Author: Jonathan Green

Jonathan Green has been described as a scholar of German, master of trivia, and academic vagabond. He is an instructor of German in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages at the University of North Dakota. His books include Printing and Prophecy: Prognostication and Media Change, 1450– 1550 (2011), and The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess: Paths of Prophecy in Reformation Europe (2014).

Bill Shrives

For forty years, Bill Shrives was a train signal supervisor for Southern Pacific Railroad. Every day, the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people depended on his doing his job conscientiously and correctly. As with nearly everyone who plays an important part in keeping the economy humming, it is safe to say that nearly no one thought about Bill Shrives when their train sailed safely past the signals he inspected.

Relic area

Once when I was a missionary district leader, one call to my zone leader went particularly badly. I was trying to get permission for my district to take a hike in the woods, essentially. (The difference between a hike in the woods, and essentially a hike in the woods, was the sticking point

Religion class

I registered my two oldest children for school on Friday. The principal needed to know which church they belonged to so that he could assign them to the proper religion class. For a first and third grader attending public school in Bavaria, there is a class for Catholics, a class for Lutherans, or a course on ethics. Actually, we’re Mormons, I said, prepared to explain that I have only one wife and that we do use electricity.

Language and Belief

Linguistics, the study of language’s inner workings, is a source for concepts and technical vocabulary that are also useful for thinking about religion, because language and religion are both, among other things, mental constructs for making sense of the world around us. Each provides categories with which to organize the way we think about life: singulars and plurals, nouns and verbs, sinners and the saved.

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed

Up until about a year ago, if you had asked me why I had studied German, I would have said that I started in the ninth grade and just didn’t know when to stop. At BYU, my major in mechanical engineering lasted about 20 minutes into the first orientation meeting, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to study after that, but I didn’t worry too much about finding another major at the time. I thought I would figure out what I wanted to study on my mission.

I was a Benson Scholar

Towards the end of my time at BYU, a friend mentioned to me that he knew some Benson scholars (today we would say Hinckley scholars, or more generically, presidential scholars), and that they were all stuck up and full of themselves. I told him, to his surprise, that I too was a Benson scholar, which goes to show that I can deceive even friends into thinking I’m a down-to-earth, non-snooty person. The Presidential Scholarship is the most prestigious academic scholarship granted by BYU to incoming freshmen. When I was a senior in high school, I spent many hours researching, writing, and formatting the written application. In the spring of 1989, BYU flew me and 29 other male finalists to campus (and 30 women the next week) for three days of interviews and evaluations.

The Adjunct Life

Two years ago, I came within twenty-four hours of abandoning my academic career before it started. None of the applications I had sent out had gone anywhere, I had completed my degree, and my department had no money to keep me around. We packed up and got ready to drive out of town and out of academia, but we had to stay an extra day because our car was still in the shop. It had only taken so long to fix because the factory had shipped the wrong replacement part. The night before we finally left, the College of Charleston called. Thirty-six hours later, after a telephone interview, they offered me a position. But for months afterwards, I wasn’t sure if I actually had an academic career or not. I was teaching full time, publishing articles and presenting papers, but I always wondered if perhaps I should correct my students when they addressed me as “professor.” Ever since, one year has been the longest time that I can confidently predict that my employment will continue, and with it my career. I am an adjunct, arriving unannounced to teach what I know for a year or two, and then leaving just as unceremoniously.

Taking Aim at Mormon Folklore

There has been some recent discussion of faith-promoting stories and other Mormon folklore, including its complex relationship to factual history, the difficulty of finding an original source, and the tension that skepticism can incite. My question is: if you can prove that a faith-promoting story is false, should you tell anyone? Is there any need for a Mormon Mythbusters? This is not a hypothetical question.

Caspar Schwenckfeld: Mormon Hero of the Reformation

As much as we honor the Reformation in general, on closer inspection the individual Reformers have, from a Mormon perspective, some rough edges. Whether or not a given Reformation doctrine is closer to our views than traditional Catholic teaching had been seems about as predictable as a coin toss. One would hope that the Reformers would show tolerance for those of other faiths, but Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin all had their grumpy moments. Is there anyone that we can wholeheartedly embrace as our ideal Reformer? I nominate the Silesian nobleman Caspar Schwenckfeld (1489-1561).

Awaiting the Restoration in 1531

Who before 1830 was anticipating the Restoration? For many cases we like to cite, the evidence consists of quotes that have been in circulation for a century or more, and that often rest on a fairly shaky foundation. Musings of poets require much interpretation, and what deists expected was nothing like what Joseph Smith provided. Roger Williams is a more likely candidate, but the quote usually attributed to him is poorly sourced and possibly apocryphal. Are unambiguous statements and reliable bibliography too much to ask for? Like urban legends and fairy tales, apocryphal prophecies and other faith-promoting stories are useful witnesses of our hopes and fears, but accepting them uncritically lets us avoid the hard work of figuring out who really was anticipating something that we would recognize as our Restoration. That there were such people, at least as early as the sixteenth century, is incontrovertible.

Anabaptists II: Diverging Parallels

Despite the striking resemblance of the Mormon and Anabaptist experiences, significant differences remain. The Book of Mormon and the temple are the most obvious LDS elements without a precise Anabaptist parallel, but I’m more interested in how similar beginnings have not (yet) led to parallel outcomes.

Anabaptists on my Mind

Mormons are neither Catholic nor Protestant, we often hear, and I see no reason to doubt the basic truth of the statement. Is there any spectrum of Christian religions such that we can say, “Mormonism is one of the X churches”?