Category: Book of Mormon

“I Am” Statements of Jesus in the Book of Mormon

When Moses was called by YHWH, he asked the Lord, “when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” In response, YHWH said, “I Am That I Am” (Exodus 14:13–14). This type of “I am” statement is significant and has echoes throughout the Bible. A recent interview with Joshua Matson at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk highlighted the types of “I am” statements that are also found in the Book of Mormon. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Misinterpreting “Large in Stature”

By Mike Winder   When Nephi says he is “large in stature” does that mean he is merely “tall and muscular” or something else? Sometimes in the Bible stature means height, such as “a man of great stature” in 2 Samuel 21:20 speaking of the man born to the giant of Gath.

Come, Follow Me: Book of Mormon Resources

As Jonathan has been pointing out in his posts about Reading the Book of Mormon in wartime and Book of Mormon historical revisionism, we are only a few weeks out from starting the next year of the reading cycle. Come, Follow Me 2024, will focus on the Book of Mormon. We’ve had posts and discussions about what are some good resources in the past, such as the one David Evans put up about this time during the previous reading cycle that are worth looking over in preparation. But there are some good resources that are more recent that are worth discussing as well.

Book of Mormon historical revisionism

As we study the Book of Mormon next year, there will be suggestions to read between the lines, to resist the surface or official or dominant reading, to see through the authoritative narrative to the unvarnished reality behind it – like the standard works, these suggestions too come around every four years. The instinct is understandable, as that’s how scholars are trained to read, and a lot of us have different varieties of scholarly training – but attempts at historical revisionism are misguided.

Reading the Book of Mormon in wartime

Next year, the focus of scripture study in Sunday School and Seminary classes will cycle again to the Book of Mormon. Compared to previous years when the Book of Mormon has been the focus, war will loom larger in the background than it has since at least the 1960s, even including the messy realities of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2004.

Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates: A Review

Richard Lyman Bushman’s Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates: A Cultural History (Oxford University Press, 2023) is an important contribution to Book of Mormon studies. As a cultural history of the gold plates, the book traces the story of the plates and the translation of the Book of Mormon, reactions to the story and the development of folklore about the gold plates over the subsequent two centuries. It also discusses how the plates have been portrayed in artwork and literature, used in teaching programs in the Church, and some of the debates about the plates.  Even while visiting the story of the plates—as he has before in Rough Stone Rolling and Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism—Bushman provides fresh perspectives on the story. For example, he focuses on the idea that Joseph Smith may not have understood the purpose of the plates as a record that needed to be translated initially, rather than being a treasure. At first, Joseph Smith may have approached the plates with his treasure hunting in mind rather than a religious perspective. After all, the idea of a book-length record on gold plates wasn’t really something that was a common idea. It was only gradually, as he became acquainted with the interpreters and what was on the plates that he realized it needed to be translated. It was a perspective that I’ve not seen emphasized before (at least within my memory). As you read, you can tell…

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 12: Bautista’s Lamanites

While efforts to gather converts from central Mexico failed and the mission in central Mexico closed, there would still be future successes. Among the earliest converts in the 20th century in Mexico, the Bautista family would go on to have an impact on the Church for years to come, including the development of an indigenous-affirming perspective on Lamanite identity.

Translation theory won’t decide your polemic argument

One of the recurring irritations of reading apologetic, polemic, or scholarly work in Mormon Studies addressing Joseph Smith’s translations of ancient scripture is that the authors nearly always ignore the perspective of practicing translators and the field of translation studies, instead basing their analyses in simple notions of linguistic equivalence that may still prevail in graduate language exams, but that the field of translation studies abandoned as unworkable several decades ago.

Asking Questions About the Book of Mormon

A central question about the Book of Mormon that has been asked over and over again is whether it is an ancient document or a modern one. Despite being asked and answered by so many people, that question is still being argued and fought over and probably will be indefinitely. But what other questions are being asked about the Book of Mormon? In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Joe Spencer and Nick Frederick talked about some of those questions in a discussion about the field of Book of Mormon studies. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion.

Translation or Revelation?

I posted about Book of Abraham translation a couple weeks ago as part of a co-post on an interview with Stephen O. Smoot. This time, we’re looking at a different interview with Michael Hubbard MacKay, who had a different perspective about Joseph Smith’s translation projects. The interview on Book of Mormon translation is over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, so what follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

Antipus, a Forgotten Hero

This is a guest post by Brian Stubbs. The faith, feats, and divine protection of the 2,000 stripling warriors is a favorite episode for many readers of The Book of Mormon.  Yet a number of less-than-obvious details may muster even more admiration.  The people of Ammon were called Anti-Nephi-Lehi (Alma 23:16-17), likely meaning ‘those of Nephi-Lehi’ (Book of Mormon Onomasticon, online; Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, Stubbs 2020, 101). The original adults covenanted never to kill again and were given protection within Nephite territories. With time, the Nephite burdens of war led to 2,000 Ammonite youths, teenage sons who had not entered into such a covenant, to volunteer for service.  These 2,000 striplings asked Helaman, the son of Alma the younger, to lead them (Alma 53:19). From Middle English, the word stripling basically means ‘skinny teenager’; its dictionary definitions include ‘youth’, ‘adolescent’, ‘boy’, ‘young man’, ‘teenager’, etc.  In earlier English, the -ling suffix referred to one of the category or quality of the preceding stem: compare yearling (one-year-old), underling (one serving under), hireling (one hired), earthling (one of earth).  It also often referred to the young of whatever species: duckling (young duck), gosling (young goose).  So stripling means one like a strip, a long narrow or slender youngster, not yet a fully filled out adult, though some of us overshoot the filling out part.  Perhaps only as a matter of interesting trivia, stripling warriors is one of our…

Loving the Book of Mormon Prophets without Accepting Their Prejudices: A Review of “The Book of Mormon for the Least of These, Volume 1”

A while back, a friend sent me an uncomfortable text. She is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but someone had given her daughter the old illustrated Book of Mormon Stories book, and her daughter came across the passage in Second Nephi when Nephi narrates that Laman and Lemuel’s descendants are cursed because of their wickedness and become a dark-skinned people. My friend texted, “We were wondering if there is some context missing that would make it seem less racist?” It’s a troubling passage for me and many other readers, but I finally had words to formulate a response, and for that, I can thank Fatimah Salleh and Margaret Olsen Hemming’s wonderful commentary The Book of Mormon for the Least of These: 1 Nephi – Words of Mormon, which the authors dedicated to “those who seek God and work for justice.” In this volume, Salleh and Hemming show a deep love and respect for the individuals in the Book of Mormon while also examining the challenges they experienced and how those may have colored some of their own perspectives, as in the passage referenced above. They invite us to not only consider the voices we hear and events we see but also those we do not: “Who is present but unheard? Who is suffering and why?” But they also invite us to question the perspectives of the narrators: “What are the assumptions this person…

Daniel Becerra on 3rd and 4th Nephi

Within the Book of Mormon, 3rd and 4th Nephi are arguably some of the most important portions of the book, with their focus on the in-person ministry of Jesus Christ among the children of Lehi and what followed because of that ministry.  Daniel Becerra, author of the book 3rd, 4th Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction, recently sat down with Kurt Manwaring to share some of his insights from the process of writing his theological introduction to the books.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview, with excerpts and some discussion, but if you want to read the full interview, you can head on over to Kurt Manwaring’s site here. Daniel Becerra is a scholar of early Christianity who is an assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU.  As he explained in the interview, his background played an important role in how he approached the Book of Mormon: “My training is in early Christian literature and my research focuses on moral formation, so I am very interested in how Christians understand perfection as well as in how they conform themselves to this ideal. I think the shape of my volume reflects this.”  He added: I … tried to situate the teachings of 3–4 Nephi within the larger tradition of Christian theological thought. I was pleasantly surprised at how much more I was able to get out the Book of Mormon when I started reading it in conversation with other…

“You shall obtain a view of them”

What were the three witnesses promised and what did they claim to experience?  The basics of answering this question seems obvious—they saw the gold plates and other artifacts related to them.  What is less apparent is how the Three Witnesses had that experience, since there are indications that they viewed the plates in vision, rather than experiencing them in a tangible way.  There is often a desire to make their experience out as being more materialistic than it was, perhaps as a result of conflating their experience with that of the Eight Witnesses, contradictory recollections of those who knew the witnesses, or a desire to have the experiences seem more real by being more physical in nature.  Whatever the case, it seems that the Three Witnesses saw and heard in a supernatural setting in a direct contrast to the experience of the Eight Witnesses, who claimed to have touched and handled the plates. Both early revelations and the Book of Mormon itself lay out the promises made to the three witnesses.  The earliest promise of a chance to witness the Book of Mormon was a revelation that was received in March 1829 (now D&C 5). The text states that: “three shall Know of A surety that those things are true for I will give them power that they may Behold & v[i]ew these things as they are.”[1]  Next, while translating Moroni’s writings in the Book of Ether, the promise was made to…

Pondering on Isaiah and the Abrahamic Covenant

For the past few years, I’ve tried to take some time each year to focus in on a specific subject related to the section of scriptures covered in Sunday School.  Last year, for example, I tried to scratch the surface of understanding Paul in the New Testament and look at some of how scholars approach him.  This year, I focused on understanding how the Isaiah texts are used within the Book of Mormon—particularly in Nephi’s writings.  I shared some very preliminary thoughts from studying Isaiah in 1 Nephi earlier this year, but since then I’ve done a lot more reading and thinking.  I think the most insightful book I read was Joseph Spencer’s The Vision of All, but I also enjoyed pondering on a few other books too. One issue that came up over and over in literature about Nephi’s use of Isaiah was his efforts to reaffirm the Abrahamic Covenant.  Nephi does say, after all, that the “marvelous work” of the Lord in the Latter-days shall be of worth “unto the making known of the covenants of the Father of heaven unto Abraham,” while he explained his interpretation of Isaiah’s words to his brothers.  He also stated that his “soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers” as part of his explanation for including the large block of Isaiah text in 2 Nephi.[1]  What is interesting to me, however, is that while…

A Soft Closing for the End of the World

Let it be said first off that I am a last days cynic. It’s not that I think many current ideas of apocalypticism are weird (I mean, I don’t just think they’re weird). I just really hate them. This is likely partly due to growing up in the 90’s right when apocalyptic fervor was still enjoying a level of mass popularity that put it up in the doctrinal hierarchy somewhere in between the Resurrection and not committing murder. I vividly remember sitting in seminary and Institute and Sunday School classes brooding, teenage-like, as I listened to lesson after lesson about all the cruelty and abuse and carnage hanging like a sword over our heads that was going to fall any moment now and there was nothing you could do about it except get food storage. (How food storage was going to help protect us from the nuclear war which was apparently imminent I did not know, but it seemed to make sense to people.) Since this was a time in my life that I was in desperately profound need of hope and comfort, hearing that God was going to unleash terror unlike anything the world had ever known but that it was for our own good was, needless to say, not super faith instilling. This got to the point that by the time I was an adult I had shut my eyes and ears to the last days. My heart…

Terryl Givens on 2nd Nephi

Terryl Givens—one of the foremost Latter-day Saint authors, theologians, and apologists of our time—recently penned a short volume on 2nd Nephi as part of the brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon series the Maxwell Institute has been publishing this year.  I wrote a review of the book earlier this year, but recently Kurt Manwaring recently did a 10 questions interview with Dr. Givens that is interesting and worth reading.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a summary with excerpts and some commentary), but I do recommend going to read the full interview at Kurt Manwaring’s site here. Terryl Givens states that he chose to focus on 2nd Nephi when he was approached about contributing to the series because “the teachings of Lehi and Nephi are … some of the richest in the Book of Mormon” and because “the Isaiah portions are substantial and daunting.”  In particular, Givens was drawn to the covenant theology expressed in the book of scripture: The nineteenth century religious landscape was saturated with thematic treatments of covenant theology. Joseph frequent invocation of the New and Everlasting Covenant fits squarely into that context. But his version of covenant theology, culminating in his temple theology, is the master framework for all his work of Restoration. I was surprised to realize how much of his theology is implicitly sketched—and the rest foreshadowed—by 2nd Nephi’s treatment of covenant theology. It’s an important insight into understanding…

Moroni and Pahoran; Revelation and Humility

The scriptures are replete with examples telling us to seek out personal revelation and use scriptural precedent and principles to guide our decisions. Anyone who has sincerely tried to do this over an extended period of time knows that it is easier said than done. How do we distinguish the guidance of the Spirit from a sea of conflicting emotions and ideas? How do we know which scriptural precedent applies to our lives? Even (near) perfect sources–revelation and scripture–suffer from our limitations as (very) imperfect recipients.  I thought of this when I was reading in Alma with my family last week and we got to the familiar story of Captain Moroni and Pahoran. Captain Moroni condemns Pahoran and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t send the necessary reinforcements and supplies, but it turns out Captain Moroni was mistaken and Pahoran was unable (not unwilling) to send the requisite support. Pahoran graciously doesn’t take offense, joins forces with Captain Moroni, and they win the war. So far so good, but on this reading two particular verses stood out to me for the first time: 19 And now, Moroni, I do joy in receiving your epistle, for I was somewhat worried concerning what we should do, whether it should be just in us to go against our brethren. 20 But ye have said, except they repent the Lord hath commanded you that ye should go against them. (Alma 61:19-20) The remarkable…

Nephi and the Garden Tower: A Children’s Play

This week’s Come, Follow Me lesson covers the story of Nephi praying on a tower in his garden, drawing a crowd, and revealing facts about the murder of the chief judge that he could only know through revelation. As I read the lesson, I felt like the story was highly dramatic! So, for my family, I adapted the story into a short play and added a few discussion questions at the end. I share it here in case it’s useful for your family. You can download the PDF of the play (which probably runs about five minutes) and it’s also reproduced below. Happy home church (for those still doing home church) or other family spiritual time! Nephi and the Garden Tower This dramatization is based on the events depicted in the Book of Mormon in Helaman 7-9. I have adapted the language and – in one case – added a character (Nephi’s brother Lehi) to help the dialogue flow more easily. At the end of some lines, I have included references in brackets to indicate where in the scriptures I have drawn from. Cast of characters Speaking parts (in order of speaking) Nephi Nephi’s brother Lehi [only appears at beginning, so same actor could also play Seantum] Onlookers / messengers Judges Crowd (at funeral) Seantum Non-speaking parts Chief judge (body)   Act 1: Nephi in the garden [Open on Lehi, brother of Nephi, sitting in a chair. Nephi enters, apparently…

Thoughts on the Gold Plates

We round out the 10 questions interview series on Joseph Smith’s translation with a discussion between Richard L. Bushman and Kurt Manwaring about the gold plates.  We’ve had a good run of interviews with scholars who have worked hard to examine the essential historical records surrounding Joseph Smith’s translation projects in order to find a greater understanding of what Joseph Smith and his colleagues said and did as they worked on the Book of Mormon, the Joseph Smith Translation of the King James Bible, and the Book of Abraham.  These interviews include two interviews with the editors of Producing Ancient Scripture, an interview with Samuel Brown about his understanding of Joseph Smith’s translations, an interview with Thomas Wayment about the Joseph Smith Translation, an interview with Matthew Grey about the Book of Abraham, and now this one about the gold plates and the Book of Mormon.  What follows here is a co-post to the full interview at Kurt Manwaring’s site—a discussion with quotes and commentary—but I also recommend taking the time to go over and read the full 10 questions interview with Richard Bushman here. In the interview, Kurt Manwaring probed into one of the biggest concerns about the gold plates these days in different ways with his first three questions—what role did the plates play in the translation if Joseph Smith revealed the text of the Book of Mormon through seer stones?  As a bit of background to these…

The Metaphysics of Translation

Understanding the nature of Joseph Smith’s translation efforts is an important part of understanding his ministry and the religions that have emerged from the early Latter Day Saint movement.  Whether the Book of Mormon, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, the Book of Abraham, or (as some might argue) the temple endowment ceremony, his translations are both very important and very controversial.  Kurt Manwaring has begun a month-long series of 10-questions interviews with people who are researching and writing about those translations, beginning with Sam Brown, who recently published Joseph Smith’s Translation: The Words and Worlds of Early Mormonism with Oxford University Press.  What follows here is a co-post to the 10 questions interview with Sam Brown, summarizing some key points and adding some commentary.  For those who want to read the full interview (and I suggest you do—it’s very interesting), follow the link here.  Note that this is not a review of his book (something that may come later for this blog), but a discussion based on the interview with Kurt Manwaring. Sam Brown should be familiar to much of our readership at the Times and Seasons.  He’s a believing member of the Church who is a physician-scientist by profession and a scholar of Mormonism by avocation.  He has published several books, essays, and journal articles in the Mormon studies field, including In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death…

A Small and Simple Quote

As I’ve been studying the “Come, Follow Me” material lately and talking about it with family, I’ve had a quote from Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park come to mind a few times.  There are a few statements in this section of Alma that have brought it to mind. The first is found in Amulek’s words to the Zoramites.  He tells them to not delay repentance because: “Behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God’ yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors” (Alma 34:32).  While I’ve discussed before that there are a few ways of viewing our ability to labor and repent in the afterlife, I feel like there is still a sense of urgency to actively shape our destiny and to learn and grow during this mortal life rather than letting too much of our time and energy slip away, thinking that there will always be more time.  As President Lorenzo Snow put it: “Though we may now neglect to improve our time, to brighten up our intellectual faculties, we shall be obliged to improve them sometime. We have got so much ground to walk over, and if we fail to travel to-day, we shall have so much more to travel to-morrow.”[1]  There do seem to be certain things that are best learned and experienced during this mortal life as we work to “brighten up our…