Category: Book of Mormon

Korihor the Witch

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (Ex. 22:18) I recently read Peter Charles Hoffer’s The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History (Univ. Press of Kansas, 1997). How could a bunch of dedicated Christians become convinced that their neighbors, some of whom were acknowledged to be fine citizens and exemplary Christians, were actually in active league with the devil to inflict harm on others? How could trials conducted by leading men of the colony solemnly conclude that dozens of men and women were in fact witches, then haul them a mile or two out of town and hang them? Right here in America? These remain troubling yet fascinating questions for most Americans, with new books on the topic coming out every year. Mormons in particular can learn something from Salem.

Hell Part 1: Close Readings of the Book of Mormon

I love doing close readings of scripture. The normal way to do this is reading linearly through the entire book of scripture. An other great way is to study by topic. Each helps you see things you might miss using only the other method. While I’m glad our gospel doctrine has encouraged reading all scripture, part of me kind of wishes there was something akin to the Gospel Principles class. Just with broader topics and focused on reading our key texts rather than simple answers. My goal here is to do that sort of thing with a particular focus on the Book of Mormon. It’ll take time and may follow a somewhat circuitous route. With luck I’ll make a post each week in this series. I’ll be mixing the two methods I mentioned slightly as I’ll typically pick a few texts related to the topic and then do a close reading of them. I was kind of encouraged by a recent…

Day of the Lamanite, Deferred

Lamanite: An increasingly dated term that now rubs many people the wrong way when heard in public Mormon discourse. But the category lingers on despite LDS attempts to move toward a post-racial approach to priesthood and salvation. Lamanites, Nephites, children of Lehi, Indians, Native Americans, Amerindians — whichever term you choose, it’s clear the doctrinal category is still with us. There is still a racial component to the Mormon view of past, present, and future history. Let’s explore this a bit.

The Book of Mormon as Literature

One can read the Book of Mormon as canonized scripture, to guide the Church and its members in doctrine and practice, or as a sign of Joseph Smith’s calling to bring forth new scripture and establish a restored church. Then there is the possibility of reading the Book of Mormon as literature, to enlighten, uplift, and inspire the reader. So, how literary is it? How exactly does one read the Book of Mormon as literature?

Partaking of the Fruit of the Tree


One of my favorite parts of Christmas is sitting in the darkened living room, gazing at the lighted tree. There is something magical and transfixing about the warm, gentle light, the fragrance of pine, and the palpable presence of nature that fills my home with its incongruous beauty. I have many memories of reading Scripture by the light of the Christmas tree. Usually we read from Luke, with Matthew’s bit about the Wise Men added in; sometimes we expand into Isaiah, either spoken or set to Handel. This year, though, when I stole a moment of stillness out of the hectic holiday rush to sit beside the tree, the words that came to my mind were Nephi’s: “I looked and beheld a tree . . . and the bbeauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the cwhiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.” It had never struck me before how much meaning the…

The Death of Ishmael[fn1]


Early in the Small Plates of Nephi, Ishmael and his family join Lehi and his family in the wilderness. In spite of their likely close proximity, though, we don’t know much about Ishmael.[fn2] Nephi and his brothers found favor in Ishmael’s sight. Although at various times Ishmael’s sons and daughters act for or against Nephi, we don’t have any sense about where Ishmael falls in the Laman & Lemuel/Lehi & Nephi continuum.

King Noah’s Blues


I could see them before I crossed Michigan Avenue into Grant Park. There were probably five of them, holding big yellow signs with blocky letters, Bible verses. It seemed out of place, fifty feet in front of the entrance to the Chicago Blues Festival, but maybe I just didn’t understand the logic behind it. I don’t remember the verses the signs promoted, and the picketers seemed nice enough, holding signs but not harassing the passersby, passersby who, like me, basically ignored them. Maybe they’d picked out verses of scripture with special applicability to fans of the blues; then again, maybe these were just generic holy protest signs.

Book of Mormon Word Cloud [updated]


I’ve been curious what a word cloud of the Book of Mormon would look like, so , just for fun on a Friday, I finally made one. I don’t have a lot to say about it, other than that “unto” seems to be a very popular word (which doesn’t really surprise me, but I didn’t expect, either). “Lamanite” shows up more than “Nephite,” though the usage of both is dwarfed by “people.” I took the text from the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, and I copied it from here, and I made the cloud using WordItOut. (Note that I actually prefer the look of the Wordle cloud, but I couldn’t get it in the post at a decent size. That said, I’ve included it below.) Update: Ardis pointed out that, in many ways, the word cloud would be more useful if some of the dull words came out (really, other than an interesting look at word choice, having…

In Memoriam

I spend the morning with my children at the cemetery. The high school band played, the mayor placed a wreath at the war memorial, and servicemen, including a veteran of Pearl Harbor, spoke to us. We bought red paper poppies to pin to our shirts. We didn’t talk about Memorial Day in sacrament meeting yesterday. The only mention was that the scouts would be placing flags on lawns. It seems that we should want to remember and honor those who have fought and fallen in our worship services. How many times in the Book of Mormon are the people exhorted to remember and always retain a remembrance of the the faith of their forefathers and the mercies God has shown to them? I am not a huge fan of the war chapters of the Book of Mormon; I’m not terribly interested in battles and strategy in general. But I do love the passion of Captain Moroni and his bold and…

The Real World of the Book of Mormon

bible book of mormon

This is the fourth in a series of posts taking a broad look at the Book of Mormon. This post continues the discussion of the prior post, The Book of Mormon as Narrative, by considering verisimilitude. This term refers to how faithfully a text represents the real world or, to various degrees, depicts events that do not conform to the readers’ view of the real world. First, a tighter definition of verisimilitude [Note 1]: The semblance of truth or reality in literary works; or the literary principle that requires a consistent illusion of truth to life. The term covers both the exclusion of improbabilities (as in realism and naturalism) and the careful distinguishing of improbabilities in non-realistic works. As a critical principle, it originates in Aristotle’s concept of mimesis or imitation of nature. The verisimilitude issue presents two questions, one for the author of a text and one for its readers. The Problem for Authors and Historians To what extent…

The Book of Mormon as Narrative


This is the third post in a series taking a broad view of the Book of Mormon (first, second). In this post I will discuss aspects of narrative encountered in the text. Not all scripture is narrative: consider the lengthy legal codes in the Torah and the moral exhortation found in James. Not all historical accounts are in the form of a narrative, although most history books written for the popular market are narrative histories. Most novels are in the form of a narrative, including historical fiction, which adds authorial speculation to large chunks of authentic history, often mixing fictional characters with actual historical figures and events.

The Book of Mormon: What has it done for you lately?

Julie is posting detailed commentary and Kent is providing literary reflection; I’m afraid all I have to offer on the Book of Mormon is general observations. This week let’s talk about situating the book as a whole, not so much in terms of content and form (which I’ll address in later posts) but in terms of function and use. How does the Church use the Book of Mormon? How do you use the Book of Mormon?

Desert and a Just Society

The 2010 poverty level in the U.S., we learned on Tuesday, is the highest it has been since 1993. In 2010, about one in six Americans lived below the poverty line.[fn1] In June, 14.6% of Americans received food stamps.[fn2] To some extent, the high poverty rate is probably related to the high unemployment rate, which was 9.1% in August. I throw out all of these numbers to suggest that, as a society, we have a problem. That problem needs to be fixed. And we, as Mormons, undoubtedly have something that we can bring to the discussion of how to fix it. As I think about how we can fix poverty, though, I’m hugely influenced by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill’s book Creating an Opportunity Society.[fn3] Haskins and Sawhill point out that Americans care about desert.[fn4] That is, as Americans, we want those who have the ability to work for a living. And I’m interested in this idea of desert. Because…

12 Questions with Grant Hardy – part I

Grant Hardy

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.

Grant Hardy and Personal Scripture Study

Understanding BofM ii

Every semester, one of my principal goals in my tax classes is to get my students to engage with the Internal Revenue Code. And it’s harder than you might think: often they don’t read the Code itself, focusing instead on the explanations in their casebook.[fn1] And their aversion to reading the Code is completely understandable: unlike court decisions, the mainstay of law school, there is no narrative flow, no character, no imagery, nothing that we traditionally latch onto in order to immerse ourselves in a text. And frankly, using the casebook isn’t a bad short-term decision. The casebook explains what the Code provisions mean and how they’re applied, at least in simple situations.But in the longer term, relying on the casebook’s explanation does my students a disservice. While it helps them be able to answer my questions in class, and while it likely helps them do decently on my exams, if they rely on the casebook at the expense of…

Grant Hardy’s Subject Problem

Criticisms of the Book of Mormon generally fall into one of two categories: objections to its historical claims on the one hand, and on the other critiques of its literary style. The two prongs are often combined in a single attack, for instance in the suggestion that the awkward style of the book reflects the naïve voice of an unlettered youngster. For their part, the book’s defenders also tend to elide the two categories, arguing that passages of inelegant prose are better understood as latent Hebraisms laboring under English syntax. Most of the time, of course, devout readers of the Book of Mormon simply ignore the book’s style altogether. Grant Hardy, in his new book Understanding the Book of Mormon, wants to uncouple the problems of historicity and literary merit. He brackets the first, setting aside the apologetic debates that have dominated Book of Mormon studies over the past four decades. Instead, he turns his attention to the content of…

Royal Skousen’s 12 questions — The Critical Text Version

Last month we posted Royal Skousen’s discussion of his work on recovering the earliest version of the Book of Mormon, along with some updates.  Unfortunately, that post garnered some annoying formatting problems — mostly due to the new format T&S adopted this year.  We’re happy to now present to you mark III of Royal Skousen’s 12 questions interview.  Royal Skousen’s book, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, was published last month by Yale University Press and yes, you can order  it at Amazon.

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!

DNA Delight

A recent DNA study has gotten some attention, both on our sidebar and in a post by J. Nelson-Seawright at By Common Consent. The Mormon question that inevitably comes up from such a study is does it cast any light on the question of whether Lehi really landed in the Americas long ago? J. Nelson-Seawright discusses some possible ramifications if the study (or ones like it) do matter. Let me make clear that, for those who think Lehi landed in an already populated America, this study is basically irrelevant.

What Does My Lack of Personal Trials Say About Me?

I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I should talk about in my inaugural post on this blog.  Quite honestly, when I agreed to do a stint as a guest blogger, I thought it would be pretty easy.  But, lately, it seems that all my Mormonism-related thoughts have been trite and meaningless.  For example, I considered drafting a post complaining about one of the teachers Elders Quorum and his refusal to teach out of the manual.  But, honestly, I think that post would have just ended up being a rant about a quorum discussion outlining the evils of facial hair (true story, by the way) and I don’t think that’s what the faithful readers of this blog are looking for. 

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…

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. 


The Book of Mormon is a reliquary in prose. In some extensive sections and at some critical moments, what drives the narrative is the question: how did a set of golden plates, a steel sword, a ball of curious workmanship, a breastplate, and two translucent stones end up inside a stone box buried in a hill in the state of New York? For a religion that attaches little to no significance to relics, it’s striking that large sections of our distinctive book of scripture are concerned with the provenance—the origin and the later cultural significance—of a particular set of holy artifacts.


One of the subterranean threads running throughout the Book of Mormon is the mystery of whose bones are heaped upon the land northward.

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…