JWHA 2023 Conference Call for Papers September 21-24 Fredericksburg, Texas “Restoration Tales from Texas Dust” Led by independent Apostle Lyman Wight, a number of early Latter Day Saints departed from their homes with the letters “GTT” (Gone to Texas). They were headed to the independent Republic of Texas on a colonizing mission and searching out a homeland for the Latter Day Restoration. These sturdy pioneers included many who became ancestors for thousands now found in Restoration movements. The Wight Colony dissolved with his passing in 1858. The remnants scattered throughout the country, from Bandea County, Texas, to San Bernardino, California, to villages on lands east and west of the Missouri River. But the sacrifices of these Texas pioneers live on in their descendants. The building of a new temple in Independence by the Community of Christ memorialized the Wightite temple built in Zodiac, Texas. Many of the descendants of the Wightite colony took their places in the leading quorums of Restoration movements in Missouri and built chapels throughout the Texas Hill Country. The pioneering spirit of these Texas settlers lives on in the diversity of the Restoration today. In the decades following, Priesthood ordination was extended to include men of African ancestry in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and women and LGBTQ+ members in the Community of Christ. Global expansion among all branches of the Restoration generated a growing awareness of cultural differences and…
A Pitch for Living in High Needs Wards; or Why Large, Stable Wards are Boring
The socioeconomic dynamics around schools are funny things. The largely liberal social scientists I spent time around earlier in life could wax on about the evils of gentrification or white flight, but when it came to their own children they would move, slit throats, or do whatever it took to be in the catchment area for a prestigious school. And I don’t blame them. (However, for all the energy, time, and money you pay to win the “good school” game you could probably give them a killer home education—especially given all the amazing online resources available nowadays—but I digress). However, I sometimes see a similar process in regards to ward boundaries, with families going to great lengths to be in the more stable wards with high resources and large youth quorums for their children. I suspect that the insane real estate prices in Utah and Southern Idaho (relative to incomes) are in part because of the demand for these sorts of communities. (I’ve also been heartened to see the opposite happen, with a few hardy souls specifically asking where they could be of most help). However, I think big, stable wards and their purported positive influence on kids are overrated. I have experienced both extremes. One of the wards I grew up in now has over 120 youth, with multiple deacon’s quorums. I have also been in two wards I’d label “high needs,” one in inner-city Philadelphia and my current…
An Obscure Heavenly Mother Reference
I was doing some reading recently and came across a surprising moment where early Latter-day Saint John D. Lee casually included a reference to Heavenly Mother. On September 27, 1857, Lee visited a ward in Provo and was invited to speak. He did so, and at the conclusion of his remarks, he said that: “He was trying to live near unto the Lord”, and encouraged the congregation “that we all might have an interest in the Kingdom that we might be permitted too return too our father & mother in peace.” (Provo Utah Central Stake general minutes, 1849-1977; Volume 10, 1855-1860; Church History Library, https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets/da814a81-fed5-4040-a87a-2cfc46a96f52/0/960?lang=eng [accessed: February 9, 2023].) It was striking to me how casual and normal it seemed for him to include returning to both Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother in his remarks, given the reluctance to openly talk about Her in Latter-day Saint congregations today. (Of course, being John D. Lee, the circumstances and individual delivering the message are less than ideal – Lee had just been one of the main instigators of the Mountain Meadows Massacre about two weeks beforehand and was on his way to Salt Lake City to pawn off blame for the whole ordeal on Paiutes while reporting to President Brigham Young. This makes his statement that he was trying to live close to the Lord ring hollow.) That context notwithstanding, I appreciate the encouragement he gave to “have an interest in the…
Patriarchal Blessings as Revelations and Catalysts of Revelation
Patriarchal blessings have been an ongoing part of the Latter-day Saint tradition from very early on. As something that many Latter-day Saints experience, it’s an area that many people have questions. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk, Latter-day Saint historian Keith Erekson discussed some of the insights about patriarchal blessings he had in connection with his book Making Sense of Your Patriarchal Blessing. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion). When I first studied the Church History in the Fulness of Times manual that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published, its description of how the practice of patriarchal blessings struck me as a statement about how powerful these patriarchal blessing documents are. As is written in the manual: The calling of Patriarch to the Church was one of Joseph Smith’s responsibilities. Frequently individuals wanted him personally to ask the Lord for a revelation for them, but as the Church grew, this became impractical. On 18 December 1833, while giving blessings to his family, the Prophet was inspired to call and ordain his father as the first Patriarch to the Church. From that time until his death in 1840, Joseph Smith, Sr., traveled among the branches, holding special blessing meetings where he gave many faithful Saints their patriarchal blessings. In addition to providing revelation to individuals, the patriarchal…
AI Church Art, Part II
A few months ago I presented an initial foray into AI Gospel art. Since then the technology has developed even more; still, I don’t think we’re quite to the point where manual-only artists will be completely out of work, but we are certainly getting there. As far as I can tell, Midjourney appears to be the best publicly available text-to-image program. However, unlike some of the others it’s a little complex to get started, and they only allow a certain number of generations before they start charging money. Still, I thought I’d give it a try with Church-related themes. Writing the correct Midjourney prompt is an art in itself, and it’s clear that people with formal artistic training are at an advantage here. The way Midjourney is setup during the freeware stage makes you see other people’s prompts and creations while yours are generating, and some of the prompts are quite detailed and sophisticated, so it is likely that a more experiences Midjourney artist could get better results than I did here, but I think some of the failings I’ll point out hold true regardless of your skill level. To get less serious for a moment, one of the prominent themes in Midjourney creations are fantasy creatures. In Mormon folklore we don’t have a lot of monsters, but I thought I’d give it a shot with the Bear Lake Monster and early accounts of Cain visiting early Church members. An…
Linguistic notes on the 1843 letter to the Green Mountain Boys
Joseph Smith’s 1843 appeal to the Green Mountain Boys, ghostwritten by W. W. Phelps and published in (the original) Times and Seasons contains a series of foreign language quotations that are interesting not only because they include using the GAEL as a source for Egyptian.
My Lord, He Calls Me
To say that My Lord, He Calls Me: Stories of Faith by Black American Latter-day Saints, ed. Alice Faulkner Burch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2022) is an important collection would be an understatement. While small (clocking in at 225 pages), the volume contains around 35 chapters written by Black American Latter-day Saints, including conversion stories, testimonies, and other experiences and thoughts. The contributors cover a range of ages and time periods, including the words of 19th century Latter-day Saints–like Jane Elizabeth Manning James or Samuel Davidson Chambers–to contemporary teenagers in the Church. In addition, several poems are also included that are quite powerful and touching. The book was compiled with several reasons in mind. As explained in the introduction: “It is meant to strengthen and aid the Black American Latter-day Saint community as well as educate other members of the Church who want to better understand the experiences of Black American Latter-day Saints…. Ultimately, the hope of this book is to help all Church members become united through better understanding or another.” As part of opening a view into the experiences of Black American Latter-day Saints, the book does not shy away from discussing racism. The intro begins by noting that the experiences shared in the book “offer sacred truths in maintaining faith while overcoming challenges, including racism,” among other things. Individuals share experiences where they have experienced racism. For example, Hayle and Millie Fletcher write that: “Since…
IX. Joseph the Seer
How did Joseph Smith and his associates create a translation that shows knowledge of a grammar that presumes the existence of the translation? Given what we know of the documents and the timeline for the translation of the Book of Abraham, the only way to solve the chicken-and-egg problem is this:
VIII. Catalyst theories of revelation
The previous posts have put us in the vicinity of catalyst theories of revelation, but none of the formulations that I’ve seen are adequate for describing the Book of Abraham translation, and I think “catalyst” is the wrong chemical metaphor.
The Ordeal of Dr. John Milton Bernhisel
I’ve talked before about how if we knew and experienced the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for ourselves, we might be surprised by who were the most influential members in shaping the developing Church. Dr. John Milton Bernhisel is another of those individuals who had a surprisingly large impact compared to how often we talk about him today. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Bruce W. Worthen–author of Mormon Envoy: The Diplomatic Legacy of Dr. John Milton Bernhisel (University of Illinois Press, 2023)–shared insights on this important character from early Latter-day Saint history. What follows here is a copost to the full interview. Bruce Worthen explained some of why John Bernhisel was so important. Dr. John Milton Bernhisel was a man whose fingerprints are all over early Latter-day Saint history. He was a rare upper-class convert to the faith who negotiated between America’s political leaders and the angry Latter-day Saints residing on the western frontier. From his unsuccessful attempts to save the life of Joseph Smith to his success in securing a presidential pardon for Brigham Young, Bernhisel was in the middle of the Latter-day Saint conflict. As a representative of the Latter-day Saints in Washington, Bernhisel negotiated the boundaries of Latter-day Saint theopolitical ambitions with some of nineteenth-century America’s most influential political figures, including Henry Clay, Thomas Benton, Stephen A. Douglas, Zachary Taylor, James Buchanan, and Abraham…
VII. The GAEL and Linguistic Typology
The GAEL provides for a mode of interpretation that finds expansive (but not unlimited) meaning in seemingly simple characters. Zakioan-hiash, as we have seen, is both a name, a word with a specific phonetic realization, and the equivalent of at least one sentence.
Gangrenous Limbs and the Body of Christ: A Defense of Excommunication
The meme is from a friend in response to a Dutch rabbi’s harsh response to documentarians trying to shoot footage in his synagogue for a piece on Jewish excommunicant Baruch Spinoza. I’m not posting it to make a point or as some kind of an argument; I just thought it was funny. Recently, whenever there is an excommunication that makes the news a common response has been to invoke 1 Corinthians 12, a powerful discourse on the importance of diversity and unity in the Church that uses the metaphor of the Body of Christ as the Church. I get the sense that the historical use of this particular metaphor has its roots in Protestant more than Latter-day Saint exegetical thought, but I might be wrong, and besides it’s fine to borrow emphases from other traditions as long as they stay within the bounds of orthodoxy, which this one does. Still, I think the use of this metaphor as an attack against excommunication per se is a misappropriation. Some rhetoric I’ve seen will even go so far as to call excommunication “violence,” but when one slows down and thinks through the issue, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that, regardless of one’s position on a particular action, excommunication should be a thing. When people argue for or against a certain religious practice in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there are a number of approaches they use;…
A Female Journal of Discourses
“Some called her the poetess, the presidentess, and the priestess.” This description of Eliza R. Snow and her titles was shared by Jenny Reeder in a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk about the Eliza R. Snow discourses that have been published by the Church Historian’s Press. What follows here is a copost to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). In describing who Eliza R. Snow (Smith Young) was and why she is so notable, Jenny Reeder wrote: Eliza R. Snow was one of the most influential Latter-day Saint women of the nineteenth century. She was born in Beckett, Massachusetts; then moved to Mantua, Ohio, when she was 2; then joined the church and moved from Kirtland to Missouri to Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. Some called her the poetess, the presidentess, and the priestess for her work on hymns we continue to use today, following Emma Smith’s role as general Relief Society president, and her work in the Endowment House and the St. George temple. Brigham Young assigned her to assist bishops in organizing Relief Societies in their wards beginning in 1868. She worked with Mary Isabella Horne to organize retrenchment organizations and young ladies’ associations, and she helped Aurelia Spencer Rogers plan out her ideas for Primary. Reeder also shared a welcome President Snow received when she visited Kanab with her counselor wherein the women there stated that: We…
VI. Non-Egyptian Linguistic Influences on the GAEL
Champollion – and Egyptian – aren’t the only influences on the GAEL.
V. The GAEL’s Degrees and the Structure of Abraham 1:2b-3
Two related features of the GAEL that have been the focus of the most controversy and puzzlement are how one character might represent much longer English texts, and the GAEL’s use of a five-fold system of degrees to expand a character’s potential meaning.
IV. The GAEL and the structure of Abraham 1:1-2a
In his 2009 article, Chris Smith argued for the textual dependence of the Book of Abraham on the GAEL. While Dan Vogel’s recent book about the Book of Abraham and related apologetics strenuously objects to any suggestion that the GAEL was reverse engineered from the translation of Abraham, Vogel nevertheless entirely rejects the basis of Chris Smith’s argument.
Robert Alter’s Translation of the Hebrew Bible
I’ve always wondered how well the talks of different general authorities translate to other languages. For example, I can imagine that a lot of the alliteration that a few apostles adopt in their addresses doesn’t carry over. And I know from my work on translating Spanish hymns that translating between languages is an inexact science and involves compromises to keep certain aspects of the original language – rhyme, meter, literal meaning of words, nuances conveyed in idioms, etc. It’s almost impossible to carry all of those together across from one language to another. Largely because of this, translations of the Bible have proliferated, with each trying to convey the meaning of the texts from the original languages in different ways. For example, Robert Alter’s English translation of the Hebrew Bible focuses on carrying the literary forms of the Hebrew texts. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Robert Alter discussed his translation. Robert Alter is a noted scholar who received his doctorate from Harvard University and is a Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature. His doctorate was in modern comparative literature, but he noted in the interview that: “as an undergraduate I spent three years studying biblical texts rigorously with H. L. Ginsburg, one of the leading philological scholars of the Bible of his generation.” His familiarity with literary forms and biblical texts came together to lead to his translation: In the late 1970s I published…
III. What Joseph Smith Knew About Champollion
With the preliminary deliberations out of the way, it’s time for a close look at the GAEL.
II. What Joseph Smith Would Have Known About Champollion
Before we get to the heart of my argument – which is coming up next in a long post with a detailed look at what’s in the GAEL – we need to look at what Joseph Smith and his associates would have known about Champollion and the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics by 1835.
I. Putting the grammar back in GAEL
Scholars from seemingly every corner of Mormon Studies agree: While working on the Egyptian papyri, Joseph Smith and his associates were either unaware of Champollion’s recent work to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, or simply unaffected by the recent advances in Egyptology. Not only is this position untenable, it’s demonstrably incorrect.
Voices of the Wives of Joseph Smith
Plural marriage in Nauvoo continues to be one of the thorniest issues when discussing the life and legacy of Joseph Smith. One of the major works that helped shed greater light on the roots of plural marriage and the women who practice it with the Prophet is Todd Compton’s book, In Sacred Loneliness, published in 1997. Not too long ago, a sequel or companion volume called In Sacred Loneliness: the Documents was published by Signature Books. Todd Compton recently discussed this latest volume in an interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk. In describing the original book, In Sacred Loneliness, Compton wrote that: For those who haven’t read the book, I should mention that it deals with Joseph Smith’s polygamy in Nauvoo. However, it mainly provides chapter-length biographies of his plural wives. The book takes them from birth, through the Latter-day Saint migrations, and into Utah (or California or other states, in a few cases). Their lives were mixed: sometimes very tragic, sometimes generally happy. The women often lived in large polygamous families in Utah, and experienced what I call “practical polygamy.” It could be difficult. It’s very powerful to understand the lives of some of the first women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to agree to practice plural marriage and what they went through. The effort to write a follow-up volume 20 years later came in connections with another writing project. As Compton…
What You Might Be Missing in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus
“Most readers of Matthew’s Gospel take one look at that first page full of ‘begats’ and impossible-to-pronounce names and quickly turn the page.” So begins Julie Smith’s thoughtful essay “Why These Women in Jesus’s Genealogy?”, which is available free of charge in the Segullah journal (2008) and is reprinted in her book Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels. “But,” Smith continues, “Matthew was a deliberate writer.” She goes on to highlight that among more than 25 men in Jesus’s line, Matthew includes just four women (plus Mary), and they aren’t the matriarchs, as one might have expected (such as Abraham’s wife Sarah or Isaac’s wife Rebekah). Rather, the women she includes are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Smith goes on to reflect on why Matthew may have included each of these women who were outside of the social mainstream in at least some way. Smith poses a range of hypotheses; readers can, of course, decide for themselves. I strongly recommend reading the (short, accessible) article yourself. But I’ll share two passages that I marked with exclamation points in my hard copy. “These women are, as Jesus is, intercessors: Tamar enables Judah’s line to continue; Rahab brings her family into the house of Israel; Ruth brings the Moabites into David’s line; and Bathsheba brings her son Solomon to the throne.” And one more: “Modern readers generally do this Gospel an injustice by skimming over the genealogy as if…
R-Rated Sound of Musics, or R-Rated Films for Latter-day Saints
There was a deacon in my childhood ward that badly wanted to be a soldier when he grew up; he went all out with the camouflage, shooting, and playing “steal the flag” in the woods with glowsticks (a piece of rural Mormon culture that I hope does not die with the decline of Latter-day Saint BSA troops). However, he changed his mind abruptly after watching the Omaha beach landing scene in Saving Private Ryan, which I suspect modified his idea of what battle looked like from some PG-13 situation–everyone is killed with one shot, the enemies lack basic marksmanship, and at the protagonist receives an inconspicuously bloodless wound–to the more realistic R (limbs getting removed with .50 caliber machine guns). The fact is that “we are what we eat” also applies to media. While as Latter-day Saints we are rightly concerned about a diet of dark, heavy material, by not sometimes including R-rated material in our media diets we run the risk of: 1) Not having access to potentially moving or insightful content because of an R label. 2) Consuming disproportionately infantile content because we are limiting our media diet to a universe where people get shot and never die and never get stressed out enough to use the F-bomb. R-rated movies often deal with realistic, gritty scenarios, and sometimes they are more profound and impactful because of the realism. Life in an existence where tyrants often reign with blood…
The Emmeline B. Wells Diaries
Emmeline B. Wells is a crucial figure in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was a leader in the Church as a Relief Society president, an advocate for women’s suffrage, a noted periodical editor, an early settler in Utah, etc. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Cherry Silver and Sheree Bench discussed the Emmeline B. Wells diaries that the Church Historian’s Press has published online. First off, the interview shares some information about who Wells was and why she was notable: Emmeline B. Wells was the most renowned Latter-day Saint woman of her generation. She was celebrated as an editor, public speaker, community activist, and defender of her faith. Born in Massachusetts in 1828, she emigrated first to Nauvoo and then from Winter Quarters to Utah in 1848. She edited the Woman’s Exponent from 1877 to 1914, was involved in local politics, and served on the boards of national women’s organizations. She led the Relief Society as its fifth general president between 1910 and 1921 and died in Salt Lake City in April 1921. Emmeline was married three times and had six children. A son with James Harris died in infancy in Nauvoo. Two daughters with Newel K. Whitney were born in Salt Lake City and became civic leaders. Of her three daughters with Daniel H. Wells, two died of illness as young adults. The third, Annie…