I’m fairly involved in the broad field of Mormon Studies. My own particular niche in Mormon Studies is as a scripturist; more common is for folks to focus on Mormon history. I follow history studies as best I can (such as by reading the journals and attending the conferences), but I don’t consider myself an actual historian the way so many of my friends are. I’m more a consumer of history than a producer of it, and I admire and envy my many friends who are full fledged history nerds. [Read more…]

MHA SLC 2019

It’s that time of year again–time for some serious Mormon History Association action at the Sheraton on Fifth South in Salt Lake City. For those who are participating in the conference, please post your notes, comments and observations here. Those who are unable to be there in person will greatly appreciate whatever nuggets you are able to share. [Read more…]

Review of Blumell, NT History, Culture and Society


This post is a review of Lincoln H. Blumell, editor, New Testament History, Culture, and Society: A Background to the Texts of the New Testament (Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in cooperation with Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 2019). 836 pages.

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Special Assignment

About two and a half years ago a local church leader gave me what he dubbed a “special assignment” to go and visit with a young couple who had had a faith crisis and were no longer believers. He had talked to them and they told him they would appreciate such a visit, but this leader didn’t feel competent to discuss the things they wanted to discuss. I told him I would be happy to go to their home and talk to them about their issues, but I wanted to manage expectations. That is, I didn’t want anyone to think I was somehow miraculously going to cure their faith crisis. If I did it, my goals would be much more modest. I would want them to understand that no, they’re not crazy; and yes, these kinds of issues exist. If they wanted to talk about specific issues I would be happy to do so, but more from a perspective of trying to explain how many Saints deal with such issues, and not from a perspective of trying to argue against their newfound knowledge altogether. He agreed with these constraints, so I made the visit. [Read more…]

A Tale of Two Restorations

Expanatory Note: In 1999, the fledgling organization FAIR (more recently FairMormon) held its first ever conference, in Ben Lomond, California. I had nothing to do with the group at the time, but someone invited me to present at the conference, and I agreed to give it a shot. (That first conference was held in a Relief Society room, and the number of speakers almost exceeded the audience. This was a very humble beginning compared to the conference centers and large crowds of today.) My effort was a comparison and contrast of the restorations of Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith. I have copied the main text below, as I’m confident the vast majority of our readers has never seen this piece. For space considerations I have omitted the Introduction, a Chronology, a Bibliography and Notes; that apparatus can be found where the presentation is archived at the FairMormon website. The piece is 20 years old, so I cannot claim to stand by everything I wrote at the time, but I hope some of you may find it interesting nonetheless [Read more…]

Joseph Smith and Translation

On January 11th of this year (2019) Brian Hauglid and Robin Jensen gave a guest presentation at the Maxwell Institute titled “A Window into Joseph Smith’s Translation.” I watched the presentation at some point later after the video had been posted online (and enjoyed it). Jeff Lindsay at Mormanity [1] has recently taken exception to that presentation, both here and here, to the effect that the speakers were irresponsible not to balance their more naturalistic take on the production of the Book of Abraham (including a probable belief he was translating the Sensen Papyrus) with some of the more apologetic scholarship on the topic. But for my part, I actually appreciated their naturalistic take on the process. Let me try to explain why. [Read more…]

The Keys of the Beard

I got a call a week ago from a woman asking me to meet with a member of the temple presidency about possibly becoming an ordinance worker. My Bishop and SP had both suggested my name. I was honored that they had confidence in me, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea; I’m already Executive Secretary, which isn’t a bad gig but it does mean meetings starting at 6:30 a.m. on Sundays, so I wasn’t exactly sure about the possibility of adding another substantial calling on top of that. But I have always enjoyed spending time in the temple, and I have friends from around the stake who serve there, so I resolved to approach this possibility with an open mind.  [Read more…]

The JST as an Issue Spotting Exercise

When I use the expression “issue spotting,” all the lawyers will nod knowingly and everyone else will wonder “huh?” The expression “issue spotting” has particular reference to law school exams. Those exams are not like tests you take in the BYU Testing Center with a number two pencil. Rather, they tend to be little stories or essays. The first job of the student taking the test is to identify all the potential legal issues embedded in the story; thus “issue spotting.” The questions aren’t laid out for you; you have to figure out what the questions are yourself. Then you have to answer those questions by applying the applicable law to the facts. Spotting the issues and then applying the law to the facts are both important tasks for the test taker, but issue spotting is the most important, because if you don’t spot the issues by definition you won’t be able to respond to the implicit questions in the fact pattern, and you simply will not do well on the test. (Don’t ask me how I know this…) [Read more…]

The Seed of Joseph

This seems to be blacks and the priesthood weekend. First we have Paul Reeve’s guest post at Keepa on Joseph F. Smith’s notes from his 1879 interview of Elijah Abel (the coolest thing I’ve seen in quite a while!). Then I just received the latest Dialogue (51/3 2018), which is devoted largely to material on blacks and the priesthood in honor of 40 years since the revelation. I’ve started reading it, and I just finished Matthew L. Harris, “Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018.” (I’ve seen Matt present a number of times at history conferences, and he always does a great job.) [Read more…]

A Translation for Latter-day Saints


Not only do we have the new Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy hot off the presses, we have now also been blessed with a study edition of the New Testament prepared by Thomas A. Wayment specifically intended for Latter-day Saint readers. The timing of this publication is particularly propitious, for tomorrow (i.e., December 31, 2018) begins our 2019 Sunday School curriculum focus on the New Testament. Further, under the new two-hour block system, individuals, families or informal groups will now bear more of the burden and responsibility for pursuing such study, so this new volume has the potential to be a primary resource that our people can turn to as they tackle our NT curriculum. [Read more…]

Maxwell Institute Study Edition


15 years ago, Grant Hardy published a landmark volume in BoM studies: The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003). This was the first attempt to put forward an actual scholar’s edition of the text of the Book of Mormon. I reviewed this volume in Kevin L. Barney, “An Elegant Presentation,” FARMS Review 16/1 (2004), available here. Suffice it to say, my review was highly positive. 15 years later, Grant has published a new study edition, with the standard title of the BoM (i.e., The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ) followed by the subtitle Maxwell Institute Study Edition. In this review I shall refer to the new edition as the “MISE.” [Read more…]

I Am a Christian Boy

When President Nelson urged us to no longer use the word “Mormon,” I could see where he was coming from and sympathize with the intention. The official name of our Church focuses on our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, information the nickname “Mormon” does not by itself communicate. But I could also see a serious difficulty in bringing such a vision to fruition. Whatever we might try to do in-house, externally no one is going to use a nine-word substitute (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) for a single word (Mormon). [Read more…]

A Resource for Your 2019 NT Study

In about two months as the calendar turns we will begin a new course of Church and home-based study focusing on the New Testament. The home-based aspects of this curriculum kind of require us to figure out how we want to approach it, and the encouragement of study groups provides another venue for some dedicated study. So I thought it might be helpful to point folks to a resource I believe they will find useful to that end: my Footnotes to the New Testament for Latter-day Saints. Old timers should already be aware of this resource, but I suspect it will be new to more recent readers.
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Missionary Policies

A friend received a letter from their mission announcing new policies specific to that particular mission (which mission is unimportant for purposes of this post; I want to use the letter as a springboard to think about best mission practices generally). I wanted to share a few thoughts about these proposed policies. First, the relevant extract from the letter: [Read more…]

Notes on Two-Hour Church

I spent last weekend with a childhood friend doing Nauvoo. So I learned of the announcement of two-hour church in the Browning gun shop, from a senior missionary with an earbud in his ear listening to Conference. The rumors have been around for years, but now the long promised day has finally come. Hallelujah! [Read more…]



In 1965 when I was six going on seven, my father got a job as a professor of education at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL, two hours due west of Chicago. So I grew up there, from second grade through high school. For decades I have lived just an hour east of DeKalb, and my MIL still lives there, so I go back to visit often, most recently a week ago yesterday as a fellow DeKalbian and I made our way to spend a weekend in Nauvoo.[1]

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In SS today the topic was Hosea. I would like to offer two comments on the early discussion in the class (I didn’t have an opportunity to make these points in real time during the class, so I want to make them here.) [Read more…]

Face to Face

Those of you who don’t know me may be surpirsed to learn that I’m not actually a young adult (I haven’t been one of those for decades now). But (while watching my Bears play the Packers) I decided to crash the Face to Face event this evening emanating from across from the temple in Nauvoo. Elder Cook presided and led the event; I was particularly interested to hear what historians Kate Holbrook (Sam’s favorite person on the planet) and Matt Grow would have to say. They had time to respond to nine questions. What follows are simply my raw notes, with no real attempt to try to fill them in from memory.

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The Expanded Canon


Review of The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism & Sacred Texts, edited by Blair G. Van Dyke, Brian D. Birch and Boyd J. Petersen (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2018). [Read more…]

Who’s on First?

As we read our scriptures, something we tend not to think too much about is who’s point of view we are being given. This is called Point of View (POV) analysis, and basically there are three types. First person POV is the actor telling his own story in his own voice, using first person pronouns. Generally his perspective is limited to what he could know at the time (that is, he doesn’t comment on the movement of armies far away, for he has no way to know those details).[1] Third person perspective is when a nameless narrator recounts events in third person voice and using third person pronouns. The perspective of such a narrator could be either limited to what an observer could know in that space and moment, or it could be “omniscient,” meaning the narrator knows all aspects of the story irrespective of space and time. [Read more…]

In Praise of the JSPP


The Joseph Smith Papers Project announced just a couple of days ago that the Council of Fifty Minutes, which have been in print for awhile, are now available online. And I thought this would be a good opportunity to praise the Church for the creation and its support of this magnificent scholarly endeavor. [Read more…]

The Sunk Cost Fallacy

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the sunk cost fallacy. For those who are not, or need a refresher, below is a useful explanation:

Individuals commit the sunk cost fallacy when they continue a behavior or endeavor as a result of previously invested resources (time, money or effort) (Arkes & Blumer, 1985). This fallacy, which is related to status quo bias, can also be viewed as bias resulting from an ongoing commitment. For example, individuals sometimes order too much food and then over-eat ‘just to get their money’s worth’. Similarly, a person may have a $20 ticket to a concert and then drive for hours through a blizzard, just because she feels that she has to attend due to having made the initial investment. If the costs outweigh the benefits, the extra costs incurred (inconvenience, time or even money) are held in a different mental account than the one associated with the ticket transaction (Thaler, 1999).

Arkes, H. R., & Blumer, C. (1985), The psychology of sunk costs. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 35, 124-140.

Thaler, R. H. (1999). Mental accounting matters. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. 12, 183-206.

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Isaiah in 2 Nephi FHE Project


This Sunday’s GD lesson is going to be on the Psalms, and our teacher asked me to do a short explanation of parallelism in Hebrew poetry as an enrichment activity. I plan to do a very brief summary of some of the things I wrote in my article “Understanding Old Testament Poetry” from the June 1990 Ensign. [Read more…]

MHA Conference Boise 2018


This evening marks the beginning of the 2018 Mormon History Association Conference in Boise, so I’m opening up a post for commentary on all things MHA through the end of the conference on Sunday. [Read more…]

Papyrus Amherst 63

After more than a century, we finally have a complete scholarly edition of Papyrus Amherst 63.[1] Let me tell you a little bit about this document and then mention some aspects of it that have intrigued Mormons. [Read more…]

What’s New with the ERA

So last night at just moments before midnight I received an email alerting me that the Equal Rights Amendment had (finally!) passed the Illinois House by a vote of 72-45, with one vote to spare (71 votes were needed so as to comply with a 3/5 supermajority for Constitutional amendments under Illinois law). For a number of years now one chamber or the other would pass it, but not both, and both have to pass it in the same session for the approval to be effective. But the Senate passed it in April and now the House yesterday. This ratification came more than 45 years after the amendment was passed by Congress! (News sources speculate that perhaps the #MeToo movement may have finally pushed it over the top.) [Read more…]

8 or 4?

I’m guessing that for most of you, as long as you can remember Sunday School has followed a four-year rotation: OT, NT, BoM, D&C/Church History. I suspect at least some of you young pups may be surprised to learn that when Correlation first rolled out the new Sunday School program after 1971 the rotation was actually eight years long, spending two years rather than one on each volume of scripture. At some point in the late 80s or early 90s[1] the Church went to the four-year rotation we’ve become accustomed to.[2] [Read more…]

President Nelson’s 1st GC Report Card

I made a good faith effort to watch all of Conference this past weekend. I missed a few pockets here and there (in part due to doing taxes), and I missed the whole of the Sunday afternoon session due to a family Easter dinner. But I caught most of it. And for his first effort as the actual President of the Church, I found the result very encouraging. I’m giving President Nelson an A on my report card. Below is what stood out for me: [Read more…]

Teach the Doctrine


This morning I attended a regional auxiliary training originating in Chicago and reaching as far as Minneapolis, I believe. The featured speaker was the second councilor in the General Sunday School Presidency. The focus of the presentation was principles derived from the Church’s Teaching in the Savior’s Way initiative, and part of the presentation entailed modeling what is supposed to happen in Teaching Council meetings. [Read more…]

He Rejoiced


So in GD today we did lesson 9, which includes the story of the miraculous birth of Isaac in Abraham’s and Sarah’s old age. The teacher mentioned that where the KJV said Abraham laughed at the news he was about to become an aged father, the JST corrects that to “he rejoiced.” At first I didn’t give it a second thought, because I vaguely recalled that change. But then a woman sitting behind me said that the name Isaac actually means “he laughed,” and she asked me if I could confirm her understanding, which I did, pointing out that Isaac is an anglicized version of the Hebrew name  Yitzhak (or Itzhak), which comes from the verb “to laugh” (the Y represents an imperfect verb form). (The Lord directed Abraham to name his son Isaac in Genesis 17:19.) And then the teacher said something like “And now we know it also means ‘he rejoiced.'” And the lesson proceeded from there. [Read more…]