Thursday, May 31, 2018

Book Review: To Defend Them By Stratagem, Fortify Yourself with Book of Mormon War Tactics, by Michaela Stephens

Book Review: To Defend Them By Stratagem, Fortify Yourself with Book of Mormon War Tactics, by Michaela Stephens

While there are deep scholarly looks at the battles in the Book of Mormon (e.g.; Warfare in the Book of Mormon, by Hamblin and Ricks), this is perhaps the first book I’ve read that examines the war chapters in order to assist us in our daily battle against sin and temptation.

The book contains about 40 short chapters, each looking at events involved in the various wars, including preparation for war, strategies for winning war, and reasons each side had for war.  Chapter headings include: King Benjamin’s Nearly Invisible Battles, Clash of the Worldviews, King Noah’s Paranoid Panic Mode, The Back-story to Captain Moroni’s Meteoric Rise, Hard Things First, A Type of Christ – Frees the Prisoners of Gid, Coriantumr’s Blitzkrieg, and too many more to mention here.
Stephens gives an honest assessment of issues surrounding each event and sub-event involved in the conflicts discussed. Because the Book of Mormon is fairly brief in its discussions of these events, the author often extrapolates from the evidence available, what she believes leads to various people being who they are, and how events unfold.

For example, she discusses the meteoric rise of Captain Moroni as captain over the Nephite armies at the young age of 25. She looks at how he could have been prepared for such a responsibility, by looking at the available evidence. She notes that there were three major battles during Moroni’s lifetime previous to his taking command of the army. Each of these conflicts affected him in different ways, and prepared him. Lehi was leading an army in battle when Moroni was about 17, motivating Moroni to use Lehi as one of his chief military leaders. They would become great friends. Was Moroni a soldier under Lehi in an earlier battle?  We know that an earlier general sought Alma’s prophetic guidance in finding where the Lamanite army took prisoners, and this is something Moroni would also do – something Stephens points out to us, showing us levels of depth in the scripture that many of us would miss out on.

In fact, while tying the ancient strategies to modern methods to overcome the world is an important strategy for us today, Stephens’ strength in the book often comes forth from her extrapolation. I feel I understand King Noah, Captain Moroni, and many others better, thanks to her suggesting important links and ties.

Her last chapter is definitely a classic for today. It is entitled: Book of Mormon War Chapters as a Crash Course in Strategy for Combating Pornography. This chapter is a bit longer than the others, but gives a solid foundation for declaring war on pornographic addiction.

For me, this was a fun book to read. I often review scholarly books that are loaded with information, but require effort to remain awake. However, this book provided a good balance between learning and readability. This book provides a wealth of information, while moving briskly along. While in some chapters, she may rush a little through tying the ancient methods to our day today, Stephens’ close look at personalities, covenants, faith, strategies, and the chaos of war, opens doors for us to discover anew how to use the Book of Mormon in our daily lives.

Available at

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review: Garden of Enid, Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, part two, by Scott Hales

Book Review: Garden of Enid, Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, part two, by Scott Hales.

About six or seven years ago, the LDS Church did a survey of non-members, asking them their thoughts on the Mormon Church.  The responses included that we were very family oriented, honest, hard-working, and …. weird. Yes, weird.

In a Happy Valley world full of Molly Mormons and Bobby BYUs, traditional families, and a LDS chapel on every street corner,  Scott Hales brings us into a universe of stark contrasts.While many Mormons seek to be less weird in the eyes of the world, Hales creates a character that embraces weird. Her own kind of weird.  Enid is a teenager who has never met her father, lives with a severely depressed and sickly mother, and struggles with the messiness of her new-found religion.

The first volume (Part One) took Enid through her first experience with Especially For Youth (EFY) and the beginnings of a testimony. Part Two takes her through her 16th birthday and a search to find her roots. Scott Hales earned an award from the Association for Mormon Letters (AML) for Garden of Enid, part one.

For Enid, finding herself means making sense of the things going on around her. Why is her mother bed ridden and continually depressed?  Who was her father and wy did he leave before she was even born? Why does her seminary teacher continually quote Bruce R. McConkie?

How does Hales understand the teenage mind, particularly that of a teenage girl?  When I was young, I asked my grandfather how old one had to be to understand women. He answered that he didn’t know, as he hadn’t reached that age yet. Hales has somehow reached that age to understand women, as his stories reach into the souls of Enid and her mother. These are not cut out two-dimensional characters. They are as real as you and me. I was ROTFL at Enid’s snarky humor (sarcasm is best served up cold and in generous quantities), but also felt deeply her great losses along the way.

In dealing with literature and history, Enid invites authors and dead prophets into her world. Talking with Joseph Smith, an angel named Eugene, Bigfoot (of David W. Patten fame), Juanita Brooks and Charlie Brown, Enid attempts to make sense of LDS history with all of its pros and cons, strengths and skeletons.

I especially loved Enid’s t-shirts. Many stories include little phrases tied to Mormonism: “Radio Free Zarahemla”, “Eight Cows Seriously?”, and “Mormon Misfit.”  Several blogs are also mentioned on Enid’s shirts: “BCC”, “Times and Seasons”, etc.

This graphic novel is a great one for parents to share with their teenagers. Some of the themes will be beyond what smaller children can understand. However, for parents and teens the stories open the door for discussions on life’s trials, doubt and faith, relationships, and going through tough times with the help of friends and a great bishop.

I highly recommend this book. I would go so far as to say I super duper highly recommend this book, if Scott Hales will only put M-Star on one of Enid’s t-shirts in Part Three.

Available February 14, 2017 – a perfect Valentine’s Day gift for your misfit sweetheart!
Greg Kofford Books

Book Review: The Power of Godliness - Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology, by Jonathan Stapley

Book Review: The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology, by Jonathan Stapley

Over the last few decades, we’ve seen members and non-members  with LDS priesthood issues: blacks and priesthood, women and priesthood, gays and marriage are some of the most recent issues. Often, we couch our reasonings (from all sides of the discussion) from our current understanding of LDS doctrine and priesthood teachings.

One thing we learn from some of the discussion is that our understanding of priesthood and power are not static. In Joseph Smith’s time, priesthood developed from being authority to baptize given by John the Baptist, to establishing high priests, apostles, patriarch, seventies, and separating the priesthood into Aaronic and Melchizedek.

Stapley takes it beyond our basic understanding of priesthood development and gives us the foundation and much of the development of priesthood and its various powers since God and Christ appeared to a young boy in 1820.

The Power of Godliness  is divided into a generous introduction and the following chapter concepts: Priesthood Ordinations, Sealings, Baby Blessings, Healings (Authority and Ordinances), and Folk Lore Tradition/Magic versus LDS Priesthood Authority.

We’re often taught in Sunday School classes a pat history of the Restoration and Priesthood Authority. Much of that pat history was developed in the twentieth century by the Church Historian Joseph F. Smith as an attempt to make the early Church years not seem to strange. A Urim and Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon seemed more acceptable to 20th century scientific minds than seer stones, so Elder Smith insisted that Joseph did not use seer stones in translating the gold plates.  To remove the chaos out of the Restoration, Church history kept the skeletons in the closet.
With the advent of the Internet, suddenly all of the skeletons emerged, and the Church has realized the need to display those historic events in a better light. In the past few decades, some very positive scholarship has come forth on the early Church. Using the Joseph Smith Papers Project and other resources, Stapley helps to advance our understanding.

As noted, in the early Church, priesthood was a developing concept. Stapley explains that there are three key components to LDS priesthood: cosmological/temple, liturgical, and ecclesiastical. For Joseph Smith, priesthood was mostly about the cosmological/temple, bringing women and men into a heaven here on earth. Joseph sought to build Zion and temples, so the Saints could enjoy heaven now. With his death, however, and the move west, the liturgical and ecclesiastical arms of priesthood began to hold more sway. Stapley explains that a heaven now, was replaced with a vision of a future of heaven. This required re-envisioning priesthood and its use. In Joseph Smith’s day, priesthood was A power, along with faith. Over the next century and a half, priesthood would become THE power to do all things that would later fall under the priesthood umbrella.

Under this context, Stapley is able to explain healings women performed in the first century of the Church, noting that Zina D. H. Young, General Relief Society President, was performing healings in 1895. Back then, healings were done in Jesus’ name, not by the power of the priesthood. This was not liturgical or ecclesiastical priesthood power Zina was using, but the cosmological power given to the endowed in the temple. In fact, we learn that anointing with oil began with the Kirtland Temple’s ordinances of washing and anointing. Endowed sisters were called to serve in the early temples to heal the sick and afflicted with consecrated oil. Interestingly, some ailing members would drink consecrated oil as a medical remedy.

However, over time, healings were moved from the area of faith healings and temple priesthood power, to general priesthood authority. With such changes, the authority required to perform healings also changed. In our modern discussion of giving women priesthood, suddenly the demand for priesthood because early LDS women were “ordained” and did healings becomes a different discussion altogether.

Other issues, such as grave dedications and baby blessings also evolved into priesthood ordinances, as well. While not mentioned in the book (probably due to the time required to get a book published), the recent change in temple baptisms being performed now by priests, fits nicely into the discussion of baptism and the temple ordinances in the book.

Sealings are explained in context of Joseph Smith developing a royal dynasty, but also from the concern that ancestors may not be faithful and could break the divine lineage back to Adam. Only with Wilford Woodruff’s revelation on temple sealings in 1894, which Stapley suggests was more important to us than the 1890 Manifesto, were adoption sealings ended and family sealings (and genealogical research) instituted in the Church.

Stapley’s last chapter is the use of “cunning-folk traditions” or the use of magic, astrology, folk medicines, and seer stones among the general LDS population. He shows how at times some of these things were embraced or at least tolerated, but later fell out of favor as the Church entered into the 20th century, and away from the folk lore and magic powers commonly used by some traditional Christians in that era.

The Power of Godliness is one of the better books I’ve read over the last several years regarding the development of the gospel in the LDS Church. It is very respectful of Church authority (he does not mention Joseph Fielding Smith’s efforts as Church Historian to hide what the 20th century would view as embarrassing folk lore), but does not shy away from the facts. Seeing the evolution of priesthood authority from the beginning to our day today, gives a new and profound sense of what priesthood really is.  I know I will read General Conference talks on priesthood in this new light.

The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology, by Jonathan Stapley
Oxford University Press
Available on Amazon

Book Review: Perspectives on Mormon Theology - Apologetics

Book Review: Perspectives on Mormon Theology – Apologetics, edited by Blair G. Van Dyke and Loyd Isao Ericson, Greg Kofford Books

I am an apologist. Ever since joining the LDS Church at the age of 16, I’ve spent countless hours explaining, sharing and defending the gospel of Jesus Christ. After my mission, I used to weekly go to the Salt Lake Temple, where I would spend an hour talking gospel with the anti-Mormon protester that handed out pamphlets outside the Temple Square walls. Nibley’s works were amazing to me. I was a list member on William Hamblin’s Ant-Mormon email list 25 years ago. I am a former member of FAIRMormon, written articles for the More Good Foundation, spent many hours on LDS.Net, have several articles on my own webpage, gave a lecture on the Book off Mormon as an Ascension Text at Sunstone Kirtland, blogged on the Gospel Doctrine lessons at my own blog, and a permablogger here at Millennial Star.

That said, I went into this discussion on apologetics with an open mind, eager to see what several LDS scholars thought. The book is a series of essays on apologetics:
  • Critical Foundations of Mormon Apologetics – Blair G. Van Dyke
  • A Brief Defense of Apologetics – Daniel C. Peterson
  • Boundary Maintenance that Pushes the Boundaries: Scriptural and Theological Insights from Apologetics – Neal Rappleye
  • I Think, Therefore I Defend – Michael R. Ash
  • A Wall Between Church and Academy – Benjamin E. Park
  • Mormon Apologetics and Mormon Studies: Truth, History, and Love – Ralph C. Hancock
  • The Intellectual Cultures of Mormonism: Faith, Reason and the Apologetic Enterprise – Brian D. Birch
  • The Role of Women in Apologetics – Juliann Reynolds
  • Avoiding Collateral Damage: Creating a Woman-Friendly Mormon Apologetics – Julie M. Smith
  • “The Perfect Union of Man and Woman”: Reclamation and Collaboration in Joseph Smith’s Theology Making – Fiona Givens
  • Lamanites, Apologetics and Tensions in Mormon Anthropology – David Knowlton
  • Conceptually Confusion and the Building of Stumbling Blocks of Faith – Loyd Isao Ericson
  • Shifting Intellectual and Religious Paradigms: One Apologist’s Journey into Critical Study – David Bokovoy
  • Toward a New Vision of Apologetics – Joseph M. Spencer
  • Apologetics as Theological Praxis – Seth Payne
The articles discuss several important topics in regards to apologetics and LDS scholarship. The discussions focus primarily on the importance of apologetics, its pros and cons, and whether we should be doing apologetics. The articles include the issues of women in apologetics, whether we should instead focus on Mormon scholarly studies, the differences between good and bad apologetics, boundary maintenance, and where we should go in the future.

Van Dyke introduces us a brief history of apologetics in the Church. There was a time when scholarship under people like Eugene England was fresh and exciting. Unfortunately, there were some who were not eager to allow a free-for-all cause damage to the Church. For some, it was better to keep skeletons in the closet, and insist there was no closet. However, with the advent of the Internet, the skeletons burst out of the closet. Some still tried to protect the closet, even though it was essentially empty. This allowed for critics of the Church to get the upper hand for a time. However, over the past decade, there has been a new openness, which the Church is still grappling with. Van Dyke noted that there are still some issues, such as same-sex marriage, where the Church and many apologists are still slow to acknowledge that “research indicates that the children of lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from the children of heterosexual parents in their development, adjustment or overall well-being.”  He concludes by suggesting we may have to go forward with an “unpretentious openness to contemplate all possibilities – including the outside chance that maybe, just maybe, you might be wrong!”.

There are negative and positive forms of apologetics: Negative forms defend against the criticisms of critics, while positive forms add evidences that may increase one’s reasons to believe.
Peterson, Rappleye, and Ash explain the importance of apologetic work.

Peterson quotes the scriptures, as well as C.S Lewis on the importance of defending the faith. There are some scholars, who do not believe we should engage in apologetics of any kind, to which Peterson responds, “They seem to do so on the basis of something resembling fideism, the view that faith is independent of reason, and even that reason and faith are incompatible with each other.”
Rappleye gives examples where apologetics and scholarly research have expanded the boundaries of our knowledge. Prior to such work, for example, members believed in the hemispheric model of the Book of Mormon – where the Jaredites were in North America, Nephites in South America, and the narrow neck of land was in modern Panama. However, research shows that the Book of Mormon clearly defines a narrower view, covering perhaps 250 square miles, and hinting in several places that peoples were already here when Lehi showed up.

From Ash and Rappleye, we learn there are good and bad apologetics. Bad apologetics must be recognized and corrected as quickly as possible. This means many of our faith boundaries must be flexible enough to allow us to change and adapt certain views, while still maintaining our core beliefs. As a personal example, I recall sitting at a bus stop in the Altiplano (highlands) of the Bolivian Andes almost 40 years ago, and explaining to a new convert that the mountains we saw in front of us were created by the great earthquakes and destructions at Christ’s death 2000 years before. I now look back and realize just how important apologetics are for me, today. Without the scholarly work that moved the boundaries of faith to a solid foundation in science, I would definitely have met with a faith crisis on this and many other issues.

Ash notes that at one point, FairMormon had a message board (now, which was often very contentious. “Not long after its inception, however, FairMormon distanced itself from the contentious message boards and focused on educational apologetics.”  It focused, for example, on developing a Wiki that gives scholarly explanations to the standard questions and issues brought up by critics of the Church.

Several of the articles slightly reference the big division that occurred just a few years ago, in apologetics and Mormon Studies. The head of the Maxwell Institute (formerly FARMS), argued with Daniel C. Peterson and others over the future of the Institute. Key to this discussion was whether defense of the gospel should continue as previously done, or whether it should go full steam ahead into Mormon Studies, bringing a new respect and dialogue with non-LDS scholars. While on vacation, Peterson received an email stating he, along with several colleagues, had been fired from the Institute. It took a few years for the Maxwell Institute to reestablish its publications and develop new on-line projects. However, as soon as Peterson returned from vacation, he organized a new on-line presence, the Mormon Interpreter, which has published an article every week for the last many years – much of it focused on apologetics.

This division gathered LDS scholars into two divided groups. With time, harsh feelings have abated somewhat, although there are still embers glowing that some still attempt to fan into a flame, attacking other LDS scholars’ methods and efforts.

The articles on women in apologetics are a hidden treasure in this volume. I’m rather conservative on some gospel issues, but the articles by Reynolds, Smith and Givens were thought provoking and clearly show us that we need to rethink some of our boundaries. One of the key points brought out is we need to not confuse policy with doctrine. Discussing the priesthood ban as an example, it was noted that while the ban may have been established by the Lord, the reasons for the ban created a hostile environment for many of our members.

Reynolds notes co-founding FairMormon back in 1997 against the attacks of anti-Mormons on AOL, “there were a few notable exceptions, but the average countercultist armed only with biblical proof texts and out-of-context quotes could not respond in kind to scholarship or successfully defend their own beliefs when held to the same standard of scrutiny.” Women only make up about 21% of LDS apologists online. But their efforts grow with new ways for women to make a difference. Mormon Women Stand, various women’s blogs, and I would definitely include the wonderful sister bloggers here at Millennial Star, make a big difference in how the world views Mormons.

Reynold’s article reminded me of a dear deceased friend of mine, Renee Olson. She was an African-American anti-Mormon, who through her studies and discussions with LDS apologists, ended up converting to the Church. She became a key member of FairMormon until her death.

In discussing policy versus doctrine boundaries, Julie Smith notes that we often defend the indefensible. This is often true with women’s issues in regards to the priesthood, leadership, etc. She notes, “…Mormon theology is a tapestry woven of paradoxical strands, which means an apologetics  which privileges certain threads will not do it justice.” She gives as an example that a -study on polygamy should not only focus on the happy wives, nor only the unhappy ones. Perhaps her best example of how LDS often deal with women’s issues is from a quote from Andrea Radke-Moss, sharing the views she’s heard:
“Women don’t have the Priesthood. Women have always had the Priesthood. Women have the Priesthood in the Temple. Women have the Priesthood through their husbands. Women will never have the Priesthood. Women don’t have the Priesthood because they are spiritually inferior to men. Women don’t have the Priesthood because they are spiritually superior to men. Women will have the Priesthood in the next life. Women don’t have the Priesthood because they have motherhood. Not all women are mothers (literally). All women are mothers (symbolically)….”
And this is only half the quote. We do no one favors by quoting policy as revelation, because policy changes, and the reasons men give for God’s revelations and commands are always inadequate.
Givens shares the concept of Heavenly Mother from its earliest beginnings in the First Temple and before, to how Joseph Smith restored the concept. She reasons out how the Holy Ghost is the divine feminine, or Mother in Heaven. I’m not fully convinced by her examples that the divine goddess is the Holy Ghost, as it leaves unexplained issues of Father and Son having physical bodies, but not the Holy Ghost. Do we not believe Heavenly Mother to be a resurrected being? Instead, I see the Godhead as being more than just Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I believe it also includes their eternal partners. That said, Givens does give us much reason to search out all we can about our Heavenly Mother and her roles as Wisdom and co-Creator with God.

Of all the articles, perhaps the weakest argument is Bokovoy’s discussion against apologetics. He explains that he once was an apologist, but sees from his Bible studies that scripture is both divine and human. Being divine, it is inspired. Being written by frail mortals, it is bound to have mistakes and errors. I think we all agree that the scriptures are true to the level they are translated correctly. However, that does not help a person rebuild a testimony, by telling them we must only have faith, that no amount of scholarship with restore us from a shaken faith. As I noted with my friend Renee Olson, without apologists, she would have remained an anti-Mormon. Even in traditional realms, fundamentalist Christians that insist on a 6000 year old earth and dinosaurs dying in the Flood, would not be swayed by a fideist statement. Changing hearts often begins by changing minds, which cannot easily happen without using reason.

The last articles discuss future direction for apologetics. Spencer questions the questions we are attempting to answer. He suggests there are better ways, by using a greater context for our answers. Is an issue worth answering? If yes, then how can we best use it, not just to defend a single point, but to bring the greater gospel into the matter.

My view? We need to defend the Church. However, bad apologetics is worse than no apologetics at all. We need to do great scholarship. There is room aplenty for Mormon Studies AND apologetics, even if done in different forums. I know my efforts have helped several people with shaken faith to be restored to full belief in the LDS Church, and I know there is definitely room for such. As Daniel Peterson noted,
The word may be offputting, but I contend that apologetics is an essential part of Christian discipleship. Moreover, I insist, we all engage in it. Even those who argue against apologetics are arguing for their own vision of what discipleship ought to be.
The question isn’t whether we’ll do apologetics, but how we’ll do it. Will we be honest? Competent? Civil? Will be be effective or not?
This was a great series of articles that will expand our understanding of what it is to defend the Church, and the various ways to do so. Current and future issues must be explored and boundaries maintained. Greg Kofford Books hits another home run with this volume.

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