Category: Features

Sunday School lessons – Book Reviews – Interviews

A Review: Buffalo Bill and the Mormons

Buffalo Bill and the Mormons by Brent M. Rogers is a fun and interesting book about the intersections of “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s life with the Latter-day Saints. The basic idea is that the American superstar, soldier, bison hunter, and showman launched his acting career at a time when anti-Mormon propaganda had become a profitable and popular area of storytelling. Cody embraced using Latter-day Saints as stock villains in his storylines, portraying Latter-day Saints as enemies of the proper home. Cody was, of course, the defender of the proper home in the plays in which he performed and seems to have initially believed the messages of that propaganda to some degree. 

Wilford Woodruff and the Founding Fathers

While Wilford Woodruff has only one canonized document in Latter-day Saint scriptures (Official Declaration 1), he did record a number of visions and revelations of his own. Perhaps the best-known among these is his vision of Wilford Woodruff and the Founding Fathers that led him to do proxy temple work for them and other eminent individuals. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Jennifer Mackley discussed what we know about Wilford Woodruff’s vision. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

The Latter-day Saint Chicago Experiment

The Chicago Experiment was an effort to train some of the best teachers in the Church to the academic standards of Biblical Studies applied elsewhere in Western Civilization during the 1930s. The results were mixed, with some of the scholars going on to improve the Church Education System, while others struggled to reconcile what they had learned with their faith. Casey Griffiths discussed the Chicago Experiment in a recent interview at the Latter-day Saints history blog, From the Desk. What follows here is a copost to the interview. 

All Indians Today Descend From Lehi

As the children of Lehi and Sariah intermarried with first Ishamel’s offspring and then their children intermixed with the natives of the Americas, what has been the result genetically after 2,600 years? Are the American Indians encountered by the Europeans in 1492 and beyond also descendants of Lehi and Sariah?

Michael Austin on the Book of Mormon

A fascinating read that was recently published is Michael Austin’s The Testimony of Two Nations. I’ve already done a review of the book, but wanted to highlight a recent interview that Michael Austin did at the Latter-day history blog From the Desk that shared some interesting insights from the book. What follows here is a copost to the full interview.

You Might Be a Pharisee if…

The Pharisees get a bad reputation from their portrayal in the gospels, but it probably isn’t deserved. Jewish scholar Amy-Jill Levine recently discussed why that is likely to be the case that we are guilty of misunderstanding the Pharisees in a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a copost to that interview. To start, Amy-Jill Levine shared some information about who the Pharisees were: In much of the Christian imagination, beginning with the Gospels, the Pharisees (with a few notable exceptions) represent hypocrisy, misogynism, elitism, xenophobia, the letter of the law rather than on the Spirit, and generally everything that Christians, and by extension, everyone, does not like. Conversely, Jews have, since the Middle Ages, recognized the Pharisees as the predecessors of Rabbinic Judaism: The Pharisees encouraged the Jewish people to increase the sanctity of their lives and fully to be a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Even within the New Testament, however, the picture is complicated: The Gospels show them in synagogues, as hosting Jesus at dinner, and as teaching the people. When Matthew states that the Pharisees “cross sea and land to make a single proselyte” (23:15), the impression is not one of separation but of active engagement with fellow Jews to help them better to follow Torah. Josephus also talks about the popularity of the Pharisees among the masses despite not being a fan. (Josephus…

Joseph Spencer on Bruce R. McConkie’s Legacy

Long-time followers of my blog posts (if any exist) are likely aware that I have a complicated relationship with Elder Bruce R. McConkie. He was hugely influential to me in my teenage years and early twenties before my own views of Latter-day Saint theology began to conflict with his in a few very notable ways. I still have a large amount of respect for him, both for his role as an apostle and his intellectual efforts to create a systematic theology, but I also find that his authoritarianism and some of his views rub me wrong. I don’t seem to be alone in this wrestle, however, as there seems to be a large segment of Latter-day Saints who have downplayed McConkie’s contributions, even while other Latter-day Saints tend to see his work very favorably (hello there, Dennis Horne!). Joseph Spencer has recently offered a reassessment of Bruce R. McConkie in an interview on the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk that has led me to ponder more on Elder McConkie’s legacy. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

Theology in Alma

Just in time for us to study Alma in “Come, Follow Me,” the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk published an interview with Kylie Nielson Turley about theology in Alma. Kylie Nielson Turley wrote the Maxwell Institute’s brief theological introduction to the first half of the Book of Alma and has a lot of insights to share from her time researching and studying about Alma. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

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.

Sherem the Native American

Despite keeping the name-title of the Nephite founder in their royal name, the outsized positive influence of that prophet-king and founder of the Nephites was clearly quickly missed. “The people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices,” Jacob lamented (Jacob 1:15). They began to be preoccupied with obtaining riches and indulging in immoralities. Realizing that the Jewish immigrants were just a fraction of the People of Nephi helps many more things make sense. After all, the multiple wives and girlfriends of the wicked Nephites were not just Jacob’s grandkids and nieces and nephews sinning with each other. 

Temples in the Tops of the Mountains

Temples in the Tops of the Mountains: Sacred Houses of the Lord in Utah by Richard O. Cowan and Clinton D. Christensen (BYU RSC and Deseret Book Company, 2023) helped me solve a long-time mystery about my life. You see, when I was six years old, I went to the Vernal, Utah Temple open house. For some reason, I walked away believing that there was only one temple baptismal font for the whole church that they just moved between temples. I even told my Primary that is what I learned at the open house when they asked me about it. Obviously, that’s not the case—each temple has its own baptismal font (and the book also informed me that there are some temples that will soon have two baptismal fonts)—but I have always wondered what led me to that conclusion. 

Nephite Succession Crisis

It was a coup (or divine providence) that Nephi and his brothers Jacob and Joseph were able to assert themselves as religious leaders in this new land, spiritually guiding thousands who were already in the Americas. Emerging as the political leaders of this large, mostly non-Jewish People of Nephi was trickier. Nephi’s inspired leadership, however, was a tour de force.

Septuagint

When Jesus and the early Christians talked about the scriptures, they were using a version that is different from the manuscript basis of most English translations, including the King James Version that is so often used in Latter-day Saint circles. In a Hellenistic world, they relied on the Septuagint—a Greek translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament). In a recent post at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Philip Jenkins (professor of history at Baylor University) discussed more about the Septuagint. What follows here is a copost (a shorter post with some commentary).

Lehi’s Thanksgiving

I envision Lehi and his family encountering some curious native villagers near their initial landing beach in the Promised Land. I can imagine that the first Native Americans to see these strangers from the Middle East sailing to their shores in a vessel larger than any canoe may have viewed them as gods. From Christopher Columbus in the West Indies to Hernando Cortés riding into Montezuma’s Mexico, it was natural for the locals to view these otherworldly newcomers as gods. The righteous Nephites would have dissuaded any worship or being treated like gods. Like Ammon later before King Lamoni, they would have denied that they were “the Great Spirit” (Alma 18:18-19). However, it would have been natural for this party of prophets and priests to evangelize to their new friends about the Lord who guided them there.

On Willard Richards

I’ve written previously about the reality that many of the counselors in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a huge impact on the Church, but they may not always be remembered by the general membership after a generation or two. I made that remark specifically with George Q. Cannon in mind, but Willard Richards is another example that was recently explored in an interview with Alex Smith at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

The Tribes that Greeted the Lehites

As we read the Book of Mormon, we will better appreciate its authenticity if we see its stories in the context of the Nephites and Lamanites continuously bumping up against Native American tribes who were already in the Americas. The Promised Land was not an empty land, as many throughout Church history sometimes imagined. In fact, our testimony of the truths taught within its pages are all the more powerful when we look at this ancient record with eyes wide open to the cultural world it actually took place in.

Thoughts on David A. Bednar

I recently worked on reviewing the addresses of Elder David A. Bednar to put together a David A. Bednar quotes page over at From the Desk. As I worked on it, I noticed some interesting patterns and other observations that I thought I would share. These include a standardized structure he seems to follow, some core concepts that he reiterates over and over, and his sources.

The Copper Scrolls

One of the more interesting finds among the dead sea scrolls is a text that was written onto copper rather than papyrus of animal skin. It’s a unique find, and has become an area of interest for the noted scholar George J. Brooke, who recently spoke with the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk about the copper scrolls. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview, covering some of what these copper scrolls are.

Joseph White Musser

Mormon Fundamentalism is a well known collective term for groups of Latter-day Saints who attempt to replicate the doctrines and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1840 – 1890 era, most notably plural marriage. Less well-known, perhaps, are the figures who initially organized and developed the Fundamentalist Mormon movement, such as Joseph White Musser. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Cristina Rosetti discussed some of who Joseph Musser was and what his lasting legacies have been. What follows here is a copost to the full interview.

The Heart of the Matter: A Review

The Heart of the Matter, by President Russell M. Nelson, is a book to live by. It serves as a collection and presentation of his core messages as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and provides guidance for both belief and living as a member of that church.

The House of the Lord in Kirtland

The House of the Lord in Kirtland, Ohio has been a major topic in the news as of late, thanks to the recent transfer of ownership between Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On the very same day that the transfer was announced, the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk shared a post discussing the history of the Kirtland Temple. What follows here is a co-post to that discussion.

Atonement in the Book of Mormon

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is central to our faith and also central to the message of the Book of Mormon. What exactly, however, does the Book of Mormon say about the Atonement of Jesus Christ? In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Nick Frederick discussed Atonement in the Book of Mormon. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

The Purifying Power of Gethsemane

As we are in Easter season, it is appropriate to ponder on the life, teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ. One of the best talks given by Latter-day Saint leaders on the subject is “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane”, Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony. The talk was discussed in a recent post 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.

Sins of Christendom: A Review

Anti-Mormon literature is always a touchy subject, but Sins of Christendom: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Evangelicalism by Nathaniel Wiewora handles it deftly, putting it in a broader context of change and debate within Evangelical Christianity. 

American Zion: A Review

If I were to ever write a single-volume history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I hope that it would turn out like Benjamin E. Park’s American Zion: A New History of Mormonism (Liveright, 2024). It is a very nuanced, insightful, and well-written take on Latter-day Saint history in the United States. It takes into account viewpoints from many different groups that have been a part of the Latter-day Saint movement over the years or who have split from the Church into their own faith communities. American Zion also builds upon a lot of important research that has happened since Matthew Bowman published The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith in 2012 (the previous reigning academic history of the Church). Five stars out of five, as far as I’m concerned.

Diné Latter-day Saints

One often-overlooked aspect of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the interactions of the institution with the Diné (Navajo) peoples in the western United States. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Farina King (an expert in colonial and post-colonial Indigenous studies) discussed some of the fraught history of Diné Latter-day Saints. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

National Treasure – Israel Style

We read in the Hebrew Bible that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and “carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king’s house” (2 Kings 24:13). The question of what happened to those treasures afterwards has been a subject of fascination ever since. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Elena Dugan discussed the Jerusalem temple treasure. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

On John A. Widtsoe

John A. Widtsoe was an influential apostle and theologian in the Church who came from a scientific background. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, biographer Thomas G. Alexander discussed the life and contributions of this apostle-scientist. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.