Temples hold a central place in Latter-day Saint history. The narrative of building the Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples and the impact it had on our theology is a dominant theme of the early Church. Even going beyond that, however, much of the history that followed has temples looming in the background, even though it would be decades before another temple was completed in Utah Territory. In one of the recent Kurt Manwaring 10 questions interviews, Richard Bennett discusses some of his thoughts on the subject and his recent publication Temples Rising: A Heritage of Sacrifice. This is only a summary with some commentary here, but I suggest reading the full interview. Richard E. Bennett is a professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University. He has been deeply involved with Mormon studies journals as a former president of the Mormon History Association, a former Associate Editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies and a current member of the editorial board for BYU Studies. Bennett is the author of several historical works, including The Nauvoo Legion in Illinois: A History of the Mormon Militia, 1841–1846, We’ll Find the Place: The Mormon Exodus, 1846-1848, Mormons at the Missouri: 1846-1852, and Temples Rising: A Heritage of Sacrifice. Bennett’s attention was turned to temples by his studies of the Latter-day Saint exodus: While researching and writing my two books on the exodus … I learned that temples and temple covenants played…
Category: Mormon Studies
Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith, a Review
Back in June, Clark Goble mentioned that he was going to write a review of Thomas G. Alexander’s new biography Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith. It’s one of many misfortunes among the great losses of Clark passing away that we never had the opportunity to read the review he was planning on writing about the book. As a direct result of Clark’s discussion of the biography, I read the book and thought I might share some thoughts. Thomas G. Alexander was the Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr. Professor of Western American History at Brigham Young University. Along with an illustrious career in teaching, he has published several works that are important to Latter-day Saint history, including the groundbreaking Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints 1890-1830 as well as Things in Heaven and Earth: The Life and Times of Wilford Woodruff and Utah, the Right Place: The Official Centennial History. Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith was written by Alexander as a part of the Oklahoma Western Biographies series—a collection of short biographies written from published sources. The biography is a fast-paced overview of Brigham Young’s life, covering key events from his childhood, his conversion to the early Latter Day Saint movement, and onward through his time as the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The heaviest emphasis is on his time in Utah Territory, both during his tenure as territorial governor and…
Uto-Aztecan and Semitic: Too much of a good thing
Brian Stubbs’s argument for extensive ancient contact between Semitic and Proto-Uto-Aztecan has received some attention recently in Mormon apologetics, but I don’t think Stubbs’s proposal is going to pan out. First, though, a few important messages.
Review: Foundational Texts of Mormonism
Here’s the shortest review possible. If you’re even moderately interested in Church history or theology or even just in close reading of scripture you should get Foundational Texts of Mormonism. If it’s not already in your library, ask for it for Christmas.
The Expanded Canon: A Review
Several months ago, my wife Lissette gave a talk in sacrament meeting on the topic of modern prophets and continuing revelation. She wanted to provide something different, something the congregation could really chew on (no “theological Twinkies“). She ended up discussing how modern-day prophets model the process of revelation for us. Drawing on Elder Bednar’s analogy of revelation as light, she illustrated that revelation could come in a sudden burst of inspiration (like a light switch) or as more gradual, increasing discernment (like a sunrise). Yet, those singular, sudden revelatory events are often incremental steps in a bigger picture. What’s more, future revelations often shed even more light on past ones. As an example, she used Joseph Smith’s multiple accounts of the First Vision. “While Joseph Smith’s vision was a singular event (akin to Bednar’s example of the light switch),” she said, its significance and impact evolved with additional experience and revelation (much like Bednar’s sunrise). The four major accounts of the First Vision differ in their details, with perhaps the biggest one being Joseph’s interpretation of the visitation’s purpose. The 1832 account focuses on Joseph’s forgiveness of sins; a kind of personal conversion story. By 1838, the narrative shifted to concerns regarding religious confusion and the eventual establishment of the Lord’s church. While these purposes are not mutually exclusive, Joseph’s understanding of the experience nonetheless expanded over time. I believe that this example of gradual development should not be seen as an…
Three Heavens in Joseph’s Environment
We all know that revelation frequently requires study. Many of the key doctrines of the restoration came from revelations given to Joseph as he was going through and modifying the Bible by way of command. Some of these were treated as modifications of the Biblical texts (such as in our Book of Moses) while others were treated as independent visions or revelations (such as D&C 76). The key part though was studying. (See D&C 9:7-8) We even know that during the work on the New Testament that Joseph began consulting a copy of Clarke’s Bible Commentary and using some of its suggestions. (Probably more interesting than where he followed Clarke are the places where he differs greatly from him) While we know that the command to work on a Bible “translation” was the catalyst for many aspects of these revelations, there were other influences as well.
Review Essay: “The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology”: Materiality and Performance
Like a paring knife to a grapefruit, Jonathan Stapley’s new book on the history of Mormon cosmology is slim, sharp, and swift to carve through pith, serving up elegant wedges of history. The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (Oxford, 2018) traces the evolution of ritual practice in Mormonism, including priesthood ordination, sealing rites, healing practices, baby blessings, and folk divination. The author’s reticence to extract neat diagrams from his findings is a virtue of the book, and any summary should be offered advisedly. Taken together, however, the chapters show a gradual migration from civic- to kinship- to church-centered forms of ritual soteriology, occurring alongside processes of codification and consolidation that, by the late 20th century, concentrate Mormon liturgical discourse and practice within the male ecclesiastical priesthood. I am no historian, and I leave it to the experts to adjudicate Stapley’s stimulating historical claims. Several points struck my picture of Mormon history–incomplete and idiosyncratic as it is–with particular explanatory power. As I understand them: Early notions of sealing and its connection to the doctrine of perseverance evolved rapidly. Initially, the Saints were “sealed up” in the soteriological sense that their salvation was permanently assured; it would “persevere” all future threats and sweep safely them to heaven. Later in the Kirtland and especially Nauvoo periods, the Saints were “sealed to” one another in a relational bond that was the vehicle of salvation, and the perseverance implied was that of the…
Review: William V. Smith’s ‘Textual Studies of the Doctrine & Covenants’
In October 2007, I returned home to Texas from my mission in Nevada. In April of the following year, the raid on the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado, TX, occurred. I didn’t think much about it at the time because, you know, they weren’t real Mormons (as many LDS are wont to say). However, a good (non-member) friend called me soon after the raid and posed some questions about these polygamists Mormons, seemingly bothered that one of his best friends was mixed up in an abusive cult. I was likely too dismissive of his concerns, largely due to the mentality above. I explained the schism between the FLDS and Utah-based LDS Church, pointing out that my church had ceased practicing polygamy long ago. That seemed to satisfy him as we talked about how bizarre the whole situation was. However, just how strange all of this was to outsiders did not fully hit me until a little later at work when a newly-hired woman asked me (something along the lines of), “What church do you go to?” When I told her I was Mormon, she became rather pale. Being used to the reaction (I do live in the South), I expected her to be some kind of evangelical. However, her next question threw me: “So…is there, like…a community of Mormons around here?” I didn’t understand her at first. I pointed out that there was a chapel just down the road from where…
Helaman 12:15 and Astronomy
Helaman 12:15 reads, “according to his word the earth goeth back, and it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still; yea, and behold, this is so; for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun.” If you’re like me you’ve always just read that as Mormon (or possibly Nephi) just having a knowledge of heliocentric astronomy (everything orbits the sun rather than the earth). The author appears to be alluding to Joshua 10:12-13 where the moon and the sun stand still. The last week I’ve been discussing the verse with some other people which have made me rethink the verse.
Perspectives on Mormon Theology Review
Dave managed to finish his review of Perspectives on Mormon Theology before I did. To cut to the chase let me just summarize my judgment of the book first. If you’re at all interested in the implications of scholarly considerations of Mormon history, exegesis, or theology then this is a must read book. Blair Van Dyke and Loyd Ericson did a fantastic job selecting the people to contribute. It has so many disparate viewpoints that nearly every position is considered and discussed. Among some, apologetics has come to have a rather bad reputation. While I doubt this book will change many views, I think it does make one think both about the weaknesses and strengths of traditional approaches along with other approaches we should consider. If I have one complaint, it’s a minor one. I do wish there were formal responses to some of the essays. Other books such as Discourses in Mormon Theology have done that to one degree or an other. As is the essays tend to stand alone even though they do address sometimes common arguments. Still that’s an extremely minor complaint and doesn’t undermine the strength of what is here.
Church Endorses Apologetics, Sort Of
Here is a clear positive step for the Church: posting an online resources page with almost 30 links to pages or sites with information on LDS doctrine and history. Each link gets zero, one, or two asterisks, depending on if it is within the LDS.org domain (zero), if it is a Church-related site like byu.edu that is not within the LDS.org domain (one), or if it is a third-party site not directly affiliated with the Church (two asterisks). The page is actually under the Seminaries & Institutes umbrella as part of the Doctrinal Mastery program (the upgraded Scripture Mastery). And what are they linking to, you ask?
Future Mormon Reading Club
The person who probably comes closest to my own views on many matters is Adam Miller. Back in the heyday of LDS-Herm we had tons of fantastic discussions on theology and philosophy. Ever since Adam’s last book came out I’ve wanted to do a reading club on it but just hadn’t had the time. One nice thing about this book is that it engages with a lot of the core theological topics where we disagreed. I’ve found I learn the most from disagreements. In agreements I’m usually just either confirming my biases or else I don’t read as closely as I should since I already agree. With disagreement I pay much closer attention. It forces me to rethink why I think the things I do think. Sometimes I find more reasons for my beliefs, but at other times I find myself reconsidering them.
Some Thoughts on Trends in Apologetics
First let me say upfront that I simply don’t read that many apologetic papers anymore. That’s less about any problems with the genre so much as just a lack of time. I have to be a little pickier about what I read than I used to. One day when little kids aren’t waking up all hours of the night that may change. Second let me say I’m not really interested in doing apologetics in the below. I’ll do my best to refrain from answering tangents that head in that direction. Rather, what I’m more interested in is the theoretic scaffolding behind different eras and trends in Mormon apologetics. I’ve been thinking about this a lot primarily in reaction to some of Dave’s post and Brad L’s comments to it last week. Brad in particular justifiably called me out on staking out a stronger position than I could defend. That said, I’m not sure I agree with taxonomy of apologetics many took for granted in that discussion. Please take this in the spirit it was intended. A loose set of categories that I see in the history of apologetics. Further I’ll say up front this is pretty preliminary. I may be completely wrong in some points. I look forward to your critiques.
Enchantment and Disenchantment: Secular Age Round 3
(Links to Rounds 1 and 2) These next several posts will cover chapters in Parts I-III, which comprise Taylor’s account of the western historical trajectory towards secularity, from the enchanted world of 1500 AD to the disenchanted and pluralistic one of 2000 AD. Overall, Taylor’s historical account challenges the “subtraction” stories that explain the road to modernity as one in which human beings have “lost, or sloughed off, or liberated themselves from certain earlier, confining horizons, or illusions, or limitations of knowledge” . According to Taylor, this naive and selective view fails to account for the “positive” developments and changes in sensibility, meaning, and social imaginaries that made alternatives (like secular humanism) possible. The “subtraction” of God from the social and cosmic imaginary was merely one element, thought it was not linear or even, and certainly not inevitable. Taylor begins the historical trajectory in chapter 1, the “Bulwarks of Belief,” describing the major elements of the early modern imaginary that had to be removed for exclusive humanism to emerge. One was the belief that the natural world was divinely orchestrated—part of a semiotic cosmos that pointed beyond to an order and force beyond itself (God). Secondly, society was embedded in a higher time and higher reality: collective rituals, holy days, and other practices brought society into contact with the “higher” dimension of time or existence, as well as protected them from malevolent forces. The “higher reality” —the Kingdom of God— made…
Changing of the Guard at Dialogue
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought gets a new editor every five or six years, and that time is now upon us. As a subscriber and supporter, I wanted to get a sense of where the incoming editor, Boyd Jay Petersen, is going to take the journal, so I bought a copy of his Dead Wood and Rushing Water: Essays on Mormon Faith, Culture, and Family (Greg Kofford Books, 2013) to get the lowdown. After all, Kristine is a hard act to follow. After reading the book, I am optimistic. To offer a few comments, I will highlight one essay from each of the three sections in the book.
Seer Stones and the New Narrative
A week ago, the Church released a suddenly iconic photograph of Joseph Smith’s favorite seer stone, and also posted at LDS.org an article by three LDS historians, “Joseph the Seer,” to be published in the October 2015 Ensign. It seems clear that the image plus the content of the article are going to rewrite the standard (“official”) LDS narrative concerning Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon text. I’m concerned it may also bring folk magic back into that narrative and even back into mainstream LDS culture. That seems like a step in the wrong direction.
Historians Saying Interesting Things … About Mormonism
Between the new polygamy essays at LDS.org and the new religion curriculum at the BYUs, there has been a lot to argue about this week. Let’s try something a little friendlier: The Mormon History Association’s Tanner Lectures: The First Twenty Years (U. of Illinois Press, 2006). It has been on my shelf a couple of years now. I recently pulled it down as part of my new plan to actually read the LDS books that I buy. The book contains 21 articles, all variations on “Mormonism and X” but all terribly interesting. That template derives from MHA’s format for the lecture series: an accomplished historian (all non-LDS as far as I can tell) who works in a field related to LDS history but who has not studied Mormonism directly is invited to research and present something interesting about “Mormonism and X.” Here is what three of these historians talked about.
Your New and Improved BYU Religion Core
After several days of rampant speculation and gnashing of teeth (here, here, here, and here) the new BYU religion core has been officially announced at LDS.org.
FAIR Conference, Day 2
Below is the agenda for Day 2 of the FAIR Conference in Provo with brief bios of the speakers. I will be adding summaries of some of the sessions as the day goes by. (Disclaimer: these are on-the-fly summaries for general information and discussion. Please consult audio recordings or the transcripts that FAIR releases in a week or two for accurate details.) Full bios are available at the speakers page. You can get online streaming of the conference sessions.
FairConference, Thursday Afternoon Sessions
Bob Rees A review of Earl Wunderli’s Imperfect Book Started with this Card Colour changing trick video (http://richardwiseman.wordpress.com/2009/01/07/colour-changing-card-trick-outtakes/) to illustrate that too much focus on one thing can cause you miss the many other things that are going on. What aren’t you noticing? Emerson said, “Tell me your sect, and I’ll tell you your argument.” How we approach the Book of Mormon will determine what we find within it. Rees was impressed with Earl’s thoroughness. He has read extensively and carefully. He approached as though cross-examining it in a court of law, and like any good lawyer making a case, he has been selective in choice of witnesses. Wunderli’s book does not give a balanced presentation, although it gives an impression of having done so. And he does raise important questions about the Book of Mormon, from the use of KJV language, internal stylistic consistency, anachronistic scientific understanding, mythology, and so one. Wunderli sees himself of side of reason, science and truth, and as a result paints the other side unreasonable, unscientific, and inclined to believe in myths and falsehoods. He doesn’t acknowledge that some scholars are open to spiritual ways of knowing, that there is more than one legitimate avenue for seeking knowledge. Those of us who use both approaches see differently than those who use just one. And this cuts both ways; those rely solely on spirit may be indifferent to any evidence. In Book of Mormon…