The Joseph Smith Papers Project Releases Volume 4 in the Documents Series

Two of the General Editors[1] of The Joseph Smith Papers Project team were kind enough to invite us to the official release of the fourth entry in the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers. Matthew J. Grow and Matthew C. Godfrey were there to talk about the production of the volume (Godfrey was also lead editor for Documents 4) future plans for the papers series and of course, volume 4.

Matt Grow talks about the papers project future releases and plans.

Matt Grow talks about the papers project future releases and plans (Council of 50 minutes? September 15 or so). Yeah, my questions always puzzle him.

Documents 4 covers the period from April 1834 to September 1835. Major events in Joseph Smith’s life and for the Church included Zion’s Camp, the successful printing of Joseph Smith’s revelations as the Doctrine and Covenants, and the establishment of new church administration bodies, the Twelve Apostles, and the Seventy, the financial preparation for, and construction of, the Kirtland House of the Lord, and the Book of Abraham. Documents 4 contains critical foundational documents relating to all these events.

[Read more…]

Review: The Mormon Jesus: A Biography

Mormon JesusJohn G. Turner, The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Cambridge: Harvard UP 2016).

Just this month, Turner followed up his excellent biography of Brigham Young with something almost entirely different: an intellectual history of Mormonism’s approach to Jesus. And, just so that I don’t bury the lede here: you need to read this book.

Turner approaches the Mormon Jesus thematically and relatively comprehensively (or, at least, as comprehensively as he can in a 350-page book). He spends the bulk of his words on 19th-century Mormonism, but he touches on events as recent as Denver Snuffer’s claim to have seen and spoken with Jesus (83-84) and as ancient as Clement of Alexandria’s view in the late second century that “the gospel had abrogated polygamy, not monogamous marriage) (220).  [Read more…]

Happy Tax Day! (Unless You Live in MA or ME)

Brigham Young, c. 1870

Brigham Young, c. 1870

Most years (at least when I remember), I like to do a Tax Day post.[fn1] (And yes, I get that Tax Day statutorily falls on April 15 for calendar year taxpayers, and I get that April 15 was Friday. But Friday was also the observation of Emancipation Day in D.C., which pushed Tax Day to today. Except in Massachusetts and Maine, where today is apparently Patriots’ Day, which means Tax Day is tomorrow.)

For this year’s Mormon-y Tax Day celebration, we’re going back to the Civil War-era income tax. It only lasted a decade, from 1861-1871, but, in that time, it managed to ensnare itself with the Mormons out in Utah.  [Read more…]

Book of Mormon geography, archives edition

I read Ardis’ recent report on her Gospel Doctrine introducing the Book of Mormon (you should too). Her section documenting the shifting language about the ancestry of Native Americans reminded me of a couple of relevant documents. I don’t know how many Mormons believe that Lehites are the primary ancestors of Native Americans; I would suspect that most of the readers here don’t. But I’ve heard people in my ward talk about the “heartland” theory, and I’ve spoken to more than one person who found the admissions in the Book of Mormon DNA essay released by the church to be incongruous with the worldviews expounded in their childhoods. I think it is worth pointing out that church leaders haven’t really held unanimous and monolithic views, though some have been very influential. [Read more…]

Gospel Topics Essays Lessons: Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham

For the last several months, my ward has had monthly priesthood lessons on the Gospel Topics essays that the church has released over the last year or so. I teach in Primary, so I haven’t been to most of them. A friend taught the Race and the Priesthood essay in June, though, and invited me to his class; he did an excellent job, and it was well-received.

And then, three weeks ago, he asked if I’d teach a class. My topics? Book of Mormon and DNA Studies, Book of Mormon Translation, and Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham. (If only the class had been two Sundays later … ) [Read more…]

Review: Volume 23 of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies

JBMScoverFINAL_FullThere’s a huge, but underexplored, problem with the Book of Mormon: it don’t get no respect.

Richard Bushman bemoans the fact that the Book of Mormon can’t get a toehold in cultural history classes or the Harvard Divinity School, because the world outside of Mormonism gets stuck on its origins. The angelic delivery, the miraculous translation, heck, the gold plates mean must be a hoax. And, as a hoax, they don’t even get to the point where they confront the text.[fn1]  [Read more…]

Brigham Young’s Couplet

We’re pleased to feature this guest post from John G. Turner, associate professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University and author of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, in addition to other writings about Mormonism.

Terryl Givens ends his lucid and immensely informative Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought with a long chapter on theosis, the idea that human beings can progress toward and achieve godhood.

Givens presents Mormon thought as a recovery of “a Christian road not taken,” paths explored by early thinkers such as Origen and Pelagius and then rejected by subsequent definers and defenders of Christian orthodoxy. Mormonism as explicated by Givens insists upon human potentiality, freedom, responsibility, and affinity with the divine. Human beings, the spirit children of heavenly parents, embrace mortality as an ascent — sometimes a very difficult and gradual ascent — toward an exalted return to a heavenly family. [Read more…]

Church Finances, 1947-Style

In April 1959, the Church published its last financial report. The last here is important, though, because, for almost half a century leading up to that report, the Church presented a relatively detailed financial report in each April General Conference.

Until a couple months ago, though, I’d never seen the financial reports that the Church issued. In the course of his reading and research, J. Stapley came across the Church’s 1947 financial report, and offered to let me blog it. I jumped at the chance, and the disclosure turns out, in many ways, to be as fascinating as I’d hoped.  [Read more…]

John Taylor, Eyewitness to the Assassination of Joseph Smith

John Taylor as President of the Church, source: http://tinyurl.com/m8agylk

John Taylor as President of the Church, source: http://tinyurl.com/m8agylk

The “Editor’s Pick” at BYU Studies Quarterly today is a new article featuring John Taylor’s eyewitness account of the assassination of Joseph Smith, which Taylor delivered in a sermon on June 27, 1854, the tenth anniversary of the martyrdom. Editor-in-chief John W. Welch writes that Taylor’s “words were taken down in Pitman shorthand and until very recently that dictation had never been transcribed. Deciphered by LaJean Carruth, and edited and introduced by Mark Staker, this impressive document and the materials connected with it in this article should be read in full and featured prominently in any future discussions of that treacherous assassination. It includes many new, interesting contemporaneous assertions and historical details”. [Read more…]

Laying on of hands and other new church history website content

imagesI don’t know if you are following all the new releases on the JSP and Church History websites, but much of it is completely fascinating. For instance, did you see this story about “A Bit of Old String: Mary Whitmer’s Unheralded Contributions” by my favorite historian ever? Add it to your files about women in church history.

And then there’s this new entry  within the topic section of the Joseph Smith Papers site: [Read more…]

King Follett and Clouds of Meaning

We’ve just experienced the Mormon preaching festival. That is, general conference! In addition to inspired teaching, it gives the outside world a chance to experience some of the variety of Mormon address. And besides, I’ve been toiling over chapter 7 of the book, rewriting, rethinking some, and redoing other. This represents mental suds rising to the top of my brain-glass.

Texts are always encased by interpretation. Generations come and go, and interpretation floods over texts, at least those that rise to surface (paradoxically), via unearthing by graduate students or rediscovery by the public, or just constant devotion, etc. Scripture is no exception, and everyone, not just Nephi, deploys a kind of rationalization with circumstance and inspiration to come up with a correlated understanding, whether that be official, communal, familial, or even “backlistial.” Among Mormons, Joseph Smith’s sermons are quite often seen as doctrinal in some sense, a sense I won’t attempt to make precise.
[Read more…]

UVU Conference Reminder: The Expanded Canon, April 4-5, 2013

uvulogo_overThis week, Utah Valley University plays host to what promises to be a fascinating conference on Mormonism’s scriptural canon. Five reasons you should attend: [Read more…]

Sidney Rigdon, the Manuscript History of the Church and Making Sermons Texts.

In 1844, Mormonism was in for its biggest historical moment so far: the death of Joseph Smith. The headquarters of the Church was Nauvoo, Illinois and it was bursting with converts from the US and the UK. These people had some basic familiarity with the movement’s history, but they didn’t have the experience, they weren’t insiders, they hadn’t been part of those heady days of revelation upon revelation, revelations of all kinds and spectra. That deficit was addressed at the April General Conference. President Sidney Rigdon stood to preach to the very large open-air crowd. I’m not going to try and tell you everything he said. He spoke for a long time. What we are about here is, how do we know (some of) what he said?[1] Two clerks had been assigned to take minutes, William Clayton and Thomas Bullock. Both were capable longhand reporters, and they had somewhat complementary styles. This complementarity can serve us well. I’ll give you an example (without the intrusive sics). Here is Clayton’s version of some of Pres. Rigdon’s address:
[Read more…]

Review: Joanna Brooks, “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith”

Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: Self published (but not for long…)
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2012
Pages: 204
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 9780615593449
Price: $11.99

Rumor has it Joanna Brooks’s self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl has been picked up by Free Press/Simon & Schuster for national publication this August with an expanded chapter-and-a-half. We’ve seen a lot of chatter about her book online recently, so I thought I’d venture a review. I hope you’ll excuse my decision to kick things off with an observation based on personal experience. (The Book of Mormon Girl is, after all, a personal memoir!) My own undergraduate years were spent writing and editing articles for a variety of small Utah newspapers. I remember how daunting it felt to be assigned an article on a subject I knew next-to-nothing about, like computer animation, mechanical engineering, or say, feminism. Oh, how comforting to a journalist is that friendly, articulate insider willing to endure the inane questions of—and likely later misrepresentation by—the stammering cub reporter! [Read more…]

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich lecture: “Stirring up LDS History” Live Blog

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Updated to now include video of the lecture.

Sponsored by Sunstone and Friends of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah

Relief Society sisters now have a new resource—a compact history of the Relief Society called Daughters of My Kingdom. The new manual, which is to be used from time to time for lessons given the first Sunday of each month, is not only unusual for its focus on women but for its chronological organization. Most Church manuals are organized thematically, offering little scope for discussing change over time. Despite its uplifting narrative, this manual may require a new set of skills. As teachers of women’s history know, you can’t just “add women and stir.”

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich taught her first Relief Society lesson more than fifty years ago, when she was an undergraduate attending a student ward at the University of Utah. She began teaching women’s history at the college level in 1975 when she was a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire. She is the author of many books and articles on early American history and women’s history and is now completing her first book-length work in Mormon history, “A House Full of Females: Family and Faith in Nineteenth-century Mormon Diaries.” She is 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University.

[Read more…]

Review, Tom Mould, “Still, the Small Voice”

Title: Still, the Small Voice: Narrative, Personal Revelation, and the Mormon Folk Tradition
Author: Tom Mould
Publisher: Utah State University Press
Genre: Religion/Folklore
Year: 2011
Pages: 448
Binding: Cloth
ISBN13: 978-0-87421-817-6
Price: $39.95 (e-book $32.00)

 

Wordsworth, should I believe you?

Sweet is the lore which nature brings,
Our meddling intellect
Distorts the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

Replace “nature” with “religion” above and you raise one of the most difficult problems I see in the study of religion, especially as I’ve studied my own faith. The wind bloweth where it listeth and we try to catch it in jars, measure it with our rulers, weigh it in our hands, graph it in our charts, fold it up and tuck it between the pages of our books. The letter alone killeth, but the spirit giveth life. [Read more…]

Review: Davis Bitton, “Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives”

Title: Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives 
Author: Davis Bitton
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Genre: Biography
Year: 2011
Pages: 197
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 978-1-58958-123-4
Price: $19.95 (Kindle, $9.95)

The fluidity of personality; the fallibility of perception; ambiguous memory construction; the happenstance instances of recording; the ravages of time. Just a few minor things to consider when trying to recall important events in my own life. And if I face such challenges regarding the things I’ve personally witnessed, how much more cautious should I be when dealing with history? With a particular historical figure? Named Joseph Smith. Who was he? So many different Josephs to choose from.

This is the general lesson LDS historian Davis Bitton hoped to convey in his book, Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2011). [Read more…]

Becoming a Mormon: Thinking about a Brand with Elder Ballard

I am a recent convert to “Mormonism” myself. Not too many years ago you could find me vigorously arguing on Mormon-themed blogs about the importance of avoiding the word “Mormon” as a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[1] At the time, it felt like a concession to detractors of our faith to self-identify by the nickname they derisively gave to us in the nineteenth century. Ironically, however, it was precisely our nineteenth-century ancestors in the faith who had made peace with the descriptor and good-naturedly co-opted it to describe themselves, leaving us with the lasting nickname. [Read more…]

“Trailing clouds of hermeneutical glory”

While we believe we come “trailing clouds of glory” from a pre-mortal past, our scripture reading comes trailing clouds of interpretation from pre-Mormon centuries of hermeneutics. Our spirits weren’t created ex nihilo, nor are our assumptions while reading. This might raise a few eyebrows, but it seems to me that we members of the Church mingle the philosophies of men with scripture on a fairly regular basis. Not so much by incorporating particular ideas into our canon (though we do that too),1 but in the very way we approach scripture to begin with. The ways we read scripture mingle the words on the page with our implicit assumptions.

I realize this sounds like an indictment. But keep in mind that, according to Mormons, not everything the serpent says (“ye shall be as gods…“) is necessarily 100% false. A revelation to Joseph Smith states that God speaks to his servants “in their weakness, after the manner of their language.” A certain amount of mingling seems inevitable, so in my view the question isn’t really about whether it happens, but what we do about it.

One thing we can do is become more aware of our assumptions. Like any good Mormon might, we can start by learning our hermeneutical genealogy. That’s an exercise far outside the scope of a blog post and explorations are already underway elsewhere.2 I want to call attention here to one particular way the Enlightenment still affects our scripture reading today: in our view of biblical scholarship. [Read more…]

Matthew B. Brown: In Memoriam

Matt Brown died earlier today. He was, I believe, 46 years old. [Read more…]

Givens and Grow Book Signing Event

Spend an Evening with the Authors

We are excited to announce the arrival of Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow, published by Oxford University Press. We will have both authors at our store to speak about and sign their book on Friday, October 14. They will be here from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., speaking at 6:00, and will answer questions and sign books before and after that time. [Read more…]

Conference Prep #2. Pulpit scripture and canon Scripture

This is the second post in a series on General Conference. Part 1 is here. The followup post is here.

I have some continuing interest in antebellum American sermon culture and this post examines some legacies of early Mormonism on the topic of sermons. Protestants of the era inherited an ongoing question over the status of the pulpit. Where do sermons fit into the rule of faith? The issue was most touchy in the more severe “Bible Alone” strains of Protestantism and one can see the same concern in Protestant debates over creedal statements and confessions or the likes of the Book of Common Prayer. On the other hand, even though the early Latter-day Saints were liberals regarding “revelation,” the relationship between pulpit and scripture in Mormonism was a curious one and bore a resemblance to that cautious calculus surrounding the subject among conservative Protestants.[1]

[Read more…]

Resource Constraints & Shifts In Religious Behavior Patterns

The recent issue of BYU Studies contains a paper written by my co-blogger Jonathan Stapley regarding the Relief Society’s burial services the early 1900’s.  The paper addresses a decline in Relief Society burial preparations, and largely attributes this decline to the Relief Society’s inability to compete with professional burial service providers. I think this is reasonable, but found it somewhat incomplete when I looked at the data.  In particular, I was curious about the speed of the decline in burial preparations over time, and wondered if there might be more to the story than an inability to provide equally good burial services. In any case, it seemed like an excellent opportunity for rampant speculation. [Read more…]

The Mythic Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith’s 19th century Utah editors held him in high regard, not necessarily for his personal perfection, but for his standing as opener of ancient mysteries, restorer of forgotten salvific lore and authoritative purveyor of power to defeat death, hell and the Devil.
[Read more…]

Cemetourism: Alpheus Cutler (1784–1864)

To mark the passing of Stanley E. Whiting, the most recent president of the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite), it seems appropriate in this installment of “Cemetourism” to remember the first, Alpheus Cutler.*

Alpheus Cutler’s grave is located at the site of Manti, Iowa, the first headquarters of the reorganized Cutlerite church.  Once a bustling town, Manti is all but abandoned today — a victim of brinkmanship with the railroad.  After Manti became an RLDS town, church leaders advised members to hold out for a good price for rail right-of-way.  Rather than pay, the railroad skipped over Manti and founded a new town called Shenandoah.  Over time, Manti’s residents moved to Shenandoah and even dragged many of Manti’s vacant buildings to the new town.

Now some of the last historic Cutlerite homes are falling into ruin and only the stagecoach station is in good repair. The most visible remains of the old Cutlerite town are a road, a memorial park, and a pioneer cemetery.  The site is in Freemont County in the extreme southwest of Iowa — where Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri meet.  The first generation of Mormons had been promised that the Second Coming of Christ would occur in their lifetimes and they knew that the Kingdom would be built in Jackson County, Missouri. Cutler saw little reason to trudge across the Great Plains to live in Utah Territory only to have to trudge back when the call came.  Missouri was unsafe for Mormon settlement, but Manti was just about as close as you could get: Jackson County was a quick steamboat ride down the Missouri River.
[Read more…]

Death of a Mormon Prophet

On Monday afternoon, 18 April 2011, Stanley E. Whiting passed away at a Hospice center just outside Independence, Missouri. Earlier this year, at age 76, Stanley learned that the pancreatic cancer he successfully pushed back 3 years ago had returned with a vengeance. [Read more…]

The Value of a Sermon Critical Edition, Part 5.

Here is part 4.

Bibliographical disciplines have divided up into various specialties and during the last several decades the dominant Anglo-American textual theories have splintered into a variety of approaches modeled on various ideas with roots ranging from multivalued and fuzzy logics to epistemology, philology, physics, biology, etc., which coexist in some tension.[1] This means that no matter what approach a critic or editor takes he or she is bound to fall victim to a thrashing by somebody. The good side of this is a wide open field for expression. One hopes that *someone* likes the result.

This time I want to give a few examples of various ways texts are presented. These will range from classical presentations where the editor is concerned with laying out both editorial decisions and the available alternatives, to a clear text format where the presentation records a smooth, clean (easily quotable) grammatically correct text whose relationship to manuscripts or other editions is essentially hidden from the reader or if not that extreme, at least annotation is placed in back matter.
[Read more…]

A Visit with the “Den Mother of Mormon History”

On our way home from the Restoration Studies Symposium, Mike and I stayed overnight Sunday at “Balmy Gilead Farm” — the home of Jan and Tony Shipps, nestled in the woods just east of Bloomington, Indiana.  The visit was a mixture of southern country hospitality and reminiscences of the golden age of Mormon studies, alongside discussions of current research and events in the field.  Jan has hardly let her eighty-two years slow her down, as the list she shared with us of her upcoming lecture trips, projects, and books proved.

Right: Tony, Jan, and myself (holding Mr. Darcy) yesterday at Balmy Gilead Farm.

[Read more…]

Join BCC this weekend at Restoration Studies

A number of BCC permas will be presenters this weekend at the annual Restoration Studies / Sunstone Midwest Symposium. The symposium kicks off Friday night with an address on the conference theme: “‘A Woman’s Place…’ Ideas, Impacts, and Experiences of Restoration Women” given by Gail Mengel.  (Now retired, Gail was one of two women who became the first female apostles in the RLDS Church, now known as the Community of Christ.)

Russel Arben Fox chairs a star-studded panel that includes our own Kristine Haglund and Tracy McKay, along with Christian Harrison and Chris Henrichsen, in a session entitled “Homemaking Radicalism and Homemaking Realities.”  Kristine will also be joining Stacy Mengel Keenan, JWHA Executive Director Sherry Mesle-Morrain, and Sunstone Executive Director Mary Ellen Robertson, to explore the topic of “Getting Educated: How Attending a Church University (or not) Shapes Restoration Women’s Experiences.”

My own presentation will look at the histories of two small American denominations that initially embraced problematic doctrines that they eventually jettisoned before they each ultimately became “just another Protestant church”.  The Worldwide Church of God (now Grace Communion International) believed in Anglo-Israelitism (the view that the Anglo-Saxons were the lost tribes of Israel), and the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church (now Christ Community Church) famously believed that the world is flat.  How has becoming just another Protestant church worked out in these two examples and what lessons might these experiences hold for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ)?

[Read more…]

The Kirtland Temple Turns 175

“Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the Lamb! Amen, Amen, and Amen!”

There’s nothing quite like singing “The Spirit of God” with a congregation in the Kirtland Temple.  I’ve had the opportunity three times — the first time was at the dedication of the new Temple Visitor Center, the second was at a meeting of the John Whitmer Historical Association, and the third time was yesterday.  However, yesterday was the first time the congregation also gave the “Hosanna shout.”  (I’ve heard a lot of reviews of lackluster Hosanna shouts — I’ve never before participated in one, so I have no basis for comparison —  but I thought this one was pretty good.)

Yesterday was the 175th anniversary of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and I traveled there for the weekend to participate in the commemorative events.  Beginning Friday there were a series of special meetings, services, seminars, lectures, and tours.  There were three services on Sunday itself — an LDS service in the early morning and one in the evening, and a Community of Christ service in the mid-morning.  To preserve the temple, the number of attendees for each session was limited to 300 (over a thousand apparently packed in for the original 1836 dedication), so I was only able to attend the Community of Christ service, but by every account, all three were very special and moving. [Read more…]

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