Your Sunday Brunch Special: Mormon Free Will as Primary or Emergent in History as a Superposition of the King Follett Sermon and Polygamy

Free will is often confused with what Latter-day Saints have traditionally named Free Agency (and later emphasis: Moral Agency). There is a background.

In Joseph Smith’s (JS) teaching after 1838 there is a clear notion of uncreated souls=spirits=minds. This is represented in Mormon literature after 1890 by JS’s King Follett Sermon (KFS)—a name externally attached to JS’s April 7, 1844 sermon after a relatively short time, at least by the 1850s. In KFS, Souls are not created and exist in some way as permanent beings that can have no end because they have no beginning. KFS is the historical representative of this idea because it was the most frequently published of JS’s sermons through time. Which KFS, is a legitimate question because there are many versions. That is for another time perhaps.

[Read more…]

Fog. Your (Nearly) Sunday Brunch Special

I’m something like seven years old and our house sits at the boundary of the town. Our backyard has some kind of tree in it, I remember. Beyond the backyard barbed wire fence, there is empty treeless rolling grassland populated by magpies, rabbits, and stray cats in summer. At the front of the house, the house I was not born in but came home to from the birth-hospital, there is a narrow blacktopped street. On the other side of the street is more treeless grass, long grass, but at this point in time, long grass that has laid over in its silent brown death agony. I think about the old green “push mower” my brothers use to cut the grass in our yard. It’s cold. I can’t see much beyond the road, but I know very well that there are, far out there, railroad tracks. I have sometimes wakened at the 2am whistle for the crossroads. The fog is thick this evening, I mean it looks like evening. Really it’s more like four in the afternoon I guess. I want to walk out there toward the tracks but I know there are half-frozen pools that could waylay a seven-year-old, if not in life-danger, then mother danger. As in, how did you manage to get soaked just after I put clean clothes on you? I don’t go out. But I stand there, indecisive. Should I take a step into the fog?

[Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Joseph Smith, Black Holes, and Minds

Fun nonsense on a Sunday Morning. I’ve been working on a book about Joseph Smith’s (JS) King Follett Discourse (April 7, 1844) for quite a few years and it could appear in print next year. In the book I don’t go into theoretical critique much since the book is focused on an oral text, its recovery, and interpretive critiques and receptive evolution over time. One aspect that I’m fascinated about is JS’s talk about human spirits, or souls, or minds (he uses the terms interchangeably and so I will do that here). I mention black holes in the title, and I don’t want to get down deep into that much. Briefly, the quandary about BH’s is that they seem to form a laboratory where questions about the very small (quantum mechanics) and the very large (gravity) come together to form sharp paradoxes.

The two things team up when you take JS seriously about what he says late in his career. Minds, spirits, whatever, are eternal beings, without beginning or end. I won’t try to drill down much here but it seems to be an empty exercise to explicate much beyond this except to say that JS deploys the idea as a notion of comfort in terms of fleeting mortality. You don’t have to worry about losing a child or other loved person because the thought, person, mind is not going away (there are issues here but they are irrelevant the point I want to crawl around) to put it his way: anything that has a beginning will have an end (there is much more to say about this idea but not here). What does this have to do with black holes? Well, go with me a bit. A black hole is a space time singularity surrounded by a kind of shell called the event horizon–stuff that may be inside can’t get out. The diameter of the shell can be very large. What’s inside? Some current thought, when I used to keep up with that–its been a few years, is that there is maybe nothing inside–what’s ought to be inside is actually reflected far away in Hawking radiation. The big problem is about information. Think of information in terms of “bits” in this case a bit might be represented as a very low frequency photon which heads toward the black hole. What happens to information that heads “into” a black hole? Does it disappear? That’s a no, no. Information has to be conserved. Now there are things like entropy and such that come in here but I don’t think we need to go there. The idea is, for JS, people are like black holes. Mind is the central, indivisible thing. There’s stuff smeared around on the event horizon that is linked into the far field but nothing else inside the horizon. It’s inviolate. And I’m off to church.

The Church Historian’s Press Announces Two New Publications

The Church Historian’s Press, well known as the imprint for the Joseph Smith Papers Project, has gradually expanded its offerings on several fronts both in print and online, publishing such outstanding offerings as The Journal of George Q. Cannon, At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women, The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, and The Journal of George F. Richards.

The Press has now announced the online publication of two more foundational texts that will be of interest to historians of nineteenth-century Utah and others with religious or academic interests in that period. The two collections are The Discourses of Eliza R. Snow, and The Diaries of Emmeline B. Wells.

[Read more…]

Public Service Announcement: BoAP.org going down.

Hey all.

I (WVS) am the admin for BoAP.org which houses things like the Parallel Joseph and other similar Mormon related source material. The server operation that it runs on is changing hardware/software and BoAP may have to go off line for a few weeks while a friend and I look at some different possibilities for Linux servers. If you or anyone you know happen to use the site, pass the word if you think about it. At most I’d guess it could be down for a month or so beginning around Thursday this week (April 14, 2022).

Book Review: The 1920 Edition of the Book of Mormon

Richard L. Saunders
The 1920 Edition of the Book of Mormon: A Centennial Adventure in Latter-day Saint Book History
The W. W. Phelps Society and Greg Kofford Books, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2021
Hardcover: $79.95
ISBN 978-1-58958-775-5

I’ll just get this out of the way up front: Richard L. Saunders has produced an admirable and fascinating work of book history. It’s detail, accuracy, and breadth match the highest standards. Moreover, in spite of its swim in technicalities, it is a fun read.

Book history is a powerful tool in the study of religion and in the case of Mormonism, it is especially useful, given Mormonism’s reliance on recent texts. And Richard Saunders has experience to recommend his work. Author of Printing in Deseret: Mormons, Economy, Politics, and Utah Incunabula 1849-1851 (Univ. of Utah Press, 2000), he brings expertise to the project. Learning how the Saints have read and produced their books in the past provides a great advantage to historians and scholars of religion. In particular, The 1920 Edition shows how the Utah Church and its imprint efforts displayed a multi-jection of personalities, culture, technology, principle, politics, and text.

20-Edition

Books are not just content. They are material artifacts. They demonstrate the intellectual landscape of the past in unique, often neglected ways. Book history provides a window into the past that shows the many bargains made between some ideal text and its material image.

Saunders’s work on The 1920 Edition is remarkable on several grounds, but one I want to single out is the deep dive into the ways the LDS Church tried to print its works. For example, while early twentieth-century church imprints, including works like James E. Talmage’s Articles of Faith or Jesus the Christ bear marks that link them to local presses such as, “Deseret News Press,” they were frequently produced by commercial presses in the eastern half of the United States. The print technology used to produce such books is a study in itself. Ferreting out that information is a hallmark of fine book history. Saunders pulls it off. There is really nothing like it in the Latter-day Saint book genre.

One may guess that so well known a text as the Book of Mormon would make a discussion of a ninety year anniversary edition a trivial matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Go forth and find out why. It’s a solid journey. Greg Kofford Books and the W. W. Phelps Society deserve to be lauded for this work. I highly recommend this book. Go ahead and get that Christmas gift early. Libraries, take note.

General Boards: Relief Society Minutes

Recently, the Church History Library released digital versions of the Relief Society General Board minutes. This is a wonderful resource and it contains excellent clues about social issues facing Latter-day Saints and one of more important ways in which the church began a broad interface with organizations of descendants of the Benevolent Empire as well as secular institutions devoted to and run by women. It also affords excellent leads for those (like me) who want to see how women in the church interacted with the teachings, policies, practices, and economies of the church especially in the Intermountain West of first half of the twentieth century. Dive in!

Call for Papers: 2022 Joseph Smith Papers Conference

From the JSPP:

To commemorate the release of volumes 12, 13, and 14 of the Documents series, the Joseph Smith Papers Project will host the sixth annual Joseph Smith Papers Conference on September 9, 2022, in Salt Lake City, Utah. In the event that COVID-19 conditions prevent holding an in-person conference, digital options will be offered. The theme of the conference is “Texts and Contexts in Nauvoo.”

[Read more…]

Conference on D. Michael Quinn

Announcing a conference on the life and work of the late Mormon historian, D. Michael Quinn. Registration is free, either in-person, or via Zoom. March 25, 2022, sessions from 9:00am to 5pm at the University of Utah. Register for in-person participation at bit.ly/Quinnslc. For Zoom, register at bit.ly/Quinnzoom.

A Prophecy of Minutia

The History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Period I was the first major attempt to publish Joseph Smith’s complete history in book form as it was produced by Church Historians Willard Richards (b. 1804– d. 1854) and George A. Smith (b. 1817– d. 1875) and clerks, in longhand manuscript form (cataloged in the Church History Library as, Church Historian’s Office. History of the Church, 1839–circa 1882, CR 100 102. Hereafter I will call this work the manuscript history, or briefly, ms history). The following excerpt of the ms history will be important below. Take note of the first phrase in the second image.

MS-hist-DC87

MS-hist-DC87-pt2

Richards had done unprecedented work in Nauvoo, organizing source materials from Joseph Smith, previous Church publications and records, the reports of others, and his work had been partially serialized in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons beginning in 1840 up to the departure of the Saints from Nauvoo in 1846. That printing covered the period from 1805-ish to 1834 much of that material was published after Joseph Smith’s death. When the apostles moved to Utah, the church paper, The Deseret News (starting with November 15, 1851 issue) continued serializing the history manuscript under the direction of Richards and then Smith (a supplement appeared that collected the old Times and Seasons texts since its circulation was small and largely unavailable to new Saints (the Star had carried all the Times and Seasons printing of the ms history beginning with the Star’s June 1842 issue). Following the lead of the headquarters printings, the British Mission had their printers keep up with that and so the chronological printings in the News appeared in the Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star (Liverpool, England). The segments printed in the News and subsequently the Star generally reflected the manuscript history, but not always (the British printing operation was superior to the Utah printing capabilities for decades). Moreover, the manuscript history did not always accurately reflect its source documents. This post is about one of those times and why it happened.  

[Read more…]

Science, Preaching, Religion, Freedom, etc.

For the past decade or so, I’ve been slowly working through a book on Joseph Smith’s “King Follett Sermon [Discourse].” The book, among other things, tracks the influence of the sermon’s ideas within church culture over time (and the reverse). While working on this project, one of the things that became important to the discussion was the interface between science and the church. That is a very long story that I couldn’t hope to dent much in the book itself but it brought a lot of questions to my mind, especially about modernism and church teachings (I will avoid the loaded term “doctrine” here). These are just some side thoughts I’ve had about the fringes of the book as it has more or less closed out its writing.

[Read more…]

Book Reviews. Anthea Butler, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America. Matthew L. Harris, Watchman on the Tower: Ezra Taft Benson and the Making of the Mormon Right.

I’ve had these two books in the queue for a while, Butler’s book by anticipation, Harris’s book by procrastination. They deserve separate posts but I want to get them off my to-do list. Butler’s book is not specifically directed toward Latter-day Saints (she does mention Mormons on a few occasions I believe but it is just in passing) but Harris’s book, if read in tandem with it, will, I think, show that Butler’s work is quite relevant to a Latter-day Saint audience. Both are available as audio books and their format lends itself this medium if you enjoy that.

White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America

Anthea Butler (Associate Professor of Religion, University of Pennsylvania)

Copyright 2021, The University of North Carolina Press

Amazon: hardcover $21.60. Kindle: $9.00. Audible audio book $12.24.

First, Butler. This is a short book, and it serves the purpose of the author: come to grips with a very broad issue but without leaving behind the mainstream reader. Scholars can read with profit however. I did. Racism in the evangelical American world has a long history. In some ways it extends back to the Reformation. But Butler begins with the nineteenth-century and the role of religion in the question of slavery, its support of the Peculiar Institution in the South especially in the Age of Jackson and in Reconstruction. The details of that story can be found in other specialized tomes but Butler does an excellent job of showing what happened in brief and how the racism of the antebellum world found its way into the twentieth century. Mormonism partook of much of that racism and it showed in church doctrines/speech/policies about race from the beginning (Blacks as descended from Cain, curse of Canaan, etc., etc.).

[Read more…]

The Joseph Smith Papers: Documents, Volume 12. March-July 1843

We are nearing the end of the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers with three more volumes in various stages of production. At the end of his life, Joseph Smith produced, approved, or simply “touched” many more documents than in earlier years, hence the shortness of the period for this volume—but it is packed with pivotal paper. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had expanded to tens of thousands and Joseph Smith was in the center of its growth in many ways. Here are a few of the items represented in Documents, Volume 12. [Read more…]

Book Review: N. T. Wright’s Biography of the Apostle Paul

I’ve been saving up some book reviews for you. Here is the first. Enjoy.

N. T. Wright: Paul: A Biography.
San Francisco: HarperOne, 2018. xiii plus 464 pages.

N. T. Wright has produced many monographs on the Apostle Paul. His believing perspective makes his work friendly to Latter-day Saints as does Joseph Smith’s claim that he often felt like his life had some sympathetic mirroring of Paul’s life. That said, the life of Paul is largely mysterious. The sources are nowhere dense.[1] What do we have? The Pauline Corpus (letters of Paul in the New Testament (NT)–with complications noted below). And the Acts of the Apostles following the Gospel of Luke in the NT. Wright is expert at dealing with this material and the context of Paul’s life in terms of Roman and Greek thought and history, and Second Temple Judaism. In some sense his work on Paul’s theology and thought led naturally to the present volume.

[Read more…]

It’s that time of year again!

If you want to follow the advent/Christmas story you can find it here. Have joy!

Journal of Mormon History, July 2020 Issue Synopsis.

Vol. 46, no. 3 of JMH recently arrived in my mailbox. It has some fine articles and I thought I might preview them for you in hopes that you’ll pick up the issue and have a look. It is available by subscription in hard copy, or electronically and is a benefit of membership in the Mormon History Association. There are four articles in the issue, an essay, a notice of a document and a book review.
[Read more…]

Some Humor in a Hard Time: Liberty Jail

When Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae, and Caleb Baldwin (Sidney Rigdon has been released on bail some months before after he delivered a touching sermon to onlookers at the jail) were released from Liberty Jail in the spring of 1839 to journey under escort to a Boone County trial court, the escorting officers let the prisoners escape. While they headed for Illinois, they traveled under the guise of land speculators. After they arrived in Quincy, Ill. where a large number of Saints had landed and were being helped by the local populous, they related one humorous story about their journey. Lyman Wight’s son (16 years old at the time of the Qunicy episode) told this story many years later (consider the usual memory fault warnings).

All the escapees took aliases. Alexander McRay [McRae] was “Mr. Brown”. They stopped at a ranch for some refreshment and hopefully to stay overnight. The next morning, everyone had gone outdoors except for McRay and the ranch owner. The owner “asked him his name said he had forgotten it. and Bro. McRay had also forgotten it- and it had the effect to cause Bro McRay to take a terrible cramp in his stomic [sic] it come near throughing [throwing] him into spasims. The man ran out where some of the other Brethren were and told them that their Friend was verry sick. They went in and said Mr Brown what is the matter with you. what have you been eating &c— that relieved Mr Brown to such an extent that he began to get Better right away. In the meantime the Proprieter had brought in a jug of whisky from some where and reccommended Mr Brown to take a glass of Whiskey—–thought it would help him. He down [did] so, and the others, they that were disposed that way—which were nearly all—took some for fear the desease [disease] was contagious. After they got to our house in Quincy and had been offered [a] stimulent of some kind to drink they [the escapees] would recommend to give Bro McRay some first, [as] he has the cramp and cant tell his name”[1]

I wonder how long it took McRae to live that down. And Whiskey: maybe it does cure a memory lapse.

—————-
[1] Orange L. Wight, Reminiscences, MS 405, LDS Church History Library. Wight suggested in his account that the sheriff was bribed.

A First Vision: A Conference Prep.

Last year President Russell M. Nelson promised that this April church conference would be like nothing in the past. Circumstances have probably changed those plans. President Nelson advised church members to study Joseph Smith’s story in the Pearl of Great Price regarding his “first vision.” I’m not pointing to any particular observations or literature here, just thinking out loud a bit, if you will. I do think it’s worthwhile to point to JosephSmithPapers.org where various accounts and reports of this first vision have been collected.
[Read more…]

A Visionary Time

The period during and after the “Raid,” the time when Mormon polygamists were doing difficult time with government pressures as a rebellious United States Territory, brought apocalyptic feelings. Polygamy was preached during the previous decades as an essential aspect of salvation. Even that participating in the practice was a necessary hurdle in the path to the highest of heavens. It’s apparent public defeat was quite often noised about as a sign of the world’s end.[1] A few days ago, reading in a Mormon periodical[2] of the time, I refound the following story that in many ways was part of this (mostly) underground literature. This one is worth a read for the obvious reason noted above, for its typical predictive claims, its reference to Brother Joseph (and Hyrum!), Brother Brigham (and others) and spirit world contacts with deceased relations. As is usual with such experiences, the seemingly implied end did not arrive. Though one might argue that there was an end of the Utah world of 1847–1890, something I have called “Middle Mormonism” in writing. The narrative is heartfelt I think and it is timely in some sense, literal or not. Its telling of “good death” aspects, its temple themes, its (if obscure) Book of Mormon reference, and a remark about sealing over against adoption are interesting. For your reading pleasure then, I put the vision of Elmira Pond here.
[Read more…]

Books: Newly Published and Shortly to Appear

I thought I’d post a mini-review or two of recently published books in the Mormon genre and at least notice a few impressive pieces that will turn up shortly. Warning: not an exhaustive list.
[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

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).
[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

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.]
[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]

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.
[Read more…]