Author: Nate Oman

What My Father Did

Richard G. Oman as a young man.

A few weeks ago my father retired after spending three decades working for the Church Historical Department.  I’m no doubt guilty of an excess of filial piety, but I think that the Church and Kingdom are better for the work that he did. 

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.

Getting over Nibley

Of late I have been thinking of late about how to read Mormon scriptures.  In particular, I have been working on some passages in the Book of Mormon on legal interpretation and thinking about how best to approach these sections.  By and large, it seems to me that there have been three basic models of how to read LDS scriptures.  First, there has been what I think of as an external, sectarian reading.  This consists essentially of proof texting in debates and discussions with Protestant outsiders.  There is a sense in which this is the oldest kind of LDS hermeneutic.  The first Mormons to carefully study the scriptures with Mormon eyes were looking for biblical verses with which to answer Campbellite critics and other Protestant naysayers of the Restoration.  The second LDS hermeneutic has been internal.  It is aimed not at outsiders but at Latter-day Saints and it has served two purposes.  The first, and  in my opinion overwhelmingly the most important, reading has been…

Michael Scott and C.S. Lewis

While I don’t really have a television, there are a couple of shows that I regularlly watch through Netflix or hulu.com.  Among them is The Office.  I actually think that some of C.S. Lewis’s thoughts on the nature of love help to make sense of Michael Scott. 

Commentary on 1 Nephi 17, pt. 3

Continuing part 1 and part 2. Laman and Lemuel offer up their gloss on the story of Moses in verse 22 and in so doing model a particular type of scriptural and legal interpretation.  They say: And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words; yea, and our brother is like him. (1 Ne. 17:22) There is a great deal that is going on in this sentence. 

Regarding Carol Lynn Pearson

Over the holidays I discovered the poetry of Carol Lynn Pearson, which I have been enjoying. At times she spills over into the trite or saccharine, but on the whole I like it. There is nothing agonistic about it, which is the reason that Terryl Givens doesn’t much care for it. I think that he’s right, however, that by taking Emily Dickinson (another poetess I’ve recently started reading) as her model, the conciseness of her style frequently rescues her from smugness. At its best, there is an engaging naivete in her verse, a kind of simple purity that skates at the edge of being simplistic but manages not to be. At times there are even surprises. Consider this: ANOTHER BIRTH I did not bring The anticipation Of birth — Of forging my spirit With flesh. As the moment Neared, I think I held my breath (If spirits breathe) And made a Reverent plunge Into embodiment, Mortality. Yes — Even unremembering…

Commentary on 1 Nephi 17, pt. 1

This is the first of a series of posts in which I will be offering some commentary on 1 Nephi 17. Why that particular chapter you ask? The answer is that I believe that chapter 17 is setting forth a method of scriptural interpretation that proved to be very important both for the Book of Mormon and for Mormonism generally. Furthermore, what I find fascinating about the story is that ultimately it is about the legal interpretation of scripture.

Nature and Cities

I often find walking in nature a spiritual experience, for want of a better term. Growing up, I think that I found my testimony in part by tramping through the Wasatch Mountains and watching thunder storms roll across the Great Salt Lake. Today, I am likely to have real moments of reverence and gratitude to the divine while watching mist play across the still waters of the James River in the early morning or enjoying the power of a big Atlantic storm slamming into my bit of the world. I realize that there are some real dangers with identifying God too closely with anything as randomly and — at times — wantonly destructive as weather and nature, but as an aesthetic matter such experiences are an important part of my religious life. Oddly, I have never had a similar reaction to a city.

Past and Present

It’s an intellectual banality to point out that how one thinks of the present structures how one thinks about the past. The cliché, however, is useful when thinking about Mormon history.

The Canonization of the Book of Mormon?

Penguin Books has just published a “Penguin Classics” edition of the Book of Mormon edited by Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp. Penguin Classics, of course, are the paperback editions of literary staples like Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. They are printed and marketed largely as texts for college classes. The assumption is that a text included in the Penguin series has become a stable part of the high-brow diet of books, or at least ought to be. It is worth reflecting a little bit about what this edition of the Book of Mormon might or might not mean. The Penguin book itself is based on the 1840 edition of the text rather than our current edition of the scriptures. The text was chosen because this was the last version that Joseph Smith was personally involved in editing. Also strictly speaking there is no standard 1830 version of the text for the simple reason that Grandin edited the book as he was printing…

The Difficulty of Theological Interpretations of Mormon History

Providing a theological interpretation of Mormon history is tricky. I’ve argued elsewhere that one of the reasons that Mormons care so much about history is that in some sense they regard it has having a normative force. Part of how we understand God’s will is by offering an interpretation of our past that sees in it the working out of God’s purposes. On this view, God is involved in the story of the Restoration and a careful parsing of that story will reveal something about God. This, of course, is the sort of thing that sets the teeth of professional historians on edge, and avoiding this sort of interpretative frame work was one of the central obsessions of the New Mormon History. For the record, I am sympathetic to the NMH and I think that we gained a tremendous amount of insight and understanding by bracketing theological questions and just trying to understand the nuts of bolts of past events…

BYU in the Memory of the AAUP

Among the other academic spam that I get are regular emails from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which is always eager to remind me of their fights for academic freedom, higher salaries for professors, and various trendy and hip progressive causes. Today, the AAUP sent out an email commemorating the ten year anniversary of its censure of BYU. I thought that readers might enjoy a trip down memory lane to the bad-old-days of Mormon intellectual life in the 1990s and a view of events through outside eyes:

Evil Speaking

In the Old Testament God likens his relationship to the House of Israel as that of a bridegroom to his wife. In the New Testament, the Church is described as the bride of Christ. The choice of the image of marriage, it seems to me, is hardly accidental. It provides, I think, the background for the commandments against speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed and by extension — I believe — the Lord’s Church. Belief and membership — the two ideas that we use most commonly when thinking about our relationship to the Church — are, it strikes me, far too thin to capture what is really at work in it. Belief implies that what is primarily at stake is assent to a set of propositions. Membership is a bit better in that it nods toward the social dimension of the relationship, but membership tells us nothing about the level of reciprocity or commitment involved. I am a member of…

My Williamsburg Discrimination Story

Adam’s post about the California Supreme Court’s recent decision, and the resulting brawl in the comments got me thinking about the basis of discrimination. In 1998, while I was a senior at BYU I spent a semester in Williamsburg, Virginia doing research in the archives at the College of William and Mary. The week before my job in Williamsburg was to begin, I drove down from DC, where I had been working over the summer, to find a place to stay. I had three options. One turned out to be unfurnished, which took it off the list. The second option was a house filled with a mix of grad students and college seniors. The ownership structure wasn’t entirely clear, but I think that the house actually belonged to the parents of one of the students. After showing me the room, my putative landlord asked me why I was in Williamsburg. I explained that I was a BYU student doing research…

Searching for a Sense of Place in Viriginia (a bleg)

I am at a stage in life when I think a lot about place. After a decade or so of moving every 1 to 3 years, our family has arrived on the banks of the James and there is a very good chance that this is where my children will grow up. My interest in place is heightened of course that I live a mile from the site of Jamestown — first English settlement in America — and work in Williamsburg — colonial capital of Virginia and, as one acquaintance put it to me “Disney Land for history major.” We live in a part of the world that takes its sense of place very seriously. One of the ways that I have of thinking through and becoming acquainted with a place is by learning local history. I acquired the habit, I think, from my father who was forever telling me the stories — almost invariably Mormon — of this or…