarder, while George worked in the dank conditions of the Queen copper Mine. They struggled with sickness and death and after two year, the McClellans saved enough to move to Clinton, Utah just south of Ogden.
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Priesthood and Church Liturgy

Last summer, I posted some Venn diagrams mapping shifts in authority between 1877 and 2010. There are many trends possible when evaluating such representations; however, one important trend during the twentieth century has been an increasing association between priesthood and liturgy.

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2010 Christmas gift book guide

Behold the list both mighty and strong.

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Women, healing, politics and history

Kris Wright, in her recent post, discussed women’s history in a way that complicated some of the comments I had made in a podcast with Scott on the participation of women in the Mormon healing liturgy. This is an important discussion, and the subsequent discussion was helpful, I think. Here I’m going to outline, hopefully with some measure of clarity, why I think that apolitical history is approachable and that the use of history as a “weapon,” as I said in the podcast, is not desirable.

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Fun Temple Facts (TM) #1

One of my responsibilities at church is to encourage regular temple attendance. Last month I decided to start the Fun Temple Facts (TM) email series, in which a few days before ward temple day, I send out a multiple choice question relating to the temple, with a subsequent answer. I thought it would be fun to share more widely.

After working all day in the Nauvoo Temple, the early Saints liked to:

    a) Square dance in the upper rooms of the temple.
    b) Have Mississippi River catfish dinner (though all were invited, not just the High Priests and spouses) [1].
    c) Go over to Bishop Miller’s for Refreshments.
    d) Pull sticks and wrestle.

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From where, blood atonement

I recently sat down with Polly Aird and Levi Peterson to discuss Polly’s recent book, Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector (reviews here, here, and here). This volume is a biography of Peter McAuslan, who converted to the Mormon church in Scotland, then immigrated to Utah just in time for the challenges of the mid 1850′s, the Mormon reformation, and the Utah War. There is no question that this was a jarring transition.

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The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month

Armistice. While less than 90 years ago, perhaps more ages have come and gone since than did before it. 1918. Women could not vote. A railroad carriage. Joseph F. Smith, Hyrum’s son, had one week left to live. The beginnings of peace. Gordon Hinckley was eight years old. [Read more...]

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