Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review: Witness to the Martyrdom, by Mark H. Taylor

Witness to the Martyrdom, by Mark H. Taylor (2nd Edition). Published  by Deseret Book.

Taylor, a great grandson of President John Taylor, shares the background to this book. He notes that a portion of John Taylor’s account of Joseph Smith’s murder floated around the family for generations. When a young family member was ready, a copy would be made for that person. Unfortunately, no one he knew had the complete version of the story of the martyrdom.

Taylor searched for years, and finally found a full version of his ancestor’s account. John Taylor wrote about the martyrdom in the mid 1850s while working for the Church in the Northeast United States. Willard Richards, the only other eye witness, had recently died. The Church Historian requested John Taylor to provide the account for the official record, which he complied with the help of others who were at Carthage at the time.

Fast forward a few years, John Taylor is back in Utah. The great British explorer and author, Sir Richard F. Burton, traveled to Utah in 1860 to get material to write his 1862 book, “City of the Saints.” He was eager to meet with John Taylor, knowing he was with Joseph Smith at the time of his death. On arriving at Salt Lake City, Burton spoke with some gentlemen about the Church and its history. Only after several minutes of discussion did Burton realize he was speaking with John Taylor.  Taylor spoke frequently with Burton during his stay, and offered to him a copy of his account of the martyrdom. Burton readily accepted this gift, and put it in the appendix of his finished book.
Mark H. Taylor was able to use this information to extract the full account and share it with his readers.

It is a very interesting account from John Taylor’s viewpoint. He begins by describing the political landscape of Illinois:
The political party were those who were of opposite politics to us. There were always two parties, the whigs and democrats, and we could not vote for one without offending the other, and it not unfrequently happened that candidates for office would place the issue of their election upon opposition to the “Mormons”, in order to gain political influence from religious prejudice.” (pg 26)
In some areas, anti-Mormons were so ubiquitous that Taylor quotes Governor Ford’s history of Illinois, noting, “In the county of Ogle they (anti-Mormons) were so numerous, strong, and well organized, that they could not be convicted for their crimes.”

John Taylor frequently referenced Ford’s writings to support his claims for the Mormons in Nauvoo and against those who opposed them. Still, Taylor exposes Governor Ford as either an idiot, who could not see the dangers awaiting Joseph Smith in Carthage, or as a willing shill for the enemies of the Church.

Taylor was involved as an intermediary between Governor Ford and the prisoners Joseph and Hyrum Smith. He notes the various vile people that frequented the meetings, including several excommunicated members, such as William Law. As one case was dismissed, Joseph and Hyrum were brought up immediately on charges of treason. Taylor notes that Ford promised to protect the Prophet and take him to Nauvoo with him, but let him anyway.

Two issues brought up that I was not aware of is that of the three companies of state militia in Carthage, Governor Ford took two with him to Nauvoo, leaving the murderous Carthage Greys behind to “protect” Joseph and Hyrum.  Second, after the murders were completed, a cannon was fired to notify the people in the area that the murders were completed. When Ford heard the cannon fire, he immediately left Nauvoo and returned to the  capitol. Either he knew what was going to happen, or one of his aides did.

Taylor writes with an indignant style towards those who were involved in the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, yet supports many of his statements from other sources, primarily Ford.
Living just a few hours away from Nauvoo and Carthage, I have the opportunity to visit frequently. To sit in the upstairs room of Carthage jail, see the door where John Taylor used a cane to bat down guns being shoved through the doorway, the floor upon which Hyrum fell silent, the bed that Taylor hid underneath when he was seriously wounded, and the window that Joseph fell out, are all made alive by reading John Taylor’s account.

Some may argue with John Taylor’s views regarding the rightness of destroying the printing press or other actions of Joseph Smith. But it is all semantics, when one considers a mob of hundreds, with the quiet support of a governor, had murder in their hearts and blood on their hands.

This volume makes the Martyrdom alive again. It is real. It is a story of heroes and villains, and we are blessed with an eye witness account of it. If you struggle with your testimony of modern prophets, this book will help you regain that burning in your bosom. You will find a friend in the apostle John Taylor, and pause again at the great work that was sealed with the blood of prophets.

Book Review: Changed Through His Grace, by Brad Wilcox

Book Review: Changed Through His Grace, by Brad Wilcox

The first time I heard of Brad Wilcox was Christmas time, 1978. I was at the Missionary Training Center, preparing to serve in Bolivia. My girlfriend was attending BYU and dropped off a gift for me: The Super Baruba Success Book, by Brad Wilcox. Wilcox is a few months younger than me, so he published this book prior to serving his own mission. The only thing I can remember about the book is a personal anecdote, where Wilcox talks about using a locker room shower for several weeks that delivered only cold water. Eventually, it occurred to him that the other showers provided hot water and he made the switch.

Since then, Wilcox has thrilled young people in the Church with his personal stories that deliver messages that relevant to them. I know of several LDS youth who have returned from Especially For Youth conferences bubbling over with enthusiasm for the gospel because something Brother Wilcox said stirred them.

Changed Through His Grace is not directed specifically towards youth, but retains the frequent anecdotes that make Wilcox so popular as a speaker and author in the Church. The book speaks briefly on one important component of Grace, how it ties in to the atonement of Christ, and how it is the power that changes us.

The book begins by explaining that grace and salvation are neither brought about by the cheap grace of some Christian faiths, nor by earning it by our own works. Wilcox suggests a middle path, where we are saved by Christ’s grace, but we must embrace that grace, allowing it to change us into holy and sanctified children of God.

The book focuses less on how Christ can transform us, and more on how we can access His power in our lives. This includes discussions on commandments, ordinances and covenants, including those made at baptism, the Sacrament, and in temple.

One interesting thought Wilcox shared concerns the Parable of the Talents. He suggests we view talents as if they were books given by the Lord to us to use. The books are freely given, but only are of use if we crack the covers and read them. Only then can the books enrich and change us. For those who have read the books given them, the Lord welcomes them to his Master Library. The individual who tosses his one book in the trash or allows it to collect dust and cobwebs, has not benefited nor appreciated from the gift. His book is taken away and given to another.  Though a terrific analogy, I would have loved to see Wilcox develop this idea more: do I only need to read the books/talents given me, or does quality count as much as or more than quantity read?

I encountered such moments several times in the book. Wilcox would make a very astute observation and then hurry off to his next point, rather than slow down and delve into the various facets of the subject. Still, for a primer, it holds many gems and anecdotes that will keep the reader engaged with the text.

This is a wonderful book for helping the average LDS Christian understand how the grace of Christ works in our personal lives, and how we can use Christ’s grace to become Christlike. It is a great beginning to understanding what grace is, how it changes us, and how it brings joy, peace, and hope to us.

Available March 27,2017 at Deseret Book,, and other retailers

Book Review: Dime Novel Mormons

Book Review: The Mormon Image in Literature, Dime Novel Mormons, edited and introduced by Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall.

Dime Novel Mormons

In the Harry Potter books and films, Harry and Dumbledore go from being heroes to evil villains, due to the continuous assault by the Daily Prophet, the major newspaper around. For most witches, Harry and Dumbledore are insane cranks, claiming Voldemort had returned. One can see the frustration in Harry’s face as many friends doubt him, even hating him. Imagine the uphill battle he fought against the wrong perceptions while trying to fight the Dark Lord.

So it was in the late 1800s and early 1900s for Mormon missionaries.Stories flourished about the evil Mormons living in seclusion in Salt Lake City. Mormons were known for lustful polygamy, murderous Danites, and general evilness. As noted in their introduction about early Mormon novels, Austin and Parshall note: “each featuring handsome heroes, villainous Mormon elders, and chaste young women who are kidnapped and taken to Salt Lake City as polygamous brides.” In these novels, “the lecherous Mormons are defeated, the chaste young women are rescued, and the hero gets the girl.”

Perhaps the most famous novel regarding early Mormons was Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage. A few years ago, I’d heard about how this book ran roughshod over Mormonism, and so read it out of curiosity. My review of it is here. This was written in 1912, long after many other novels had been written in the Dime Novel genre.

Before Riders of the Purple Sage,dime novels were in their heyday. These were very inexpensive novels of about 50,000 words, printed on cheap newsprint, with no cover. They literally cost about a dime, making such novels very affordable to the average person. Writers worked feverishly to publish one or two a week, and some novels could sell half a million copies. Being made of such cheap materials, these novels were not designed to survive more than a few years, much less a century or more. Fortunately, Michael Austin and Ardis Parshall have worked hard to find surviving copies that deal heavily with Mormon themes and preserved the texts. Many of the novels were so brittle and fragile that to save the texts meant destroying the cheap paper they were printed on. With some novels damaged, Austin and Parshall had to determine words that may have been lost on the ragged edges of some dime novels. The results are excellent.

In this volume that continues the Greg Kofford Books’ series, The Mormon Image in Literature, we find four gems among dime novels that focus on how late 19th century Americans viewed Mormons.

The four novels are:
Eagle Plume, the White Avenger, A Tale of the Mormon Trail
The Doomed Dozen, or Dolores, the Danite’s Daughter. A Romance of Border Trails and Mormon Mysteries.
Frank Merriwell Among the Mormons; or, the Lost Tribe of Israel
The Bradys Among the Mormons; or, Secret Work in Salt Lake City

The tropes are familiar to those who’ve read Zane Grey’s anti-Mormon novel: evil Mormons, even more evil Danites, and a girl needing rescued from the evil Mormons. Still, the stories are engaging and interesting, always with a twist in the plot. For example, in Dolores, the Danite’s Daughter, her wagon train is wiped out by Danites dressed like Indians. However, she is rescued by two white men (one being Buffalo Bill Cody), dressed like Indians.

While many of today’s films have good and bad guys that float in the gray area of good and bad, these novels are clearly black and white. Good guys wear white hats. They are handsome and rugged, while the evil Mormons are described quite the opposite.

In Eagle Plume, Indians are seen as the noble savages of early writings:
“By the river’s bank, gazing upon the turbid and swollen waters, stood two chiefs. One, by the richness of his attire, the wolf tails attached to his leggins, a mark of distinction only allowed to great braves, it was evident was a chief of note; and the eagle plumes thickly braided in his long, dark locks, as well as the look of dignity and pride upon his thoroughly Indian face, confirmed this supposition.”
Meanwhile, Mormon Danites are described thus:
“The emigrants were busy preparing supper. Apart from the rest, and seated by themselves, were some seven men, all fully armed with rifles, knives and revolvers. Seven stout, muscular men were they, and of the seven, all but one bore the stamp of ruffian visibly imprinted on their faces.”
So, why would today’s Mormons want to preserve writings that show us to be just a shade nicer than Stalin? First, it helps us understand the perceptions of the average American towards Mormons a century ago. Imagine being a missionary in New York, trying to share the gospel with people who were convinced you only wanted to carry off pretty young girls to be the wives of the Prophet, or worse, one of the Danites. Second, it helps us understand the tensions between Salt Lake City and the rest of America. The Smoot hearings were big news in the early 20th century, with the Mormon Prophet, Joseph F. Smith, testifying. Americans were so concerned about Mormons, even 14 years after the Manifesto ending polygamy, that Reed Smoot went through three years of hearings prior to being seated in the Senate.

Because of Mormon inspired fiction, like that found in these four dime novels, we have a better understanding of the struggles and strains in the collision of the two worlds of Mormons and Gentiles We have Michael Austin, Ardis E. Parshall, and Greg Kofford Books to thank for this great gift to our Mormon heritage.  A great treasure is preserved for us to read and ponder.
Available March 21, 2017 from Greg Kofford Books and Amazon

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Book Review: Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants – The Plural Marriage Revelation, by William Victor Smith

Book Review: Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants – The Plural Marriage Revelation, by William Victor Smith

Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation

Over the last few decades, several quality books on the history of polygamy have been published. So what makes this one different?  Unlike most polygamy books,“The Plural Marriage Revelation” only touches very lightly on the practice of plural marriage in the lives of individuals, while focusing on the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants section 132 and its development as scripture over the course of the LDS Church’s history.

Joseph Smith sought to develop a special people that could build heaven on earth. Why wait until the next life to experience heaven, when it could be enjoyed in this life? However, various efforts failed. The great spiritual awakening at the Kirtland Temple, with washings, anointings, and great angelic visitations was soon followed by apostasy and expulsion of the faithful Saints from the city.
Similarly, Independence Missouri promised a Zion as bright, bold and beautiful as Enoch’s city. However, contention between the old settlers and Mormons led to Joseph’s imprisonment and the extermination order that caused the church to again flee for safety from its enemies.
In Nauvoo, Joseph would try again to build a new hope for heaven. This time, it would be one focused on sealing family and dynasties together, in order to have them ready for the anticipated Millennial reign of Christ.

As part of this new view of heaven, Joseph transcribed the 1843 revelation for his brother, so that Hyrum could use it to convince Emma to accept plural marriage.  As W. V. Smith notes, “The plural marriage revelation had set in motion a reconceived notion of Zion, with polygamy at its center.”
Instead of following a chronological history of polygamy, as most books on the subject do, this volume breaks down the revelation in D&C 132 into sections, and then discusses each portion in a chronological way: How did each section affect the Church in Nauvoo, in Brigham Young’s Utah, and in the 20th century?

Among the concepts in the chapters discussed: the Ancient Roots of Polygamy, the Permission to Seal, Unconditional Sealings, Polygamy and the Afterlife, the Keys of the Kingdom, the Mechanics of Plurality and Kingdoms of Heaven, and the Law of Sarah.

Smith notes that while the revelation was written down in 1843, it was not made public until 1852, and was not canonized until October 1880, when Orson Pratt’s newly organized set of scriptures were adopted by the membership of the Church. Even though not in the official scriptures until this late date, the revelation was clearly understood as scripture (perhaps one of the most influential of all revealed scripture) by the apostles of the nineteenth century.

Unlike many of Joseph Smith’s other revelations, the Revelation on Plural Marriage never was edited nor prepared for publication. It was written as a private missive, primarily for Emma’s view. What we read is the raw revelation, with no changes to prepare it for Church-wide consumption. One can only wonder what changes Joseph may have made in it, had he been given the chance to publish it himself.
The chapters discuss the evolving views on specific issues regarding plural marriage, priesthood, exaltation, godhood and how such should be implemented. At one point, patriarchs were viewed as having the authority to seal eternal marriages, for example. However, the power of the Patriarch of the Church rose and waned with the growth of the power of the Twelve Apostles. Smith notes that Joseph viewed his brother Hyrum, the Patriarch, as his legitimate successor. With Hyrum’s death, Brigham Young quickly stepped in to convince the Church that the Twelve held the keys of priesthood, and that they could function as a presidency. Later, he would have to convince the Twelve that he could reconstitute the First Presidency.

Modern LDS take our canonized scriptures and the current functions of priesthood for granted. Smith’s book helps us understand how much things evolved as events changed. For example, Smith notes, “The term ‘sealing’ has also gone through a fluctuation, evolution, and refinement of meaning in Mormonism. When the Church made its blockbuster public announcement of polygamy in 1852, it included the first public reference to Joseph Smith’s April 3, 1836, visitation of Elijah in the Kirtland temple…’ officially establishing the proper keys of sealing a decade and a half after the events in D&C 110 occurred.

Even the term, “new and everlasting covenant” evolved from meaning the sacrament of baptism to the concept of sealing and plural marriage. Just what was salvation, and what were the requirements to enter into the Celestial Kingdom? Smith discusses the evolving concept of the word “angel”, how at times it could mean a being that progresses, and other times when it means one who is stopped in eternal progression.

The requirements for entering Celestial glory were also in question. Smith notes that Wilford Woodruff quoted Brigham Young as stating that if a person even spoke out against polygamy, such a person would not enter into the Celestial Kingdom. Yet a year later in 1870, Woodruff noted that Brigham Young said that even an unmarried person could enter into the Celestial Kingdom.
Smith provides an interesting discussion on the concept of Mother in Heaven. The concept that things on earth reflect things in heaven, led to nineteenth century opinions on God having one or more wives, gods having sex to create spirit children, and the importance to expand one’s personal kingdom by having more children than the next god. While Joseph Smith never mentioned a Heavenly Mother, the concept was pressed and unofficially canonized by Eliza R. Snow in her poem, “Oh My Father.”
While Smith discusses the 1890 revelation ending polygamy, he gives as much attention to the second proclamation and the uncomfortable Smoot hearing. Even more discussion is provided for Wilford Woodruff’s 1894 revelation that ended dynastic sealings and promoted being sealed to one’s biological family line.  Suddenly, the concept of polygamy and building one’s own giant dynasty in one’s own kingdom of heaven was of lesser importance than sealing families together for eternity in God’s heaven. This concept of heaven on earth continues in the Church to our day, as we promote heaven in our homes.
The book has helped me to ponder some important, yet uncomfortable questions I’ve tried to evade in the past: how does one separate out the glorious concepts of eternal marriage and godhood, from the concepts of polygamy? What does it mean to be destroyed, in conjunction to rejecting plural marriage? Will we have to deal with this issue in the hereafter, or will it be optional? What is Emma Smith’s final reward/damnation? Will priesthood authority and practice continue evolving?

I’ve read a variety of books on the topic of polygamy. Most have focused on the struggles individuals had in living this difficult requirement, while leadership flaunted it in the face of its enemies.

 William V. Smith’s book takes us on a fresh perspective, dealing directly with the revelation and how each section related to major periods of the Church under Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, joseph F. Smith, and us today.  D&C 132 revelation is laid out raw and helps us understand how we in the 21st century must deal with the enigma of plural marriage today.

Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants – The Plural Marriage Revelation, by William Victor Smith. Greg Kofford Books.

Book Review: Saints, Slaves & Blacks – The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism, 2nd Edition, by Newell G. Bringhurst

Book Review: Saints, Slaves & Blacks – The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism, 2nd Edition, by Newell G. Bringhurst

Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism, 2nd ed.

I joined the LDS Church at the age of 16 in 1975 in Western Montana. For me, the Civil Rights protests were important, but were as far away as the struggle in Vietnam. I didn’t know any black people, and knew few of other minority races. To me, they were just people like I was. The Civil War was not big history for us, because Montana wasn’t involved in slavery nor abolitionism. Our history was about cowboys and Indians, vigilantes, and mountain men.

June 8, 1978, I was waiting for a LDS friend of mine to pick me up to see a movie, when he told me about the announcement on the priesthood revelation. At first, I didn’t believe him; it had to be a joke. Later, when I heard it on the news, I was very pleased. It was the one main thing, besides polygamy, that didn’t sit well with me concerning the Church.

In 1986, the Air Force moved me to Alabama. I was called as ward mission leader and into the stake mission presidency. Even though eight years had passed since the revelation, Montgomery still had not actively taken the gospel to its large black community. With the blessing of the stake presidency, we began focusing much of the work among them.  Missionary work in Tuskegee would open up (a branch formed after five months), as did the work in the city center of Montgomery.  In the first couple years, the two main wards involved each baptized several dozens of African Americans.
Unfortunately, I found myself having to deal with racism within the Church. Members upset that a black sister was called to teach in Primary. Members refusing to home/visit teach in black communities. It would take over a decade for most members in the stake to accept the new culture of blacks in every congregation, attending the temple, and being in leadership positions.

With that background in mind, I eagerly opened the pages of Saints, Slaves and Blacks. This is the second edition. Originally published in 1981, Bringhurst wrote his thesis on this topic, and then prepared the manuscript for publishing. The 1978 revelation came during his preparation, allowing him to add a chapter on the change. This second edition is perfectly timed for the 40th anniversary of the revelation on the priesthood.

Bringhurst is not the strongest of story tellers, and it shows in his writing. Rather than giving us smooth transitions in thought, he gives us long lists of related events. Even with this weakness, though, the book is a very important one for us. It is detailed and well annotated. We glean from the details, quotes, and events the development of Mormon views on blacks, slavery and priesthood.
He shows that the issues with blacks arose during the Missouri period, with the saints having to deal with slavery, radical abolitionists, and Missourians who suspected the Mormons of being anti-slavery (among other issues). Later, Mormon dealings with blacks would arise again because of tensions with blacks on amalgamation (inter-racial marriage and relations), coming to a head in early Utah.
It would be the misinterpretation of scriptures in the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham and the Book of Moses that would lead Brigham Young and others to invent the priesthood ban. (The question for many of us is whether the scriptures were first misinterpreted and then used to create a ban, or was the desire for a ban the impetus for misinterpreting scripture?). What is known is the devastating result of such a misinterpretation, as Bringhurst shows us one statement after another that used the ban as justification for racism in Utah. Laws were passed to discourage blacks from entering the state, from voting, and from frequenting local establishments. Utah had its own set of Jim Crow laws.

The book notes that the revelation lifting the ban was influenced not so much by the protests and attacks on the Church (which actually hardened the stance), but on the calm discussions of historians and scholars on the subject, especially the writing of Lester Bush in Dialogue. Demonstrating that the priesthood ban was not based on revelation opened the door to view it in a new light. As noted in the book, President David O. McKay did not believe it was doctrine, but only policy awaiting God’s approval to change it.

Perhaps the main thing this second edition is missing is a new chapter or two discussing the past 40 years. There are postscripts from W. Paul Reeve and Darron T. Smith, but they barely skim over a few issues, mostly providing a recent bibliography on Mormons and blacks.

I hoped to see more information on President McKay’s struggle with the ban and Pres Kimball’s receiving of the revelation, deserving more than just the few paragraphs provided.  Smith briefly mentions Randy Bott’s 2012 interview that continued the racist concepts behind the ban and the Church’s strong denouncement of that folklore. Nowhere do we see the current scholarly discussions on proper understanding of “skin of blackness” and the folklore on ancient priesthood curses.  I hope the third edition does entail such a discussion.

This is a very important book in LDS history. It helps us see the flaws in our leaders and members, but allows us to still see that God gives us greater truths when the membership is finally ready to receive it. It is a strong foundation to see our past, but lacks in missing the past 40 years. There is little information on the growth of the Church in Africa or even in the Deep South. In the appendix is a brief discussion by the author from 2003, briefly mentioning Helvecio Martins as having been the only black General Authority, but without any current update, we do not read anything about the countless Area Authorities and GA70s that are from other cultures and races.  He also noted that the Church still needs to denounce its racist folklore (which it did in 2012 in the Randy Bott debacle). It was like reading a quality history book of Russia that only takes you to the fall of the Soviet Union, but nothing on the ensuing years.

I recommend it as an excellent background book. This is a great book to begin the discussion of where LDS were over its first 150 years. To prepare for the June 8th anniversary of the priesthood revelation, please read it! I also encourage you to then read up on the recent history and discussion on the topic of Mormons and blacks.

Book Review: Joseph Smith's Seer Stones, by MacKay and Frederick

Book Review: Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones

Book Review: Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones

Joseph Smith's Seer Stones

We live in a great time for Church history. The Church has opened their archives to create the Joseph Smith Papers Project. It now has official statements on controversial historical and doctrinal issues. It is embracing the Internet. It is now dealing with the skeletons that have been trying for decades to escape its archival closet.

With the new openness to history, the Church recently published a photograph and basic information regarding one of Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones (Ensign, Oct 2015, )

There clearly is a continued interest and need for a more thorough discussion of Seer Stones and Joseph Smith. Were there more than one? What is the provenance of these stones? How did Joseph use them? How important were the stones? What about magic and money digging?
Michael Hubbard Mackay and Nicholas J. Frederick have given us a quality product that helps to answer these and many other questions. The book is 8 chapters long, with 6 appendices, and an extensive annotated bibliography. Each chapter has sufficient endnotes for those who wish to look at primary sources, and do more study.

While the book will be useful for scholars, it is written with the average reader in mind. The book is filled with paintings and charts that enhance the mystery being unraveled by the authors. I appreciated the fact that none of the paintings showed Joseph translating directly from the plates of the Book of Mormon, as has been in the past.

Unlike some other LDS historical books, Mackay and Frederick did not shy away from using all sources, including some that are clearly anti-Mormon. Both LDS and non-LDS Mormon historians are referenced, including non-LDS historians Dan Vogel and D. Michael Quinn, so the volume will also appeal to non-LDS scholars interested in researching Mormonism.

The book explains what seer stones are, how they are related to the Urim and Thummim, how common they were in Joseph’s day, the issues of magic in relation to religion, what the Book of Mormon teaches us about seer stones, and what the Urim and Thummim in the Old Testament and the white stone* in John 2:17 and D&C 130 mean to both LDS and non-LDS today.

I appreciate the fact that the authors reviewed the key theories, and discussed the probabilities of each theory being correct, comparing statements by various people that knew Joseph in his early years, or who had been interviewed by others later on.

The book discusses possible ways in which the translation process occurred, noting Royal Skousen’s theory of a tight translation, where Joseph received the translation word for word, but also explaining Brant Gardner’s theory of a less tight translation that allowed Joseph to add some of his own terminology and interpretation into the process. As I’ve looked at the evidence over the years, I see evidence for both: a tight translation in some things, but also how documents were used by God as a catalyst for Joseph to receive new revelation (such as the Book of Moses coming from Joseph’s “translation” of the Bible).

While I knew Joseph Smith had at least one seer stone, it surprised me to know he may have had as many as five stones, and encouraged other members to go find their own “white stone.” The two most likely stones Joseph owned are the brown stone (seen in the Oct 2015 Ensign), and the white stone that Wilford Woodruff consecrated on the altar of the Manti Temple. The provenance of these two stones is discussed, along with a possible green stone that is also mentioned.

One of the best parts of the book is the discussion on the scriptural significance of seer stones. While many thought that the stones were just a temporary crutch to teach Joseph how to receive revelation, Mosiah 8 and D&C 130 insist that it is the special stone that makes the Seer. For me, the authors succeeded in explaining just how important seer stones were for Joseph, and how we should also marvel at them in our day. Joseph’s use of them, first in treasure hunting, was a normal effort that many did in the Palmyra area in his youth. The book points out, however, that only Joseph transformed this skill from money digging to actually having sacred words revealed about ancient peoples.

Perhaps the one thing they did not touch much upon, and perhaps it is due to the sensitivity of the subject, is why the information on seer stones was kept so secretive by the Church over the years. They do note, “This stone may have remained in the hands of the Presidency for decades, but it is clear that Church Historians like B.H. Roberts knew nothing about the white stone.”

Also missing is a discussion on why the Church’s stance for many decades was that Joseph Smith only used the Urim and Thummim to translate the plates, and never the seer stones. While other historians were insisting that the seer stone was the primary tool used for translation, Joseph Fielding Smith (as Church historian) was claiming otherwise. My personal belief is that he was attempting to protect the family name by writing faithful history versus writing all of the history. Unfortunately, such actions may have allowed for much criticism over the years, and questioning on what the Church was hiding. This was especially true in the early years of the Internet. Since the Church made the difficult, but wise, decision to open its archives and let the skeletons come out, it has allowed LDS historians to deal with such issues on our own terms, and not the terms set by those who would destroy God’s great work of restoration . In this instance, Mackay and Frederick’s effort successfully normalizes what once was viewed as strange and magical.

Seer stones have a long and valued history in scripture. The book “Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones” is an important addition for all those interested in early LDS history and doctrine. It is a valuable tool in understanding what has long been a strange curiosity, but now is a normal part of the marvelous work and a wonder of the restoration of Jesus Christ’s Church in the last days.

*For my discussion on the white stone in D&C 130 describing modern computer technology, see

Book Review: Exploring the Apocrypha, by Jared Ludlow

Book Review: Exploring the Apocrypha from a Latter-day Saint Perspective, by Jared W. Ludlow

While making his translation of the Bible, Joseph Smith asked the Lord whether he should include the Apocrypha in his translation.  The Lord responded that there were many good and true things in the Apocrypha, but also many interpolations of men, and so Joseph was not to translate it (D&C 91). Instead, the Lord said that a person guided by the Spirit could gain much value out of reading the Apocrypha.

In Exploring the Apocrypha, Ludlow discusses the history of the Apocrypha and gives an overview of each of the books. The chapters are as follows:
  1. Apocrypha: What is it and where did it come from?
  2. Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saint use of the Apocrypha
  3. Additions to the Book of Esther
  4. Daniel Stories: Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon
  5. First Book of Esdras
  6. Second Book of Esdras
  7. The Prayer of Manasseh
  8. Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah
  9. Tobit
  10. Judith
  11. 1 Maccabees
  12. 2 Maccabees
  13. Wisdom of Solomon
  14. Ecclesiasticus, the Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sira, or Sirach
Ludlow begins each chapter by giving the background of each book of the Apocrypha: whether it was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek; what time period it probably was written in; how Jews and Christians used the book.

Each book is then discussed, with generous portions given on stories, and quotes from the wisdom literature.  Finally, each chapter ends with a conclusion that discusses the value we can find in the books for a modern audience, including sharing connections with teachings from the Book of Mormon.

For example, Ludlow discusses the books of Esdras, which claim to have been written by the scribe Ezra in the Bible, regarding the events surrounding the return of Israel to Jerusalem from Babylon and the rebuilding of the temple, while being persecuted by those around them and dealing with intermarriage and other sins. “LDS readers may see in 1 Esdras the challenge of creating a society of faithful believers in the midst of a wider society.”
Meanwhile, we find that 2 Esdras contains 7 major revelations or apocalypses, which Ludlow explains,
“Apocalypses share information that can only be revealed by heavenly sources, often in two forms: a heavenly journey, or a dream or vision. In either case, there are typically angelic intermediaries interpreting what is being seen and it is the dialogue or instruction between the mortal figure and the angels that gets recorded in these texts for others to read. Two of the most common topics of apocalypses are predictions of the future divided into sequential periods and descriptions of heavenly settings such as God’s throne, the heavenly temple, and judgment scenes.”
One cannot miss the corollary with the visions Lehi and Nephi had (1 Ne 1; 8-15).
Other books provide exciting stories, such as the story of Tobit, whose son is sent on an adventure with a friend, who secretly is the archangel Raphael, again suggesting the importance of having a special guide on one’s epic journey.

There are also books that provide us with important history from the period between Malachi in the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. In this category, we gain much from studying 1 and 2 Maccabees, which tell us about the struggles the Jews experienced after Alexander the Great died, leaving his empire divided by his 4 generals. Jerusalem being in the center of these lands, exchanged hands through war and conflict, then the efforts to free themselves through the strength and guerilla warfare of the Maccabeus family. Most trying for the Jews was the period ruled by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who sacrificed pigs on the altar of the temple, placed a statue of Zeus in the temple, and tried to force Jews to worship the Greek pantheon and leave Jehovah by coercing them to eat pork, etc.  Many of the stories are very inspiring; such as a chief priest and a widow’s 7 sons tortured to death because they would not eat pork and renounce Jehovah.
In his afterword, Ludlow explains,
“The revelation regarding the Apocrypha included in the Doctrine and Covenants (section 91) is helpful, but it can also be frustrating because it is so open-ended. The section acknowledges that there are many things in the Apocrypha that are true, but there are also things in it that are not true and are interpolations by the hands of men, yet it doesn’t specify which is which within the individual texts themselves.”
Ludlow suggests this leaves us to explore on our own and determine what is true and of value, and which things are interpolations. Fortunately, we do not have to do this alone. Exploring the Apocrypha from a Latter-day Saint Perspective becomes a very useful tool to give novice readers of ancient texts a leg up. Each chapter is invaluable in helping us figure out which things are valuable to a LDS audience, and how they resonate with modern and ancient scripture. Many LDS fear delving into ancient writings outside of the scriptures (which often are difficult enough themselves), but this book can put minds at ease, explaining things in layman’s terms how to understand and appreciate the jewels found in the Apocrypha.

Purchase it on Amazon: Exploring the Apocrypha

Review also on Millennial Star

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Indications of Multiple Authorship of the 5 Books of Moses

I'm part of a very awesome FB group, Mormons Talk | OT Bible Scholarship (Old Testament / LDS / Mormon)

In it, we are using college level textbooks to discuss the OT. The main text is John Collins' an Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, though we are referencing others. We are now in chapter 2, and I have written on the concept of multiple authors for the Pentateuch/Torah/5 Books of Moses. Here's what I've written. You'll want to read the comments at the FB site, as there are some interesting points in there, as well.

Indications of Multiple Authorship

For many Christians, the idea of multiple authorship of the Pentateuch/Torah is heresy. Yet, it is clearly illustrated, as they now exist, the first five books of the Bible were not written by Moses but by later writers. And while there are many theories that scholars now have to argue against the Documentary Hypothesis, the idea of multiple authors isn’t questioned.

Internal evidence begins with verses that easily demonstrate that portions were written long after Moses’ time. At the end of Deuteronomy, it talks about the death of Moses – something that would be very difficult for Moses to write about. The Pentateuch notes that during the time of Genesis, “Canaanites still dwelt in the land.” Why make such a statement, if Moses is writing this? Of Course, the Canaanites are still in the land! Only later, in King David’s time, do we see an end to the Canaanites.

Scholars began to note that there was special use of the two major names of God: El Elyon and Yahweh/Jehovah. Rarely are they used together in the Torah, but they still create conflict in scripture. God said to Moses that he appeared to Abraham as El Shaddai (God of the Mountain), but never as Yahweh. However, in Gen 4, people are calling upon the name of Yahweh during the time of Enoch, and the name is used frequently in regards to Abraham’s time, as well.

Therefore, we can presume that Exodus 6:3 comes from another source that was not aware of the name Yahweh being used at the time of Abraham and before.

Richard E Friedman, in Who Wrote the Bible?, explains that El was the chief God of the Palestine region, ruling over the council of gods. “The God of Israel was Yahweh. He, too, was male, patriarchal, a ruler, and not identified with any one force in nature.” We will see that early Hebrews saw Yahweh as a member of El’s council, assigned Israel as his kingdom to rule over. Later, the Jews would combine El and Yahweh into one god and remove God’s consort and the divine council.
Doublets and triplets are noted in the scripture – where events and sayings are said twice or even three times. We have Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on both Mt Sinai and Mt Horeb. Moses twice goes to Meribah and brings water out of a rock – in one version, the angel of the Lord stands upon the rock Moses is to strike, while in the other version, Moses is disobedient to God and ends up losing his right to enter into the Promised Land (Nephi only notes the first version in the Book of Mormon).

The story of Noah’s Flood is the perfect example of a doublet that was combined. We have Noah commanded in one story to build the ark, because a flood is coming. In one story, he brings in animals two by two, while in the other, 7 clean animals are brought in (clean/unclean only occurs in the Mosaic law, and shows a later story line development). One story gives 40 days and nights for the flood, while the other floods for almost a year. One has a dove, the other a raven. One story consistently calls God, Elohim, while the other consistently calls him Yahweh.

So, we end up with scholars, such as Wellhausen, suggesting 4 major writers for the Pentateuch. Friedman writes, “There was evidence that the Five Books of Moses had been composed by combining four different source documents into one continuous history. For working purposes, the four documents were identified by alphabetic symbols. The document that was associated with the divine name Yahweh/Jehovh was called J. The document that was identified as referring to the deity as God (in Hebrew Elohim) was called E. The third document, by far the largest, included most of the legal sections and concentrated a great deal on matters having to do with priests, and so it was called P. And the source that was found only in the book of Deuteronomy was called D.”

Friedman suggests that J and E were two rival priestly authors. King David had two priests, Abiathar from the lineage of Moses and keepers of the tabernacle in Shiloh (northern kingdom), and Zadok, who descended from Aaron. When Solomon became king, Abiathar had supported Solomon’s brother, so the new king sent him into exile back to the Northern Kingdom, and created laws that benefited Judah and the southern kingdom, while creating bigger burdens on the north. This political division likely created the sources for J (southern kingdom of Judah) and E (northern kingdom of 10 tribes).

In Genesis 1 and 2, we get two different creation stories. Genesis 1 calls God, Elohim 35 times. Genesis 2 calls God, Yahweh 11 times. They get the orders of things different. Genesis 1 has plants, animals then man and woman. Genesis 2 has man, plants, animals, then woman. While most now think Genesis 1 was a P document, Friedman suggests it was inspired by E, while Genesis 2 is agreed to be by J. Later, Friedman notes that P is clearly influenced by the E source on its writings.
We also see this in the story of Joseph, who was sold into Egypt. For J, Judah is the hero of the story, stopping his brothers from slaying Joseph and later offering himself as a slave in the stead of Benjamin. Judah gets the birthright and kingship. Meanwhile, E has Reuben stop the slaying, and Joseph is the hero – receiving the birthright and a double portion (Ephraim and Manasseh) for his inheritance.

Friedman also gives this interesting concept that divides E and J: “In E, Moses’ faithful assistant is Joshua. Joshua leads the people in the battle against the Amalekites; he serves as watchman inside the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle) whenever Moses is not meeting with the deity there; he is the only Israelite who is not involved in the golden calf incident; and he seeks to prevent the misuse of prophecy. In J, on the other hand, Joshua plays no role. Why the special treatment of Joshua in E but not in J? Joshua was a northern hero. He is identified as coming from the tribe of Ephraim….”

E never mentions the ark of the covenant, seeing it as made of gold, and therefore, against the 10 commandments. J’s version of the 10 commandments states that things of molten gold are prohibited, and so both the ark and cherubim of the Mercy Seat are allowed, being plated with gold. However, the Tabernacle IS important to E, as it dwells in the northern kingdom in the city of Shiloh. For E, the Tabernacle represents the presence of God.

Meanwhile, J never mentions the Tabernacle. The ark represents God’s presence. It goes before Israel into battle and while the Tabernacle remains in Shiloh, the ark is carried to Jerusalem by David (whom J celebrates).

The Deuteronomists lived during the time of King Josiah. During his reign, the temple priests "found" the book of the law, while renovating the temple. This book, Deuteronomy, charged Israel with removing all altars and places of worship, including any altars to Yahweh, outside the Temple. So, while Hezekiah removed altars to other gods, leaving any high places (Bamoth) dedicated to Yahweh, Josiah removes everything. Josiah's reforms will include changing the Temple, as well. No longer will it have God's consort, Asherah within it (represented by the Tree of Life). No angels, no visions, etc. It is now a place for animal sacrifice, and not much more. Temple centric worship is possibly one of the major issues brought up by the prophets of Jeremiah's day. Lehi would go against the Deuteronomists, by building altars in the wilderness, as will the Rechabites, whom Jeremiah praised.One of Lehi's major visions, that of the Tree of Life, has the Tree representing the love of God, which is shown to be the mother of Jesus. The Nephites understood the importance of God's wife, his Asherah, in the creation of Life and religion.

These are just a few examples of the religious/political divisions that occured in Israel. They were written into their earliest memories, as each side had its heroes and villains, holy laws and beliefs. And this understanding is important for us to understand conflicting scriptures, and conflicts between the various factions in Israel, as it shared with us its story(ies).

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thoughts on N.T. Wright's "How God Became King"

I'm currently reading N.T. Wright's book, "How God Became King".

In the first few chapters, he discusses the problems he finds with various approaches to the four gospels.

First, he critiques the overuse of the creeds in reading the Gospels. He explains that the creeds (Nicene, Apostles, etc) invariably discuss Christ's miraculous birth, then immediately go to the cross and resurrection. It's as if Matthew went from chapter two to chapter 26, with nothing in between. The creeds were heavily influenced by Paul's writings, who never spoke of Jesus' ministry, but only his resurrection. In doing so, we totally emphasize Christ's godhood, but not his other important roles.

On the other extreme, liberal readers tend to only read the middle, ignoring the miraculous birth and resurrection. They consider Jesus a wise teacher, but not the Messiah nor a miracle worker

For Tom Wright, former bishop of Durham in the Anglican Church, and NT scholar, many Christians do not see the whole Christ, but only a part of him. For example, they may see him as teacher or God, but not in his divine role as King of Israel and of earth.

As I thought about Wright's concerns, I considered how the Book of Mormon handles such issues. Would the creeds or scientism in Joseph Smith's day affect the text?

Does the Book of Mormon contain the beginning, middle and end things of the Gospels? Yes. In the Vision of the Tree of Life, Nephi sees the birth of Christ and his mother, Mary. We learn of Jesus healing the sick and afflicted. And we see Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. Later, the risen Savior would heal the Nephites, bless their children, and teach the Sermon at the Temple (compare to Sermon on the Mount). Again and again the Book of Mormon gives us the "fullness of the four gospels."

Perhaps this is a key reason we are encouraged to study the Book of Mormon. It keeps us centered on Christ, all of Christ, and not get lost on just a portion of who he really is.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Scapegoats in the Book of Mormon

Recently, scholar Andrei Orlov* uploaded a paper to, entitled "The Curses of Azazel".  In this paper, Orlov uses the ancient document, Apocalypse of Abraham, to discuss the scapegoat of Yom Kippur, the Festival of Atonement.  His excellent article made me think of how such issues may also be found in the Book of Mormon. I will discuss it momentarily, after a brief introduction to the Festival of Yom Kippur and some other important issues to consider.

Yom Kippur
During Yom Kippur, the high priest performs very important functions. Among these ordinances, is entrance into the Holy of Holies (the only time during the year it is entered), sanctifies the instruments and Mercy Seat, and utters the sacred and ineffable name of God, "YHWH". As he enters the Holy of Holies, he wears a special priest garb, which includes a turban/mitre, a sash, and the robes.  On his robes are bells, which tinkle as he moves, so those waiting outside for him can listen in and ensure he is still alive. If the high priest enters unworthily, God would strike him dead, and the silence of the bells would tip off his assistants to pull his body out by the rope attached to him for such an event. On the turban, one finds the name of "YHWH". It is the unspeakable, ineffable name. Only the high priest knew the correct pronunciation. Some of his assistants would know portions of the pronunciation, but not all, so that at the death of the high priest, the assistants could each whisper their portion of the Name into the ear of the newly chosen high priest, allowing him alone to then know the full pronunciation.  The Name, as Orlov notes in his article, is extremely important. To have God's name was to have his power to create, destroy, or perform miracles. Orlov notes from several ancient texts of fallen angels, or Watchers, who found out the Name and misused its power on the earth, causing them to be rejected by God.
One of the other major events in Yom Kippur, is that of the two goats. Two goats are chosen and brought before the high priest. One will be the sacred sacrifice, given to God. For Christians, this represents the sacrifice of Jesus by his Father.  The other goat, known as the scapegoat, also has an important role to play.  The high priest, prior to dressing in his temple robes, pronounces the sins of the people. Laying both hands on the head of the goat, he transfers those sins from Israel to the goat. A crimson wool thread is placed on the head of the goat. The goat is then sent into the wilderness, although some ancient texts show that it is pushed off a cliff, where it dies in a wilderness area. Those who lead the goat to the wilderness/death, then are to wash their clothes and become clean again from touching that which is unclean. Tradition has it that the scarlet thread became white, once the scapegoat was dead.  Orlov suggests that this directly ties in with Isaiah's initial plea to Israel:
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;  Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isa 1:16-18)
With this ordinance, the nation of Israel is absolved of its sins once a year.  For early Christians, both goats represented different aspects of Christ's life: the sacrificial goat and the one who takes upon himself all the sins of the people.

Apocalypse of Abraham
Yet, for many ancient Jews, the scapegoat represented the devil or a fallen angel. Orlov notes in the Apocalypse of Abraham, a contest occurs between God's angel, Yahoel against the fallen angel Azazel. As with the high priest at Yom Kippur, Yahoel pronounces the sins of Azazel, curses him, and then sends him packing to the wasted lands of earth. Yahoel then puts upon Abraham holy garments and brings him up to heaven. Yahoel the heavenly priest, stands between Azazel and Abraham, and pronounces blessings and curses, as did the ancient high priest at Yom Kippur. Orlov also shows a variety of similar actions found in other ancient texts, including the Enoch literature.
As mentioned above, I started to ponder whether such could be found in the Book of Mormon. For example, the gathering King Benjamin commanded to teach his people and proclaim his son as king, is very reminiscent of the Festival of Booths.
But what about the scapegoat and the Festival of Yom Kippur? Orlov's article gave me a different method of looking.

Jacob and Sherem
In the book of Jacob, we read about one potential Yom Kippur experience.  Jacob even uses terminology that is used the Apocalypse of Abraham, such as the importance of clean and unclean garments.
...wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day. (Jacob 1:19)

Now, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, according to the responsibility which I am under to God, to magnify mine office with soberness, and that I might rid my garments of your sins, I come up into the temple this day that I might declare unto you the word of God. (Jacob 2:2)
In this second quote, Jacob is at the temple. He is wearing the garment of the holy priesthood, and is focused on ensuring his own garments remain clean, that they will remain white/spotless, and not be found red/crimson with sin. As high priest, he declares the sins of the people (pride, greed, polygamy, and mistreating their families). Interestingly, he notes the goodness of the Lamanite husbands, in comparison to Nephite men, who were taking extra wives and concubines. Jacob, the high priest, stands between the Nephite and Lamanite goats, and judges them, as Yahoel did of Azazel and Abraham.
Interestingly, the Nephite sin of polygamy is similar to one of the major sins the Watchers or fallen angels were accused of: sexual transgression. The Watchers sought to have children through human wives and concubines - leading to the corruption of all the earth and the destruction by the great Flood in Noah's day. As with the fallen Nephites, these angels sought to corrupt God's plan of procreation in order to promote their own purpose.
In addition, Jacob shares a fascinating story of the first anti-Christ in the Book of Mormon, Sherem (Jacob 7).
As with Azazel and other ancient stories of fallen angels and Watchers, Sherem seeks to use special skills and knowledge to meet his goals and purposes, while overthrowing God's plan and high priest. He plans to bring all followers of Christ over to his own personalized religion, putting himself up as a replacement for the high priest. Jacob notes that Sherem is "learned" with a "perfect knowledge of the language", skilled at flattery, and sought to "over throw the doctrine of Christ". Sherem was so good at persuasion, he thought he could convince Jacob, the high priest (and reminiscent of Abraham) of the errors of his faith.
As with the priestly angel Yahoel, Jacob uses his knowledge of God's word and his own spiritual experience and power to resolve the situation. He pronounces Sherem's sins and places a curse upon him, just as the ancient high priest of Israel would declare the sins and curse the scapegoat. Upon receiving the curse, Sherem is struck down, a symbolic toss from the cliff, where he shortly confesses his own sins, fears he has committed the unpardonable sin (as the scapegoat carrying all of Israel's sins), and dies.

In Alma 14, we come across the first anti-Christ that Alma will deal with. Nehor also uses flattering words to convince people to believe in his teachings. Survival of the fittest is the focus of Nehor's doctrine. In preaching, he ends up slaying Gideon, who preaches the doctrine of Christ.
It is now Alma, the high priest, who must contend in this Yom Kippur event. As with Jacob, he also speaks of the importance of spotless garments.
And may the Lord bless you, and keep your garments spotless, that ye may at last be brought to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the holy prophets who have been ever since the world began, having your garments spotless even as their garments are spotless, in the kingdom of heaven to go no more out. (Alma 7:25)
Here, Alma brings up Abraham, the hero of Orlov's paper. Once Yahoel casts Azazel down, Abraham is brought up to heaven and given a holy, spotless and white garment.
I say unto you, ye will know at that day that ye cannot be saved; for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins. And now I ask of you, my brethren, how will any of you feel, if ye shall stand before the bar of God, having your garments stained with blood and all manner of filthiness? Behold, what will these things testify against you? (Alma 5:21-22)
In this instance, Christ becomes a holy symbol for the scapegoat, rescuing all those who will allow Jesus to purify their garments of stains (crimson, scarlet). Those with stained garments on the last day, will experience what it is to be their very own scapegoat, taking upon themselves all their own sins and stains before the Great High Priest.
Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb. (Alma 13:11)
In Alma 13, the prophet talks about the pre-existent and holy calling of high priest. This seems as an important prologue to the following chapter, where Alma will face Nehor, and make him the scapegoat for his people at that time.
Again, Alma pronounces the sins of Nehor and those who follow him. He establishes God's existence and righteousness.  Because of his sin (murder), Nehor is cursed or condemned to death. His "ignominious death" is carried out on top of a high mountain. To me, this suggests a few methods of death. Perhaps as with some Mayan practices,, Nehor is sacrificed to the gods/God. He may have been cast into a volcano. Or, as with the scapegoat of Israel, he may have been cast off a cliff to his death.

Alma gets a second chance to deal with a scapegoat with Korihor. Again, flattery is the tool most used by Nephite anti-Christs. Alma testifies against Korihor, pronouncing the sins of him and his followers upon him. When pushed, Alma curses Korihor, who pleads to have the curse and sins removed from him. God and Alma do not remove the curse, but ensure it remains with Korihor, who is then sent out "into the wilderness", where he eventually is trampled to death by other wicked people (the Zoramites).

Here we find another possible layer of complexity within the Book of Mormon, which Joseph Smith would not have known about in his day. He would not have known how Yom Kippur and the scapegoat would apply to fallen beings, such as Azazel in the Apocalypse of Abraham, and how this ties in with the high priest and the holy garments.
As LDS, we can learn that the Book of Mormon is begging for us to study it on many different levels. It dares us to compare it with the best ancient texts from Israel, and see just what we can learn about the ancient Nephites and how it can apply to us today.

* Hat tip to David J. Larsen for introducing me to Orlov's great scholarly works.
Also posted at

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Reading Nephi Discussing John's Revelation

Coming up in the next few weeks in LDS Sunday School classes, we will be discussing the Book of Revelation. As a new member back in December 1975, I recall hearing many messages regarding the Last Days, using the apostle John's Revelation to figure out the tragedies and events of the Last Days.

Sadly, one way in which we miss out on what is found in Apocalypse is by looking at what it says on the surface, without using one of the best tools given us via the Restoration of the Gospel.

In 1 Nephi 8-15, we read of Lehi and Nephi's Vision of the Tree of Life. Near the end of Nephi's version, we find that he not only sees the Tree, the Life of Christ, and the destruction of his own people, but he sees the Revelation that John received that we find at the end of the New Testament.

While Nephi states he cannot write the things that John and he saw, we find that the Revelation of John is tied closely to Nephi's Vision of the Tree of Life.

Both visions discuss the darkness of the world (Lehi travels in it for hours), the pride of the world, the Great and Abominable Church, the Tree of Life, witness of Christ, are guided by angels, see great destructions, etc. Both see/hold a book (John swallows his) that is important to their mission and the future. There are many other similarities that I will not go into here.

The Vision of the Tree of Life is a form of endowment, where the initiate is led from the darkness of the world, to the light and joy of the Tree of Life, which is in the presence of God. John's Apocalypse is perhaps best understood as an endowment, as well. Consider the following verses in the Book of Revelation, which has temple concepts tied to them:
5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,
6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (Rev 1:5-6)
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. 7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God....
11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death...
17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. (Rev 2:7, 11, 17 )
5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels...
12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.,,
21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. (Rev 3:5, 12, 21)
In chapter 4, John has a Theophany (vision of God). John tells us:
1 After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
3 And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
4 And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. (Rev 4:1-4)
Compare this vision to the vision Lehi had in 1 Nephi chapter one:
8 And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. (1 Nephi 1:8)
As Lehi and Nephi see the mists of darkness, the great and spacious building that represented John's Babylon, the destruction of Babylon and the wicked, etc, we find John's details of the seven seals ties in nicely with the events seen by Nephi. In the end, John sees the New Jerusalem, and the Tree of Life as a key feature of the city:
1 And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:1-2)
For Lehi and Nephi, the Tree of Life is THE key feature of their vision. We learn that it represents the Love of God, shed forth upon the children of men through the condescension of Christ and his Father.
In reading John's Revelation with this new lens, we are able to truly appreciate gift God has given us through his apostle, understood through Nephi's eyes.

--for more on the Book of Revelation, please read my Sunday School lesson blog posts on the two lessons here:
NT Lesson 45
NT Lesson 46

Friday, May 30, 2014

LDS Public Affairs posts statement on criticism and Women's Issues

Great article and letter by Michael Otterson, Managing Director of LDS Public Affairs regarding the Church's stance on women's issues, etc.  Posted at Millennial Star, where I often permablog.