Joseph Smith made several comments concerning Book of Mormon geography throughout his life which support both a North American setting1, and Central American setting. Not only this, but he allowed several opinions of North, South, Central, and Hemispheric geography of The Book of Mormon to be published, taught, and re-published without any correction. I believe this can be explained that Joseph did not *know* exactly where The Book of Mormon took place, so as he and others read about and learned traditions of any Indians that resembled anything in The Book of Mormon, they assumed that they were part of Book of Mormon people. It seems they believed that The Book of Mormon took place over all of the Western continent so any and all Indian cultures in North and South America (the Hemispheric geography theory), were Book of Mormon peoples. I believe this because the statements made in Joseph Smiths lifetime are consistently all over the Western Hemisphere, and not secluded to one area over the other. [Read more…] about Book of Mormon geography in Joseph Smith’s day
[editor’s note: Troy Wynn is a doctoral student studying physics. He runs Some Mormon Stuff which is a “blog about Mormon history, its people and beliefs.” He has done several well-researched articles dealing with racial issues in the LDS church, including one that addressed Lawrence O’Donnell’s charge made the height of the Romney campaign that Mormonism was pro-slavery. Troy has been invited as a guest blogger to do a series on interracial marriage and to provide a critique of Connell O’Donovan’s seminal work on the topic. Previous discussion can be found here at FAIR and at the Juvenile Instructor blog.]
In his paper titled “LDS Historical Rhetoric & Praxis Regarding Marriage Between Whites and Blacks,” Connell O’Donovan asserts that Brigham Young’s fear of black sexuality was the reason he prohibited black-white marriage and instigated the priesthood-temple ban, and that Young’s resistance to black-white marriage must be seen within the context of his own marital experimentation which at that time was receiving scrutiny via the press and the Massachusetts State Supreme Court. He then lists several topics of discussion, such as, examples of inter-racial marriages in LDS history, the fruition of anti-miscegenation laws under BY, statements about black-white marriage from the Deseret News, and eventually how LDS leaders abandoned their restrictions against black-white marriage. Or, as O’Donovan puts it, “unnecessary restrictions on the boundaries of love and marriage.”
His paper also demonstrates that LDS feelings at one time were deeply hostile to black-white marriage and that many Latter-day Saints believed black-white marriages would never be permitted, etc. [Read more…] about Troy Wynn on O’Donovan’s Soapbox
The latest BYU Studies is a phenomenal a “special feature” issue with a series of articles discussing the latest Joseph Smith Papers volume. In September, the first volume of the “Revelations and Translations” series of the Joseph Smith Papers was published. This landmark volume contains the Book of Commandments and Revelations (BCR) which includes the earliest surviving manuscript versions of many of Joseph Smith’s revelations and the only prepublication manuscript copies of some of them. Seven of these revelations were never canonized.
John W. Welch, the issue’s editor, can hardly contain his enthusiasm:
Imagine!…having the BCR is something akin to uncovering a discarded draft of the Declaration of Independence or some of the missing records used by Luke in preparing his gospel (p. 5).
This issue of BYU Studies includes four enjoyable papers on BCR that were presented in a plenary session of the 2009 Mormon History Association meeting in May 2009. These articles, written by members of the Joseph Smith Papers editorial team, provide details not included in the Revelations and Translations volume itself.
Robert J. Woodford, “Introducing A Book of Commandments and Revelations, A Major New Documentary ‘Discovery,'” (pp. 7-17).
Woodford gives a brief overview BCR and its provenance, and identifies those (including himself) who worked on its publication preparation. He describes how researchers identified the way BCR was referenced for publishing the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. He concludes with some suggestions for future research based on BCR. For example, analyzing alterations in the revelations raises historical and theological implications. The so-called Book of Mormon copyright revelation and a piece on the “pure language” are of interest. The dates revelations were received and the historical setting can be reevaluated. “Each researcher will find his own area of particular interest” now that the BCR has been published and made available (p. 16).
Robin Scott Jensen, “From Manuscript to Printed Page: An Analysis of the History of the Book of Commandments and Revelations,” (pp. 19-52).
In this highly technical article Jensen more fully traces the provenance, context, and content of the BCR. He meticulously describes the physical makeup of the book as well as its significance to scholars. “When scholars approach newly discovered documents, several important questions arise. When and why was it created? Who created it? What was it used for?” (p. 21). For Jensen, reading the words on the page alone only yields half an answer to these questions. Only by studying the internal and external evidence, the manuscript words as well as the history of Mormonism and the nature of archival record keeping, can we fully appreciate the document in question. Jensen explains how “forensic paleography” helps researchers find out when a document was created, how it was used, and what it might have meant to the people involved in its creation. In other words, Jensen is asking questions about what the BCR can teach us about the very process of revelation itself.
Steven C. Harper, “Historical Headnotes and the Index of Contents in the Book of Commandments and Revelations,” (pp. 53- 66).
John Whitmer, the principle scribe for the BCR, included interesting date and header information for many of the revelations, allowing researchers to reassess the date and context of many early revelations. Clues will help reassess timing of aspects of the Book of Mormon translation, the location of the organization of the Church, the date when section 20 was revealed (calling into question speculation about Christ’s birthday being the 6th of April), the timing of the “parchment of John” revelation, the identity of James Covill, the circumstances surrounding a meeting where men were asked to testify to the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s revelations, and how early members understood the imperfect revelations from a 24-year-old ploughboy prophet. Harper notes his essay does not finish much historical reassessment, but is meant to encourage it by describing how the BCR’s index of contents and historical headnotes can be examined by scholars.
Grant Underwood, “Revelation, Text, and Revision: Insight From the Book of Commandments and Revelations,” (pp. 67-84).
Underwood explores how textual revisions shed “important light on the process by which Joseph Smith received, recorded, and published his revelations” (p. 67). What is revelation? A direct word-for-word message from God, or the human articulation of the message? Something in between? Tracking some changes between the BCR and later published versions of the revelations allows us to see how Joseph Smith and his contemporaries understood the process. For the most part Underwood says pre-July 1833 revisions were mostly grammatical and stylistic, or clarified meaning. After that point in preparation for publishing the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants changes were made to update, amplify, and incorporate newly revealed polity or doctrine (p. 68). He tracks who made most of the corrections, surprisingly few in the hand of Joseph Smith himself, who was the one called to make such changes. Underwood explains a “latitudinarian” view of the revelations, where Joseph trusted associates to make changes so long as the general sense was not adjusted. Thus, divine communication has a human component which needs to be taken into account, or as Jeffrey R. Holland stated: “The scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge for Latter-day Saints. They are manifestations of the ultimate source. The ultimate source of knowledge and authority for a Latter-day Saint is the living God” (p. 81). Underwood deftly utilizes scholarship on revelation from several different faith traditions and non-LDS scholars to help readers better understand revelation and the written word.
Ronald E. Romig provides a brief response to these papers and a short historical overview from the perspective of the Community of Christ (pp. 85-91). In the Book Review section Thomas Coens, an associate editor of the Papers of Andrew Jackson series gives a non-Mormon scholar’s perspective on the landmark inaugural installment of the Joseph Smith Papers. He tips his cap to the rigorous scholarship involved in the Journals volume and provides a few personal thoughts on the volume. James B. Allen also reviews the Journals volume.
In addition to these special articles, the issue includes a piece on Eliza R. Snow’s poetry, LDS athletic tournaments from 1950-1971, and book reviews of the Twighlight series, Bushman’s Very Short Introduction to Mormonism and a few other selections. A paperback copy of this issue is available for $9.95, or a digital copy can be downloaded for $7.00. See byustudies.byu.edu for more. This is a highly recommended issue.
The following is my first contribution to FAIR’s Translation Witness Accounts (TWA) Project spearheaded by Blair Hodges. Blair has the initial installment at his blog by listing all known firsthand accounts from Joseph Smith. Here I compiled as many accounts as I could find, but I seem to recall running across another one I can’t currently locate in my notes. Readers are welcome to point out other accounts that explicitly affirm or deny the use of curtain separating Joseph Smith from his scribes. I also want to hear about you make of these accounts.
My excerpts are mostly from Opening the Heavens which contains a compilation of 203 translation accounts done by Jack Welch. My footnotes are keyed to the number that Welch assigned. I have supplemented Welch’s accounts with several found in the 4th volume of Dan Vogel’s Early Mormon Documents series, in which case I use the page number the excerpt is found on.
The “salamander letter” was said to have been written by Martin Harris in 1830. It gave a radically different description of Joseph’s Smith’s retrieval of the golden plates. Rather than the Angel Moroni, an “old spirit” directed Joseph to the “treasure” and “transfigured himself from a white salamander.”1 24 years ago yesterday two bombs rocked Salt Lake City, killing two Mormons and injuring a third—historical document dealer Mark Hofmann. Ripples of fear moved through the Mormon history community as investigators soon uncovered a twisted scheme of lies, forgery, and murder plotted by Hofmann himself.2
FAIR announced its review of MormonThink.com during its annual conference held the first week of August. A response to that review was recently posted at that site. What follows are some of my observations, which are not necessarily shared by other FAIR volunteers, about the response
MormonThink does a good job at posing questions to their readers to get them to reconsider the plausibility of LDS truth claims. The authors, a coalition of Mormon and ex-Mormon skeptics  (some operating under a cloak of anonymity while accusing the Church of less than complete transparency), find previous faithful attempts by unofficial apologists to answer similar questions “unsatisfactory.” A FAIR review demonstrated that MormonThink’s own predominately negative answers were ill-informed, highly slanted (not objective as advertised), and fail to more than superficially engage faithful answers. MormonThink’s response to FAIR’s rebuttal is a mixed. On one hand, the response shows a commitment to accuracy and correcting some of its more egregious errors. On the other hand, the response justifies its failure to take FAIR more seriously by making an appeal to authority. MormonThink seeks the attention of General Authorities and they believe FAIR is usurping the Brethren’s role. This suggests to me that they are less concerned about answers and more concerned about getting attention for dissent. [Read more…] about Mormon Think
Recently I put together a reference guide for Mormons that are potentially in discussions with other Christians that have some interest in early Christian priesthood structure. In this post, I have confined myself to helpful LDS treatments that are available online. Perhaps in a separate post, I will consider compiling a list of articles and books written from a non-Mormon perspective, that are nevertheless worthy of attention. The most important LDS treatment, High Nibley’s Apostles and Bishops in Early Christianity has not been put online yet. Please feel free to comment on any of this literature or point out additional resources that you find helpful.
[Read more…] about Literature on Early Christian Priesthood
Title: A Pillar of Light: The History and Message of the First Vision
Author: Matthew B. Brown
Publisher: Covenant Communications, Inc.
Year Published: 2009
Number of Pages: 268
Reviewed by Trevor Holyoak
In the October 1998 General Conference, Gordon B. Hinckley said that “our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First Vision….Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration.” (Page ix.) In April 1984, James E. Faust pointed out that “since no one was with Joseph when this great vision took place in the wooded grove near Palmyra, a testimony concerning its reality can come only by believing the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s own account or by the witness of the Holy Ghost, or both.” (Page x.) With these statements in mind, it is not surprising that the First Vision has been one of the favorite things for critics of Joseph Smith to attack. In this book, Matthew Brown lays out the historical facts from which one can be helped to gain a testimony of the event, strengthen existing convictions, and help answer any doubts or confusion arising from critics’ claims.
[Read more…] about Book Review: A Pillar of Light
This is my second installment where I tackle the accusation that Joseph Smith was a rake (Ken Jennings wouldn’t say so either.) before he ever received a revelation about plural marriage. I am partial to Dan Bachman’s theory that section 132 was received in stages as he lays out in “The Ohio Origins of the Revelation on Eternal Marriage” in a JMH 1978 article. Critics have likewise turned to the Ohio period to frame Joseph Smith as a sexual predator before the revelation was made public. Clark Braden, in his 1884 debate with an RLDS apostle pursued this agenda. He claimed that the [March 24,1832] tar and feathering was brought about by Eli Johnson’s brotherly outrage of Joseph Smith’s impropriety against Eli’s sister, Marinda Nancy Johnson. I am going to present some new information about Eli Johnson, but if I don’t make much sense please see the following links for background information: 1 2 3 .
[Read more…] about “Brother” Eli Johnson
One of strangest trends in recent plural marriage publications by cultural Mormons has been to regress back to Fawn Brodie’s portrayal of Joseph Smith’s first plural marriage with Fanny Alger as an adulterous affair. This despite Todd Compton’s seminal treatment and a wide array of evidence in favor of a marriage from both hostile and friendly sources. I don’t wish to recap all this here as it would be a retread of G. L. Smith’s recent FARMS Review (I was thrilled to receive a shout out in the footnotes). Suffice it to say, the distorted version of Joseph Smith as a womanizer has really taking a beating and I have recently uncovered some additional information that will further vindicate the Prophet on that score, but that will have to wait for another post. [Read more…] about The Fanny Alger Marriage