Your Sunday Brunch Special: Stealing a Bull Dozer

During the summer between my first and second years as a grad student, I needed money bad. I had been married for a few years and had one child. We were living in campus housing and it seemed terribly expensive. I had a car but it was dreadfully old and unreliable (the heater didn’t work, so it was a nightmare to drive in the winter. We lived pretty near campus, I had about a 2-mile walk to my office.[1] Unfortunately, I had no funding that summer and my campus job just didn’t cover our expenses. A friend at school mentioned that a large mine about 20 miles from us was hiring students for the summer and the pay scale was much higher than the campus job. We figured out that if I got hired, the money would tide us over until fall. I applied and got a job, along with another student, working at the mine truck maintenance facility. It was an astonishingly large operation where the regular crew repaired the mine trucks. These trucks were, like the mine itself, outsize monsters. The drive systems were essentially the same as railroad diesel-electric locomotives.
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BYU Studies Call for Papers on Special Evolution Issue

We are delighted to invite you to contribute to a BYU Studies Quarterly special issue on the thoughtful integration of evolution and faith. BYU Studies publishes scholarship within a restored gospel of Jesus Christ context. Submissions are invited from all scholars who seek truth “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118), discern the harmony between revelation and research, value both academic and spiritual inquiry, and recognize that knowledge without charity is nothing (1 Cor. 13:2).
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October Conference: President Nelson Announces New Temple Recommend Questions

Below you can see a comparison between the new and previous recommend questions. There are a few changes. These changes emphasize certain points and deemphasize or at least make others less specific.
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Church Announces Change in Gender Restrictions for Ordinance Witnesses

First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Witnessing Ordinances

Early in this dispensation, the Lord instructed that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:28). Consistent with this direction, members of the Church serve as witnesses when sacred ordinances of salvation and exaltation are performed.

We are pleased to announce procedural adjustments for the two individuals who serve as witnesses to baptisms and sealing ordinances. These adjustments are effective immediately in all temples and in all Church units. As invited by presiding authorities:

1. Any member holding a current temple recommend, including a limited-use recommend, may serve as a witness to a proxy baptism.

2. Any endowed member with a current temple recommend may serve as a witness to a living or proxy sealing.

3. Any baptized member of the Church, including children and youth, may serve as a witness to the baptism of a living person.

We trust that you, as individuals and families, will find great joy in your service as you help provide saving ordinances to Heavenly Father’s children.

Sincerely yours,

Russell M. Nelson
Dallin H. Oaks
Henry B. Eyring

Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 10

We’ve been looking at some forms of ecclesiology that might be appealed to in the quest to understand female ordination in the present religious, and in particular Mormon, context. For lack of a better term I’ll call this next one Lego Ecclesiology. [You can find the whole series here.]
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Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 9

[You can find the whole series here.]
Blueprint ecclesiology is one of the arguments put forward by some denominations (including TCJCoLDS). I want to look at a couple of others that might be useful but are more friendly to possible ordination of women. I’m not trying to be exhaustive, largely because I’m sure I can’t do it or I’ve forgotten stuff that could be said.
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Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 8

[You can find the whole series here.]
Ecclesiology as I use it here refers to leadership structures in churches. I said last time that I wanted to explore some of these that are brought out in support of barring women from ordination, or allowing that ordination. A recently used rationale by Mormon leaders for not ordaining women has appeared also in Catholic and Protestant arguments and is particularly important in historical Mormonism. It has been called “blueprint ecclesiology.” I am not the inventor of the term, however I don’t recall where I first heard it used.
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Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 7

[You can find the whole series here.]
Scripture contains the word of God, in the words of human beings. Therefore each of these texts reflects the social and intellectual milieu of the people of their times. 1 Cor 14:33-34 reads something to the effect of “In all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent. For they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission, as the Law (of Moses) also says.”[1] In the Genesis creation/fall stories, Eve is told that Adam will rule her.
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Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 6

[You can find the whole series here.]
Continuing from the previous post, I’ll just note that Vatican II had a salutary effect on relations between scholars (at least biblical scholars) and theologians with the Roman Catholic church. Theologians/scholars have some responsibility to see that the Bishops have not opened themselves to theological danger no matter how sensitive the issues. There is a danger to any such covenant however, it arises from the far right and far left. The former see every investigation and study as a threat if it doesn’t conform to their own canonical thought, previous investment, or expression, and from the latter who scorn any serious theology or associated scholarship. Of course, everyone thinks this kind of language names those they oppose.
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Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 5

[You can find the whole series here.]
Modern knowledge, historical, scientific, theological, etc. is, or I think should be, part of a process that contributes toward reformation or modification of ancient (or just past) thought, yes, even doctrine. The important word here is contribute not control or dictate. No theologian, scientist, historian, etc., can formulate doctrine or perhaps a better word is teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That’s an ideal I think and it also exists in other Christian denominations. When this boundary shifts it can be unhealthy for the institution and the individual. Scholarship of various sorts has to be assessed in the wider context of a church’s life as guided by the Holy Spirit. Yes, I think God is active in the guidance of sincere supplicants, be they lay persons, Popes, bishops, Mormon or not, and of course I don’t NEED to call this out but given the theme, women who lead in some church capacity.
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Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 4

[You can find the whole series here.]
I want to turn to theological issues now. As before, this continues to be merely my own thought process. I’m not seeking to be rigorous—I’m not going to multiply footnotes and references. That’s the hard work someone else can do. Here I’m just interested in exploring what I think and, of course, what you think as you respond in the comments.
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Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 3

[You can find the whole series here.]
Last time I was talking about potential for scandal among a sexually egalitarian clergy. I think that danger is overblown but it certainly exists. And if the past is a predictor of the future we might expect a conservative Mormon leadership to be as draconian about possibilities of scandal, given a few actual scandals, as they have been already. For Catholics, women in the priesthood has to mean women in the seminaries, the training ground for the Catholic priesthood. If there are female priests, won’t there be female bishops, archbishops, Cardinals, a Pope (some Anglican branches allow female bishops but no archbishops)? And of course the same goes for Mormon hierarchy. An interesting example that relates to both these groups is the Community of Christ. The CoC is in doctrine perhaps more like a mainstream Protestant faith than it is LDS. They still hold the Book of Mormon as a text useful in faith though many do not believe it to be a historical one and that is not a test of faith. The CoC has had a female clergy for many years now and while it did foment dissent when it was introduced, I don’t think there has been much scandal in the close association between men and women leaders in local congregations. Though I don’t know this as a statistical certainty.
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Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 2.

[You can find the whole series here.]
In the last part, I noted some parallels between certain Christian traditions (particularly Catholicism) and Mormonism. I’m not trying to argue anything about whether Mormons are “Christians” in some technical sense and I’m not going to address that here. Last time I mentioned some social factors that play into ordination of women.

During the ERA era (you see what I did there), there were more parallels between Catholics and Mormons. How much, for example has feminism touched the lives of typical Latter-day Saint women or women in Catholic parishes? It’s not at all unusual to see a woman in a Latter-day Saint pulpit (such as they are). But how would it affect the average Catholic wife, say, never mind her husband, if she suddenly saw a woman in the church/cathedral pulpit, playing a truly leading role in the parish? How would this work in a Mormon congregation? “Welcome to our ward, I’m sister Jensen, first counselor in the bishopric. Bishop Huxley has asked that I conduct this meeting.” It was certainly the case that Mormon women were divided over the ERA but it seems like there was a large segment of Mormon women who mobilized to oppose the passage of the ERA in the Mormon Corridor. They didn’t want it, and the scary predictions about a Huxley-future, had some real traction among Mormons and Catholics alike. Today, I think there is still a wide geography-driven difference in the way Mormon women (and men) see a future female priesthood. And would John Smith feel comfortable disclosing his recent sexual peccadillo to a female bishop? What is the, can I say real world, parity here with a women confessing sin to a male bishop? Does a female priest require already some kind of economic and social equality between men and women? And how does this play out in the Global South say, or for that matter perhaps the southeastern US?
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Female Priests Among Christians (and Mormons), part 1.

This is a series of posts about female ordination. In it I will briefly consider some aspects of history, tradition, and scripture, various ecclesiologies, and other stuff. There are 10 parts, unless I get enthusiastic for some reason. You can find the whole series here.

First, I want to be clear that I’m not talking about a ministry of females or even female ministers. That exists already for most of the confessions out there. What I’m going to address is, for lack of a better general term, female clergy. And even this should really be parsed further among churches whose clergy go by the title of “ministers” and those whose clergy go by the title of “priest” or “bishop” and a few variations on that (say, “patriarch”).

This series relates most to churches who use the title “priest” (or some cognate) for their clergy and who are ordained to such offices. This might seem like semantics, but it is historical fact that it’s among these churches (like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Roman Catholic, or Orthodox, or some branches of the Lutheran faith, Anglicans, and some others, indeed, Mormonism had developed, by 1835, a whole mythos about church bishops and Old Testament Aaron, the first Mosaic priest Cf. final version of D&C 68) where there has been heated dispute over the issue of female leaders. After decades of discussion, Anglicans may undergo schisms over this. What is the problem about female priests over against female ministers?
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The Pearl of Great Price in Brief

I wrote this little summary twenty years ago and a friend suggested that it might still be useful with a little updating, so I present it to you here. So much has been published on various aspects of the Pearl of Great Price (PGP) in the intervening years that I can only just gesture at it here. In particular, the Joseph Smith Papers contain still untapped riches on the subject, particularly in its Revelations and Translations series, and further work appears in recent volumes like Foundational Texts of Mormonism (Oxford, 2018), and the forthcoming, Producing Ancient Scripture (University of Utah Press, February 2020).

——–

The Pearl of Great Price is the smallest volume of LDS scripture, comprising about sixty pages in the current 2013 edition (this includes footnotes and illustrations). The book was the last among those constituting the Utah church canon to be officially recognized (1880). Other groups claiming a common heritage with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such as the Community of Christ, Restoration Branches, etc., reject it as canon either wholly or in part.

The book was originally compiled by European church head and apostle Franklin D. Richards in England in 1851. Hence it is fundamentally a text of the Brigham Young led Utah church though its contents originate with Joseph Smith.
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Book Review: Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question

David B. Ostler
Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question
Greg Kofford Books, Salt Lake City, Utah
July 2019, xiv+183 pages, Appendix, endnotes, index.
$32.95 hardcover, $18.86 paper (Amazon), $17.99 Kindle.

Bridges is a short volume that addresses one of the issues facing most religions in many parts of the world: people dropping out. Surveys suggest that there are many reasons for what has been called “the rise of the nones” an especially pertinent phenomenon among young adults. The relevancy of that Old Time Religion seems to be in question.
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Review: Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith

Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith.
by Thomas G. Alexander
The Oklahoma Western Biographies Book 31, University of Oklahoma Press, 2019
xxiii + 416 pages, Bibliography, Index.
Hardcover, and ebook (Kindle).

Thomas G. Alexander is well known to readers of Latter-day Saint history. He is the author of a number important works, perhaps most prominently his Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930, recently republished by Greg Kofford Books in a third edition. Alexander, now retired, was a long time professor of history at Brigham Young University, and Transition was originally intended to be part of the Arrington “new church history” series when he was church historian.
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Lesson 28 #BCCSundaySchool2019: “What Wilt Thou Have Me Do”

Acts 6 Acts 7 Acts 8 Acts 9

These chapters are crucial to understanding the development of the early Christian church and there is just no way to discuss everything in them. Moreover, the lesson manual is very brief, so consider this a supplement to the material in the manual. These chapters include the conversion story of Paul (Acts 9) and since that story is so well known, I’m not going to emphasize it. Instead, I will focus mostly on how these chapters deal with cultural differences in the Jerusalem church and what that reveals about how the early church was getting on in the period shortly after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and departure. Even so, we will barely scratch the surface, yet I hope there will be something useful for the lesson this coming Sunday. One important thing to keep in mind is that Acts, like the Gospel of Luke (they likely had the same author) was written with a great deal of hindsight. I mean, much had taken place between the time of Jesus and the composing of Acts, most importantly perhaps, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 AD. Thus, the author is including events with a purpose: to explain through early origin stories (likely the subject of preaching during the apostolic and post-apostolic years) how the church of circa 90 AD got where it was and help explain the Christian position relative to the Empire since Luke more than the other writers of the Gospels is writing to people in a broader Roman world.
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Easter and the Final Days of Jesus

A few years back, I wrote a series of posts on the last days of Jesus’ mortal life. I have edited a few of them for this year but mostly my thoughts expressed in the series remain unchanged. Since we are once again approaching my favorite holiday, I offer them again for your perusal. You can find all of them here (scroll to the bottom to read the first entry). God bless, and happy Easter 2019!

Review: Thunder From The Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics

Matthew L. Harris, ed. Thunder From the Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics.
Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2019.
Hardcover, 260 pages.
Footnotes. Bibliography. Index.
Cloth: $99.00. Paper: $27.95. Kindle: $14.95. [Kindle not paginated.]
ISBN-10: 0252042255
ISBN-13: 978-0252042256

Ezra Taft Benson, whose life spanned most of the twentieth century, was an important figure in US politics and religion. Several times a candidate for president of the United States, he was a prominent anti-communist and John Birch Society supporter. An LDS apostle from 1943 until his death in 1994 (Benson became the 13th president of the church in 1985), he was a powerfully conservative voice on traditional roles of women at home rather than the workplace and was the founder of an influential thread of Mormon political philosophy. These themes and others are explored in a new volume edited by historian Matthew Harris (Colorada State Univ-Pueblo), from the University of Illinois Press. Harris recruited a number of familiar voices from the world of Mormon studies, including Gary Bergera, (noted Mormon author), our own Matthew Bowman (assoc. prof. of history, Henderson State Univ.), Newell Bringhurst (emeritus prof. of history), Brian Q. Cannon, (prof. of history, BYU), Robert Goldberg (prof. of history, Univ. of Utah), J. B. Haws (assistant prof. of history, BYU), Andrea G. Radke-Moss (prof. of history BYU-Idaho).

Each of the eight essays provides penetrating scholarship on various aspects of the career of one of the most important and influential Mormon figures of the last century.
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Conference Notice: Finale of the James K. Polk Project

James K. Polk, serendipitous president of the United States, exercised a remarkable–if unintentional–influence upon the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was Polk, in a sense a Jackson redivivus, who made Deseret a default property of the United States, and so eventually a Territory, consequently a focus of Republican moral reform and hence brought polygamy to an end. Whew. Polk’s correspondence has now been published by the James K. Polk Project.

James Polk, ca. 1849. Manifest Destiny on steroids.

Begun in 1958, the project is about to finish its fourteen-volume letterpress and digital series of the Correspondence of James K. Polk. These volumes, featuring annotated transcriptions of thousands of letters from 1817–49, enable twenty-first-century readers to use the nineteenth-century documents.

Latter-day Saints will be familiar with such projects through the beautifully curated Joseph Smith Papers Project and the forthcoming Brigham Young Project.

A conference commemorating the final volume in the Polk Project will be hosted by the University of Tennessee History Department. The Association for Documentary Editing notes that “the conference will be held at the East Tennessee Historical Society, in Knoxville, on April 12–13, 2019. Academic scholars, public historians, and community members will take stock of what we now know about the eleventh U.S. president and assess the contributions of the project to historical study. Presentations will include a keynote address by Amy S. Greenberg, a roundtable of Polk experts chaired by John C. Pinheiro, and a screening of a Polk documentary by Brian Rose.”

To read the preliminary program, register, and book your hotel room, go to https://polkproject.utk.edu/conference. Registration is free. Contact jameskpolk@utk.edu if you have questions.

The Book of Abraham: Joseph Smith Papers Revelations and Translations, vol. 4.

A permanent identical “I” is a fiction—we are not what we believe ourselves to be—the truth is very different from what we are inclined to believe —-Derek Parfit [1]

The Book of Abraham has been both a puzzle and a sort of definition of ultimate reality. At least one such definition. The text of the book arises out of a milieu where many believed that Egypt like the Hebrew language (what many at the time thought of as a near descendant of the tongue of Eden) held answers to ultimate mysteries of self and time and being. Even though few Americans at least had any real notion of what things like hieroglyphics meant. When Michael Chandler brought his traveling mummy show to Kirtland, Ohio, Joseph Smith and a number of his friends saw deep value hidden in the artifacts and purchased them for a handsome sum even though they were already submerged in an expensive and daunting temple building project. In fits and starts through the last half of the year 1835 they (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, William Phelps, and Warren Parrish) worked to construct some kind of logic that made sense of ancient writings found in the collection. These scrolls date from roughly the period of the book of Daniel (ca. 200 BCE) to the time of Christ (that is, the second temple period).
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First Presidency on Coming Schedule Changes in Church Meetings

Just released letter from the First Presidency on Sunday Meeting Schedule beginning January 2019. Thoughts?
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Gödel, Einstein, Smith part 2: Troubles with the Constitution

Gödel about 10 years before this story I think.

Eight years ago I wrote a post here about the mathematician, physicist, logician, philosopher, Kurt Gödel (1906-1978). I can’t remember exactly why I did this except that it had some relationship to Gödel’s belief in ghosts/evil spirits and that’s tangentially Mormon I suppose. This time, there is also a tangential reason to blog about the man again because it’s about the Constitution of the United States, a topic of interest in Mormonism since its founding days. Anyway, I noticed recently that the long-rumored story of Gödel’s application for US citizenship found more historical support. One of the participants in the episode, Oskar Morgenstern, left a memo on the incident and this was made public a few years ago. I’ve collected a number of stories about Gödel over the years but this one never had a solid basis in fact as far as I could tell. Now it does.
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Conference Notice: John Whitmer Historical Association

Late registration fee starting September 1, 2018. Come and enjoy a scholarly adventure this year. Richard L. Bushman will be giving the Howard Lecture.  Register here.

Joseph Smith’s Sermons: MHA 2018

One of the sessions at the Mormon History Association this year (Boise, Idaho, June 2018) focused on a new volume from Oxford University Press titled, Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Examining Major Early Sources. (edited by Mark Ashurst-McGee, Robin S. Jensen, and Sharalyn D. Howcroft) One the chapters was written by yours truly, “Joseph Smith’s Sermons and the Early Mormon Documentary Record.” Since I think this volume deserves a continuing readership I’ve decided to post my talk at the panel session—based of course on my chapter in the book. I hope it tempts you to add the book to your Mormon text library. I’ll be reviewing some of the other chapters in the book from time to time. I hope this will intrigue you enough to take a look for yourself.
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In Memoriam Stephen E. Robinson, 1947-2018

Friend of the blog, historian/theologian Janiece Johnson, was kind enough to offer her thoughts on long-time BYU religion professor Stephen E. Robinson.

[Cross-posted at Maxwell Institute blog]

Believing Christ was published in 1992, though I first read it on my mission. Though not on the approved reading list, my grandma sent it to me in Argentina. It was a critical time for me, no matter how early I got up and how hard I worked, I never felt like I had done “all I could do”—Nephi’s words felt more like a weapon than a balm. Though Robinson himself might have tired of his bicycle parable, it was the first significant turn that Latter-day Saints took toward grace. Many have built on it, but Robinson’s work was the foundation. (Listen to Robinson’s comments from the conference on grace sponsored by the Wheatley Institute for the 25th anniversary of Believing Christ here.) For me personally, it was vital. It was the first time I actually began to recognize that no matter how much I worked, I could not earn God’s grace. I had to choose to receive the gift, and only then could it change me.
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Making Your Calling and Election Sure IV. Hard Times. When Pioneer Living is not Enough.

I was in the LDS Church History Library some time back, dwelling amid the dusty productions of yesteryear as is my wont, when I came across a transcription of the diary of James Cantwell.[1] Cantwell was an Irishman. Cantwell became a Mormon in 1842, but financial issues kept him in Britain until 1850 when he took his family to St. Louis. Six years passed before he could get to the Valley.
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When Your Calling and Election is [in Doubt]. III. Fundamentalism (part 2).

There is a contradiction between a Church tightly held together by a strong hierarchical authority, which will nevertheless be filled with practitioners of heartfelt devotion. There are, of course, people whose devotional life is enhanced by the sense that they live under this kind of authority, but for the masses who do not respond this way the choices are either to knuckle under, or leave, or live a semi-clandestine life.
*

So far this peripatetic series has wandered from the Jerusalem Bishopric to Intelligent Design, and now to 20th-century Physics™ and Conservative Christianity (see part 1).

I’m afraid it’s nothing this interesting.


Election has been a Christain puzzle for two thousand years since Paul and then the Johannine community and all these posts hover around it with one or another valence. This post is part 2 of a previous post on Christian fundamentalism mostly conceived in terms of biblical literalism. This time I’m really wandering, with seemingly unconnected dots—to evoke Steven Peck.
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“Confessions of a Mormon Historian” The diaries of Leonard J. Arrington. A Review.

Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971-1997. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, April 30, 2018. $150.00. 2,600 pages in three volumes.

Gary James Bergera, ed.

Foreword by Susan Arrington Madsen. A (delightful) introductory essay by Rebecca Foster Bartholomew on some of Arrington’s ancestors and his life to ca. 1971.

Each volume contains a chronology by Joseph Geisner and Lavina Fielding Anderson in the front matter. Editor Bergera provides helpful short biographical notes on persons who appear in the diaries along with citations for work LJA mentions and other brief but important bits of context, along with generally unobtrusive expansions of the text when LJA is terse with names, places, etc.

Volume 1: Church Historian, 1971-1975 876 pages (including an appendix listing LDS historians and some associates for the years 1830-1985) + front matter.
Volume 2: Centrifugal Forces, 1975-1980 922 pages.
Volume 3: Exile, 1980-1997 803 pages (includes an index for all volumes) with an Afterword by Thomas G. Alexander and an Arrington bibliography by Jeffery O. Johnson.

Signature Books very kindly gave me a look at their forthcoming publication of Leonard J. Arrington’s (LJA) diaries covering the period of his appointment as LDS Church Historian to two years before his death in 1999. The recent Arrington biography by Gregory A. Prince quoted liberally from LJA’s diaries, housed at the Merrill-Cazier Library at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.[1]
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