Category: Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith’s Uncanonized Revelations

I don’t think it’s a secret that I have an ongoing fascination with the Doctrine and Covenants. I am, after all, publishing a book about it this winter and (as my Mexican Mission Hymns project is coming to a close), I’m beginning work on an annotated edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. But that fascination extends beyond the Doctrine and Covenants to include other documents that are similar to those found within. Thus, I’m excited to note that BYU and Deseret Book recently published a new collection of Joseph Smith’s non-canonical revelations. And the authors recently shared some information about their work on Joseph Smith’s Uncanonized Revelations at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a copost to the full discussion.

The White Horse Prophecy

There are a few high-profile apocalyptic prophecies in Latter-day Saint history that have pretty shaky provenances. Perhaps foremost among them is the White Horse Prophecy. This complicated document was recently discussed at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full discussion.

The First Vision in Two Churches

The recently-published Restorations: Scholars in Dialogue from Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a fantastic glimpse into the similarities and differences between the two largest churches that emerged from the legacy of Joseph Smith, Jr. One of the highlights was a discussion between Keith J. Wilson and Lachlan E. Mackay about the First Vision. An interview over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk with Keith J. Wilson highlighted some of what they had to say on the topic. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Pure Language and Egyptian Language Documents

One of the articles to have recently been published in the Journal of Mormon Studies that has generated a lot of buzz is about a Pure Language Project and the Grammar and Alphabet documents produced by Joseph Smith and his associates in Kirtland, Ohio. And while the article by Michael MacKay and Daniel Belnap is, as the authors put it, “limited to the ivory tower of university journal access,” they did do a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

The Many Lives of the King Follett Sermon

I have to admit that I have had an ongoing fascination with the King Follett Sermon. I had been acquainted with bits and pieces of it here and there, but only really became familiar with the full text early on in my mission. But it has shaped a lot of my theology and views in the years since then. Apparently, I’m not alone – William V. Smith just published an entire book about the sermon (The King Follett Sermon: A Biography [BCC Press, 2023]) and talked about his research in a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates: A Review

Richard Lyman Bushman’s Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates: A Cultural History (Oxford University Press, 2023) is an important contribution to Book of Mormon studies. As a cultural history of the gold plates, the book traces the story of the plates and the translation of the Book of Mormon, reactions to the story and the development of folklore about the gold plates over the subsequent two centuries. It also discusses how the plates have been portrayed in artwork and literature, used in teaching programs in the Church, and some of the debates about the plates.  Even while visiting the story of the plates—as he has before in Rough Stone Rolling and Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism—Bushman provides fresh perspectives on the story. For example, he focuses on the idea that Joseph Smith may not have understood the purpose of the plates as a record that needed to be translated initially, rather than being a treasure. At first, Joseph Smith may have approached the plates with his treasure hunting in mind rather than a religious perspective. After all, the idea of a book-length record on gold plates wasn’t really something that was a common idea. It was only gradually, as he became acquainted with the interpreters and what was on the plates that he realized it needed to be translated. It was a perspective that I’ve not seen emphasized before (at least within my memory). As you read, you can tell…

Was it the Angel Moroni?

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the day Joseph Smith said that he saw the golden plates, with last night being the anniversary of the evening that he recalled the Angel Moroni appearing to him. Yet, from time to time, there have been questions raised about whether Joseph Smith consistently said that it was Moroni who appeared to him. A couple of those questions have been addressed in posts from the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk about the Angel Moroni and the Salamander Letter. What follows here is a co-post, focusing on the question of who Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by.

Carthage and the Nauvoo Expositor

The Joseph Smith Papers recently released a final podcast series, the Road to Carthage podcast, focusing on the final days and immediate aftermath of Joseph Smith’s life. It was an explosive time, filled with tension both within and outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, podcast host Spencer W. McBride talked about the events that led to Joseph Smith’s death in 1844. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). An important piece of the picture when it comes to events leading to Joseph Smith’s death is the way that information was shared at the time and place and the impact that had on public opinion. As McBride explains, the mechanism mostly focused on a network of local newspapers: There was no national newspaper that reached readers throughout the country. Instead, local newspaper editors borrowed liberally from each other, reprinting articles wholesale. This meant that really interesting news and opinions in one part of the country could eventually receive national coverage through this exchange network of newspapers. So, there was great potential in operating a newspaper, even far away from the country’s centers of population and power. Two newspapers in particular played a key role in the story: The Warsaw Signal was the premier venue for anti-Mormon editorials in Illinois. That paper stirred…

Translation theory won’t decide your polemic argument

One of the recurring irritations of reading apologetic, polemic, or scholarly work in Mormon Studies addressing Joseph Smith’s translations of ancient scripture is that the authors nearly always ignore the perspective of practicing translators and the field of translation studies, instead basing their analyses in simple notions of linguistic equivalence that may still prevail in graduate language exams, but that the field of translation studies abandoned as unworkable several decades ago.

Joseph Smith and the Mormons: A review

Joseph Smith and the Mormons, by Noah Van Sciver, is a fantastic addition to Mormon literature. And while not written as devotional literature, this graphic novelization of Joseph Smith’s life is very well-researched and makes a lot of effort to portray things in a fair and open manner. And the book itself is beautiful in its presentation.

Jesus Christ in Joseph Smith’s Teachings

There is an apocryphal story about John Taylor that was shared by Leonard Arrington: Shortly after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith in June 1844, a prominent eastern visitor to Nauvoo[, Illinois] was being ‘shown around’ by Apostle Taylor.  He remarked to Brother Taylor that he sincerely regretted the murder of the head of the Mormon Church.  Brother Taylor got a twinkle in his eye at this reference to the ‘head of the Church’ and replied, ‘Yes, and isn’t it wonderful that on the on the third day he arose from the tomb and came back to administer to the Saints’ (Leonard Arrington Journal, 14 May 1973). It’s a fun play on expectations, but also goes to the point that Jesus Christ, rather than Joseph Smith, is at the heart of the Latter-day Saints’ religion. In a recent interview with historian Keith Erekson at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, he pointed out ways in which Joseph Smith taught about Jesus Christ and about God. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Translation or Revelation?

I posted about Book of Abraham translation a couple weeks ago as part of a co-post on an interview with Stephen O. Smoot. This time, we’re looking at a different interview with Michael Hubbard MacKay, who had a different perspective about Joseph Smith’s translation projects. The interview on Book of Mormon translation is over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, so what follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

Book of Abraham Translation

When Joseph Smith used the word “translate”, it meant something different than what we usually think of as translating. The Book of Abraham is a very intriguing example of the process that, while it still has a lot of unknowns, does provide some insight into the process. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Stephen O. Smoot discussed the Book of Abraham translation. What follows here is a co-post (a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion).

“In the celestial glory there was three heavens”

Doctrine and Covenants 131

Doctrine and Covenants, Section 131 has had a huge impact on how we understand the afterlife. There is, however, some debate about a few key aspects of the text mean that also have implications for our fate in the afterlife, especially when it comes to marital status. Given the debates, it is probably best to observe a degree of humility about our knowledge of how the afterlife works.

The Ordeal of Dr. John Milton Bernhisel

I’ve talked before about how if we knew and experienced the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for ourselves, we might be surprised by who were the most influential members in shaping the developing Church. Dr. John Milton Bernhisel is another of those individuals who had a surprisingly large impact compared to how often we talk about him today. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Bruce W. Worthen–author of Mormon Envoy: The Diplomatic Legacy of Dr. John Milton Bernhisel (University of Illinois Press, 2023)–shared insights on this important character from early Latter-day Saint history. What follows here is a copost to the full interview. Bruce Worthen explained some of why John Bernhisel was so important. Dr. John Milton Bernhisel was a man whose fingerprints are all over early Latter-day Saint history. He was a rare upper-class convert to the faith who negotiated between America’s political leaders and the angry Latter-day Saints residing on the western frontier. From his unsuccessful attempts to save the life of Joseph Smith to his success in securing a presidential pardon for Brigham Young, Bernhisel was in the middle of the Latter-day Saint conflict. As a representative of the Latter-day Saints in Washington, Bernhisel negotiated the boundaries of Latter-day Saint theopolitical ambitions with some of nineteenth-century America’s most influential political figures, including Henry Clay, Thomas Benton, Stephen A. Douglas, Zachary Taylor, James Buchanan, and Abraham…

VII. The GAEL and Linguistic Typology

The GAEL provides for a mode of interpretation that finds expansive (but not unlimited) meaning in seemingly simple characters. Zakioan-hiash, as we have seen, is both a name, a word with a specific phonetic realization, and the equivalent of at least one sentence.

II. What Joseph Smith Would Have Known About Champollion

Before we get to the heart of my argument – which is coming up next in a long post with a detailed look at what’s in the GAEL – we need to look at what Joseph Smith and his associates would have known about Champollion and the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics by 1835.

Voices of the Wives of Joseph Smith

Plural marriage in Nauvoo continues to be one of the thorniest issues when discussing the life and legacy of Joseph Smith.  One of the major works that helped shed greater light on the roots of plural marriage and the women who practice it with the Prophet is Todd Compton’s book, In Sacred Loneliness, published in 1997.  Not too long ago, a sequel or companion volume called In Sacred Loneliness: the Documents was published by Signature Books. Todd Compton recently discussed this latest volume in an interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk. In describing the original book, In Sacred Loneliness, Compton wrote that: For those who haven’t read the book, I should mention that it deals with Joseph Smith’s polygamy in Nauvoo. However, it mainly provides chapter-length biographies of his plural wives. The book takes them from birth, through the Latter-day Saint migrations, and into Utah (or California or other states, in a few cases). Their lives were mixed: sometimes very tragic, sometimes generally happy. The women often lived in large polygamous families in Utah, and experienced what I call “practical polygamy.” It could be difficult. It’s very powerful to understand the lives of some of the first women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to agree to practice plural marriage and what they went through. The effort to write a follow-up volume 20 years later came in connections with another writing project.  As Compton…

Method Infinite: On Masonry and Mormonism

The recently-published Method Infinite: Freemasonry and the Mormon Restoration by Cheryl L. Bruno, Joe Steve Swick III, and Nicholas S. Literski (Greg Kofford Books, 2022) is an insightful and information-packed volume about a plethora of possible points of contact between Freemasonry and the Restoration of the Church of Christ.   While many studies of Masonry and the Latter Day Saint movement focus primarily on temple rituals, Method Infinite covers the entirety of Joseph Smith’s life and follows the influence of Masonic ideas and rituals into some of the major branches of Mormonism that emerged in the aftermath of the Prophet’s death.  The book starts with a brief history of Freemasonry and its existence in the early United States of America, then discusses how Joseph Smith grew up in an environment saturated with Freemasonry.  It points to ideas that were being discussed or practiced by Freemasons and compares these with strains of Latter Day Saint thought and action, suggesting that Joseph Smith saw himself as the restorer of the pure form of Masonry from the outset and that he viewed the Freemasonry practiced at the time as an apostate or spurious form of Masonry.  Evidences for this idea that are pointed out have to do with the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, the way various organizations within or connected to the Church were organized, specific teachings of Joseph Smith and other early Church leaders, the ways that the City…

Masonry and Mormonism

The relationship between Freemasonry and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a subject of controversy for members of the Church.  In the near future, two important studies of that relationship are slated to be published – Method Infinite: Freemasonry and the Mormon Restoration by Cheryl L. Bruno, Joe Steve Swick III, and Nicholas S. Literski, which will be available on 9 August from Greg Kofford Books (which discusses possible influences of Freemasonry on Joseph Smith’s ministry throughout his life) and Freemasonry and the Origins of Latter-day Saint Temple Ordinances by Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, which is anticipated to be released the same day by the Interpreter Foundation (and which analyzes the relationship of Freemason rituals and Latter Day Saint temple rituals).  Last week, two interviews related to these books (one with Cheryl L. Bruno and one with Jeffrey M. Bradshaw) were published on the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk.  What follows here is a co-post to the two interviews. Jeffrey Bradshaw summed up the crux of the concern that members of the Church have when approaching Freemasonry.  He wrote: There are elements of the Nauvoo temple ordinances—for example, some of the signs and tokens and related language—that are almost identical in form to those used in Masonic rites. Since Freemasonry is an 18th century creation, similarities like these seem to undermine Joseph Smith’s claims that the temple ordinances are ancient. The same applies to the Restoration…

The Smith Family and the First Vision

One of the more interesting points of contention about the history of the First Vision is how much Joseph Smith’s family knew about the First Vision.  During his lifetime, only 4 accounts of the First Vision were published in English – Orson Pratt’s “A Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions” in 1840, the official history of the Church that began to be published in the Times and Seasons  in 1842, the Wentworth letter (also published in the Times and Seasons in 1842), and an interview with David Nye White that was published in the Pittsburgh Weekly in 1843.  Other contemporary accounts were recorded in private journals, unpublished histories, or were published in German.  The best-known accounts from Joseph Smith’s family were recorded years later and often seem to conflate the First Vision and Moroni’s visit, which has given rise to the thought that he may not have told them much about the First Vision.  In a recent interview at From the Desk, however, Kyle Walker discussed some reminiscences from Joseph Smith’s younger sister, Katherine Smith Salisbury that indicate that he may have told more to his family than was previously thought.  What follows here is a co-post to that interview, with excerpts and some discussion. In explaining what the accounts from Katherine say, Walker stated the following: Katharine recalled the persecution directed towards the family that was a direct result from Joseph telling the Methodist minister about his First Vision. She even…