Category: From the Desk Co-posts

The Book of Abraham Book

I once had a teacher who loved to say that: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”  To some degree, this is not infrequently the case when it comes to studying issues in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Let’s Talk About the Book of Abraham is an easy-to-read summary of the important scripture text from the Pearl of Great Price. Egyptologist Kerry Muhlestein recently discussed the book with Kurt Manwaring.  What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with quotes and some discussion), but feel free to read the full interview here. There are a lot of interesting questions to ask about the Book of Abraham, its origin, and nature.  For example, one question is whether or not the text of the Book of Abraham is directly based on the text that was on the papyrus or not.  Muhlestein shared his view that ultimately: We cannot tell for sure. There is some evidence that it was. Joseph Smith certainly spoke of it that way, and that is pretty weighty evidence. Further, the more I research the life and interests of the priest who owned the papyrus fragment which contains the original of Facsimile One, the more I become convinced that this priest would have been very interested in the text of the Book of Abraham. That is circumstantial evidence that the text of the Book of…

Of Brigham and Bridger

Jim Bridger and Brigham Young are two very important people in the Euro-American colonization of the American west. Their relationship with each other, however, was complicated. Kurt Manwaring recently discussed that relationship with Jerry Enzler in connection with Enzler’s biography, Jim Bridger: Trailblazer of the American West. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with quotes and some commentary), but feel free to hop on over to the full interview here. Young and Bridger only met on one occasion–June 28, 1847, as the vanguard company of Latter-day Saints settlers made their way west. Bridger was an experienced trapper and frontiersman that the Saints consulted for information about the areas they were considering settling. As Enzler summarized: Jim Bridger gave them a lengthy description of the lands ahead as well as his recent trip to California. Young and other members of the Church had been studying Frémont maps and journals, and Bridger pointed out that Frémont was in error when he depicted Great Salt Lake connected to Utah Lake as one continuous body. Several Latter-day Saints recorded Jim Bridger’s extensive description of the Great Basin and surrounding area. Bridger told them that the Indians south of Utah Lake grow corn, wheat, and other grains in abundance. One common story from this meeting is that Bridger was quite negative about the prospects of settling along the Wasatch Front in what is now Utah, going as far…

Open Questions in Latter-day Saint Doctrine

Recently, Kurt Manwaring let me know that there was an issue of BYU Studies that had recently come out that I feel like will be a very impactful issue moving forwards.  The issue–also published as a book entitled Yet to be Revealed–focuses on unanswered questions in Latter-day Saint theology and brings an impressive array of big names in the Latter-day Saint studies field as authors of the discussions.  It covers topics like defining doctrine, how did Satan seek to destroy the agency of humankind?, How does God progress?, Was Jesus married?, the foreknowledge of God, and much more.  More recently, however, Kurt Manwaring discussed the volume with Eric Eliason (one of the two editors for the issue) for a 10 Questions interview.  What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion from the interview), but, as always, feel free to read the full interview here. When asked, Eliason explained the background of the volume as follows: Back in the early 1990s, I read in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism (which passed through rigorous scrutiny from Church headquarters) that the Restoration tradition had two main schools of thought on the nature of God’s progress. Even though there had been strongly expressed views on both sides, neither point of view had been promulgated as official doctrine; and neither had been officially declared anathema. This was a new perspective to me! Before then, my young brain was pretty…

Translating the Kinderhook Plates

The Kinderhook plates provide an interesting incident in Church History that provide an interesting test case for how Joseph Smith approached translation.  What are these plates?  What can we learn about Joseph Smith from the incident?  Well, Mark Ashurst-McGee and Don Bradley recently sat down with Kurt Manwaring for an interview to discuss what they found during their scholarly analysis of the Kinderhook Plates story.  What follows here is a co-post, a shorter post with some quotes and discussion, but feel free to hop on over to full interview here. They explained the story of the Kinderhook plates as follows: Mark Ashurst-McGee: It was in early 1843 that Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of Mormon Christianity, translated a portion of the Kinderhook plates. These six small plates of brass—each covered on both sides with mysterious inscriptions—have become known as the “Kinderhook plates” because they were extracted from an Indian burial mound near the small village of Kinderhook in western Illinois. Kinderhook was about seventy miles downriver from Nauvoo, then the center of gathering for the Latter-day Saints. Over the years since the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, Joseph Smith had become widely known for his claim to have been led by a heavenly messenger to an ancient record inscribed on a set of gold plates, buried in a hill in western New York, and to have translated the record by means of a spiritual gift from God. Given…

Peace and Zion

For me, one of the most beautiful concepts in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the idea of Zion. Yet, to achieve that ideal, we are going to have to think and act radically differently than we are accustomed to thinking and acting. In a recent interview with Kurt Manwaring, Patrick Mason and David Pulsipher discuss their book, “Proclaim Peace: The Restoration’s Answer to an Age of Conflict” and some of what that book covers to help Latter-day Saints think about proclaiming peace to work towards Zion. What follows here is a co-post (a shorter post with excerpts and discussion), but feel free to hop on over to read the full interview here. Mason and Pulsipher explained the purpose of the book as follows: In a world increasingly filled with contention and violence, most Latter-day Saints don’t realize that our Restoration scriptures contain rich resources for transforming conflict and achieving peace…. More than anything, we hope to initiate a conversation among our fellow Latter-day Saints about principles of peace. But we also believe the Restoration has something important to contribute to a larger conversation that has been going on among other faith traditions, including other Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. We’ve benefited from their remarkable insights, and so we’ve tried to offer unique insights from the Restoration in return. When asked what those insights are,  they responded: Too many to enumerate here (thus a book-length treatment was necessary).…

Brian and Laura Hales on Polygamy

‘Tis the season … to talk about polygamy, apparently.  Kurt Manwaring recently sat down with Brian and Laura Hales for a question and answer session about polygamy.  They have spent decades researching and writing about plural marriage (past and present), approaching the subject as faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It’s a very interesting interview to read through, so I recommend hopping on over to read it here.  What follows on this page is a co-post to the one over at Kurt Manwaring’s site, with excerpts and some discussion on the subject. One topic they discussed early on was the “Latter-day Saint Perspectives” podcast that they run.  Laura discussed the origin of the podcast, stating that: The idea for the podcast arose from a conversation I had with a Swedish member of the Church. In 2016, Brian and I gave a presentation in Gottingen, Sweden, on Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. After the conference, an attendee approached me about the need for better resources on Church history for members living outside the United States. At the time, these members only had easy access to information that presented polar views. My new friend reinforced the point that struggling members lose trust in resources produced by the institutional Church, only leaving antagonistic sources as a place to reach out for answers to their questions about Church history and doctrine. More books were not the solution because of…

An Interview with Reverend Dr. Andrew Teal

Have you ever met anyone who, through their example and experiences, leads you to seek deeper for God and Christ in your own life?  Reverend Dr. Andrew Teal (a chaplain, fellow, and lecturer in theology at Pembroke College, Oxford University) is one of those types of people.  Recently, he has been a visiting resident scholar with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU to focus on writing a book about Joseph Smith, and sat down with Kurt Manwaring for an interview about his experiences and life.  For the full interview, follow the link here.  What follows on this page is a co-post (a shorter piece with excerpts and some discussion). One of the early questions Kurt asked was about when Rev. Dr. Teal realized that “his life’s work was going to be centered on teaching about Christ.”  The response was that: I lived with my grandparents as parents divorced at an early age, and they gave stability and direction for which I am really grateful. When I was 13, my grandmother died, and I found to my surprise that everyone at school was suddenly kinder. I wondered why it was that it took someone’s death to make us more human. We were reading Mark’s Gospel at the time, and suddenly the drama and power of the death of the Son of God made immediate and relevant sense. I was confirmed and from that point knew that Charles…

Brittany Chapman Nash on Polygamy

We’re coming up on one of the most dreaded lessons of the Sunday School cycle—no, not reviewing the law of chastity with teenagers, the lesson that includes D&C 132 (the revelation on plural marriage).  Polygamy is a topic in the Church that is uncomfortable, troubling and, at times, painful to discuss.  Recently, however, the Church published a short book by Brittany Chapman Nash called Let’s Talk About Polygamy that I would recommend to read for anyone who wants to better understand our history with plural marriage (for a longer review of the book I put up a couple months ago, click here).  In addition, Brittany Chapman Nash sat down with Kurt Manwaring for an interview about the book.  For those interested in the full interview, it is available here.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview at Manwaring’s site—a shorter post with excerpts and some commentary. At one point in the interview, Brittany Chapman Nash discussed her feelings as she researched polygamy.  It was connected with her master’s thesis research project, and she: was initially confused and disturbed as I began navigating this foreign view of Church history that did not fit the tidy paradigm I had curated from Sunday School and Institute classes. History was messy! It didn’t make sense! I wasn’t ready to accept that the Church was built by people, not two-dimensional superheroes…. I think I experienced the whole “five stages of grief” as I explored…

Terryl Givens on Eugene England

In general, the people who are in a position to be most influential in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been official Church leaders.  That’s not always the case, however, since there are a number of members of the Church who have proven influential and important in different ways—Truman Madsen, Hugh Nibley, Leonard Arrington, and Eugene England to name a few.  Among these, England was a notable figure in the rise of Mormon Studies due to his role in founding Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, founding The Association for Mormon Letters, participating in founding the first official university Mormon studies program, and for his many essays exploring Latter-day Saint culture, belief, and life.  At times, however, his efforts proved controversial and brought the ire of Church leaders.  Terryl Givens recently discussed the life and legacy of Eugene England with Kurt Manwaring in an interview about his new biography, “Stretching the Heavens: The Life of Eugene England and the Crisis of Modern Mormonism” (University of North Carolina Press, 2021).  What follows here is a co-post to the full interview, with excerpts and some discussion.  For those who want to read the full interview, follow the link here. Eugene England is shown as a flawed figure by Givens, functioning both as a “unrealized ideal” and a “cautionary tale”.  As stated in the interview: Many thousands of Latter-day Saints—and Christians generally—struggle with the tensions between personal discipleship and institutional…

Archeology, Ceramics, and the Smith Family in Tunbridge

In addition to written records, people leave behind traces of their material lives that can tell us much about who they were.  In a recent interview with Kurt Manwaring, Mark Staker (a Master Curator for the Church History Department’s Historic Sites Division) discussed some of the research he has been doing on the place Joseph Smith’s parents lived early in their marriage (which he also discussed in the recently-published Joseph and Lucy Smith’s Tunbridge Farm: An Archaology and Landscape Study [John Whitmer Historical Association, 2021]).  What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion), but if you want to read the full interview, it is available here. Mark Staker explained a bit about the importance of material history.  As stated in the interview: I’ve long been drawn to looking at material aspects of history. Unlike people’s recollections, their journals, or other aspects of history filtered through individuals, material culture is not subject to the failures of memory, a desire to make oneself look good, or any other political, religious, or interpretive agenda. People did not plan carefully on what kind of data they would leave in their privy. I’m reminded of a dermatologist who presented in one of my medical anthropology classes who said he liked treating the skin because you could see the evidence in front of you. The things we leave behind tell stories about how we lived that are important…

Historical Mindset for Mormons, 101

While studying in a scientific field, two major ideas were drilled into me that have been fairly helpful in interpreting history.  First is the belief that nothing can ever truly be proved, only that things can be disproved.  If something goes a long time without being disproved, then it is likely (though not certainly) to be an accurate understanding of how something works.  Second is the idea of backing things up with data.  For biological studies, those data often looks like measured levels of chemicals in a sample or cell counts, but in history, data is mostly based around finding evaluating sources.  Keith Erekson, director of the Church History Library, recently published a primer on how to approach stories from Latter-day Saint History with the historical method as Real vs. Rumor: How to Dispel Latter-day Myths, and sat down with Kurt Manwaring for an interview to discuss some of the core concepts presented there.  What follows on this page is a co-post—a short post with excerpts and some discussion—but the full interview is available here. One of the key points that Erekson discussed was the danger of sharing church history stories before they’ve been examined.  As stated in the interview: I’ll start by saying that I don’t think inaccurate stories can be truly “faith-promoting.” But it depends on what you assume “faith” to be. If faith is just some gooey abstract thing, then, sure you might try to promote it…

Joseph F. Merrill—Science, Religion, and Innovation

Joseph F. Merrill is an apostle who has largely been forgotten but who, nevertheless, left a major impact on the Church that remains a part of its DNA to this day.  Kurt Manwaring recently sat down for an interview with Merrill’s biographer, Casey Griffiths, to discuss his life and impact.  It’s an interesting discussion and can be viewed in full here.  What follows below is a co-post, a shorter discussion with excerpts from the full interview.  Before Kurt shared the interview with me, I was only dimly aware of Merrill’s impact, mostly encountering him as the mission president of Gordon B. Hinckley or one of the scientist-apostles that Joseph Fielding Smith outlived before publishing Man, His Origin and Destiny.  Reading the interview was a good opportunity to learn more about his impact in developing seminary, institutes, and religious education at Church universities. In the interview Casey Griffiths explained some about why Joseph Merrill isn’t well-known by Church members today, especially compared to contemporaries like James E. Talmage, B. H. Roberts, John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Fielding Smith, etc. He is not well known in the Church today for several reasons. Probably most prominent is that he didn’t leave behind a lot of public writings. Well known leaders from that time (who weren’t Church presidents) usually left behind a lot of literature. James E. Talmage, for instance, is remembered because he wrote Jesus the Christ, Articles of Faith, and other seminal works. Joseph…

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign has been an area of interest for several years now (particularly since the release of the Council of Fifty minutes), and Spencer W. McBride’s recently-published Joseph Smith for President: The Prophet, the Assassins, and the Fight for American Religious Freedom (Oxford University Press, 2021) is the latest in scholarship to be published on the subject.  McBride recently sat down with Kurt Manwaring for an interview where he offered some of his insights.  What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a short version with excerpts and some discussion), but the original interview can be found here for your reading pleasure. When asked what catalyzed writing the book, McBride talked about his work with the Joseph Smith Papers Project.  He noted that: “I do not think that it was in Joseph Smith’s nature to be a political person. What these documents made clear is that circumstances and a desperation to protect the civil rights of Latter-day Saints forced him to engage in politics, and that engagement culminated in his presidential run.”  He found the story of how that happened fascinating and “felt that the story of Smith’s campaign illuminates the plight of religious minorities in United States history and stands as a critique to celebratory narratives of American religious freedom.”  This book gave him a chance to explore both aspects. In the interview, Spencer McBride explored some of the circumstances that led Smith to desperation about…

A Whole Lot of Hugh Nibley

Some years ago, I attended a course on the Pearl of Great Price at the Logan Institute that could have just as easily been entitled “Teachings of Hugh Nibley.”  The teacher was well-versed in Nibley’s writings and frequently used them in discussing both the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham.  And, frankly, it made the class quite interesting to attend because of the insights the teacher shared from his reading of Hugh Nibley’s works.  In part because of the things that Nibley wrote, he has garnered attention as a widely-known figure of the 20th century in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In a recent interview with Jeff Bradshaw of the Interpreter Foundation, Kurt Manwaring discussed the new volume Hugh Nibley Observed, which “contains more than 800 pages about the life of Latter-day Saint Scholar Hugh Nibley, including contributions from Dallin H. Oaks, Richard Bushman, and Truman G. Madsen.”  In the discussion at Kurt Manwaring’s site, they went over a variety of topics, including who Hugh Nibley was, the impact of his work on various Latter-day Saints, and some discussion of what the Interpreter Foundation is currently working on.  What follows here is a co-post, with a few excerpts and some discussion, but for the original post, follow the link here. Hugh Nibley was an influential professor at BYU and a noted apologist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  As stated in the…

Saint, Senator, and Scoundrel

“The lack of any biography of Frank Cannon seemed a glaring gap in [Utah] annals. It was high time to tell his story.”  Val Holley recently stated this during an interview with Kurt Manwaring where they discussed Frank Cannon and Holley’s recently-published biography, Frank J. Cannon: Saint, Senator, Scoundrel (University of Utah Press, 2021).  What follows here is a co-post to that interview, with quotes and some commentary.  Feel free to read the full interview here. In summarizing Frank Cannon’s accomplishments, Holley stated that: Frank Cannon was Utah’s first U.S. senator after it became a state in 1896. During the 50 years he lived in Utah, he was also (in chronological order) founder and editor of the Ogden Standard, territorial delegate to Congress, state Democratic Party chairman, editor of Ogden’s Daily Utah State Journal, and editor of the Salt Lake Tribune. He was one of many sons of George Q. Cannon, who had five wives. Frank’s mother was the second wife, Sarah Jane Jenne. Most frequently in the Church, however, Frank Cannon is known for his “sustained attacks on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ recidivism in polygamy and alliances with trusts and corporations,” which “discomforted many Utahns, not only in the early 20th century but in the present day.” Frank Cannon’s relationship with the Church was a very complicated one.  He had, what Holley called, “youthful periods of sustained drunkenness and debauchery,” during which his father, “George Q.…

The American Apocalypse

The end of the world is a pretty dramatic scene.  Perhaps it is because of that drama that the idea has captured the imagination of human beings for thousands of years and continues to do so today.  It is not an uncommon topic of conversation among Latter-day Saints that I have known, including the occasional discussion of dreams or visions about the End Times.  These types of discussions interested Christopher Blythe, who has “always had a deep interest in apocalypticism” and felt that “much of the scholarship on Latter-day Saint last days beliefs seem to focus on official doctrine rather than the conversations occurring among lay Latter-day Saints.”  His recently-published book Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse (Oxford University Press, 2020) focuses on “how lay Latter-day Saint beliefs intersect with the official doctrine of the faith” by examining the full span of apocalypticism among Latter-day Saints in the nineteenth century.  He recently had an interview with Kurt Manwaring to discuss his research and book.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a short discussion with quotes from the interview), but the full interview is available here. As Blythe put it, an apocalypse is “literally an unveiling—a revelation. It’s also a genre of scriptural literature, which is best represented in the Bible with the Book of Revelation. … In popular usage, the apocalypse is the end of the world.”  The genre of literature is, first and foremost, “the…

“It is given to some to speak with tongues”

I served my mission in the Midwestern United States, and we had a decent amount of contact with groups, such as the Pentecostals, who were enthusiastic about charismatic gifts of the Spirit.  I remember on one occasion, that a missionary serving in the same district approached me about an investigator they she been working with who believed that speaking in tongues (in the sense of spouting out what sounded like gibberish while under the power of the Holy Spirit) was a very important part of Christianity and a sign that God was involved in a Church.  The missionary, on the other hand (as I remember) wanted to know the best way to explain that the gift of tongues was about speaking in other languages with the help of the Spirit and that the way the investigator understood the gift of tongues was entirely unnecessary.  I referred her to the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, which has a chapter that discusses the subject, as a way of saying that both ways of understanding the gift of tongues are legitimate and acceptable in our Church’s doctrine and history, but that there are some cautions associated with the gift that need to be kept in mind. The two ways of understanding the gift of tongues do have technical terms associated with understanding two charismatic phenomena.  Glossolalia is the term for the type of speaking in tongues the Pentecostal investigator…

Daniel Becerra on 3rd and 4th Nephi

Within the Book of Mormon, 3rd and 4th Nephi are arguably some of the most important portions of the book, with their focus on the in-person ministry of Jesus Christ among the children of Lehi and what followed because of that ministry.  Daniel Becerra, author of the book 3rd, 4th Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction, recently sat down with Kurt Manwaring to share some of his insights from the process of writing his theological introduction to the books.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview, with excerpts and some discussion, but if you want to read the full interview, you can head on over to Kurt Manwaring’s site here. Daniel Becerra is a scholar of early Christianity who is an assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU.  As he explained in the interview, his background played an important role in how he approached the Book of Mormon: “My training is in early Christian literature and my research focuses on moral formation, so I am very interested in how Christians understand perfection as well as in how they conform themselves to this ideal. I think the shape of my volume reflects this.”  He added: I … tried to situate the teachings of 3–4 Nephi within the larger tradition of Christian theological thought. I was pleasantly surprised at how much more I was able to get out the Book of Mormon when I started reading it in conversation with other…

Know Brother Joseph

What did Joseph Smith think?  What was he like as a person?  Questions like these are interesting to think about and are important considerations when you’re a part of a religion that draws so heavily on one person’s writings and ministry for its foundation.  In a recent interview with Kurt Manwaring, R. Eric Smith, Matthew C. Godfrey, and Matthew J. Grow discussed some of their insights into Joseph Smith’s mind and life gained through both their work with the Joseph Smith Papers Project and in editing the recently-published Know Brother Joseph: New Perspectives on Joseph Smith’s Life and Character (Deseret Book, 2021).  What follows here is a co-post (a brief post with quotes and some thoughts), but I encourage folks to read the full interview as well (available here). One of the questions that Kurt asked was about whether Joseph Smith was familiar with feelings of loneliness.  Matt Godfrey answered as follows: In a certain sense, yes. He was a gregarious person who never lacked friends, but being the prophet and leader of the Church, I think he had moments where he felt like most people couldn’t understand what it was like to be him. I think that’s where his statement “No man knows my history” was coming from. He also had moments where it felt like God wasn’t speaking to him—such as in Liberty Jail—which created a sense of loneliness in him. I think many of us have had times…

Richard Turley on Dallin H. Oaks

Recently, President Dallin H. Oaks’s biographer, Richard E. Turley, Jr. sat down with Kurt Manwaring to discuss the recently-published book In the Hands of the Lord: The Life of Dallin H. Oaks.  What follows here is a co-post to the one at Kurt Manwaring’s site, with quotes from and discussion about the full interview, which can be read here. As part of the discussion, Richard Turley discussed some of the documents he had available to him to draw upon in writing about President Oaks.  He stated that: He is one of the most documented Church leaders in history. I used his personal history, his journals, his correspondence, his talks, and a host of other materials ranging from newspaper articles to photographs. I would characterize his journals as being among the best ever kept by a Church leader. I would be curious to know more about President Oaks’s journals, especially given some of the things I’ve heard about general authorities being discouraged to keep journals.  It gives me hope that we will be able to have at least some journals and diaries of Church leaders from our time akin to those being published by the Church Historian’s Press or Signature Book from Church leaders in the past like George F. Richards, Emmaline B. Wells, George Q. Cannon, Brigham Young, Anthony Ivins, and so forth. Now, President Oaks is, admittedly, a controversial figure in the Church, but it sounds like the biography…