Category: Essential Texts in Mormon Studies

Important Documents from Latter-day Saint History

I’ve always had the idea running in the back of my mind to compile a list of the most important documents across the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that are not in the scriptures nor book-length publications.  Documents in the list include important summaries of doctrine that capture the thought of an era, documents that outlined and solidified an approach to policy or doctrine in the Church, or which signaled some significant changes.  I’m going to take a stab at it here, though no doubt it will fall far short of the goal.  Still, I’ll try to present in approximate chronological order and break it up into four broad eras, roughly following the time periods covered by each volume of the Saints history series. Period 1: Up to 1846 1832 Joseph Smith’s History The earliest effort on Joseph Smith’s part to write down a history, it is the account closest to the events of the First Vision and the visit of the angel to introduce the Book of Mormon Lectures on Faith These were lectures that covered a lot of basic doctrines of the Church prepared in Kirtland and published as the “doctrine” section of the Doctrine and Covenants until the 1920s, when they were phased out (at least partly due to a more trinitarian description of God) 1835, Oliver Cowdery’s Charge to the Twelve This has the account of what Oliver Cowdery told the…

Joseph Smith’s Studies and Translations

It has been a big year for volumes that discuss Joseph Smith’s translation projects, with contributions ranging from Terryl Givens and Brian Hauglid’s The Pearl of Great Price: Mormonism’s Most Controversial Scripture last October, to William L. Davis’s Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon this April, to Samuel Brown’s Joseph Smith’s Translation: The Words and Worlds of Early Mormonism in May, and a few other notable works.  One book in particular, however, has recently been billed as groundbreaking and potentially one of the most foundational contributions to the subject:  Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity, ed. Michael Hubbard MacKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee and Brian M. Hauglid.  The volume is a collection of chapters written by many notable scholars of Mormonism, discussing a variety of topics related to Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the Book of Abraham.  Recently, Kurt Manwaring sat down to interview Michael Hubbard MacKay and Mark Ashurst-McGee (two of the general editors of the book).  What follows here is a co-post to that interview, a summary with quotes and commentary on the interview, but to get the full treatment, I recommend going to read the interview here. It is relatively common to describe Joseph Smith’s translations as being revelations.  For example, at the most recent general conference, Elder Ulisses Soares stated that the Book of Mormon “was…

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…

The Approaching Zion Project: Deny Not the Gifts of God

This chapter (understandably) overlaps significantly with the previous chapter, Gifts. These are, after all, discourses he delivered at various times, to various audiences, with common themes. I’m reading them separately, though, and different things hit me at different readings. So, like always, I won’t discuss everything Nibley focuses on (and I’ll try to not spend too much time on things I’ve discussed previously). With that out of the way, on to the chapter.

The Approaching Zion Project: What is Zion? A Distant View

Another confession: I had a really hard time with this chapter. And it’s not just because I read it sitting in an airport waiting for a plane that was delayed for an hour and a half. Rather, it’s because of the way Nibley speaks of the wealthy. Certain of his descriptions feel, to me, so laughably one-dimensional—so moustache-twirling, tying-the-heroine-to-the-tracks—that I find myself fighting both his prose and my instincts to not just dismiss his entire piece out of hand.

The Kirtland Church: A Review of Hearken O Ye People

I received my review copy of Hearken, O Ye People at work; I opened it and began to read on the El heading home. And, from page 1 (or, actually, page xvii), my jaw dropped. Staker started his book with an almost-15-page chronology of Kirtland, beginning in May 1796 as a group begins to survey townships in the Western Reserve and ending on July 6, 1838, when Kirtland Camp leaves Kirtland to settle in Missouri. For that chronology alone, Hearken, O Ye People is worth its price, at least for those form whom the Kirtland years are overshadowed by the founding of the Church in upstate New York, the conflicts and eventual extermination order in Missouri, and the theological and organizational innovations in Nauvoo.

Mormonism: The Second Century

Christopher Jones has a post over at the fine group blog Peculiar People listing ten books on modern Mormonism. The post deserves more discussion, so I thought I’d post my own short comments on the first four books from the list and invite readers to add comments on the others as well as reflection on the original post by Jones.

12 Questions with Grant Hardy – part I

To cap off our roundtable review of Grant Hardy’s new book Understanding the Book of Mormon we’re fortunate to feature an interview with the book’s author. The interview will be posted in two parts. Our thanks to all who have participated, and especially Bro. Hardy.

A tool for Conference analysis

While we know that gospel principles are eternal, we must also admit that the language used to describe them changes over time. And now we have a tool for discovering and analyzing how Church leaders have changed their descriptions of the gospel over the past 160 years.

12 Questions and a Book by Royal Skousen

5 years ago we published one of my favorite “12 Questions” posts, in which Royal Skousen discussed in some depth what he has learned from his extensive work on the earliest editions of the Book of Mormon.  His book, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, is being published in September by Yale University Press (and yes, you can order  it at Amazon right now).  To mark this milestone, Royal was kind enough to update his “12 questions” discussion, which we have posted below, for the benefit of those who did not catch it the first time.   Enjoy!

Mormon Studies on a Budget?

A few years ago, Armand Mauss advised our readers that an essential texts list for Mormon studies probably included a dozen books (including Shipps, Bushman, Arrington, and Givens) as well as regular reading of four major periodicals. That remains a very good recommendation; however, for many Mormon studies newbies, that level of depth may not be an option. This post addresses the question, how should someone on a limited budget begin to explore Mormon studies?

A New Book for the Mormon Canon

There are a number of Mormon pamphlets and books that have achieved a kind of semi-canonical status within Mormon studies. Everyone agrees, for example, that Parley P. Pratt’s Key to the Science of Theology or John Taylor’s Mediation and Atonement are key texts for understanding nineteenth Mormon thought. If any evidence is needed, both texts, I believe, are still in print. At the very least both have produced modern reprints. I have a proposed addition to the canon, George Q. Cannon’s A Review of the Decision of the Supreme Court in the Case of Geo. Reynolds v. the United States.

Essential Texts in Mormon Feminism?

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to reopen our occasional series of Essential Texts in Mormon Studies. Traditionally, posts in the series have asked commenters to suggest their top five books within some segment of Mormon studies. For this post, let’s discuss what might be the essential texts in Mormon feminism.

Supplementing Angels

A not-so-hypothetical from a reader: Your daughter’s AP English class is using Tony Kushner’s Angels in America as a central part of a semester’s curriculum. You are friends with the teacher and would feel comfortable suggesting that she supplement the Angels module with another book or short story dealing with Mormonism from a different, hopefully “insider,” perspective. What work of Mormon literature would you suggest?

Essential Net Resources

First thanks to everyone for actually allowing me to write on topics unrelated to my blog. Hopefully I can live up to some of the excellent guest bloggers from over the past year. (Damon Linker was among my favorites.) One thing I’ve noticed of late is that my favorite series on Times and Seasons has been neglected. I speak, of course, of the essential texts series that was so enjoyable in the early days of this blog. Beyond encouraging those who’ve not read through those lists to do so (and add their own comments) let me suggest another useful list: Essential Net Resources.

Best Books for New LDS Converts

I live in a relatively mission-field ward, which has a lot of new members. Several months back, one member asked about reading material. I happened to have an extra copy of Truth Restored on the shelf, and it seemed like a good new-convert book, so I gave it to the new member. It was a big hit. Now, in interactions with other new members, I’m thinking I should get them some reading material. But where to start?

Most Overrated Books in Mormon Studies

I am feeling testy today, so I thought that I would post on a subject I have been thinking about for a while: the most over rated text in Mormon studies. Perhaps it is part of being raised in a prophetic, leader-revering culture, but there is a tendency on the part of Mormon intellectuals toward hagiography. Not of church leaders of course. (Being Mormon intellectuals has liberated them from anything so crass.) Rather, I am talking about hagiography by Mormon intellectuals of Mormon intellectuals. (See the article on Quinn.)

Great Sermons

In our casting about essential Mormon texts and our questing for Mormon literary achievement, I think that we frequently foget on of the great Mormon mediums and one that we have produced in huge quanties, with occasional examples of great quality. I am talking about sermons.

The Books to Be Written

Let’s see if we can start a discussion that doesn’t revolve around homosexuality and same sex marriage. (What a sexually obsessed bunch we are!) A while back, one commenter suggested that what we needed in addition to a list of “must read” Mormon studies texts is a list of books that haven’t yet been written but should. In the spirit of that question, let me offer some ideas.

Bushman v. Brodie: Biographies

We’ve had several discussions about essential texts in Mormon studies; see here, here, here, here and here. I was hoping we could generate a list, or at least some productive discussion, about a topic we haven’t yet addressed — the great Mormon biographies and autobiographies.