Revelations in Context (yay)

This morning Ardis broke the news of the Church’s new digital resource for approaching the texts in the Doctrine and Covenants. Revelations in Context, the name alone stirs the soul.
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Antinomianism and the Church

Antinomianism is generally an epithet signaling heresy in the broader Christian community. It has various meanings but the root idea is the proposition that if one is saved by (typically irresistible) grace, then one’s actions cannot be held to any other standard or laws. The caricature is an idea that there aren’t really any rules you need to live by once you are saved to retain that salvation. The simplified orthodox protestant response is that while that may be technically true, if you have been truly saved then you will live according to moral/divine/scriptural/secular law, because that is what saved people do. Or something.
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Doctrine & Covenants in 2013: Introduction

This Sunday begins our quadrennial Gospel Doctrine romp through the Doctrine and Covenants and Mormon History. The contributors here at By Common Consent are committing to provide weekly supplements to the lessons, with context, questions, and discussion for those interested. While we will have regular authors in the series, we will also have various experts join in the schedule. Look forward to the weekly roundup.
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2012 Christmas gift book guide

How about this: I offer some book suggestions for Christmas as usual, and we forget that this Mormon Moment business ever happened.
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Seeing the sites

I had some work in upstate New York and I used some frequent flyer miles to take my eleven year-old son. We stayed the weekend to visit, Niagra Falls, the Church Historic Sites and the Seneca Falls Historic Sites. He is a smart kid and we had a great time.

This is the time of year to do it. [Read more…]

Folk belief

In a recent post I tried to clarify a comment I had made in which I described a particular idea a “wildly popular folk belief” in Mormonism. I think that I need to flesh that clarification out a bit. [Read more…]

A “wildly popular folk belief”

The most recent edition of the Journal of Mormon History contains an article by Brian Hales entitled “’A Continuation of the Seeds’: Joseph Smith and Spirit Birth,” in which he argues that Joseph Smith taught that God and his wife created spirits through a viviparous process. Hales has done a lot of good work in bringing new sources to discussions like polygamy, but I think that this article is fundamentally flawed. I think the best thing to do is wait for W. V. Smith’s magnum opus on JS’s funeral sermons as the standard to which this article should be compared. I will say, however, that I view one of the most important flaws to be Hales’ jettisoning statements of JS’s that were consistently taught over years, and that were foundational and completely integral to his theological message when delivered (see WVS), labeling them instead as prevarications calculated to minimize controversy. Odd.

Here, I would like to discuss a small section of the article which quotes (by permission) some correspondence between Hales and I. [Read more…]

The sun arises

After the meeting my son came into the bedroom and picked up the small electric guitar his grandparents had purchased for him. [Read more…]


A number of weeks ago I sat in the dining room of an inn some miles outside of London. The meal was excellent–rabbit and wild mushroom pie, goose fat roasted potatoes, and sticky toffee pudding for desert. I ate with a close friend and associate. It was a perfect evening to have been disrupted by another group of businessmen, one of whom was American; his accent was obvious, but so too the uncanny capacity to speak an order of magnitude louder than is required.
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On perseverance

In a recent conversation about the perseverance extended through the Mormon temple liturgy, I thought it would be helpful to broaden the discussion. In doing so I’m going to quote from my article on adoption, and you will find all the footnotes there. I also recognize that these are issues that have been wrestled with in the 170 years or so since the Saints left Nauvoo, and Church leaders from different generations have interpreted the material differently. I’d like to step back to Joseph Smith, however, and those who built the foundational liturgy.
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Review: JSPP, Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832-1844

Behold, there shall be a record kept among you.

These are words of revelation to which all those interested in the human past muster a resounding amen, Latter-day Saint and non-Mormon alike. The process of heeding that call in the early Church of Christ started and restarted in fits of optimism. Because of the records that were eventually kept, the project of Joseph Smith’s institutional history was ultimately finished, though more than a decade after his death. Most interested observers of Mormonism have approached this history through B.H. Roberts’ edited version, published and republished as the History of the Church (sometimes called the “Documentary History of the Church” in the twentieth-century literature because of its documentary structure). However, there are more histories than one, and more pure.

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Review: The Beginning of Better Days

I am a believing Latter-day Saint, but I generally review books that approach Mormonism from an academic perspective. In turn, I approach them as a scholar. I don’t have the volition to critique works of a devotional nature. However, a forthcoming title from Deseret Book has combined devotion and aspects of Mormon history that are deeply meaningful to me as both a believer and a scholar. In this review I have collapsed those identities.
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Genealogy and temple practice, ca. 1942

A couple months ago, I wrote up a brief post describing and contextualizing modern Mormon temple sealing practice. I recently came across a letter from 1942 describing new policies for temple work, which by today’s standards are still quite restrictive (1). I thought it was interesting as I hadn’t realized the practice of naming family heirs, who were responsible for all temple work for a given convert or convert couple was maintained this late (I still have a lot of work to do on the 20th century).
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Digitization: What you want

Or, where’d you get your information from huh?

Non-Mormon researchers are frequently shocked by things like the total sales of the Joseph Smith Papers Project’s volumes. Comparable papers editions sell frequently in the hundreds, whereas the first Journals volume of the JSPP sold scores of thousands. Now, I realize that the vast majority of those volumes are destined to reside as trophies on Latter-day Saint bookshelves, unread. However Mormons clearly have an interest in history that drives feats of strength that would be absurd to believers in other traditions. Voici, the digitization of published and manuscript (or holograph) materials. Various institutions have, over the last decade, digitized a shocking amount of material, an oeuvre that has, for example, allowed me to research and publish in Mormon history when I otherwise would not have been able.

Inspired by WVS’s recent post, I’d like to evaluate aspects of the various digitization efforts. Basically, I’m Anubis, this is my scale, and I just happen to have the feather of Ma’at. Things that are important:

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Addenda: Female Healing: Lorenzo Snow

In continuing with the series, I would like to discuss a document that relates to Kris’s and my coauthored article, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism.” This was a project that took more than half a decade to finish, but as I mentioned at the JI, once you start looking, references are ubiquitous and I have located now well over a hundred additional documents since publishing, which relate to the topic.

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Addenda: Adoption: Complex eternal family

In continuing with my addenda project, I’d like to highlight a document relating to my article, “Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism.” One of the arguments I present in this paper is that Wilford Woodruff’s 1894 revelation on adoptive sealing rituals resulted in “a shift away from micromanaging eternal relationships to a position of aspiration—a belief that a just God will ensure that no blessings are kept from the faithful.” (117) I’m convinced that this 1894 revelation is the single most important contributor to current Mormon beliefs regarding eternal families and the blessings of heaven.

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Addenda: Last rites: Bodies, or an urban/rural disparity

In continuing with my addenda project, I’d like to highlight an advertisement from the 1900 Utah State Gazetteer and Business Directory: (1)

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Addenda: Last rites: Deathbed blessing

I have the habit of creating addendum files for any project that I have worked on. Once an article is published for example, and I stumble across a relevant source document, I drop it in the appropriate file. For some projects, the files are rather large. In rereading some material, I thought that I would put up a couple of posts highlighting material that I think adds to anything previously published.

For this first post, I am sharing a document relating to deathbed blessings. [Read more…]

The stories we tell

Aaron’s recent post about idiosyncratic mission rules was a fun look at the origins of the types of stories that every missionary hears, types of legends. I wonder if and how the stories of Aaron’s skateboard and window were told and retold. It was with these thoughts that I came across a paragraph from a 1898 Mississippi Conference circular in the recently digitized Southern Star: [Read more…]

Citing Joseph Smith’s sermons

I was reading through a recent journal article, and noticing that it cited a Joseph Smith sermon, I thought it would be appropriate to write up a brief post about the source. The author referenced Ehat and Cook’s tremendously useful Words of Joseph Smith [1] and in particular the George Laub account of the July 16, 1844 sermon often called the “Sermon in the Grove.” It pointed to Laub’s fascinating material as being descriptive of JS’s thought. [Read more…]

The Garden Chrism

Holy Thursday, or Maundy for the anglophilic, commemorates the last Thursday in the life of our Lord. At supper, Christ introduced his sacrament, then washed the Apostles’ feet. [Read more…]

Mormon temple sealings

This is a brief post to characterize modern Mormon temple sealing practice in light of Max’s write-up at Salon and Blair’s response.

Several months ago, I shared an excerpt from my article on adoption, in which I tried to describe the heaven revealed by Joseph Smith in conjunction with the introduction of the Nauvoo temple liturgy. This heaven was a network of people linked as husband and wife, child and parent, and these linkages were forged in the temple through ritual sealings. Those not sealed as spouse and as child within this network were “single & alone” in the eternities. Mormons were literally creating heaven on earth.

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Instructing children in church liturgy

Kevin’s recent post about children bearing testimony reminded me of the instructions to the children’s Religion Class teachers for a number of years in the second decade of the twentieth century. Each class was to include a regular schedule (in order) of singing, prayer, a memory exercise, a lesson, testimony bearing, and a closing song and benediction.

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BYU Church History Symposium: President Joseph F. Smith, March 2-3

Joseph F. Smith, nephew of the Prophet and son of the Patriarch, is often overlooked by academics and church members for his importance in the development of every aspect of church life and thought. In a few weeks, however, we have a symposium dedicated to remediate this situation. The same weekend as ApastaCon (March 1-2) brings us a conference on Joseph F. Smith hosted by the LDS Church History Library and BYU. Whereas the apostasy conference is Thursday and Friday at the Harold B. Lee Library, the JFS conference will be Friday afternoon at the Conference Center in SLC, and Saturday morning at the BYU Convention Center.

I invite all those available to attend. [Read more…]

Databasing Mormonism

As a chemist, if I want to perform a literature search on a specific compound, reaction, or system, there are several different databases to mine. [Read more…]

Joseph Smith, handbooks, and the evolution of Church liturgy

I’m working on a number of projects that analyze Mormon liturgy. One of the major themes across the projects is the shift from folk liturgy to formal. What that means is that in the early church, there were no rule books or written instructions describing how and why to perform various rituals and worshipful acts. Instead, people learned how to perform ritual generally by example or oral instruction. Those familiar with current church practice can recognize a difference in how things are done today. [Read more…]

Mormon History Association Awards Nominations: Deadline Feb. 15

From the Mormon History Association:

The Mormon History Association will give its yearly awards for the best books, articles, dissertation, thesis, and student papers published or writte on Mormon history during 2011 at its annual 2012 conference, which will be held in June in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

The submission deadline is February 15, 2012. [Read more…]

Review: JSPP, Journals, Volume 2, 1842-1843

Spring along the Mississippi River is the most pleasant time of year. It is shockingly green. The air is not yet oppressive. Everything feels alive and smells deeply fecund. The pests are not out in full. I don’t know if Joseph Smith was inspired by his environment, but the spring of 1842 in Nauvoo is among the greatest seasons in the history of the Latter-day Saints. Like all things ecological, it is also so very complicated; but the recorders did inscribe at least some details in a book that was a nexus between times and spheres. And the Joseph Smith Papers editors have brought us into that space with the publication of the second volume of the Journals series.

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Mental Illness and George Albert Smith [UPDATED]

This post received much more attention than I anticipated. Due to some reader feedback, I have added some information about LDS Family Services to the end of the post. I also recommend Matt W.’s lesson outline, which incorporates some of this information.

I think that the Curriculum Committee of the church missed a tremendous opportunity with the production of the manual for study this year. [Read more…]

The Cosmological Priesthood

I think that modern observers generally engage in anachronistic readings of “priesthood” as it was discussed by Joseph Smith and others, particularly as it related to the temple and the Relief Society. [Read more…]