For the last several months, my ward has had monthly priesthood lessons on the Gospel Topics essays that the church has released over the last year or so. I teach in Primary, so I haven’t been to most of them. A friend taught the Race and the Priesthood essay in June, though, and invited me to his class; he did an excellent job, and it was well-received.
And then, three weeks ago, he asked if I’d teach a class. My topics? Book of Mormon and DNA Studies, Book of Mormon Translation, and Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham. (If only the class had been two Sundays later … ) [Read more…]
The last couple days, I’ve been thinking about intertemporality in the church. In particular, I’ve been thinking about how we see the value of current revelation vis-à-vis both past and future revelation.
Partly, I think, this interests me as an expansion of my professional interests. In my world, we think a lot about the time value of money. In a nutshell, the time value of money holds that, as long as you can earn a positive rate of interest, a dollar today is more valuable than a dollar a year from now, so if you have a choice between earning a dollar today and earning a dollar in a year, you should choose the dollar today.[fn1] [Read more…]
Working through the Funeral Sermon book, trying to put together a real draft, I’m attempting once again to write an introduction (presently designated as Preface). I’ve written large chunks that have been (and no doubt others that will eventually be) discarded. This post is stuff on the chopping block, but it has some important features that deserve some discussion I think. So I am dumping it on you all. No doubt it is terribly boring stuff, but that’s the nature of the beast. What follows was just an initial draft, so I don’t claim a serious stake in it. I put the pictures in to entertain Steve Evans.
[Cross posted at Boap.org’s blog.]
So, Joseph Smith waxed eloquent on the social aspects of the before life, and the afterlife. We get a pithy summary courtesy of Orson Pratt and William Clayton:
“that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there”
And this makes me shiver a bit. Niles Crane, fictive Seattle psychiatrist expresses my thought best:
I’ve always liked the notion [after I die] of meeting the great figures of history. But then I think, what if it’s like high school, and all the really cool dead people don’t want to hang out with me?*
*On the wall in the St. George temple is a painting. All those cool dead people? They’re hanging out with Wilford Woodruff.
The traditional LDS perspective of the First Vision is that it was a literal visit from two Heavenly beings to an awake and alert Joseph Smith. Joseph consistently refers to it as a vision, not a visit, and his earlier accounts sound (at least to me) more dreamlike than the 1838 version we have recorded in the Pearl of Great Price. Often, visions in scripture are vivid dreams with a meaning that is applied to a broader group than the individual who has the vision.
What if we take the First Vision in the opposite direction, and consider it as a dream with significance to the dreamer rather than a conscious and world-altering event? If a dream, then it is likewise a foray into the subconscious mind of Joseph Smith. This approach is not to dismiss a divine source for the First Vision; just to explore a Jungian perspective on the elements of the vision without regard to its source, as Jung might have done had Joseph been on his couch. [Read more…]
My wife, Kristine K. (disambiguation: not the same as Kristine), and I both delivered sermons today in the Slate Canyon 13th Ward in Provo. I spoke first, on the War in Heaven, and then she spoke on the Creation. I’m posting my sermon now, with Kristine’s to follow shortly, as I believe that it will also resonate with readers of BCC.
For the vital part that the war in heaven plays in LDS theology, much about it remains unclear. The phrase itself derives from Revelation chapter 12, which depicts “a great red dragon” whose “tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth” (vv. 3-4, NRSV). Then, we read, “war broke out in heaven.” This seems to have been instigated by Michael and his angels, as the text mentions their aggression first, going on to say that “the dragon and his angels fought back, but were defeated” (vv. 7-8, NRSV). The effect of this defeat is that Satan “was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (v. 9, NRSV).
Many people find problematic the extent to which the Book of Mormon quotes the King James Version of the Bible, because this practice can make the Book of Mormon look more like a cobbled-together 19th-century text than a translation of an ancient artifact (bearing in mind Joseph Smith’s idiosyncratic usage of “translation”). Without claiming to offer a solution to this conundrum, I’d like to put forward an 1820s analogue, in which the translator of a recently recovered text relied uncritically on the King James Version, in the process masking some interesting details of the scriptural text presented.
This post began as a response to J. Stapley’s recent post about Ordinances but quickly veered off in a tangent that would have constituted a threadjack of his post, so I’ve posted it as an independent contemplation.
J. was exploring possible origins of Mormon use of the word “ordinance” (or early influence as to the use and meaning of the word) in legal usage in his post and especially in the ensuing discussion in the comments (J. notes that he is beginning to think that “JS . . . was explicitly using legal language” when using the term “ordinance”). I think “covenant” also falls into this category of a term coopted from legal usage to express a religious teaching. [Read more…]
As Rebecca J just noted, the theme for youth instruction for the month of June is priesthood and priesthood keys. In the revelations of Joseph Smith, the Biblical leitmotifs of opening and closing, of binding and unbinding, and of sealing and unsealing all come to be associated in deeply significant ways with the priesthood orders of the Church. In this post, I will focus on the theme of opening and closing as it connects to the imagery of keys.
I don’t know if you are following all the new releases on the JSP and Church History websites, but much of it is completely fascinating. For instance, did you see this story about “A Bit of Old String: Mary Whitmer’s Unheralded Contributions” by my favorite historian ever? Add it to your files about women in church history.
We’ve just experienced the Mormon preaching festival. That is, general conference! In addition to inspired teaching, it gives the outside world a chance to experience some of the variety of Mormon address. And besides, I’ve been toiling over chapter 7 of the book, rewriting, rethinking some, and redoing other. This represents mental suds rising to the top of my brain-glass.
Texts are always encased by interpretation. Generations come and go, and interpretation floods over texts, at least those that rise to surface (paradoxically), via unearthing by graduate students or rediscovery by the public, or just constant devotion, etc. Scripture is no exception, and everyone, not just Nephi, deploys a kind of rationalization with circumstance and inspiration to come up with a correlated understanding, whether that be official, communal, familial, or even “backlistial.” Among Mormons, Joseph Smith’s sermons are quite often seen as doctrinal in some sense, a sense I won’t attempt to make precise.
“I have tried continually to get this people to pursue a course that will make them self-sustaining, taking care of their poor—the lame, the halt and the blind, lifting the ignorant from where they have no opportunity of observing the ways of the world, and of understanding the common knowledge possessed among the children of men, bringing them together from the four quarters of the world, and making of them an intelligent, thrifty and self-sustaining people.” (Brigham Young 6 Apr 1868 JD 12:195)
At the close of overland emigration, Brigham Young reminded the survivors comfortably gathered in the new Tabernacle it was time to graduate from a scrappy interdependence to a covenant community. In self-reliance they had packed individual wagons; in self-preservation companies banded and braced against the journey; the prologue was over. To circumscribe the breadth of a Zion worthy of exaltation, the saintly challenge is what Young called becoming “self-sustaining”, or creating a lasting and corporate abundance in the soul, heart and hand. [Read more…]
Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.
This covers much the same material as the last lesson, historically and thematically. The emphasis continues to be on Oliver Cowdery’s experiences translating the Book of Mormon and, specifically, his attempts to recognize the spirit of revelation in his own life. While the emphasis of last week’s lesson was more on preparing yourself to receive revelation, this week’s lesson has more to do with recognizing what on earth is going on when it happens.
First of all, go to the new Revelations in Context resource at lds.org and read the article by Jeffrey Cannon on Oliver Cowdery’s Gift. While you are hopping around, go to Robin Jensen’s post on last week’s lesson and read that as well. Now return to this post and feel bad; I’m neither as knowledgeable, nor as good a writer as those guys. Oh well.
If there is one message to take from all of the sections being covered this week (and last week) it is this: revelation is not easy work. [Read more…]
In 1844, Mormonism was in for its biggest historical moment so far: the death of Joseph Smith. The headquarters of the Church was Nauvoo, Illinois and it was bursting with converts from the US and the UK. These people had some basic familiarity with the movement’s history, but they didn’t have the experience, they weren’t insiders, they hadn’t been part of those heady days of revelation upon revelation, revelations of all kinds and spectra. That deficit was addressed at the April General Conference. President Sidney Rigdon stood to preach to the very large open-air crowd. I’m not going to try and tell you everything he said. He spoke for a long time. What we are about here is, how do we know (some of) what he said? Two clerks had been assigned to take minutes, William Clayton and Thomas Bullock. Both were capable longhand reporters, and they had somewhat complementary styles. This complementarity can serve us well. I’ll give you an example (without the intrusive sics). Here is Clayton’s version of some of Pres. Rigdon’s address:
Title: Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives
Author: Davis Bitton
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Price: $19.95 (Kindle, $9.95)
The fluidity of personality; the fallibility of perception; ambiguous memory construction; the happenstance instances of recording; the ravages of time. Just a few minor things to consider when trying to recall important events in my own life. And if I face such challenges regarding the things I’ve personally witnessed, how much more cautious should I be when dealing with history? With a particular historical figure? Named Joseph Smith. Who was he? So many different Josephs to choose from.
This is the general lesson LDS historian Davis Bitton hoped to convey in his book, Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2011). [Read more…]
I have some continuing interest in antebellum American sermon culture and this post examines some legacies of early Mormonism on the topic of sermons. Protestants of the era inherited an ongoing question over the status of the pulpit. Where do sermons fit into the rule of faith? The issue was most touchy in the more severe “Bible Alone” strains of Protestantism and one can see the same concern in Protestant debates over creedal statements and confessions or the likes of the Book of Common Prayer. On the other hand, even though the early Latter-day Saints were liberals regarding “revelation,” the relationship between pulpit and scripture in Mormonism was a curious one and bore a resemblance to that cautious calculus surrounding the subject among conservative Protestants.
Church history would be so much easier to understand if we had a social media record to look back on…
Here is part 4.
Bibliographical disciplines have divided up into various specialties and during the last several decades the dominant Anglo-American textual theories have splintered into a variety of approaches modeled on various ideas with roots ranging from multivalued and fuzzy logics to epistemology, philology, physics, biology, etc., which coexist in some tension. This means that no matter what approach a critic or editor takes he or she is bound to fall victim to a thrashing by somebody. The good side of this is a wide open field for expression. One hopes that *someone* likes the result.
This time I want to give a few examples of various ways texts are presented. These will range from classical presentations where the editor is concerned with laying out both editorial decisions and the available alternatives, to a clear text format where the presentation records a smooth, clean (easily quotable) grammatically correct text whose relationship to manuscripts or other editions is essentially hidden from the reader or if not that extreme, at least annotation is placed in back matter.
There’s nothing quite like singing “The Spirit of God” with a congregation in the Kirtland Temple. I’ve had the opportunity three times — the first time was at the dedication of the new Temple Visitor Center, the second was at a meeting of the John Whitmer Historical Association, and the third time was yesterday. However, yesterday was the first time the congregation also gave the “Hosanna shout.” (I’ve heard a lot of reviews of lackluster Hosanna shouts — I’ve never before participated in one, so I have no basis for comparison — but I thought this one was pretty good.)
Yesterday was the 175th anniversary of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and I traveled there for the weekend to participate in the commemorative events. Beginning Friday there were a series of special meetings, services, seminars, lectures, and tours. There were three services on Sunday itself — an LDS service in the early morning and one in the evening, and a Community of Christ service in the mid-morning. To preserve the temple, the number of attendees for each session was limited to 300 (over a thousand apparently packed in for the original 1836 dedication), so I was only able to attend the Community of Christ service, but by every account, all three were very special and moving. [Read more…]
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.
The Egyptian Book of the Dead is a large body of writings, used from the New Kingdom to the Ptolemaic Period, that is meant to help one obtain a place in the afterlife among the gods. In July of 1835, Joseph and several others purchased a collection of Egyptian antiquities, including four mummies and a number of papyri. Joseph soon announced that among this papyri was a Book of Abraham, which he eventually would translate, publish in the Times and Seasons, which would be printed as part of the British Mission pamphlet A Pearl of Great Price, which would be canonized as scripture in 1880. Interest in the JS Papyri has focused on the papyri thought to relate in some way to the Abraham text, namely the Hor Book of Breathings and the Sheshonq Hypocephalus. But this little collection also included three Ptolemaic era copies of the Book of the Dead. The most extensive fragments are from a Book of the Dead belonging to someone named Tshemmin; one fragment belonged to a woman named Neferirnub. (The third Book of the Dead belonged to someone named Amenhotep, but has not survived.) [Read more…]
Today was High Council Sunday in our sacrament meeting. Our ward is going on trek come summer. If you know me, you know that I am not a fan of trek, but that I generally just ignore it.
The high councilor’s speaking companion said, “I know that those noble pioneers suffered what they went through in order to inspire the youth of today.” Martyrdom ain’t what it used to be, folks! [Read more…]
William the Unloved was the last surviving brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith, hanging on nearly five decades more than the rest. I always feel a little sorry for William, since nobody liked him and nobody remembers him at all fondly.
We went to visit William’s grave a couple months ago and he will mark the first entry in a feature I’m calling “Cemetourism.” I inherited the cemetery gene from my mother and her mother. My uncles say of my grandmother (with a groan!) that she can never pass by a cemetery without wanting to stop and hunt for ancestors. I share those inklings. As we travel around the country, we like to stop and look for graves, either of ancestors, Mormon history figures, or U.S. presidents and vice presidents, along with their defeated rival candidates for both offices. (Yes, I’ve been to the graves of Alben Barkley, Hannibal Hamlin, and Wendell Willkie!) [Read more…]
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.
I was recently commissioned by Terryl L. Givens, Matthew J. Grow, and Oxford University Press to produce a new series of maps for their upcoming biography, Parley P. Pratt: The St. Paul of Mormonism (scheduled for release in October of this year). There’s been no skimping on the maps — the volume will include ten full maps plus insets.
In keeping with the title, the bulk of the maps focus on the missionary journeys of the peripatetic Pratt. The vision of the authors, which I attempted to fulfill, was to produce a series of maps almost reminiscent of the maps at the back of LDS Bibles that show the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul.