Journal of Mormon History 34 (Winter 2008)

With the relatively successful reception of the purple and blue cover of last fall, the folks at the Mormon History Association decided to rock our worlds with innovation: blue and purple.

1. Barbara G. Walden and Margaret Rastle, “Restoring, Preserving, and Maintaining the Kirtland Temple: 1880-1920.”
Mormons have a lot of misconceptions about the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) church and Walden and Rastle offer a great service in describing in great detail the life of the Kirtland Temple. The authors show how the RLDS church committed itself to the restoration and maintenance of the temple. Lots of great pictures too.

26. Samuel Brown, “The Translator and the Ghostwriter: Joseph Smith and W. W. Phelps.”
I thought the name of this author sounded familiar, but there was nary a “geonecromancy” or “sacerdotal genealogy” to be found in this article. Still, it is a fine essay on Joseph and W. W.’s relationship with extra emphasis on their linguistic quests for transcendence, both spiritually and socially. Ever read those long and bizarre multilingual asides in documents attributed to Joseph? Yeah.

63. Nancy J. Anderson, “Horace Ephraim Roberts: Pioneering Pottery in Nauvoo and Provo.”
Have you ever wondered about the table settings of our religious progenitors? If there were nothing better, potters would make do with red brick clay, which was plentiful in Nauvoo. However, there were four different clay types in Nauvoo and Horace Roberts was a skilled artisan, so he likely went for the higher end offerings. This paper follows Roberts from his conversion and baptism, through Nauvoo and to Utah. Freaks you out a bit to watch someone supplying entire regions with kitchenware buy lead by the cart and coat his products with it. I wish they had included some photos.

82. Kim B. Östman, “The Mormon Espionage Scare and Its Coverage in Finland, 1982-84.”
I think some Mormons were surprised by the anti-Mormon sentiment that washed over the country during the recent Republican primaries. Now imagine a place and time where Neal A. Maxwell, avatar of alliteration and erstwhile CIA agent, is believed to be directing the systematic collection of political information on an entire country’s citizens. Further that country’s Mormons are learning Russian so that when the Soviet Union ultimately collapses, they can take control of the empire. Östman, who has a great paper with BCC, and is (I think) hosting the EMSA conference, really is doing great work on Mormonism in Finland. This paper gets into the nitty gritty of Mormonism’s clumsy evangelism in the country which straddled the Iron Curtain.

118. John-Charles Duffy, “The Use of ‘Lamanite’ in Official LDS Discourse.”
I know I shouldn’t have, but I thought this was going to be more of the same stuff we always hear. I was delighted that Duffy approached this history with some context that I believe has been lacking in conversation on this topic. How many people would lose their testimony if you told them that indeed, despite the fact that the Church has told them they are descendants of Ephraim, they in fact have no actual Hebrew genetic code in their DNA? Duffy offers a nice overview with the crescendo of the usage and Lamanite-centricity of certain policies and the post-Kimball decline.

168. Kylie Nielson Turley, “Yesharah: Society for LDS Sister Missionaries.”
There was a time that BYU had fraternities. When the club which included both male and female returned missionaries split and the men formed a chapter of the Friars in 1929, the ladies were left out. So they started their own society (replete with initiatory rites). It is still around. Surprising, eh? They are a bit strapped for members, but there is some fascinating history surrounding the life of this organization whose name is Hebrew for “strait, right, just, righteous, good or pleasing.” Turley delivers.

204. Reid L. Harper, “Backcountry Missionaries in the Post-Bellum South: Thomas Ephraim Harper’s Experience.”
Most people have seen that image of B. H. Roberts in disguise. We still hear of terrible violence against missionaries, today. Still, the American missionaries in the South at the transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries faced challenges that are quite surprising. Harper uses his grandfather’s diaries to shed additional light on this time. One of the most fascinating aspects of this study was Harper’s showing how missionaries secluded themselves in the countryside where the work wasn’t at all effective doing the same thing over and over for decades. Sound familiar?

233. Richard H. Cracroft, “‘The Assault of Laughter’: The Comic Attack on Mormon Polygamy in Popular Literature.”
Cracroft highlights six different comic artists, who in the nineteenth century capitalized on the Mormon penchant for unorthodox connubial relations. And really, how could you pass it up? The author gives examples from all six and contrasts their styles. While you can’t quantify the effect of comic attack on Mormonism, the author shows that these people wielded great power over public perception.

263. Alan Barnett reviews Lowell C. Bennion, et al., Polygamy in Lorenzo Snow’s Brigham City: An Architectural Tour.
Positive review. Perhaps not as tight and consistent as the reviewer hoped, but and meaty and important study.

264. David Earl Johnson reviews Reid L. Neilson and Ronald Walker, eds., Reflections of a Mormon Historian: Leonard J. Arrington on the New Mormon History.
Positive review. Everybody loves Arrington.

269. Ronald O. Barney reviews Will Evans, Along the Navajo Trails: Recollections of a Trader, 1898-1948.
Somewhat positive review. “Despite its weakness, this is an important volume for both Mormons and Navajos interested in the maintenance and recovery of the past.”

271. Jacob W. Olmstead reviews Terryl L. Givens, The Latter-day Saint Experience in America.
Positive review. Nice introductory text on the Mormon Church. Not history and a bit expensive, but good.

274. Shannon P. Flynn reviews Colleen Whitney, ed., From the Ground Up: The History of Mining in Utah.
Positive review. Some snoozer chapters and some scientific/technical material (a positive for me), but overall a very helpful and insightful history.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m hopelessly behind in my reading, but I did read Sam’s article and thoroughly enjoyed it.

  2. How many people would lose their testimony if you told them that indeed, despite the fact that the Church has told them they are descendants of Ephraim, they in fact have no actual Hebrew genetic code in their DNA?

    Probably the same number of Icelanders who would question their parentage if told that they didn’t carry DNA from most of their ancestors.

    This populationwide coalescent analysis of Icelandic genealogies revealed highly positively skewed distributions of descendants to ancestors, with the vast majority of potential ancestors contributing one or no descendants and a minority of ancestors contributing large numbers of descendants.

  3. Sam Kitterman says:

    Re #2: Twas always my understanding most of the LDS membership being declared of the tribe of Ephraim was through the doctrine of adoption, not of actual blood lineage.

    Consequently, the lack of any DNA showing any trace of Hebrew code has no bearing upon that determination.

  4. As always, thanks J.

  5. Thanks for another insightful review, J.

  6. #3 Sam –

    that too. I think both work. It works either way – one could be a direct descendent but still have no DNA traces, or one could be adopted into the tribe.

  7. Ivan and Sam, I think both perspectives are valid. But the adoptive model is quite new in Mormon belief – I’d say a couple of decades at most.

  8. J. Stapely –

    even if we totally discount the adoptive model and insist that all “Ephramites” are direct descendants – well, the Icelandic DNA study shows that we should have no expectations for any Hebrew DNA to show up anyway. Someone could be a direct descendant of Ephraim, but for whatever reason have no traces of Ephraim’s DNA.

    Mainly, I’m just wondering why you threw that rather odd question at the end of the article summary. I don’t know any Mormons, even the ones who believe in total linear descent, who would be shaken by the idea of having no traces of Hebrew DNA in their system.

  9. I don’t know any Mormons, even the ones who believe in total linear descent, who would be shaken by the idea of having no traces of Hebrew DNA in their system.


    I have always thought this was important context to the Lamanite DNA kafuffle. The article brings in some of this context.

  10. Joe Geisner says:

    I don’t think the Iceland example is as clear cut as people think. I would suggest people read answer #8

  11. #9 –

    Okay. Now I get it. Cool!

  12. #10 –

    not a very convincing statement over at sig books. It relies on a straw man argument, for one thing. It has several other problems, but the reliance on the straw man argument makes the whole thing rather laughable in my opinion, and not worthy of further response.

  13. Joe Geisner says:

    What straw man? The Iceland example is not accurate.

  14. I don’t find answer 8 to be particularly satisfying as a scientific explanation, for the record.

  15. Stapley,

    Well done, but in response to the couple of decades issue, my adult lifetime spans a couple (or more) decades, and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about “adoption” into Israel. I’m interested in reading the article.

  16. Kevinf, I think that you are right that the idea of adoption has been around much longer, but it has been, I believe a sort of disclaimer. That is, literal descent was the rule, but people that weren’t literally descendants were adopted. When I stated the couple of decades thing, I was referring to the idea that we are not literally descendants but that the overwhelming majority are adopted.

  17. Here’s an Ensign article on this subject from January 1991:

    Of the House of Israel

  18. Nice pull, Justin. That affirms the conservative lineal descent.

  19. I think that most LDS think that they are of the adoption into Israel mode. They can’t conceive that the land their ancestors were located in a hundred years ago could/would have been vastly different a few generations earlier. They do not want to think of their kindred dead as Middle Easterners. The Jesus-as-a-Nordic-person artwork we all love encourages this thinking.

    I think that most of us are literal descendants of the Israelites. How many of you know where your ancestors have been in the last few thousands years? If my DNA has spent considerable time in the Middle East, I’ll be the farm that yours has too.

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