Search Results for: Presentism
Well, it is great to be here with you. Not only are there a lot of Matts on the program at Fair
this year. We have many more Matts to offer at the Church History Department. We joke about this frequently, that maybe we have kind of an affirmative action program for Matts.
It’s good to be here. I’m going to talk to you today about a project that I’ve had the pleasure to be involved in over the past few years at the Church History Department. Most members of the Church History Department work here in this building that you see. It’s the Church History Library. If you haven’t had the opportunity to go to the Church History Library, I suggest you take that opportunity the next time you’re in Salt Lake City. It’s west of the Conference Center. Of course it’s an archive and a library and has a reading room and all of the kinds of things you might expect of such an institution. But we also have some display cases that are available to you, so that you can go see some of the treasures that are a part of the Church’s collection. Those collections are housed in this facility. If you look at it you can see all the offices of course wrapped around the front. But if you look at the top you can see on the roof that light-colored bump. That’s the vault that’s in the back of the building. It’s the large multi-storied vault, and it contains the Church’s historical collections. Since most of you will probably not ever have the opportunity to go into that vault and see what it looks like, I brought a picture of my team and me in the vault, just to give you a sense of what it looks like. It’s actually much more boring than that. Here’s an actual picture from the inside of that vault, and it just is full of rich historical treasures and documents and that’s one of the pleasures that we have as members of the department, is to be able to work with those collections to try to write and produce histories, both for scholarly audiences, such as the Joseph Smith Papers, and for member audiences, such as the Saints series of books of which we released the first volume last year.
I want to talk just for a few minutes about Saints. You’ll hear about this project from others or have already heard about this project from others at the conference. But my topic relates to it in a very direct way. The Saints volumes are as you know are our latest attempt as a Church to produce a history, to fulfill the scriptural mandate to keep a history. How many of you have read some of those volumes? So a good number of you have read parts of those. You know that these volumes, which are the heart of the Saints project, are written in a narrative style. This was done with the intent of hopefully reaching a much broader audience than we might otherwise have reached if we had taken a different approach to writing this history. They’re very readable and engaging and fun to get into.
But we also knew that as we published this history, in addition to making it very readable and checking off a number of different boxes and objectives for this history, that among those was an obligation to be as complete as we can to allow those who want a deeper dive to learn more about history than what is in the narrative that’s presented in the books themselves, that we would give them recourse to more resources.
And so, what I hope to do is help you understand the Saints project, not as just what’s between the covers of those four books, but it has been a much larger effort that really spiders out to connect with a lot of the things that you see pictured here, including our catalog, the efforts that have been made to digitize the materials in our collection, make them available to you, to publish the Joseph Smith Papers, to publish these other materials. We have videos that we have produced in conjunction with Saints that tell some of the key stories and answer some of the questions that are raised in the text of the books. We have a podcast. We’ve published a series of global histories, short histories about the Church and the establishment of the Church in eventually over one hundred countries when the series is complete.
A lot of these efforts, including the global histories and including the Topics that I’ll talk about with you today and the videos, were produced as a part of the Saints project and can be understood properly as part of Saints.
We deliver most of these resources via the Gospel Library app. It would not be inappropriate if you haven’t looked at the Church History section of the Gospel Library app for you to take your phone out and pull up the Gospel Library app and go to the Church History section just to take a quick look. I’ve got it here on the screen for those of you who want to just follow along up here. But you can see in the top left corner Saints Volume 1 and then Volume 2. Right next to those you will see the Church History Topics that I’m going to talk a little about today, and a whole host of other resources. You can see the global histories there. I hope you’re all downloading all of these as I’m listing them off: the Gospel Topics essays, The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, and so forth.
These Topics are an effort that we have made to do some of the things that we really know are important to do, that we know as historians we need to do in any history project that we are going to undertake, because of the decisions we made about how to approach writing the narrative volumes we couldn’t do in the volumes themselves. And so, in conjunction with the publication of each volume, a number of Topics will be published to this resource, and taken as a whole, they at the end of the day provide almost a nice alphabetical listing and encyclopedia of different historical topics that you can access in the app as well as the way that they’re connected to Saints, which I’ll show you in just a minute.
Each one of these Topics addresses some issue or question or the life of a person or a place. As I mentioned, they are connected to the footnotes of Saints. So as you encounter one of these issues or questions in the narrative, as the narrative raises a question, we’ve hopefully done a good job of providing in the footnotes a reference to one of the Topics that can help answer that question.
Many of the Topics are illustrated with photos, so if there is a character in the books that you really enjoy reading about and you would like to know the rest of the story and see a photo, connect with this person visually, you can see their photos. Many of them have videos that either tell stories in a documentary film-making style or address questions or attempt to provide answers to historical questions that you might have. And all of the Topics contain additional readings and resources that you can use. We recommend a lot of Church resources that have been published. Many of them might be things that we’ve published as a department and are some of the things that you saw there in the Gospel Library app. And others might be references to scholarship on this particular historical point.
What is the point?
So why publish all of these Topics? These are questions that people often have. Did they introduce any new information? For the most part, the Topics represent a brief synthesis of a vast historical literature that already exists, so in that sense, not doing any particularly new work. But there are instances that I’ll show you where they do introduce some original research. But as we developed our plans for Saints and the Church History Topics we identified several jobs that these Topics needed to do. Some of them relate, as I’ve said, specifically to the way that they dovetail with and supplement the Saints books.
But as I looked at that list of jobs that we’ve always used as we’ve developed the Topics, in preparation for my presentation, it occurred to me that in some ways this list of jobs amounted to kind of a statement of philosophy, a philosophy of public history, at least as it pertains to the Church, writing the history of the Church for members of the Church. And so I wanted to talk about what some of these jobs are with you that we identified as we scoped this project, and then with each one articulate an underlying belief that explains why we felt it was important to write something along these lines, and then give you a few examples from the Topics themselves.
One of the objectives of these Topics is to build on our efforts that we have been making for some time now in the Church History Department to be more transparent about the history of the Church. This of course is following in the example of the Joseph Smith Papers. It’s an extension, this project is in many respects, of the Gospel Topics Essays project that we were engaged in several years ago.
When we worked on the Gospel Topics Essays that we were given somewhat limited charter to address some specific topics and in the Church History Topics themselves, we’ve taken the opportunity to expand on that list and to write on a much wider array of historical questions. These tend to be briefer than the Essays, but do some similar work along these lines. Examples of this might be Topics that relate to plural marriage, rather controversial aspects of Church history.
One of the things that we try to do with the Topics is to supply historical context. We are mindful that the past is a foreign country, that they do things differently there. And we remember that all of us are prone to view the past through a presentist lens. Presentism of course is the tendency to interpret the past in terms of modern cultural values. Historian Lynn Hunt said that,
Presentism, at its worst, encourages . . . moral complacency and self-congratulation. Interpreting the past in terms of present concerns usually leads us to find ourselves morally superior. . . . Our forbears constantly fail to measure up to our present-day standards.
The underlying belief that animates our efforts here to provide context is that by giving context we’re able to prevent this kind of thinking. That’s not to say that we cannot or should not reject aspects of past cultures as we encounter them and discover them, but we owe it to historical actors to attempt to understand their actions in terms of their time and place.
So a couple of examples of this in the Topics. I’ll reference Topics, some of which have been published and some of which are forthcoming with Volume 2. With Volume 2 of Saints we produced a Topic that deals with the question of Indian slavery and indentured servitude in Utah. For many years before the pioneers arrived in Salt Lake Valley in 1847, American Indians in the region had trafficked women and children that they captured from rival groups. White American and European traders also acquired and sold American Indian captives as slaves or indentured servants, building a slave trade in the West. Within weeks of entering the valley the Saints encountered Indian tribes who had captured children from other bands, and some Saints bought Indian children from these slave traders, in some instances after seeing the traders kill or torture those the Latter-day Saints did not purchase. In March of 1852 the legislature in Utah Territory passed an act for the relief of Indian slaves, a law that regulated the acquisition and care of Indian children. These children could be indentured as household servants for up to 20 years under this law. But those who acquired servants were required to process an indenture agreement with county officials to clothe the children in a comfortable and becoming manner and to provide them with education.
This is a challenging and a difficult thing for us to think about. One of the questions a lot of times that comes up when you encounter this is, why did they not just adopt the children? Why make them indentured servants? In an effort to provide a little bit of context that helps us understand the situation that the Latter-day Saints were in in that moment, we’ve written this:
Adoption was a relatively new type of family relationship in 19th century America. The first adoption statute was passed in Massachusetts in 1851. Until 1884 there was no legal provision for adopting children in Utah Territory. Prior to these laws, indenture and apprenticeship were common ways for children of working class poor or disrupted families to gain the benefits of living in a middle-class home, including education and vocational training, and many scholars view adoption laws as an outgrowth of the practice of indenture.
So we felt like this historical context is helpful to a reader in understanding this somewhat troubling fact that they encounter as they study Church history.
Another example would relate to Martin Harris. He comes under attack frequently for some of the ways that he chose to describe his encounter with the Book of Mormon plates, referring to that experience as having seen the plates through spiritual eyes in some instances. We’ve attempted to help understand Martin Harris’s point of view and his use of that language in this way:
Many Christians in Harris’s day believed that it was dangerous or impossible to witness the divine with the physical senses. This belief was rooted in stories from the Bible. For example, in the Old Testament Israelites who peered in the Ark of the Covenant without proper authorization were destroyed. God’s presence was typically hidden behind a veil, or a cloud of smoke, to shield the eyes of those who were not spiritually prepared. And one of Joseph Smith’s early revelations affirms similarly that humans cannot see God with their natural eyes without being consumed. They could however witness His glory with spiritual eyes if they were changed or quickened by the Spirit of God. It’s clear that Martin Harris considered his witness experience with the plates as just such an encounter with the divine. Conscious of the stern warnings of scripture, he often spoke of the inadequacy that he felt at the time he witnessed the plates. Over the years he employed a variety of phrases to describe his extraordinary encounter, and when pressed by various interviews to clarify whether he actually saw the plates, he spoke both of seeing them with a spiritual eye, emphasizing the unusual and sacred quality of the experience, and also with his physical senses. “As sure as you are standing there and see me,” he insisted on one occasion, “just as sure did I see the angel with the golden plates in his hand.”
And we know that David Whitmer similarly described both the spiritual and physical dimensions of the Witnesses’ experience when he said, “Of course we were in the Spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel except in a spiritual view,” he explained, adding, “But we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us as it is at any time.”
So those are some examples of how context can help us avoid presentism and make better sense of some of the unusual things that we encounter.
Tell the Rest of the Story
So the next one we call “tell the rest of the story.” The origin of that is just the fact that as those of you who read Saints know, we have point-of-view characters, and we come, and we’re with those point-of-view characters for a short period of time, and then we move on to other point-of-view characters who witnessed other events. Frequently as we tested the volumes with readers, we had people asking questions about what ever happened to these people. And so they fell in love with Amanda Barnes Smith, for example, when we told her story about Haun’s Mill, and wanted to know the rest of the story. And so many of the Topics are an attempt to fulfill this need. But the statement of belief or philosophy behind this is that learning to see the world through another person’s eyes and to understand their choices as they understood them in the moment promotes charity, promotes patience. It allows others the dignity they deserve as God’s children.
A couple of examples that I thought of along these lines include our forthcoming Topic on Brigham Young. Sometimes Brigham Young’s reputation suffers due to his record on race or the violent incidents that occurred during his administration. But in assessing Brigham Young, these issues alone provide a skewed portrait. They need to be considered along with many other factors, including the clarity of his vision around the building of a Zion society in which the poor are cared for and the tenacity and creativity with which he pursued this vision, the tenderness with which he treated his family, his honesty about his own weaknesses, and his persistence in trying to overcome them. Brigham Young was a complex figure by any measure.
Another example would be our Topic on Fanny Algier Custer. Fanny is often objectified in a sense. She is used as a stick that defenders and critics of Joseph Smith alike use in their debates to kind of beat each other up. It’s one thing to try to make sense of the sources about her marriage to Joseph Smith in Kirtland. It’s a different thing to sit down, we found, and to write a biographical sketch of Fanny. We wanted to show her as a complete person, to allow her to have a complex personhood. She had a life after her time in Kirtland that was full, and it deserves to be part of the story that we tell about her. I just wanted to give you a quick glimpse of some of the things we learned as we studied Fanny’s life, things that many of you may not have known. Some of this was new, original research that arose out of our effort to write these Topics.
She was born in 1816 to Samuel and Clarissa Algier. She joined the Church with her family in the early 1830s and worked in Joseph Smith’s household in Kirtland, Ohio. Of course several Latter-day Saints who lived in Kirtland in the 1830s later reported that Fanny Algier married Joseph Smith, becoming his first plural wife. The marriage was evidently of short duration.
She left Ohio with her parents in 1836 for Missouri, apparently staying at a tavern along the National Road, one of the most widely traveled roads in the country. This tavern was owned by the family of Solomon Custer. It was in Dublin, Indiana. Within a few months Fanny married Solomon, and she remained in Dublin for the rest of her life, when her parents continued on to Far West, Missouri, and later Nauvoo, and then finally Utah and St. George. Fanny’s family followed the main body of the Saints from Missouri to Illinois and ultimately to southern Utah, and when Fanny’s father, a patriarch, passed away in the 1870s, his obituary celebrated his family’s faithfulness.
Fanny and Solomon Custer had nine children, only two of whom survived Fanny. The Custers maintained a grocery store in Dublin, Indiana. They invested in a sawmill in nearby Louisville. The family moved to Louisville briefly during a time of financial difficulty, and Solomon attempted to sell the sawmill, but ultimately declared bankruptcy. Fanny and Solomon then moved back to Dublin, where they remained until Solomon’s death in 1885.
The two of them attended the local Universalist Church that Solomon’s father had helped establish, and during Fanny’s later years she became interested in spiritualism. A lot of people across a wide spectrum of Christian denominations became interested in this phenomenon, this movement of spiritualism that in its most recognizable form involves spirit mediums that claim to receive communications from departed spirits. This is a little newspaper article that was published about the time of her death, and it alerts us to the fact that Fanny herself was not only interested in spiritualism, but was a spirit medium, and that she received communications, several of which were on record, and we were able to even find one of these communications, which was a revision of a Calvinist hymn that made it feel a lot more Universalist.
So after Solomon’s death, Fanny moved to Indianapolis to live with her son Lafayette, and then she died in 1889 and was buried in Dublin next to Solomon in a plot of ground that he had cleared as a child. So this is Fanny Algier Custer. She lived a long life, and she is a complex person. I’ll leave it to another place, another time, for somebody to address the interesting questions that this history raises about Fanny’s relationship to the Church and her interest in the Latter-day Saint movement as a young woman. But we felt like it was important to provide and do our best to provide a record that tells the complete story, instead of focusing so incessantly on one controversial moment.
Show Change over Time
The next one would be we want to show change over time, and we have a lot of Topics that do this. You’ll see some of these, or many of them tend to be Topics about different organizations within the Church, whether it’s the Relief Society, or it’s the Young Women’s organizations, or others, where we are able to trace institutional history and show how the Church’s institutions and policies have evolved over time.
But the thing that animates us here is that we believe that understanding how revelation comes line upon line is important, and it helps us to sustain Church leaders with patience, and it brings enduring principles into relief. Revelation almost always comes in response to questions that are brought forward by the cultural milieu in which the prophets lived. On this revelatory dynamism is one of the striking features of the restored Church, and if we really believe that God’s hand has helped direct the history of the Church through revelation, then in one sense we can read the Church’s vast historical record as one way that God communicates His will. Examining changes in Church history helps us put enduring principles in relief against a backdrop of almost constant flux in terms of organizational change.
One example of this might be just the way we’re able in the Topics to trace . . . So there’s a series of Topics, one on consecration and stewardship, one on tithing, one on cooperatives, one on united orders, and one on the Church security plan. We’ll continue to carry that forward in later volumes, but one of the things that we can see here is various attempts by the Latter-day Saints to implement principles that remain constant, that endure, but take on different institutional incarnations over time.
Another example of this would be our Topic on the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. We do have one narrative of that event, if we want to call it an event, that says that Peter, James, and John came, and the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored. What the Topic does for us is show that restoration of priesthood as a process that took years, even decades, and maybe even longer. Some of the things that it notes include the fact that early on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery understood this restoration not in terms of Melchizedek Priesthood, but in terms of what the Baptist told them when he appeared to restore authority to baptize, which is that they now had the power to baptize, but that the power of laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost should be conferred hereafter. And so this becomes to be understood as a greater authority. So there is a lesser and a greater authority, rather than Melchizedek Priesthood. And during the first few years that the Church was organized, they didn’t use the terms Aaronic Priesthood or Melchizedek Priesthood to describe the authority they received. Their understanding of priesthood developed over time and with the aid of continued revelation. I won’t take too much more time on this.
The offices were in constant flux as well. There were more keys, more ordinances that were revealed as time went by, and near the end of his life, Joseph Smith spoke with exultation of the Lord’s blessings in restoring the fullness of the priesthood. He described this restoration not as a single event, but rather a series of episodes spanning his ministry. He noted that the priesthood had been restored line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little. He recounted the miraculous appearance of diverse angels, each restoring their dispensation, their rites, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory In the power of their priesthood.
So I’m not going to go through very many more. I’ve got one more I’d like to conclude with. Some of the others things that we do with the Topics are to clarify or update well-known stories based on more recent research to interrogate sources more closely, in particular the sources that we use in Saints. We try to be as careful as we can to help readers understand the strengths and weaknesses of the sources that we use in Saints. But that’s not something we can do in the narrative of the books. We do that in the Topics. We try to encourage further reading by pointing you to additional resources.
This last one I wanted to just touch on briefly. We want to provoke pondering, because we believe that we don’t have to treat historical issues or difficult questions like sideshows that we need to hurry past to get on with other matters. We do this frequently when we teach. But sometimes looking at these difficult and challenging events more squarely has some benefits and can teach us. I wanted to show a very brief video clip. It’s just about two minutes long – a video that will be imbedded in the Topic on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, to help you see why we think this is possible and how we might do it.
This isn’t a subject that we often talk about in Sunday School, and yet this video, I think, does a successful job of juxtaposing the handcart rescue of 1856 and the Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1857, and in so doing brings to the surface some important lessons that we can learn. I’ll just show you the end of this clip.
So what do we do with circumstances that are like this? I think the best and really the only way that we can deal with circumstances like this is to look at them in their entirety and look at them honestly and then see what we can learn from them both individually and as a community.
And what lesson do you think we should learn from this?
On the individual level, I think how we react to others, how we consider them in our minds is extremely important. If we choose to act in a Christ-like manner and reach out to people, even in a spirit of self-sacrifice, that creates an upward spiral that eventually takes us to where we are not only benefiting others, but we ourselves are being strengthened in the process.
If we go the opposite direction and spiral downward by beginning to treat people with suspicion, beginning to treat them as though they are the other, then that suspicion eventually leads to a confirmation of suspicion and becomes a self-reinforcing prophecy. And then once you begin to see another person as an enemy, you begin to treat them as an enemy, and the result ultimately is that you end up in conflict, in the case of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, in a horrible conflict that led to complete destruction of people who never should have been hurt.
So what should we learn about this as a group, as Latter-day Saints in general?
One thing I think we can learn is the importance of councils. When it came to rescuing the handcart pioneers, people got together; they counseled together on the best way to send supplies and people out there to help them. In the case of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, each time a council met and considered the details and included the collective wisdom of the group, the decision that was made was generally good. When people then left those councils and tried to operate independently or in small groups that didn’t like the consensus of the council, then the circumstances tended to get worse.
So we can celebrate their handcart rescue and learn valuable lessons from it. But we should also remember the Mountain Meadows Massacre so we learn important lessons from that as well.
Exactly. The Massacre has things to teach us about the past, and I also think that just as we grieve for Latter-day Saints of the past who were killed through persecution, I think we likewise need to grieve for those who died senselessly in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. We need to remember them. We need to honor them.
So this is an example again of not making a side show and dismissing too quickly something that we’re uncomfortable with, but taking a moment to address it squarely and think about the implications of that event or series of events for our faith, for our understanding of who we are and where we are.
Just in conclusion, there are 115 Topics that were published with Volume 1. There will be 68 more published with Volume 2, and others that will be released in conjunction with the third and fourth volumes. You can see here on the screen a sampling of some of what is available, but there are many more, and we just hope that this is a helpful resource to you as you read Saints and go through your own process of discovery about Church history and also as you talk to others who encounter questions or struggle that this will be a resource that you have recourse to.
1. So here’s a good one. Do Church leaders control what you bring into transparency, as Leonard Arrington alluded to?
Absolutely, in a sense. We are publishing for the Church, and all the work that we do is correlated. What I would say, though, in response to that question is that I’ve been unceasingly impressed and in some ways pleasantly surprised as somebody who has come to the department in recent years, at the willingness of Church leaders to allow us to address various topics. I think in some respects the record of what we have been able to publish speaks for itself in that regard. We have a lot of support in this work. Elder Snow, who is becoming emeritus this month has been a phenomenal support and an advocate, and just as we have been able to do with the Joseph Smith Papers, with the Gospel Topics Essays and Church History Topics and other efforts, there is widespread support and an understanding of the Topics, a willingness to have us move ahead and be transparent on almost every topic that we have approached them on.
2. Are there any topics that you have not been given permission to work on?
I can’t think of any that we have said we need to talk about this and gone and asked and told no way.
3. How much of the archives have been read/looked at since the Church has become more transparent?
Looked at and read by whom? The collection is enormous, and there are archivists who have very good understanding of an intellectual control over portions of it, but working within their field of specialty. I wouldn’t know how to answer that in a quantitative way, but we have very extensive access to the materials in the work that we do, and the Church is doing a lot to open up those archives. So if someone from our digital preservation team were here they could speak to this in more specifics, but we are digitizing millions of images every year, and that collection is becoming more and more accessible to you as time goes by.
4. I have one here that will maybe let me answer a broader question. There is a question about how/whether the essay on the Book of Abraham in Church History Topics disagrees with the Gospel Topics Essay.
What I would say is that in each instance when we publish a Church History Topic on one of those topics that is already been addressed in the Gospel Topics Essay, we simply excerpt a short portion of the Gospel Topics Essay and then refer to that essay. So there should be no disagreement.
[This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.]
This is the first in a series of books from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute meant to seek “Christ in scripture by combining intellectual rigor and the disciple’s yearning for holiness,” (page vii) and focusing on theological aspects of the Book of Mormon. “In this case, theology, as opposed to authoritative doctrine, relates to the original sense of the term as, literally, reasoned ‘God talk’” (page viii). This volume is by Joseph Spencer, an assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU and the editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies.
At 146 pages, the book is indeed brief. It is a small paperback, but it has a lot of nice features. The front cover is embossed and both the front and back covers have flaps that can (almost) be used as bookmarks. There are woodcut illuminations matching those in the recent “Study Edition” of the Book of Mormon, also published by the Maxwell Institute. And the text has orange highlights and notes throughout.
The book has two parts. The first part, “The Theological Project of 1 Nephi,” was the most interesting to me. It talks about the original chapter breaks, and how they made it easier to see that Nephi intentionally structured the book to have two parts. The first part is an abridgment of the record kept by Lehi, and the second part, beginning with the original chapter three (now chapter ten) is about Nephi’s life. “The first half of the book prepares for the second by explaining how Nephi’s family came to possess the two key prophetic resources [the brass plates and the vision of the tree of life] essential to Nephi’s own subsequent ministerial efforts. The second half of the book then recounts Nephi’s ministry to his brothers, built on parallel expositions of the two key prophetic resources from the first half of the book” (pages 19-20). This is all shown in two diagrams, which explain that each of the original chapters had a theme and how they relate to each other. [Read more…] about Book Review – 1st Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction
[Opening video, a trailer for the Witnesses film project.]
Voice 1: “Imagination has the shape of a large rock in the middle of a river against which we are thrown and we have to go one way or the other. Its claims are so audacious, it’s text is so massive and complex and convoluted.”
Voice 2: “If we think that there is a God who intervenes in human lives, then all kinds of things become much more plausible than they were before.”
Voice 3: “Why would the Lord pick somebody like Martin Harris or Oliver Cowdery or David Whitmer to be witnesses, to see the angel, to see the plates and their engravings, and to hear the voice of God from heaven declaring that they’re true?”
Voice 4: “We can’t access the experience of other individuals directly.”
Voice 5: “I think that he was a very good story teller. You can interpret that in a lot of ways.”
Voice 6: “Well, they don’t think that they were deceived. They think that Joseph falls away from his prophetic mission and leadership.”
Voice 7: “If there was a conspiracy, Oliver Cowdery was in on it. He was part of it. He was the co-conspirator.
Voice 8: “Oliver you’re incredible. He’s the second elder of the church, he becomes an assistant to the first presidency. And then you say, ‘Oliver. What happened?’”
Voice 9: “I would argue both that he believed what he was saying and that there were no ancient golden plates in the archeological sense of plates that were hundreds or thousands of years old.”
Voice 10: “In order to make them disappear, you have to erase all this evidence of a variety of people feeling them, touching them, observing where they were, and just forget all that.”
Voice 11: “Critics today are starting to say that it was just ‘spiritualized’ and that they really didn’t see anything and perhaps they even hallucinated about this. And I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
Daniel Peterson: As you can tell, this is a project that I’m involved in and that has occupied a lot of my time recently, and so the witnesses are very, very much on my mind. I’m going to be talking about the witness of women today particularly, as just part of this, because one of the commitments that I’d made and one of the things that I’ve insisted on is that this project that we’re working on will pay attention to the unofficial witnesses to the Book of Mormon as well as to the official eleven. So today I’ll talk about the women.
Let’s start with the biblical origin of the gender.
And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
That’s from Genesis, of course. Now one of the things that’s given rise to in the church is a folk expression help meet. Now I have to confess this is one of my pet peeves. I really hate the term help meet because it doesn’t make any sense. So we sometimes correct it to help mate which makes a little more sense. But when it’s talking about making a help meet for Adam it’s talking about making a help suitable for Adam. The scriptures also talk about bringing forth fruits meet for repentance. Well we don’t talk about fruit meets. At least I don’t think we do.
So this is how it probably should read. This is in the English Standard Version. “Then the Lord God said it is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Gen 2:18 ESV)
The NIV, “a helper suitable for him.” The Septuagint, “a helper according to him.” Boethon kat alton (βοηθὸν κατ᾽ αὐτόν- Greek). It means according to his nature.
You remember that what happens right after this is there’s a parade of animals brought before Adam, and he looks at all of them, and he comes up with names for them. But you know, the giraffes, the dinosaurs, none of them quite fit. They’re not the help suited for Adam, and so that’s when the woman is created. The man gave names to all livestock and the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. An adiutor similus ayus (Latin), “Similar to him” the Vulgate says, and then Eve is created because she is suitable for him.
You see here what I call the parade of the animals, but the woman is not among them. She has to be specially created and especially suited to Adam and fit to be with him. But then, of course, Eve’s arrival signals some other changes, and here you see the expulsion from the garden. I’m going to recite a little minor poem from A.E Housman. I didn’t clear this with my wife. I recited this to her before we were married, and still we got married. This isn’t as funny today, and I take this seriously; it’s the “Me too” moment and spouse abuse is not exactly in, if it ever was. A.E Housman, by the way, never married, so he didn’t actually do this, but here’s a little piece of poetry that didn’t make it in to his collected works. It’s in a letter to his brother.
When Adam day by day woke up in paradise
he always used to say, “oh this is very nice.”
But Eve from scenes of bliss transported him for life.
The more I think of this the more I beat my wife.
Anyway… you remember the story when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise. She took of its fruit and ate and also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate, then the eyes of both were opened. Importantly, the first step is taken by the woman and the woman is punished. And the way in which she is punished is interesting. “Unto the woman he said I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thy shalt bring forth children and thy desires shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.” Or as the English Standard Version puts it, “To the woman, He said, I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing, in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband but he shall rule over you.”
There’s a long and dishonorable history that has followed from this, which is a legacy in too many cases of submission and very often of oppression of women. That will play a role in the story that I’m going to try to tell now, but I’m going to jump far forward in scriptural history and talk about another important case where a woman plays a crucial role: the enunciation in the birth of Jesus. “And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto the city of Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin whose name was Mary.”
And then you have the story a little bit later on. Mary here is the first who knows that a new dispensation is beginning. Something really, really important is about to happen: the Christ will be born. And then after all the spectacular events, the shepherds and so on, “all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” [Luke 2:18-19] Mary plays a really crucial role in the story and Luke probably interviewed her or interviewed people who knew her, because it’s quite clear that in many points he’s talking about how she responded, how she reacted. She’s not showing outward signs of it. She keeps and ponders these things in her heart. She’s not just a passive observer. She’s someone who actually knows, before the men know in many cases, what’s about to happen.
Now that is not the main focus of what I’m going to say. I’m trying to set up the case.
The first principal case I want to look at, where women are pivotal witnesses to the story of the unfolding of the gospel, is the testimony of the women at the tomb of Jesus.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise. And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. [Luke 24:1-11 ESV]
Or as the King James puts it, “and their words seemed to them as idle tales and they believed them not. Liros ta reimata, “nonsense” the NIV says, “madness” the Wycliffe Bible says, “sheer imagination,” JB Phillips, “a fairy tale,” the Living Bible, “idle talk and nonsense,” the Amplified Bible, The Message: “but the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up.”
Now, we’ll come back to that concept in a minute.
Here’s another story connected with the resurrection of Christ and his post-resurrection experiences. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus standing and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto a woman,
… why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (John 20:15-17)
Now that’s an interesting passage, and you see the image that’s given rise to this particularly clear example. She has this yearning look on her face. She’s wanting to touch Him, and He’s waving her off. Stay back, don’t touch me.
But that, I submit to you, is not the way this passage should be read. The NIV and the NRSV translate this as “do not hold on to me.” It’s a little different. “Halt mich nicht fest” say several German translations. “Don’t hold me fast.” “Hold me not,” says the JST, which very clearly gets it right here. The Mé mou haptou of the Greek is in the present imperative tense. Present tense is used for expressing continued action, so this is a prohibition or “stop touching me.” Prohibition in the present demands that an action, already in progress, be stopped. So she IS touching Him. But a better translation still of that verb is not just “touch.” She’s not just reaching out her index finger just to touch and say “are you real” or something like that. Now here’s another translation of it: “stop touching, stop holding on, stop grasping me.” The verb can have the meaning of “adhering to something.” So my image of this is something like what the NASB translation says: “stop clinging to me.” Very, very different. She had thrown herself at Him and you can imagine the emotional scene. She is so astonished to see someone that she’s loved and venerated and so on, who is alive after being clearly dead. She saw Him on the cross. He was dead. Dead in a horrible way. She has thrown herself on Him and He’s trying to peel her off, basically, and saying “look I can’t stay, you know I’m not back permanently. Stop holding on to me, stop grabbing me like that, you’ve got to let me go. I’m going to my Father and your Father” and so on.
At a crucial scene here, it’s women who bear testimony, women who are the first witnesses. Women who bear, in a sense, the first apostolic testimony of the resurrection of Christ. We’ve been hearing before about how women share priesthood responsibilities in some ways with men. Here they are holding an almost apostolic role, if you will. It’s their testimony that comes first.
The ancient world was not fond of the testimony of women, and to illustrate that, I’m going to make a point from a text that doesn’t belong to the New Testament, and some of you may say, “Well of course, we’d expect it from this culture.” Here’s the second Surah of the Quran; it’s a 7th Century Middle Eastern text so it still kind of illustrates my point. “Oh you who have believed, when you have contracted a debt for a fixed term write it down. And let a scribe write it down between you in justice. Let no scribe refuse to write it down as God has taught him to do. So let him write and let the one who has the right to do so dictate. And let him fear God, his Lord, and omit nothing. And if the one who has the right is feeble of intellect or weak or unable to dictate himself, let his guardian dictate in justice. And take as evidence to two witnesses from among your men. But if there are not two men, then take a man and two women from those who are acceptable as witnesses – so that if one of the women errs, then the other can remind her.” Now that is plainly sexist right? You know, two men or one man and two women, because women are kind of flighty and so on and so forth.
Women had no legal status. Their testimony was inadmissible in court. Not only among Muslims but earlier in first century Judaism. “But let not the testimony of women be admitted on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.” This is from Flavius Josephus.
Women were put in the same category as slaves who were not allowed to testify due to the “ignobility of their soul.”
“Market places and council chambers, and courts of justice, and large companies and assemblies of numerous crowds, and life in the open air full of arguments and actions relating to war and peace are suited to men. But taking care of the house and remaining at home are the proper duties of women. The virgins having their apartments in the center of the house within the innermost doors and the full grown women not going beyond the vestibule and outer courts.” That’s Philo Judaeus, both of these from the 1st century. The Talmud took its final form probably in the 400s, although it commenced in the 200s, and it says, “Any evidence which a woman gives is not valid to offer.” This is equivalent to saying that one who rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman.
Then it says, the Tanna or tanaim taught us an unattributed misna here as we learn the misna “such and such.” “These people are disqualified from bearing witness as they are considered wicked and guilty of monetary transgressions, one who plays with dice, those who lend money with interest, those who fly pigeons, and merchants who trade in produce of the sabbatical year. And Canaanite slaves are disqualified. This is the principle. For any testimony for which a woman is not fit, these too are not fit.”
Although, in certain cases, a woman’s testimony is accepted. For example, testimony concerning the death of someone’s husband. That’s nice! The woman can testify “my husband is dead” right? In most cases, her testimony is not valid.
Sir John Polkinghorne is a very noted British physicist and Anglican priest, a fellow of the Royal Society. He says this:
Perhaps the strongest reason of taking the stories of the empty tomb absolutely seriously lies in the fact that it is women who play the leading role. It would have been very unlikely for anyone in the ancient world who was concocting a story to assign the principal part to women since, in those times, they were not considered capable of being reliable witnesses in a court of law. It is surely much more probable that they appear in the gospel accounts precisely because they actually fulfilled the role that the stories assigned to them, and in so doing, they make a startling discovery.
The point here is that this is actually an argument for the credibility of the story because had the author been simply inventing a fictional story, he wouldn’t have chosen women. He would have chosen somebody else, somebody respectable, like a man.
And you see that really clearly in Paul’s formulation of the evidence for the resurrection. You remember Paul’s recitation of the witnesses in 1 Corinthians 15, a chapter that we often look to for baptism for the dead and doctrine about the resurrection. But he starts the chapter off this way in verse 3 (chapter 15 in 1st Corinthians),
… I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And he was buried, he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And he was seen of Cephas, (or Peter) then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.
Now that’s a really impressive list. You’ve got various mentions of the apostles, 500 brethren who saw him or who saw the resurrected Christ, but who’s missing from the list? The women aren’t there. Paul is a trained Pharisaic lawyer, and by the standards of his day, they didn’t count, so he leaves them out. It’s all men. All of his witnesses.
So at this pivotal moment, one of the most important moments in history of the gospels, the history of humankind, the resurrection of Christ, the crucial witnesses, in many ways the first witnesses, are women. But there’s a prejudice against allowing them to testify formally.
I’m just going to kinda take a detour here. Just as I began throwing this together, there were a couple of other women whose witnesses, even though they’re not Latter-day Saints and not in the scriptures, appeal to me, and I wanted to mention them. One is Julian or Julianna of Norwich in England. She was an English Anchorite who died very early in the 15th century. The earliest surviving book in the English language to be written by a woman is by her. It’s called The Revelations of Divine Love, and the classic line from that is her sense, above all the doctrinal things and so on, that everything is going to be okay with the gospel. This is what she writes: “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” That’s the concluding line of her book. It’s like the end of the hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints” right? That for the faithful, everything in the end will turn out all right.
I’m going to surprise you with maybe another choice. While I was thinking about women and their witnesses, I thought about this one, Saint Joan of Arc. In the early 15th century, late in the Hundred Years’ War, Jean d’Arc (Joan of Arc) claimed to have received visions: the Archangel Michael, St Margaret, and St Catherine of Alexandria telling her to support the as yet uncrowned Charles the 7th of France, and thereby free France from English domination. Now I’d always thought that this was a nice story until a saw a play at BYU, written by Leilani Larson, called Angels Unaware, a story of Joan of Arc in 2006, in which she took those angels as serious from a Latter-day Saint perspective, post death, post mortem people — the real St Catherine of Alexandria and so on, who’d been called upon to help this French girl and make things work for her. And I thought, “You know, could this story be true? I mean God does things that we don’t always know about. Could this be a true story of angelic intervention on behalf of this French girl?”
Let me tell you who was impressed by her. There’s a young boy by the name of Coley Taylor who told this story late in his life. He approached the aged Mark Twain one day, after noticing the author, very famous, standing alone on a stone bridge in Redding, Connecticut. Twain was a familiar figure around the town and young Coley had always wanted to talk to him to express his admiration for him. “I was glad,” he says, “that he was alone.” He wrote an article about this. “I had wanted to tell him how much I had enjoyed Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.”
But Twain’s response to the young boy’s was shocking. “I had never seen him so cross. I can see him yet, shaking that long forefinger at me,” Taylor recalled. “You shouldn’t read those books about bad boys!” Twain scolded him. “Now listen to what an old man tells you. My best book is my recollection of Joan of Arc.” This is his last novel. “You are too young to understand and enjoy it now, but read it when you are older. Remember then what I tell you now. Joan of Arc is my very best book.” Now most literary critics have not agreed with him but he made that same comment at other settings. “I like Joan of Arc best of all of my books,” he said shortly before his death, “and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others needed no preparation and got none.”
Now this is very odd. She was a visionary and he was a notorious religious skeptic, very likely an atheist. His background was Protestant, anti-Catholic, and he hated the French. Couldn’t stand them.
She was French, died a Catholic martyr, and in 1920 became a Catholic Saint, but he was really, really impressed with her story, and if anything tempted him to abandon his religious cynicism, I think it was Joan of Arc. In his epigraph to the novel, Twain wrote, “The only person, of either sex, who has ever held supreme command of the military forces of a nation at the age of seventeen.” That’s a pretty remarkable story however you look at it. Now Twain was almost certainly unaware of the prophet Mormon. Mormon had become the leader of his people’s army in his 16th year. That is at 15. Almost certainly because of his lineage and, like Saint Joan, because of his religious stature.
I want to talk about women’s testimony in America. This is where I’m coming to my real theme.
The great 18th English barrister and jurist Sir William Blackstone—you see his Commentaries of the Laws of England here that Abraham Lincoln studied by firelight to become a lawyer; classic, classic book. He was a major proponent of the idea of women’s exclusion from jury service. Propter defectum sexus, that is, “based on the defect of sex.” It’s the same attitude. Can’t trust them, they’re not competent to serve on juries. Until 1919, women were automatically disqualified from serving in trial juries in England and Wales. And even after 1919, gender prejudice had the practical effect of keeping women from service as jurors even when they were legally permitted to.
I want to give you some examples of how women jurors were regarded. Here’s an illustration of how ridiculous a women jury would be. Look at the way they’re dressed. Can you take anybody like that seriously? (This is a 1902 cartoon.)
Blackstone’s beliefs were integrated in to the legal systems of the US and other English heritage jurisdictions. The notion of female jury service was resisted because of their supposed lack of intelligence, their emotional instability and need to tend to domestic duties. Women it was contended were too sensitive, too incompetent to be jurors.
Here’s an example of it. They’re swayed by non-intellectual issues, right?
I want to give you a brief timeline of suffrage and admission to jury service. You’ll be astonished, I was, at how late these things changed. 1869, Wyoming territory grants women the right to vote on the 10th of December 1869. 1870, Utah territory grants women the right to vote on the 12th of February, only about two months later or thereabouts.
This is how women and their children would be distractions to the serious nature of the deliberations of a jury.
In 1870, remember Wyoming territory given women the right to vote. In 1871 they’re disenfranchised. In 1870, they’re removed from jury duty. 1879, the Supreme Court Scotter vs. West Virginia, it says that States have the right to bar women from juries. 1883, Washington territory grants women the right to vote and the right to serve as jurors. 1887, the right to serve as jurors is taken away. 1887, Utah territory congress disenfranchises Utah women by the 1887 Edmunds-Tucker Act, taking away their right to vote and any legal rights they have in that regard. 1895, Utah has a proposed state constitution and ratifies it, granting women the vote, but it’s very much against—this seems wrong for Utah, which seems a very patriarchal and sexist state—but Utah grants women the vote very, very early after the Federal government has taken it away from Utah women. 1896, President Cleveland claims Utah a state so Utah women can vote.
Now here’s an example of what juries would be like if men behaved like women. They’re all so emotional. They just can’t make a rational decision.
1898, the Utah state legislature grants women the right to serve on juries. It’s the first state in the Union to grant that right to women. 1898, this is pretty late. 1917-1919, Canada gives most women the right to vote in Canada. The Native American women are excluded. 1918, the United Kingdom, women gain the right to vote, but only if they own sufficient property in their own names or if they’re university graduates and they’re 30 years of age. 1920, the U.S gives women national women’s suffrage finally. 1928, the United Kingdom gives women full suffrage. 1942, though, Glasser vs the United States, the Supreme court rules against defendants, that all-male juries are acceptable.
Think of this film, some of you may remember it, 1957, Twelve Angry Men. Think about the title. This is about a jury do you remember? Not the Twelve Angry Men and Women; Twelve Angry Men. There are only men on this jury in 1957. A classic court room drama and it still shows its sexist presuppositions.
The last state in the Union to grant women the right to serve on a jury was Mississippi. Maybe that’s not a surprise, but in 1968. 1968! In 1971, Switzerland gave women the right to vote in national elections.
So this is an amazingly recent development in many countries. Can there be any serious question that I would ask is to why there are no women among the official 1830 witnesses to the Book of Mormon. How seriously would they have been taken?
Most Latter-day Saints are aware of the testimonies of the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and they are a pretty powerful thing. That’s what this movie is going to be to a large degree about.
Let me tell you an experience I had years ago. I was debating in a group of five Latter-day Saints against five evangelicals before the Evangelical Philosophical Society. The national meeting was in Denver that year. I remember at one point William Lane Craig. That name will mean something to a few of you anyway. He is probably the leading evangelical philosopher in the United States – very, very bright guy. I really do admire him. He at one point said, “Look, the difference between Christianity and Mormonism”—that’s the way he put it—”the difference between Christianity and Mormonism is that Christianity has eleven credible witnesses for its central event, the resurrection of Christ. And Mormonism has got nothing like that. I was the one to respond to him, and I thought, oh, thank you, thank you! You just painted a target on your back.
Of course, not only do we have reputable witnesses, we have eleven of them, right? So that was fun. I could see as soon as he said that, Richard Mouw, who was an evangelical, the head of Fuller Theological Seminary, who was the moderator for the debate, was sitting out in front of me, and he just looked at me, and he knew that Craig had just put a target on his back. And I’m not one to pass it up.
These eleven men, impressive as they are, were not the only people besides Joseph Smith who had direct encounters with the gold plates. There are the official witnesses, all male, as you see.
I want to give you a few examples of the women whose testimonies we can call upon.
I’ll try to be quick here. First of all is a Mrs. Palmer. That’s as well as we know her. She gives a rather naïve account. She grew up not far from the family of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith, and she speaks with simple eloquence of the Prophet’s character, but also the enmity that his claims aroused, even among people of otherwise good will. I’m quoting her now:
My father owned a farm near that of the Smith family in New York. My parents were friends of the Smith family, which was one of the best in that locality – honest, religious, and industrious, but poor. My father loved young Joseph Smith and often hired him to work with his boys. I was about six years old when he first came to our home. I remember going into the field on an afternoon to play in the corn rows while my brothers worked. When evening came I was too tired to walk home and cried because my brothers refused to carry me. Joseph lifted me to his shoulder and with his arm thrown across my feet to steady me and my arm about his neck, he carried me to our home.
I remember the excitement stirred up among some of the people over Joseph Smith’s First Vision and of hearing my father contend that it was only the sweet dream of a pure minded boy. One of our church leaders came to my father to remonstrate against his allowing such close friendship between his family and the Smith boy, as he called him. My father defended his own position by saying that Joseph was the best help he had ever found.
Not until Joseph had had a second vision and began to write a book, which drew many of the best and brightest people of the churches away, did my parents come to a realization of the fact that their friend the churchman had told them the truth. Then my family cut off their friendship for all of the Smiths. For all of the family followed Joseph, even the father, intelligent man that he was, could not discern the evil he was helping to promote. My parents then lent all the aid they could in helping to crush Joseph Smith, but it was too late. He had run his course too long. He could not be put down. There was never a truer, purer, nobler boy than Joseph Smith before he was led away by superstition.
That’s an interesting kind of witness to the character of the family as opposed to the rumors that circulated about them elsewhere.
Martin Harris’s first wife, Lucy Harris, is typically remembered among Latter-day Saints for her opposition to her husband’s involvement with the Book of Mormon, and most dramatically, as the chief suspect, the leading suspect in the case of the lost 116 manuscript pages. The story is a bit more complex than that, however. Lucy Harris was ill. It’s likely that her severe deafness left her insecure and even perhaps somewhat paranoid. So she deserves some charity. Moreover, her apparent fear that Palmyra’s boycott of the Book of Mormon would lead to financial ruin for both her husband and herself was plainly not groundless.
More to my point here, though, Lucy Mack Smith recalled that early in the process of recovering the Book of Mormon, Lucy Harris offered to help Joseph publish it, but “only if I can get a witness that you do speak the truth.” Joseph reminded her that only God can bestow such a witness, and Mrs. Harris went away “highly displeased.” But Lucy Smith’s narrative goes on to recount that on the very next day Mrs. Harris returned with a very different attitude. She said that a personage had appeared to her during the previous night, who told her that inasmuch as she had disputed the servant of the Lord and said that his word was not to be believed and asked him many improper questions, that she had done that which was not right in the sight of God, after which he said, “Behold here are the plates. Look upon them and believe.” She then described the record very minutely. Lucy Harris gave Joseph 28 dollars, worth somewhat more than 750 dollars in 2019, which appears to make her perhaps the very first donor toward the publication of the Book of Mormon. Maybe we haven’t thought of her in that light, but there she is.
Here’s another one – Lucy Mack Smith. She’s an important witness to the official witnesses. She had, for example, seen the chosen three leave their encounter with the angel and the plates. And years later she recalled the scene that ensued at their return:
When they returned to the house it was between three and four o’clock p.m. Mrs. Whitmer, Mr. Smith and myself, were sitting in a bedroom at the time. On coming in, Joseph threw himself down beside me, and exclaimed, “Father, mother, you do not know how happy I am: the Lord has now caused the plates to be shown to three more besides myself. They have seen an angel, who has testified to them, and they will have to bear witness to the truth of what I have said, for now they know for themselves, that I do not go about to deceive the people, and I feel as if I was relieved of a burden which was almost too heavy for me to bear, and it rejoices my soul, that I am not any longer to be alone in the world.” Upon this [she says], Martin Harris came in: he seemed almost overcome with joy, and testified boldly to what he had both seen and heard. And so did David and Oliver, adding that no tongue could express the joy of their hearts, and the greatness of the things which they had both seen and heard.
Martin Harris particularly, she recalls in a variant account, seemed altogether unable to give vent to his feelings and words. He said:
I have now seen an angel from heaven, who has of a surety testified of the truth of all that I have heard concerning the record and my eyes have beheld him. I have also looked upon the plates and handled them with my hands and can testify of the same to the whole world. But I have received for myself a witness that words cannot express, that no tongue can describe, and I bless God in the sincerity of my soul that he had condescended to make me, even me, a witness of the greatness of his work and designs in behalf of the children of men. [She says] Oliver and David also joined with him in solemn praises to God for his goodness and mercy.
But Lucy Mack Smith had, with her two sons Hyrum and Samuel, joined the Presbyterian Church. By the way, the account was mentioned the other day of Joseph’s response when he comes in from the First Vision. You remember, she says, “Are you all right?” as he looks a bit tired. He says, “Oh, I am well enough off. I’ve learned for myself that Presbyterianism isn’t true.” And I thought, that is such a teenage response. “You all right?” “Yep, I’m OK.”
No [expansion]. With some of my kids at certain points, “So where have you been?” “Somewhere.” “Who were you with?” “Oh, somebody.” “What were you doing?” “Something.” “Are you OK?” You just had the most colossal vision in human history maybe. “Yeah, I’m OK. But I’ve learned for myself that your church isn’t true.” That just seems really, really authentic to me.
So she’s a member of the Presbyterian Church, and then, though, when the Book of Mormon is being printed, a delegation comes from the Presbyterian Church intending to persuade them to disavow the book. The spokesman for the group addressed the mother, but he received no satisfaction from Lucy Mack Smith. “Deacon Beckwith,” Lucy said, “if you should stick my flesh full of faggots and even burn me at the stake, I would declare as long as God should give me breath, that Joseph has got that record. And I know it to be true.” The spokesman for the group turned his attention to Hyrum, asking if he didn’t think it possible that he had been deceived. “No sir,” Hyrum responded, “I do not.” Finally, when Samuel (younger brother) rather defiantly quoted a passage from Isaiah about blind watchmen and shepherds that cannot understand, the church leaders left. But they didn’t leave the Smith family alone. They suspended them as members of the Presbyterian Church, and this is just the beginning of worse things.
But here is the thing: Lucy Mack Smith is not simply operating on the basis of hearsay. She may herself have even viewed the plates uncovered. Henry Caswall, who is a normally unreliable witness, a British clergyman, is quite hostile, visited Nauvoo in 1842. And he quotes her as saying:
I have seen and handled the golden plates. They are about eight inches long, about six wide. Some of them are sealed together and not to be opened. Some of them are loose. They are all connected by a hole which passes through a ring at the end of each plate and are covered with letters beautifully engraved.
But his quotation is an outlier. No one else quotes her as saying that. There is collaboration in other sources. So I’m inclined to agree with Larry Morris that he got it wrong, but that’s not all there is. She definitely claims to have examined (that’s her word) the Urim and Thummim and
found that it consisted of two smooth three-cornered diamonds set in glass, and the glasses were set in silver bows, which were connected with each other in much the same way as old-fashioned spectacles.
She also encountered the breastplate:
It was wrapped in a thin muslin handkerchief so thin that I could see the glistening metal and ascertain its proportions without any difficulty. It was concave on one side and convex on the other and extended from the neck downwards as far as the center of the stomach of a man of extraordinary size. It had four straps of the same material for the purpose of fastening it to the breast, two of which ran back to go over the shoulders, and the other two were designed to fasten to the hips. They were just the width of two of my fingers, for I measured them. And they had holes in the ends of them to be convenient in fastening.
That is, there is a real artifact there. She’s not hallucinating. She’s touching and holding a real, tangible object.
Now Emma Smith. Moroni told Joseph Smith to bring his oldest brother Alvin when the time came to recover the plates. But Alvin died young at the age of only 25 in 1823. So Joseph was told at that point that a replacement would be given for Alvin. And he was told, “You will know her when you see her.” Well that person turns out to be Emma Hale. At midnight on the appointed date, Joseph and his new bride Emma arrived at the Hill Cumorah with Joseph Knight Sr.’s wagon. That’s my claim to fame. That’s an ancestor of mine. So we go back pretty early. We haven’t done well since then, but we go back early – Joseph Knight Sr.’s wagon. Joseph goes off alone to retrieve the plates and returns with them under his coat. When the plates arrive at the Hale home in Harmony, Pennsylvania, Emma serves as her husband’s first scribe taking dictation.
Joseph Smith III interviewed his mother in February 1879, two months before her death. She was 74. Before leaving, he read his transcript to her, and she confirmed its accuracy, so we can rely on this one. She was already at the point that she marries Joseph an experienced schoolteacher, and she said that at the time the Book of Mormon was translated, her husband “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon.”
During an interview with Edmund C. Briggs, 1856, she recalled that when Joseph was dictating to her and came to proper names, “if I made a mistake in spelling, he would stop me and correct my spelling, although it was impossible for him to see how I was writing them down at the time.” And again in that interview with Joseph III two months before her death, she testified to her eldest son:
The Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity. I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired, for when acting as a scribe your father would dictate to me hour after hour, and when returning after meals or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off [this has been quoted earlier, but it’s worth repeating] without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this, and for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.
But what about the plates themselves? Emma Smith moved them from place to place on the table “as it was necessary on doing my housework,” she says. At times she had to “lift and move the covered plates” when she swept and dusted. Now that doesn’t sound to me like a spiritual experience revision. I’ve tried it on my wife. I’ve told several of you, when she complains, “Look at all those papers and books that are piling up by your side of the bed,” I’ve told her, “You’re having a vision. You’re just seeing them with your spiritual eyes. You should be grateful to be having this kind of revelation. They’re not really there.”
This is very matter-of-fact stuff. She’s moving the plates around, and she says they were heavy.
So, Joseph III’s questions and her answers:
Question: Had Joseph not a book or manuscript from which he read or dictated to you?
Answer: He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.
Question: Could he not have had and you not know it?
Answer: If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.
Question: Are you sure that he had the plates at the time you were writing for him?
Answer: The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper and would rustle with metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.
So I’ve said before that she seems to be spending quality time with the plates. I mean, Joseph isn’t there, and she’s feeling through the cloth, and I’ve always wanted to ask her, “Come on, Emma. There’s no one in the room. They’re covered by a thin cloth. I know what I would have done and probably been stricken dead on the spot, but I would have looked. And she says, “I know he had the plates,” and you can tell, according to one description, she feels the rings, she feels the edges of the plates. She moves them, and she can feel the top plates scrape along the one below. She’s really devoting some attention to this. So here you have a witness to the very matter-of-fact existence of a tangible object that is there. This is not in some sort of spiritual ecstasy. It’s while cleaning the house, which for most of you, I’m willing to bet, is not spiritual ecstasy.
Now on to his sister, of whom we could not get a good picture. Here she is when she is very, very old. This is Catharine Smith, or Catharine Smith Salisbury. She, Catharine, hefted the covered plates on several different occasions. She seems often to have emphasized what Chris Heimerdinger calls their physicality. She said they were very heavy, recalled her grandson Herbert Salisbury. He also said that “she told me while dusting up the room where the Prophet had his study, she saw a package on the table containing the gold plates on which was engraved the story of the Book of Mormon. She said she hefted those plates and found them very heavy, like gold, and also rippled her fingers up the edge of the plates and felt that they were separate metal plates and heard the tinkle of sound that they’d made.”
This may be a duplicate of the Emma story. We’re not sure. But this is how her grandson remembers. If it’s accurate, though, and including the night on which the plates were first brought to the Smith home from Cumorah, Catharine was able to heft the plates on at least three distinct occasions, minimally two.
Other elements of a transmitted testimony are much more secure. In her article entitled “An Angel Told Him,” Joseph Smith’s aged sister tells about Moroni’s talk. The 11th of April 1895 Kansas City Times reported a speech given by Catharine Smith Salisbury about that same event:
Mrs. Salisbury [the newspaper’s correspondent told his readers] is a very old woman now, 83 years of age. But she claims to recall the time of the wonderful vision as vividly as though it were but yesterday. [She would have been 10 years old when Moroni came.] I can remember, she said, the time that this work commenced, my brother had the vision, that he saw the angel and talked with him. After he’d had his first vision he lay in bed one night studying what he had seen. And his room became light, and it grew lighter and lighter until an angel descended and stood at the side of his bed. He had not touched the floor, but he stood in the air. He was dressed in white raiment of whiteness beyond anything Joseph had ever seen in his life and had a girdle about his waist. He saw his hands and wrists, and they were pure and white, and he talked with him.
Of all the accounts of the visitation, only Catharine’s mentions the angel’s “girdle.” And only Catharine mentions that Joseph had been reflecting that evening on his earlier First Vision. These facets of a narrative may well reflect what he himself told her but never committed to writing. But very much as in Joseph’s own account, she mentions the unparalleled character of the light in which the angel was enveloped. You’ll recall how Joseph struggled to express the brightness and glory of the light he perceived, limited as he is to images taken in from his experience in a world that was still, in the title of William Manchester’s book about 14th century Europe, Lit Only by Fire. He had no electric comparisons to make. Recalling the first visit of Moroni, Joseph said,
The room was lighter than at noonday. He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I’d ever seen, nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description and his countenance truly like lightning.
Or this account of his First Vision:
I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. When the light rested upon me I saw two personages whose brightness and glory defy all description.
He repeatedly says, “I couldn’t describe it. It was brighter than anything I can compare it to.” And Catharine picks up that same idea, brighter than anything, any comparison that can be made.
Now William, who was about 12 ½ years old at that time, remembered that Moroni told Joseph to call his father’s house together and communicate to them the visions he had received. Both Joseph’s sister Catharine and his mother remember that Joseph was afraid that his father wouldn’t believe him, and the angel assured him that his father would believe every word. And so it turned out: “I obeyed. I returned to my father in the field and rehearsed the whole matter to him. He replied that it was of God.” Now his sister Catharine remembering the day more than 70 years later recalls the sequence of events somewhat differently, having Joseph go to the house and ask his father and two brothers to come to him there. And very understandably, given the nature of the news, the discussion of the father and his three sons may have been a lengthy one that carried over from the harvest field into the house. Whatever the case, the 10-year-old girl was struck by the seriousness of the conversation that day:
He went to the house and sent for father and my two brothers. And they came to the house and sat and talked quite a spell. I wondered at it. I was young, and I didn’t know what they were talking about, because I knowed they were so busy with their harvesting.
This is important enough they’re taking a break from crucial, urgent work that has to be done. And Catharine remembered Joseph’s arrival home in 1827 when she was 14 and that the plates were wrapped up in his frock.
When he got to the door he said, “Father, I’ve been followed. Look and see if you can see anyone.” He then threw himself on the bed and fainted, and when he came to he told us the circumstances. He had his thumb put out of place, and his arm was very lame.
Catharine’s grandson, Herbert Salisbury, remembered his grandmother relating that when Joseph came in the house, he was completely out of breath. She took the plates from him and laid them on the table temporarily and helped revive him until he got breathing properly and also examined his hand and treated it for the bruises on his knuckles. In striking the last mobber, who was trying to take the plates (this is Lucy Mack Smith speaking):
he dislocated his thumb, which however he did not notice until he came within sight of the house, when he threw himself down in the corner of the fence in order to recover his breath. As soon as he was able he rose and came to the house. He was altogether speechless from fright and the fatigue of running.
And Mary Salisbury Hancock, Catharine’s granddaughter, remembered Catharine relating the same episode when Joseph, with the plates in his possession, had been chased by a mob:
Hearing an unusual commotion outside, Catharine flew to the door, threw it open just as Joseph came rushing up, panting for breath. He thrust a bundle into our arms and in a gasping voice whispered hoarsely, “Take these quickly and hide them.” Then he disappeared into the darkness. Closing the door, Catharine ran hurriedly to the bedroom where she and Sophronia slept. Sophronia threw back the bedding, and Catharine put the bundle on the bed, quickly replacing the bedding. Both of them lay down on the bed and pretended to be asleep. The mob, failing to find Joseph outside, returned to the house to search, but they didn’t disturb the girls since they appeared to be sleeping.
What kind of a witness is she? Is she credible? The Illinois Senator Orville Berry, not LDS in any sense, wrote a tribute to Catharine Smith Salisbury not long after her death in her late 80s on the 2nd of February 1900:
There resided in this country until her death Catharine Smith Salisbury, sister of the Prophet. The writer knew her personally, has been in her house many times, has grown up from boyhood days with her sons and grandsons, and the world would be wonderfully well-off if all women were as good as Catharine Smith Salisbury.
So her testimony should be taken very, very seriously.
And now another. You’re familiar with this painting, which made its debut here last year. David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses, related that his mother, Mary Mussleman Whitmer, saw the plates quite independently of anybody else and under the most matter-of-fact of circumstances, again not in a state of religious ecstasy or spiritual transport, but very matter-of-factly. The entire of family of Peter Whitmer Sr. had become acquainted with Joseph Smith in 1828 through David, who was the fourth of nine Whitmer children. Eventually a substantial part of the translation of the Book of Mormon occurred at the Peter Whitmer farm near Fayette, New York, and later of course on April 6, 1830, the Church was organized there. During that period, the place was a hive of activity. Joseph Smith and his wife Emma and Oliver Cowdery were boarding with the Whitmers, and other people, including curiosity seekers, were constantly coming and going. Much of the burden of coping with them fell upon Peter’s wife Mary, and some of you women will sympathize with this:
My father and mother had a large family of their own [David later explained]. The addition to it therefore of Joseph, his wife Emma, and Oliver very greatly increased the toil and anxiety of my mother. Although she had never complained, she had sometimes felt that her labor was too much, or at least she was perhaps beginning to feel so.
A granddaughter’s account, as published by Royal Skousen in The Interpreter a while back, adds some very specific and very human details of the story, relating that Mary Whitmer was irritated when Joseph and Oliver took breaks from translating and “skated rocks on a pond.” She thought they might just as well carry her a bucket of water or chop a bit of wood, and she was about to order them out of her house. Now we know that he used to do that. Martin Harris talks about going down to the river when Joseph needed a break and skipping a stone on the river or on the lake. So it’s very human. But you know, Mary Whitmer’s question, “Well why can’t they just fetch me some water while they’re doing this?” It’s understandable. So one day though, probably in June 1829, when she is going to milk the cows in the family barn and where David happened to know the plates were concealed at the time, she met an old man, as she described him, who said to her in David’s account of the story, “You’ve been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you’re tired because of the increase of your toil. It is proper therefore that you should receive a witness, that your faith may be strengthened.” Thereupon, David said, “He showed her the plates.” And this unexpected encounter “completely removed her feeling of being overwhelmed,” said her son, “and nerved her up for her increased responsibilities.”
Afterwards Mary was able to describe the plates in detail. John C. Whitmer, her grandson, reportedly himself heard his grandmother tell of this event several times. He summarized her experience in more detailed fashion as follows:
She met a stranger carrying something on his back that looked like a knapsack. At first she was a little afraid of him. But when he spoke to her in a kind, friendly tone and began to explain to her the nature of the work which was going on in her house, that is the translation of the Book of Mormon, she was filled with unexpressable joy and satisfaction. He then untied his knapsack and showed her a bundle of plates which in size and appearance corresponded with the description subsequently given by the witnesses to the Book of Mormon.
So she is actually the first witness. Did you notice that? The other witnesses come later.
This strange person turned the leaves of the book of plates over leaf after leaf and also showed her the engravings upon them, after which he told her to be patient and faithful in bearing her burden a little longer, promising that if she would do so, she should be blessed and her reward would be sure if she proved faithful to the end. The personage then suddenly vanished with the plates, and where he went she could not tell.
Five of Mary Whitmer’s sons became official witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Oliver Cowdery, one of the Three Witnesses and the principal scribe during its dictation, baptized her into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Seneca Lake on April 18, 1830, when the Church was less than two weeks old, and he married her daughter Elizabeth Ann in December of 1832. The Whitmers gathered to Missouri with the Latter-day Saints, and there Mary died at 78 years of age in 1856, still a faithful believer in the divine origin of the gold plates and the book that had been translated from them—another really important witness and the witness of a woman.
Here’s what Royal Skousen has to say:
The most interesting aspect of this story is that Mary Whitmer’s difficulty with the household situation was more than just being tired from all the extra work. She was irritated by Joseph and Oliver’s indifference to all the work she was doing, but they’re not helping out, instead skipping rocks for relaxation. So she was about to order them out of her home. Thus Moroni’s intervention was perhaps more purposeful than we might have previously thought. Undoubtedly many others exerted much effort on behalf of providing help to Joseph and Oliver, such as Emma Smith had just done in Harmony, Pennsylvania, for the previous three months. Here however, Moroni needed to deal with a more difficult situation, one that could have forced Joseph to find another place and a secure one, to do the translating. Moroni and the Lord weren’t in the habit of just showing the plates to people to encourage them to act as a support team for the work of the translation. But this was a crisis, and it had to be dealt with, and so Mary Whitmer has a vision or a showing of the plates.
It’s a remarkable thing. So here we have, although they’re not among the official witnesses, we have a number of unofficial witnesses whose stories I insist must be told in this film that we’re doing and in the products related to it that we’re going to be producing, because they’re in some ways just as important, and they are very tangible. You can’t dismiss them as visionary experiences. Moving plates in order to clean the kitchen is not a visionary experience. Going out to milk the cows and encountering an old man who has a knapsack with golden plates in them is not a visionary experience. She didn’t pray for hours to get into a state to experience that. She was just going out to milk the cows, which my father, who had to do that when he was growing up on a farm in North Dakota, assured me was not a spiritual experience at all.
In fact I might close on a very unsolemn note. My father was concerned growing up as a Lutheran boy in North Dakota and having to milk cows. His mother, a Norwegian immigrant, had taught him that he was not to swear. But he said when you’re milking cows, and just when you get the pail full of milk and the cow sticks his incredibly filthy hoof in your milk pail, or the cow hits you in the face with its incredibly filthy tail, he says you just have to swear. And so his concern was that his city cousins, who didn’t have to milk cows, were going to go to heaven, and he was not. It raised the question of divine justice in a really acute way for him. And so I’m just suggesting based on what my father tells me about milking cows, and some of you have firsthand experience with this, that you don’t go out to milk the cow in the mindset that it will bring you a divine vision.
These are I think extraordinarily important witnesses because they come from a different perspective than an official witness’s. They are unofficial witnesses who saw things and experienced things under very matter-of-fact, very tangible, sort of mundane situations. And that to me is evidentially powerful. Of course, we can’t prove the Book of Mormon true, but my word, the witnesses are hard to get around. They seem to me—and there probably about twenty of them or more if you put them all together who had these experiences with the plates and the angel and so on and so forth—they are very difficult to get around. Fawn Brodie can do no better than to say of, if I remember right, Mary Whitmer’s own experience, “Joseph must have marveled at his ability to induce visions in others.” Well, that’s no kind of explanation. That’s just brushing it aside, and she can’t be brushed aside that easily, nor can the others. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Daniel Peterson: I’m not sure this is a question. It’s a command. “Imagine how long it would have taken the world to know of the resurrection if left to men.” I’d better not comment on that one.
“I’m wondering if the man in that cartoon that the women were calling handsome was Ted Bundy?” I have no answer for that one either!
Q: “How can we work with millennials to better understand these concepts and disregard presentism?”
Well, I think part of the problem is that many people aren’t hearing this story of the witnesses. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had and how many interactions online I’ve had with people who have told me, “Well, when I realized the witnesses never claimed to have actually seen the plates with their actual eyes or to have held them with their actual hands then I just dismiss them.” But in order to say that you’ve got to ignore what the witnesses actually said. When Hyrum Smith was quoted the other day as saying, “I have only two eyes and only two hands, I held the plates with these hands, I saw them with these eyes,” I don’t know how much more clearly he could have said that.
So I think one of the reasons that I want to do this film is I want to tell the story as powerfully as I can to get it right out there. People can still reject the testimony of the witnesses but I don’t want them to reject that testimony on the basis of a misunderstanding of it. I want them to know what it is they’re rejecting. The witnesses did claim to hold the plates, the Eight did, they did claim to see them with their actual eyes. There’s nothing metaphorical about this. David Whitmer pounding the table when a man says to him, “Well, maybe they were far away and he didn’t see them very clearly?” “Young man,” he bangs the table and says, “the angel was closer to me than you are. I was not deceived, I know what I saw, it was no hallucination!” Somehow, we have not told that story as well as we should have, I think, in the last few decades and so people are spiritualizing it and allegorizing it and dismissing it as imagination and the witnesses refused to be dismissed that way.
Q: “Why have the plates, or the Urim and Thummim at all, if they were never used by Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon?”
I think partly because of their evidentiary value. Joseph could have been making this up, right, but there are these solid objects made out of gold. They’re a gold alloy and they’re there. You can’t fantasize that into existence. And you have other people who can testify that they were there.
Also, speculative, but I think it was Royal Skousen who suggested to me that Joseph, if he didn’t have to have the plates in his presence to translate, nevertheless they had to be close. They could be covered in the next room, or something like that, but they had to be close. And he, sort of laughingly, compared it to the idea of an iPhone hotspot or something like that. I have no idea of how the Lord does this but it seems to me that that would have reassured Joseph too if you’re ever wondering, “Am I hallucinating this?” Well, then you remember you’ve got a 40 or 60 pound metal object in the next room and you think, “No… I’m not! This is real. This is as tangible as it gets. In fact, it’s downright heavy, so you’re not making it up.” He knows he didn’t make the plates, he couldn’t have made the plates.
Q: “Can you elaborate why the Queen of Sheba and Esther’s stories are in the Bible despite the culture at the time?”
I have no idea why. Well the Queen of Sheba I think was designed to illustrate the wide extent of Solomon’s rule and his fame. That even Sheba, which is about as far away as you could go, even she took him seriously, his empire was that big.
And the story of Esther is to illustrate a moral point. By the way, I should probably tell you that I’m not sure that Esther is true history. It’s the only book of the Bible, or Old Testament, that doesn’t show up in the Dead Sea Scrolls and there are some real problems with it, historically speaking. For one, the king of Iran at that time was forbidden to marry anybody who wasn’t a member of certain Persian royal family or aristocratic family lines. So the idea that he married Esther is problematic. Even today, Jews don’t take it very seriously on the whole. They have the festival of Purim, which is done with parties and it’s like Halloween. They reenact the story of Haman, Mordecai, and Esther, and it’s all for fun. It’s the only book in the Old Testament where the word “God” doesn’t appear, so there are a lot of reasons for wondering how seriously to take Esther. But it’s a great little novella. It’s a fun story. The Jews are almost destroyed and then rescued and it’s a great account.
[Lightly edited for readability and clarity.]
Audio and Video Copyright © 2018 The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, Inc. Any reproduction or transcription of this material without prior express written permission is prohibited.
Applause or prayers? I think I’ll take the latter. I appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts and remarks with you today. It’s been weighing on my mind quite a bit, the remarks that I’m planning to share. I had one of those great technological flubbers that we’re sometimes subject to. I had been for quite some time making my notes in my cell phone and then my cell phone itself started having problems with an echo, and I called tech support and they said, “Well, we need to reset it.” Oops. I’d said something to my wife about the fact that I’ve got to go back and recreate all this stuff, and she reminded me I’ve been writing this talk for 20 years, and I really have. It’s been all of the experiences that I’ve had with FairMormon leading up to this time. I hope that I can share a little bit that will be helpful.
Now, just by show of hands, how many of you here have a family member or close friend or a ward member that has struggled with their faith that you know personally? Okay. A few of you.
How many have you been invited or assigned or felt compelled to help one of those individuals? Okay, so I’ve got the right audience then.
Luke chapter 9 says that, “And it came to pass as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him and he asked them saying, ‘Whom say the people that I am?’ They answering said, John the Baptist, but some say Elias, and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again.’ He said unto them, ‘Whom say ye that I am?’ Peter answering said, ‘The Christ of God.’” Now at that point, Peter clearly had a testimony of Jesus Christ. He had given up all. He was by all accounts, a fairly accomplished businessman in the fishing trade. He gave that up, according to the scriptural account, at a moment’s notice and walked away from that. He followed Christ or difficulties and trials through criticisms, and here the Lord was asking him, who do you say that I am? And he said, “Thou art the Christ.” He had a spiritual revelation from Heavenly Father, that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. But then we find in Luke chapter 22 the following account, “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not, and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.’” I find that just miraculously curious because the Lord here talks to Peter, his future prophet and leader, who had forsaken all and gone to follow Christ, who declared a spiritual witness that Jesus was the Christ, told him, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” There clearly was some deeper change that needed to take place. Oddly enough, the next verses I think reveals a bit of it: “And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee both into prison and to death,” [and there’s no doubt in my mind that he was willing], but then he said, “I tell thee Peter, the cock shall not crow this day before thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me,” and we all know the story of what happened. He followed Christ up into the palace when he was to be scourged and judged, and as he stood outside, warming himself by the fire, individuals recognized him and he denied it. And of course the third time after denying it, the cock crowed and he went away weeping.
Peter had a weakness. He was human. Did he have a faith crisis? Maybe a little bit. His confidence was weak, though he announced that he was willing to go through death. Here he was denying the Savior that he loved.
I called somebody that I’ve worked with for a number of years, a woman by the name of Carol, and I asked her last night, I said, “If you could give one piece of advice to people who are helping people like you, what would that one piece of advice be?” Her number one message was: “Judge not.” She talked about the fact that she was already self conscious with the doubts that she was having and she was examining her faith, and she had a great amount of fear about how that was going to be perceived, and she felt pressure just at the thought of people judging her, and I think that we have a tendency within the Church to place such a value on that faith-affirming knowledge. We look up to those people who stand at the pulpit and tell you, “I know.” It goes back to the days of Joseph Smith who absolutely did know. He had interviews with heavenly beings. You know, I once asked my mission president who’s now Emeritus, Elder Arnold. I asked him, “If you could go back and meet any President of the Church or any prophet,” he’d say, “Oh, I’d pick Joseph Smith. He knew the rest of them, you know, he could tell me about them all.” Joseph knew, and we look at people like that and we put them on this pedestal and it’s so prevalent within the Church that when somebody doubts, it seems like almost a great failing. People are self conscious of that they recognize and they realize it, and anything that comes across as judgment causes them to withdraw even more. And in reality, what they need more is to be smothered in the affections of other people. Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Now, Carol also expressed to me, she says, “It’s that very love that causes me to trust people.“
What happened with Carol was her husband wrote into FairMormon. We have the Ask the Apologist, and maybe some of you avail yourself of it from time to time. We have about 100 or 150 volunteers fluctuating from any given moment and when somebody writes in to us, all of us receive it, and those that feel inspired and feel that they have something to contribute, respond back. Her husband actually had written in and he said, “You know, my wife is thinking about leaving the Church. She’s struggling with a number of issues. She struggles with the temple and the priesthood and I don’t know what to do. What can I do?” Three or four of us wrote back and I was very proud of the fact that we all had the same message, which was: “Whatever you do, still love her.” The next email we got back from him said, in essence, “I’m sitting here as we type to you, with tears in our eyes because of the messages that you have given us. It gives us a feeling of hope.” That led to a direct correspondence with Carol. In my particular case, it lasted several years. It started out with emails and I told her I would be willing to listen as much as she wanted. The first few exchanges I had with her, I asked her, “What are your issues?” I’m thinking, “I’m going to tackle this from an issue basis, right? Let’s just take this head on,” and she brought up some of her issues and I had great answers, which didn’t work. They simply didn’t work. I gave her answers and every time I sent her something, she had something to come back to counter and it shifted and it was a moving target and I’m thinking, “What’s going on here?” And she was clearly in a state of distress.
She was experiencing a whole host of emotions, and a lot of these emotions can actually be attributed, if you look at it, to similar emotions that are felt when somebody has a violation of trust in an interpersonal relationship. A marriage goes sour or there’s infidelity or something along those lines. Because what happens is as these things start to swirl around you. And it’s not that they’re isolated, just one or two. Oftentimes what happens is they start to gang up on you. These emotions compound themselves, and before you know it, they’re swirling all around you, and you have this tremendous pressure. If you can get rid of it, you’re still left lonely. Why? Because you feel isolated from your faith community. You feel isolated from all the people that can help you because you’re confused. You feel pressure. Now Steve Densley and his companion talked about this idea of the pressure and having to get rid of it, and sometimes just escaping the pressure is what is sought for. So when you get in that circumstance and you just want it to stop, sometimes it means that you have no one to turn to. When they look for some support, oftentimes they go to some other community where people have already exited the Church and they find their support there. Carol was very fortunate because she decided to stick with us and to continue to take our advice.
One of the things that you have to remember, and I think Steven Densley brought this up as well, is you have to invite patience. That should not be your reaction. The Home Alone kid, you know? What you really need to do is number one, listen. Listening is one of the most important things you can do. Why? Because it lets the person know, if nothing else, that you care about the things that they care about. You’re not eager to talk. You’re not looking to, “Oh, I know what you’re thinking. I know you brought up that thing about Joseph Smith. I know the answer.” Just relax. Don’t worry about it. Okay? You yourself, be patient and just listen.
Second, some of the messages you can give. “I can only imagine.” You don’t have to know exactly. Empathy is the ability to imagine the pain and suffering of another such that you actually feel it in some ways. In fact, I believe that the Atonement is just a great act of empathy where he went into the Garden of Gethsemane thinking upon our sins and our mistakes and felt what we would normally feel. What we need to do is we need to try to imagine, put ourselves in their shoes. We need to convey that and not just simply with some kind of rote appearance of empathy, but we need to actually try and imagine.
We need to communicate that there are no quick fixes. You cannot enter into a world where you are questioning and doubting and find where you can go back the way you came. You can’t. It’s like Napoleon who burned the bridge. He told his men, “If you want to get home, it’s through the enemy. You’re not going back the way you came.” That’s true here. There are no quick fixes. It’s going to require work, energy, effort on both your part as the person helping, and the person who is going to be helped.
You have to tell them that it won’t be easy. Don’t tell them it’s going to be easy. You can tell them it’s going to be fine, because it will be, but it’s not going to be easy at the beginning. Jack Welsh a couple of nights ago, we were having a meeting with the Mormon Voices group between Interpreter, and Book of Mormon Central and FairMormon, and we were talking about the fact that the patience was needed. He pointed out that the terms passion and patience share the same root, which means suffering.
Patience actually requires, it actually incorporates this idea of pain and discomfort. You don’t need patience to do something that’s fun. You need patience to do something that is discomforting. Once you start, there’s no stopping. I’ve already mentioned that. You have to go through. If you stop in the middle, chances are you’re going to throw the baby out with the bath wash. Assure them that there are answers. We had a couple at one of our FairMormon conferences when we were up in Sandy that came to me one day and they said, “You know, we’ve been out of the Church for eight years now, and we came to the conference because we heard about it. We didn’t know about it, and you guys have answered all of the things that we left the Church over. Had we known this eight years ago, we never would have left.” There are answers. They’re not necessarily here right now. This is why patience is needed, all of us have this question shelf that we can take the things that we’re concerned about and we can put it there and we can wait on it. We can go away and come back to it, take it down and examine it. Think about it some more, put it back if we need to. We have to just have that assurance that there are answers.
We have to reassure them that they will find peace. In the time when they’re in turmoil, that listening, that loving, that compassion, that empathy will help signal to them indeed, that there can be peace just simply by the way you’re reacting. Let them know that you’re in it for the long haul. You’re not there to give a couple answers and move on. Let them know that you are absolutely there to help, that you’ll be with them the whole way.
Moroni 10:3-5. This is Moroni’s promise. “I would exhort you when you shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that you should read them, that you would remember [and what does he want you to remember?] how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men from the fall of Adam down until the time that you shall receive these things and ponder it in your hearts.” God is setting the stage here. He wants you to have a remembrance that he loves you, that he cares about you. He doesn’t want you to forget that. Why? Because it leads into the way you will view everything else that you do going forward, and as you will remember [and we’ll get to these scriptures here in a little bit more], the next two verses explain that this is the way you know the truth of all things. This is the first step. Remembering, it’s setting the stage.
There are certain points of departure that we can find ourselves in. The first one is our assumptions. We can assume that the Church is good or the Church is bad, that the prophet means well or the prophet doesn’t mean well, that the apostles just want to get rich or they want to truly help people. What are our assumptions about those that lead us, about the Church that we serve in, about the desires and even the history of the origins of the Church? Those assumptions can lead to the next portion, which is what information we accept. So what is that information? We can accept or reject certain information based on those prior assumptions. If we make wrong assumptions, we might reject something that is actually pertinent and important to the issue.
The next thing we have to do is interpret that information. What does it mean? Let me give you a case in point. Did Joseph Smith marry a 14 year old? Now, if my assumption is that prophets should not marry 14 year olds, that somehow that indicates a form of perversion, then everything that I am going to collect and accept as information is going to reinforce those things as a tendency, just out of confirmation bias, and I’m going to tend to reject those sayings that really exonerate the Prophet in that regard. So did the Prophet Joseph Smith marry a 14 year old? Yes, he did. Okay, but what’s my interpretation of that? How do I interpret it? What does it mean? Well, first of all, let’s get the correct information, because there are pieces of information that a lot of people don’t have.
He was invited by the parents to be to be sealed to that 14 year old. By all accounts, there is no evidence of any children coming from that. So even the intimacy may be called into question. Was 14 years old that far out of the norm at that time period? No. Craig Foster and others have done research on that and have found actually that was rather common. If you look at the marriages that Joseph Smith had that were polygamous, this was appropriately in the realm of those ages. In fact, in many states, the age for consent of marriage was 11. Okay, so presentism, the idea of putting our morals and values today on to the past, causes us to look at that with a side eye, but back in those days, it wasn’t the type of thing that would have caused as many people the kind of sideways glance that we give it today. So that interpretation, good or bad? How do we interpret it? Is the reality that Joseph Smith did this, or that that Prophet said that, or that this event happened in Church history; is it good or bad? Then the last thing of course, is the application of it. What do we do about it? What is our decision? We can either decide to stay or to leave, and in all of this we can cycle back and forth through these. Our application in one instance can inform our assumptions which causes us to change what we accept or reject as information and then that changes our interpretation and it can cycle.
I’m a convert to the Church. I was baptized when I was 19 years old; went on a mission 18 months later. By the time I came back from Panama, I had spent more time as a missionary speaking Spanish and learned more hymns in Spanish than I had in English. I had experiences from the time before I was baptized at the time I got home, and even till today, that were transformative. They changed my life. They changed my heart. I am a different person today than I was the day that I first entered the waters of baptism. A kid that I went to highschool with, and he was in my ward, got up one fast and testimony meeting about six months after I’d been baptized, and he stands up and he says, “The Church has to be true. If it can change him, it can change anybody.” And I will add my Amen to that. The Church has changed me. I have had spiritual experiences I cannot deny. They have mounted. They have been myriad. They have been profound. And those are my exclamation marks. Now, do I have questions? Oh, yeah. There are a lot of things I don’t know. I’ll share one that I had and this goes back to the issue of patience. I struggled with the idea of polygamy until there was a talk given here at FairMormon, the author of The Two Trees, Valerie Hudson, gave this talk that basically put it in the perspective of an Abrahamic covenant [test?] that could be not only just for us as individuals, but even for the entire Church, both the implementation, and then once everybody got comfortable with it, the removal of it. And that changed a thought for me in terms of the fact that polygamy didn’t have to be any kind of a barrier for me. I didn’t let it be a barrier. I had the patience because I had enough exclamation marks in my testimony, that I didn’t have to give it up because of that one issue. So what I encourage you to do is when you’re dealing with somebody who’s struggling here, help remind them of their exclamation marks in their life. What are the things that they know and believe? They had spiritual experiences to get to those points. They’re going to be questioning those experiences. They’re going to be doubting them, but have them tell them. The retelling invites the same Spirit that attended. That’s why reading the scriptures is so powerful because we’re reading the telling of a spiritual experience. And it invites that same Spirit. So don’t trade your exclamation marks for your questions. Hold onto those exclamation marks and deal with the questions over time.
That idea of remembering your own experiences, how the Lord has been merciful with you: remember that. Don’t forget it. Don’t let go of it. Encourage the person you’re helping to remember that, to hold onto those exclamation marks. Be patient, don’t cling to them. You don’t have to cling to them out of desperation, but remember them. Hold onto them and don’t dismiss them. The questions will be answered. And you’ll remember this from yesterday: Believing that God is a loving God contributes to limiting or reducing anxious traits. Remember that anxiety, that slide with all the things swirling around you? You need to help them relax. They need to be patient, otherwise they want to just throw it out. They just want it to stop. Those who believe God is less loving or more controlling exhibited more anxious symptoms. “Remember how merciful the Lord has been unto the children of men from the fall of Adam down until the time that you shall receive these things and ponder it in your heart.” That’s why we have to focus on that idea of perfect love. It casts out all fear. That anxiety relaxes when people know that they are loved. The correspondences that I had with Carol, they went on for actually quite some time. We actually got to a point where I said, “You know what, let’s just take a step back here a little bit and we’ll talk whenever you’re ready, but let’s set a time.” She lived in another state and I lived in California, so we just decided that at 4:00 my time she would give me a call, if she wanted to, or I would call her. If she didn’t want to talk that Sunday, that was fine, but I would just sit there, and the main thing I would try and do is just listen and just help her think through some things. She had fortunately a member of her stake presidency, who she had a good trusting relationship with; he didn’t judge her. He said many of the things that I showed on one of my previous slides here that are good for us to share, as we work with these people that we care about and then we love our family members and our friends. So make sure that they know that they’re loved.
Bear with patience yourself. I mean there are times when I feel like I would crawl through glass to help some people. I have the privilege right now of serving as a bishop in Campbell, California. That gives me opportunities to counsel with myriad people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people come in and say, “I’m distressed, I’m distraught, I’ve learned some things, I’ve read some things and I can’t unread them.” After an hour or two, oftentimes I’m able to give them a little bit of comfort. I will tell you one thing, most often because of the anxiety and the fear of judgment, especially if you’re a Church leader, the courage it takes for someone to come to you and willingly reveal that they are struggling is a tremendous amount of faith. Imagine the lion tamer. The lion tamer walks up, opens the lion’s mouth, and sticks his head in. He raised that lion from a cub. He used to put milk on his hair so he’d lick it. He’s not afraid of that lion, but call the little old lady from the third row to come down and stick her head in the mouth of that lion. How much courage does it take for her?
By comparison, those of us who have had these profound exclamation mark experiences in our lives; when we hit questions, we oftentimes have the patience, and it doesn’t take as much faith for us in that sense. But you take someone who persists in the Church despite their doubts and keeps going and keeps wanting to get past this, they are exercising tremendous faith because they have all these reasons to doubt. They have all these question marks, and they’re still coming. In Carol’s case, she kept going to Church and I kept telling her, “Carol, you are my hero.” She says, “What are you talking about? I have these doubts. I don’t know these things and these things, and I don’t like this and I don’t like that.” And I said, “Yeah, but Carol, you’re still going. I mean, my goodness, what great faith does that take?” So I commended her. Show that perfect love.
What we need to do is invite the Spirit. Number one, get your hands dirty in the service of the Lord. And what I mean by that is sometimes we can do the Gospel Doctrine thing, and sometimes we can do the thing that is really hard for that person who is difficult to deal with. Their house isn’t clean, it doesn’t smell well. Their kids are unruly. They have a big dog that jumps on you. Whatever it is, they’re struggling. Go anyway. Get your hands dirty. Don’t worry about the appearances. You can’t do this from a Gospel Doctrine class. You have to do it one on one. You have to sit down with the person. You have to listen to them. You have to cry with them. You have to feel their emotions. You have to feel their anxiety, and you have to try and lift it from where they’re at, so get your hands dirty in the Lord.
You have to encourage them to fill their mind with the voice of God, and I go back to the scriptures.
These are some of the greatest spiritual leaders of history. They’ve recorded their spiritual experiences in books we call scripture. The Lord has spoken through them. The experiences and the Spirit that attended those experiences is renewed upon us when we read them. We become accustomed to the voice of God when we read the scriptures, and that’s important because then we can recognize it when he speaks to us.
Which leads me to the third point, which is God is a personal God. Make him personal to you. Have that personal relationship. Teach the person how to do that through personal prayer, through contemplation. By sacrifice, by struggling, pouring it out, being honest with God, not being accusing to him, but giving it to him and saying, “God, help me with this. Show me where I need to go.” And then act on it.
The next portion of this is really about information and truth. This is the scripture in D&C 9:8. “But behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind.” How often have we heard people complain about the fact that when they doubt, we tell them well they need to pray more. Well they do need to pray more. But they don’t need to just pray more. They need to understand these things. They need to study it out in their mind. Study it, find it. And then it says, “And if it is right, I will cause that your bosom shall burn with you; therefore you shall feel that it is right.” So you don’t feel that it’s right until you’ve studied it out in your mind. That’s why it’s not an easy fix, why you have to pursue through it. In D&C 8:2 he says, “Behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation.”
Now, a lot of people think that revelation is “I don’t have any information, and God’s just gonna boom, teletype cause me to just do it. The Spirit takes over me and I don’t even know what I’m doing. I’m a teletype machine.” That’s not the way it works. Elder Bednar has explained to us that it’s not so much a light switch, although that can happen, but it’s most often a rising sun. First there’s a glimmer of light and then there’s a little more and then it rises more and more over time. Another reason why we need patience, the light switch can happen, but oftentimes it’s after we accumulate little tiny horizons of a sunrise, before they combine together to become a full sun on the horizon. We need to encourage people to have patience, but we oftentimes have to change our thinking and help other people change their thinking about how revelation works.
Joseph Smith, when he was translating the Book of Mormon, didn’t know that there was a wall around Jerusalem. He turns to his wife while he’s translating and says, “Is there a wall around Jerusalem?” He was as much a student of the Restoration as he was one of its main participants. When he received the sealing power, there’s great evidence that he wasn’t sure how to use it. And so there was sealing of brother to brother and things like that. And it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th Century that really we got the pattern that we have today, which is a sealing of children to parents up to Adam into the family of God, which is really what we’re being sealed into. Is it not?
Moroni: “And when you shall receive these things, I would exhort you would ask God, the Eternal Father in the name of Christ, if these things are not true.” Now I’ve had a lot of people tell me, oh, that’s just a rhetorical device and it may be, I admit it. Okay. But I find it curious that they say, ask if these things are not true, because what does it imply? If you’re asking if it’s not true, it implies that you mean that you already accepted and I find the word curious. And when you shall receive these things, not read them, receive them. Think about your temple covenants. You receive certain things. It has a very particular meaning, a very particular significance. When we received the Book of Mormon we’re reading and we’re saying, “Oh my goodness, look at the truth that I’m finding in this. Look at the goodness that’s in it. Heavenly Father, is this false?” And if you shall ask with a sincere heart, meaning you really want to know, with real intent, meaning that you will really act on it, you intend to act on it, having faith in Christ, that you trust God, the reason for remembering to begin with, “he will manifest the truth unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost, and by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.” So if somebody is seeking to overcome their doubts, this is where the answers lie.
As you seek truth, you need to get the whole picture. Often the problem isn’t that people study too much, but they actually study too little. They dip their toes in, they get their feet wet, and then they say, “The water’s cold. I’m not getting in.” And what they do is they basically reject all the information that they had. There’s a quote here by Alexander Pope, “A little learning is a dangerous thing. Drink deep or taste not of the Pierian spring. There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again.” Light drinking will cause you to have fear and doubt. Deep drinking will carry you through it.
This is a universal truth. Google does not equal research. It just doesn’t. Basically Google ranks things based on popularity of clicks and how much you’re connected to somebody else. So if a whole bunch of people are all unitedly clicking on the same things that are wrong, you’re going to get the top Google result that’s going to be something that’s wrong. Whole picture. “Mom, I got a new car.” What happens, Moms in the room? How do you feel about your 16 year old with that car? The whole picture that’s painted on the side of a bus, that bus is fine. Now, I used this in a previous presentation I did for FairMormon, but it just illustrates the point so well. What we’re talking about here is you need the whole truth. Oftentimes with things like with Joseph Smith and marrying the 14 year old, you need the whole truth. You need to know the circumstances around it. The Book of Abraham. We have these fragments. They don’t say what Joseph said that they were translating. We’ve got real Egyptologists that have translated this, and it’s wrong. Well the truth is, we’ll talk about in a minute.
We know from historical accounts that the fragments that we have today are just small portions; 10 percent or perhaps even less of the actual content of the scrolls that Joseph Smith had are extant today. So what we do know is that we should not expect to find the Book of Abraham on these fragments. Yet, despite that, there are some things that Joseph got right that he should not have. These are concepts that are in the Book of Abraham that are not in the biblical text. These are extra-biblical traditions about Abraham. Now, the problem is they come from the sources down below. So for example, the Apocalypse of Abraham was likely originally written in Hebrew in the second century, and it only existed in the Slavonic languages at the time of Joseph Smith. So it’s possible, I suppose, that Joseph traveled to Moscow where this was stored, and learned Slavonic and read this account and thought, “Oh, that’s good. I’ll throw that into the Book of Abraham.” We’ve got other things; you’ve got the Testament of Abraham, first translated into English in 1892, 48 years after Joseph Smith; Jubilees, was in [indistinct] Greek and in Latin and then German in 1851, which was six years after Joseph. So Joseph could have learned German and maybe gotten it. But he had to time travel six years and then it wasn’t translated in English until 1893. Philo: the earliest translation was 1854, 10 years after Joseph passed, etc. So there’s the teachings of the Egyptians about astronomy, which is not in the biblical texts. There’s the visions of God’s creations, the fact that that was included in the Abrahamic experience; premortal existence, which is by the way, is one of the core doctrines that we get from the book of Abraham; foreordination and another one, Satan’s rebellion. All of these things come from traditions of Abraham from extra-biblical texts that did not exist at the time of Joseph.
So Joseph could have time-traveled. And here’s some of the things. The Book of Abraham started in 1842. If you have questions about this slide, I stole it from John Gee. So you’ll have to ask him on some of the details. So [indistinct], these gentlemen were the first ones to translate really anything out of Egyptian. This is eight years after Joseph had passed in 1844. All of these are additional ones that have confirmatory content, extra-biblical, that is included uniquely in the Book of Abraham that was not included in the biblical text. So all of these, and it goes all the way up to 2008. Joseph Smith had a Tarsis or something is my guess.
So when you’re helping somebody, this is some more advice I want to give you: find the core issue. When somebody comes to you and says, Joseph married a 14 year old, what are they really saying? They’re saying that a prophet would not do that. They’re saying that it reflects poorly on his character. They’re saying that he was perhaps a pedophile, they’re throwing out accusations and they’re basically biasing themselves with that, so you have to go to the core issue. Why do you have to do that? The reason is that if you answered the question, did Joseph marry a 14 year old? And I say, “Yes.” What do they say? “Aha, I knew it.” Their bias comes in and they say, “No prophet would do that” and they’re ready to throw the baby out with the bath wash, but if you take the character of Joseph Smith as the core, I don’t have to rely only on the question of did he marry a 14 year old? I can look at the whole corpus of evidence about Joseph Smith. It includes the works that he produced, the things that he endured, the character that he showed in his personal interactions with other people. All of these things, and you go back and you read the Joseph Smith papers, the works that are coming out, some of the diary entries. I was reading his diary entries, and you could see a stark contrast between his scribes who wrote in his diary that said he did such and such and I was trying, you know, he met with so and so versus his own, which were pleadings; “Lord help thy servant.” His personal writings were pleadings. His scribes’ writings were diaries. That tells me something of his character. All of this comes into play.
The other thing I would encourage you to do is take one issue at a time. By the time you get into this, and I wouldn’t go to this point right away. When you’re helping somebody, start out with them, show that love. Be the listening ear. Encourage them to start doing the things that are going to invite the Spirit, all of those types of things, but then deal with the issues one at a time when you start to dig in, because you do have to answer these questions, right? They’re still going to know. Even if they just completely relax, they still want to know, but they’ll be more receptive. If you try and deal with all of them, what’s going to happen? That whole swirling, confusing shotgun blast of emotion is going to come back. Slow it down. When the world goes crazy, slow down, and that’s exactly what you need to do. One issue at a time.
What are your assumptions? This is going back to the starting point. Let’s think about Joseph Smith. What is our assumption about Joseph? Is he good or bad? Did he do some things wrong? Yeah, I’m sure he did. He obviously did. So what is our assumption? Can God use a damaged tool? I’ll tell you what, I sure hope so, because if he doesn’t, I’m useless to him. I am completely useless. Yes, the Lord can use broken tools. In fact, that’s all he’s got to work with. My young daughter who’s 12 years old, came to me one day and she says, “Daddy, I’m broken.” I said, “Sweetie, we’re all broken” and we are, okay, but the Lord can use us anyway. Maybe he’s just got a shorter wrench. He puts needs to put more pressure on us because we’re a shorter wrench because he doesn’t have the length of leverage that he would otherwise have. Something along those lines. The same is true of Joseph Smith or any of our leaders.
Joseph came down with typhoid fever, known as nervous fever, when he was seven years old in 1812, and I apologize what I’m going to show you, but I trust that you’re far enough away from lunch, that it won’t matter. Okay? Because I want to actually impact you with the character of Joseph Smith, by what I’m going to show you. Joseph Smith with the typhoid fever, had a blister on his shoulder between the shoulder and his chest that lasted for several weeks, and when they finally pierced it, they estimate that they drained a quart of fluid from his shoulder. That lancing caused the infection to get into his blood. Now he ran the risk of actually going septic. It went down and got in his bones in the tibia, in his left leg. These pictures here show what osteomyelitis does and that’s exactly what happened. It got into the bone marrow and what actually happens. I’m not going to go through too much of an explanation here. I will spare you a little bit, but what happens is the infection causes pus. It actually ruptures the bone. The pus then can seep out seeking an escape. New bone comes in and goes over the top of it because bones don’t like to be broken. So the new bone starts to grow back. It causes immense pressure on the leg. They wanted to relieve that pressure, so they came in with a scalpel and they put a seven inch incision in Joseph’s leg. Now he’s seven years old. I’m guessing his tibia is about that long. The incision was about that long. Okay, so what essentially happened was they put an incision down his leg to relieve the pain and pressure, that was most of the length of his tibia.
Those are the tools that were available to doctors during the Civil War. This is a few years before the Civil War. I imagine those tools. I’ve got a number of those, I think, in my garage. Those were the surgical tools that they had. Now, by the time that Dr. Nathan Smith was called in (he was one of the foremost experts in surgery in the area) so they’ve really brought in the best of the best for young Joseph. He came in and examined the boy and he said, “We need to amputate.” And Joseph refused. He absolutely refused to have his leg amputated and he knew that he was in risk of his life. About 40 percent of people who don’t get antibiotics die from this within a short period of time. They didn’t have antibiotics, so what they would do is they’d remove the leg in order to get rid of the infection.
The only other thing that could be done (Dr. Nathan Smith had done this about 10 years before) was to actually open the wound and remove that old bone and then hope that light and air would cleanse the infection and they could then close up the wound. So he decided to do that and he wanted to get Joseph drunk, mainly so he would relax. Then they wanted to tie him down so he wouldn’t move and wiggle because you can imagine a seven year old, how much he’s going to try and move, how difficult that’s going to make the procedure for the doctor. Of course, Joseph didn’t want any of that. He had three requests. One, no alcohol. He wanted to be present when it was happening. Two, he wanted his mother out of the house. He was conscious of her and he wanted her far enough away that she could not hear his screams because he knew what it was going to be, what he was going to go through. He did not want her to hear the screams, so they sent her out and then all he wanted was his dad to hold him, and we know what happened, right? This was a violent surgery. They removed nine large pieces of bone that were removed by probably one of those devices that looks like a pair of snips down at the bottom. They had to grab it and they had to break it off. They removed nine pieces of bone. Now how do I know that it was a violent event? Not just because it was bone, because afterwards 14 smaller pieces of bone festered up out of the wound in the days that followed, meaning this was not a clean process. They didn’t have lights; they didn’t have anesthesia; they didn’t have a mask and gloves. This was just a brutal butchery that had to happen.
We all know that Joseph was remarkable, but what’s more remarkable to me is that the surgeon saw something in that seven year old boy that made him say, ok]”Oay, no alcohol, not going to tie you down. Your dad just to hold you. I will do this.” What did that doctor see in a seven year old that gave them confidence to do that? I think that says volumes about the Prophet Joseph Smith. I’ll just remind you that that leg was used when he was running from the crowds. It carried him on Zion’s March of a thousand miles or more. He even was known to wrestle. He did the stick pole and there’s rumor that I’ve heard that he actually broke the tibia of one of the men that he wrestled against with his bum leg.
This is one more that I want to share about Joseph’s character. Many of you are familiar with the Missouri War of 1838. Joseph had sent W.W. Phelps and other men there to buy land. There’s speculation. They had an area, a county that was specifically assigned that they could buy land and develop in. They went out there and they were buying land, and W.W. Phelps and some of the other brethren started saying, “Wow, you know what? A lot of people are going to be moving here. Let’s get some of this land for ourselves as prices go up.” So when Joseph arrived and he found out that they’d been doing this, that they’d been doing some land speculation on their own, he chewed them out and it caused a rift and I would say rightfully so, that Joseph was angry. He was caring about the poor and the needy and all the people who are going to have to move there, displaced. And so he chewed them out and they actually turned against Joseph. They went to some of the local newspapers and with some of their testimony and comments, that riled the crowd against him, and that led to the to the Missouri War of 1838 that caused the death of some individuals caused Joseph Smith and other leading brethren to be incarcerated for a number of months. You can go and read some of the letters that Joseph wrote to his wife during that period. It is tender. He’s more worried about her in many ways than he is himself, which again reflects more on his character.
But because of that W.W. Phelps basically left the Church. He wrote to Joseph sometime later. He says, “Brother Joseph, I’m alive, and with the help of God, I mean to live well still. I am as the prodigal son; though I never doubted or disbelieved the fulness of the gospel, I have been greatly abased and humbled, and I blessed the God of Israel when I lately read your prophetic blessing on my head as follows, ‘The Lord will chasten him because he taketh honor to himself. And when his soul is greatly humbled, he will forsake the evil. Then shall the light of the Lord break forth upon him as the noon day, and in him shall be no darkness.’” Joseph responded, “Had it been an enemy, we could have borne it… ‘In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day when strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Far West, even thou wast as one of them; but thou shouldest not have looked on the day of thy brother, in the day that he became a stranger, neither shouldest thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress.’ [See Obadiah 1:11–12.]” He had requested readmission to the Church and they had a vote and they agreed. He closed his epistle to him, “Come on dear brother, since the war is past, for friends at first are friends again at last.” Something you may not know is it before the Kirtland Temple was completed, Joseph called W.W. Phelps and his wife into the John Johnson store and sealed upon them their exaltation. Is that really the way [of] somebody who wants all the attention on himself? What does that say about the character of Joseph? He spent years in jail. He saw friends die. He saw his efforts thwarted. They got driven again out of Missouri, had to start over in Illinois, in Nauvoo. What does that tell you about the character of Joseph Smith? That right there, that’s documented. It’s undeniable. So brothers and sisters, I encourage you to think about these things.
I encourage you to be wary of extremes, both yourself as well as with the people that you’re helping. If you think about following the prophet, if you have your identity to a political group or anything else, far left or far right, oftentimes doing that draws you away from the prophets. I watched as people from the left of the political spectrum of the United States became upset and incensed when the Church stood behind Proposition 8. I then saw when the Church stood behind immigration reform, those very people that stood up and defended the Church for Proposition 8 came out and decried it from the other side. The problem here is one of identity. If you identify with a group and you have a greater affinity for that than you do for your brothers and sisters in the prophets and apostles of God, then you draw yourself oftentimes away from them.
When I was in the Missionary Training Center, we had a pumpkin that was passed from district to district in one of the classrooms, and the MTC presidency came out and said, there will be no secret combinations in the MTC, and we thought, “Are you nuts? It’s a pumpkin.” And then I thought about it. The thing was, is that the pumpkin was an identity thing, right? It was that district and that district, you know, they carry the same name and it was an affinity to that group, not the principle. Secret combinations cause you to have affinity for a group, secretly. Open combinations do the same thing. It’s just you admit it. It can be political parties, it can be causes, it can be whatever it is. I just caution you to be aware that you’re not allowing yourself to be pulled in either direction.
This kind of illustrates it, I think, in a better way. You know, if you feel to protest, and your affinity shifts to the group protesting, what you’re doing is you’re drawing yourself away from your Heavenly Father, from his Church, from his ordained leaders, and I encourage you not to do that.
I’ve got a few things for you who are helping. Replenish and fill your cup of service. Whether you’re the person going through the faith crisis, make sure that you’re serving other people, because I have found you want to get my hands dirty in the service of the Lord. I feel the Spirit, it changes my mentality. My anxiety goes away. I feel better about myself. My endorphins must increase, so replenish and fill your cup with service.
Make sure you balance your influences. We found this with FairMormon. We on a daily basis, get questions and comments and deal with challenges to faith and testimony every single day, sometime to the tunes of 100 or more emails. I find it personally that I have to give the Lord equal time. I can’t spend all my time on that and not go and fill my cup by speaking with my Father in Heaven, by delving into the scriptures, by finding spiritual strength to the Spirit I feel there. You can’t rescue someone from the kiddie pool when they’re treading in deep water. Make sure that you know that if you’re going to go out and help them, you’re going to have to get just as involved in dealing with these issues as they do. You can’t just grab stuff from FairMormon necessarily and give it to them. We’ve got a lot of really good stuff, a lot of really good information, but you’re going to have to process through it. You’re going to have to understand it. You’re going to have to take it to the Lord. Make sure that you’ve got those right assumptions, that you’ve got the right information, that you’re including everything that needs to be included, that you’re interpreting it correctly so that you can apply it correctly.
Be prayerful, patient and calmly persistent. If nothing else, just know that it’s not going to do to ignore the ups and downs because they’re going to be there. When I was dealing with Carol, I dealt with a lot of that. Some days she’d be better, and other days she’d be a lot worse. This is chocolate wisdom. Actually, they were giving out Dove chocolate in the back and I opened it. I saw this and it actually says “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” Sister Burton said, “When the Lord’s timing conflicts with our own desires, trust that there might be some preparatory experience the Lord needs us to have before our prayers are answered.” Elder Anderson pointed out in his talk, Faith is not by chance but a choice. He says, “Faith never demands an answer to every question, but seeks the assurance and courage to move forward. Sometimes acknowledging I don’t know everything, but I do know enough to continue on the path of discipleship.”
Last night I was talking to Carol, and late last night she sent me this email and this is a quote from her. She said, “After thinking just a little bit more about your question, I want to add one thing to my answer.” [I need to finish the story here. Bear with me. For a number of years we went back and forth. We invited her to the FairMormon conference. She came, very nervous about doing it. She wasn’t sure she wanted to, but she came and on Friday night a group of us went out to dinner and she came out with us and she met one of our volunteers, Bob and his wife, and they developed a pretty good friendship right there at the event and she travels from her state to Salt Lake on occasion because of her profession, and so she would look them up and spend time with them. And I continued to correspond with her. So we’re kind of getting it from two different angles. And one day she was at one of the pizza places, if I remember down here in Provo and they invited her out to dinner. There was another couple there, a gentleman who was a bishop. They were sitting there and they started asking her questions about, “What’s going on? How are you doing? You know, I understand you’re struggling with your faith. Why is that?” Remember she’s feeling pressured, she wants out, and she described to me that as she sat there and she was listening to that the pressure began to be insurmountable and she just fought and she said, “I haven’t thought about having a blessing in 20 years,” and I thought, “Okay, Heavenly Father, maybe I need a blessing, but, oh my goodness, if they give me a blessing maybe then.” And sure enough, by the end of the evening, Bob turns to her and says, “Carol, would you like a blessing?” And she was just so tense. As soon as he said that, she just relaxed. They went home, gave her a blessing. The next day she went to the temple and sat in front of the reflecting pond and had this wash of love come over her and she said all of her stress relaxed.
Now I’m going to read this to you. “After thinking just a little bit more about your question, I want to add one thing to my answer. One thing that I think should be emphasized more: love and be present with those struggling and engage wholeheartedly in such a way that both parties can feel the power and love of God. If I had to choose a common denominator, a thread that ran through the impactful experience that I had with you, with Bob and Gary and Laurie (still can’t remember their last names) and with President [redacted], it would be the love I felt in certain specific instances. None of my most sacred and powerful spiritual experiences have happened in a temple, a sacrament meeting, an interaction with the missionaries, reading the scriptures, etc. For me, they have happened and still happen one on one, or in small groups where genuine compassion has been offered and received. Truly, we create and provide a portal to the love of God through sharing our faith, strengths, experiences, compassion, etc. When we walk hand in hand, with and not in an above or superior position to others, and as we become one and our desire and intention and dedication to feel and recognize and share the real love with others, Heavenly Father provides opportunities and answers for our prayers. There are so many things I still don’t know. There are plenty of questions in my mind and heart, but I will say this: ‘Once I unmistakably and undeniably felt the love of God during that blessing, in answer to that very specific unspoken prayer, I’ve never been the same. Doubts and fears still come. Maybe they always will, but I do have a different response, a different relationship to the faith challenge that plagued me for over 20 years. I have a measure of peace that I didn’t have before, and that makes all the difference in the world.’” I will report that one of the things she struggled with was the temple. She had a hard time going back to the temple and I think it was about a year and a half after she had that experience on the reflecting ponds, Carol renewed her temple recommend and went one time to the temple. It was a huge, huge accomplishment. With that, I thank you.
William Wines Phelps (usually known as W. W. Phelps) is probably most often thought of in conjunction with some of the most beloved hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Praise to the Man,” “The Spirit of God,” “Gently Raise the Sacred Strain,” and “If You Could Hie to Kolob” are just a few of the fifteen hymns that he wrote that appear in the current hymnal. But there was so much more to his life, and Bruce Van Orden, an emeritus professor of church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, has been researching it for decades. This research was recently given a boost by the Joseph Smith Papers Project, which gave greater access to materials that Phelps was involved with.
There is little known about Phelps’s early life, or where and how he was educated, but he grew into a very intelligent and articulate man. He joined the Church in 1831 at age 39, and his talents were immediately put to use. He served in church leadership councils, including the Council of Fifty (it was he that coined the term “theodemocracy”); he was a writer, poet, and printer, and actually did more ghostwriting for Joseph Smith than was previously realized. He was also very much a family man, as well as a close friend of Joseph (again, moreso than has previously been understood). This book concentrates on these facets of his life.
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A Tale of Two Jerusalems, Part 1: The Amarna Letters, 14th century BC
In 1887, a cache of cuneiform tablets dated to the mid-14th century BC was discovered in Amarna, Egypt. The collection primarily consisted of letters written by Canaanite rulers petitioning the Pharaoh to aide them in their petty squabbles with neighboring cities, including six letters written by the King of Jerusalem. Based on these letters, Jerusalem at the time was a powerful regional capital, ruling over a “land” or even multiple “lands,” controlling subsidiary towns, and was even powerful enough to seize possession of the towns belonging to rival cities.
There is just one problem: there is no archaeological evidence for this Jerusalem. According to Margreet Steiner, “No trace has ever been found of any city that could have been the [Jerusalem] of the Amarna letters.” And yet, the letters are unquestionably authentic, and there is no doubt they mention Jerusalem.
Putting Away Childish Things
From this example, it is clear that genuine historical documents are not always supported by the archaeological record. This exposes the weakness of arguments predicated on the idea that if there is no archaeological evidence for something mentioned in the Book of Mormon, then the book must be false. Such arguments rest on what I would consider a misunderstanding of both archaeology and written history, and how the two relate to each other. Such misunderstandings come naturally, based on intuitive assumptions, but can be overcome by developing what historian and psychologist Sam Wineburg calls mature historical understanding.
The apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:12, emphasis added). All of us have experienced the need to “put away childish things” in our lives as we learn, grow, and expand our horizons. How we think, understand, and talk about scripture and how it relates to history and archaeology, is no exception to this.
Mature Historical Understanding
According to Wineburg, mature historical thinking “is neither a natural process nor something that springs automatically from psychological development.” Instead, it “actually goes against the grain of how we ordinarily think.”
Writing in the late 1990s, Wineburg felt, “The odds of achieving mature historical understanding are stacked against us in a world in which Disney and MTV call the shots.” Today, the world of Disney and MTV has given way to the world of Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and Reddit—platforms which foster shallow thinking and make mature historical thought that much more of an uphill battle.
In conducting several case studies with students and teachers at all levels, Wineburg found that when confronted with difficult, strange, or challenging information about the past, people have a tendency to either take it at “face value” or seek to explain it by “borrow[ing] a context from their contemporary social world.” Both of these approaches contextualize the past by importing the present—a fallacy known as presentism.
Properly contextualizing documents and events from the past is a major part of mature historical thinking, but it is not easy. Contexts are not self-existent—they must be fashioned from raw materials. Wineburg explains, “Contexts are neither ‘found’ nor ‘located,’ and words are not ‘put’ into context. Context, from the Latin contexre, means to weave together, to engage in an active process of connecting things in a pattern.” This is done by piecing together fragments of information from historical sources. When dealing with ancient history and archaeology, it involves an artifact here, a ruin there, and literally hundreds of tiny fragments of pottery—none of which are self-explanatory.
These pieces must then be brought together with the written sources—which are themselves incomplete and subjective representations of the past. As Jewish biblical scholar Oded Lipschits explained:
Reconstructing the history of Israel is a complicated process. Evidence from the Hebrew Bible, from archaeology, and from extrabiblical sources must first be interpreted independently of each other, and only then brought together and reinterpreted, in order to create a more complete and better-grounded picture.
Similarly, a pair of Mayan scholars noted:
History is as much a construction of those writing it as the events it proposes to record, and this is as true of the Maya as of any other civilization. … Given that the public histories the Maya left behind them are not necessarily the truth, we must use archaeology to provide complementary information of all sorts—some confirming the written record, some qualifying it. It is upon the pattern of conjunction and disjunction between these two records that we base our interpretations of history.
In some ways, this process is like putting together a large and complicated puzzle, where you must first understand the individual pieces and then figure out how they fit together within the larger picture. Except when it comes to historical context, you don’t have the complete picture on the box, you are missing most of the pieces, and the pieces you do have are often damaged and don’t usually fit perfectly together.
A Tale of Two Jerusalems, Part 2: 1 Nephi, 7th century BC
When dealing with the Book of Mormon, the same process must be followed—a context for it must be fashioned by bringing together archaeological, historical, and other ancient sources to create a “better-grounded picture” of Book of Mormon history, and all of this must be done with the limitations of our sources firmly in mind.
With that said, I would now like to take us back to Jerusalem, but we are going to fast forward to the 7th century BC. This is the Jerusalem where Lehi grew up and raised his family. Nephi’s account in the Book of Mormon provides a series of direct and indirect clues about Jerusalem during this time, and there is a rich array of archaeological data from this period that allows us to test this process and see how we might create a “better grounded picture” of Lehi and his family’s life and social setting.
As Nephi describes it, Jerusalem was a “great city,” surrounded by walls, and many—including his brothers—believed it could never be destroyed. Lehi and Laban were descendants of the northern tribes that had lived their entire lives in Jerusalem, and were wealthy and powerful members of the city’s social elite. Laban was among the ranks of government or military officials, brandishing a sword of “most precious steel,” and maintaining an archive at his house of both family and official records, kept on metal plates and written with Egyptian.
Meanwhile, Lehi’s family were wealthy Jerusalem residents with some unexpected skill sets. First, we know they can write, an easy skill to overlook today, but usually a specialized skill in the ancient world. Second, they appear have metallurgical knowledge and expertise—also a specialized skill, known only to those who worked metals professionally. But metalworking in antiquity is often seen as lower-class, “blue collar” work, and you typically wouldn’t expect a metalsmith to also know how to read and write, nor a scribe to be able make tools of ore.
This is obviously only a brief summary, but there is enough here now to stop and ask: can a context be fashioned out of the raw materials of archaeology—and its interpretation by professional scholars—for this description of Jerusalem? As a matter of fact, yes—even for the more surprising details.
Margreet Steiner explained that based on current archaeology, by the 7th century BC, “Jerusalem had become what geographers call a primate city, a city very much larger than other settlements, where all economic, political and social power is centralized.” What’s more, it was “fortified by 5–7 m. wide city walls, which had been built at the end of the eighth century [BC].” Jerusalem had, indeed, become “a great city,” and its walls no doubt provided a sense of security from external threats.
Archaeology further indicates that this transformation into “one of the major cities in the known world” was precipitated by “a huge influx of refugees from the north[ern kingdom] into Jerusalem.” An extension of the city was created to accommodate these refugees, and a recent archaeological excavation in that area revealed “an impressively large” Israelite home, with several stamp seals, leading to the conclusion that “members of Judah’s social elite,” and possibly even “of the ruling class in Judah’s capital,” lived there around the 7th century BC. Thus, descendants of northern Israelites were indeed living in the city, and were part of the upper class.
In another dig among 7th century BC homes “belonging to what may be called the elite of Jerusalem,” archaeologists found “a bronze workshop” including “pieces of bronze and iron” along with evidence of imported luxury goods in the home. Evidence from mines out in the desert near the Red Sea likewise confirm that in the early-1st millennium BC, rather than “armies of slaves engaged in back-breaking labour … specialist metalworkers are often accorded high social status.”
Skilled metalworkers at the time were working both copper and iron, and whether deliberately or not, carburizing iron into steel. Metallurgical analysis of a meter-long sword found near Jericho (about 15 miles from Jerusalem) and dated to the end of the 7th century BC indicated “that the iron was deliberately hardened into steel,” making it comparable to Laban’s sword.
Archaeology also indicates an increasing number of inscriptions and texts at this time, leading many scholars to conclude that literacy was on the rise. Recent scientific analysis on writing samples from a military outpost in Judah concluded “a significant number of literate individuals can be assumed to have lived in Judah ca. 600 BCE,” and that literary awareness was had “by the lowest echelons of society.” While the actual extent of literacy remains a hotly debated subject among scholars, many do agree that at least some high-status craftsmen in Jerusalem at this time could read and write. Craftsmen who worked with materials that could be used as a writing medium—such as stonemasons, potters, and metalworkers—were particularly likely to develop some scribal skills. In fact, some of the earliest evidence for alphabetic writing in the region of Judah comes from journeymen metalsmiths, and “tangibly connects the crafts of scribe and metalworker.”
While excavating 7th century BC homes likely belonging to wealthy artisans and traders, a single home yielded 51 clay impressions of stamp seals used to seal documents, which Steiner interpreted as “the remains of an archive.” Some archaeologists have interpreted it as a “state archive,” but its domestic contexts suggest to others that it was a “private archive.” In addition, letters found at the nearby city of Lachish dating to the early 6th century BC attest to the practice of keeping records in the homes of military officials. Both of these finds should remind us of Laban and his “treasury.”
Of course, these records were not kept on metal, but many other records from the ancient Near East were—including the oldest surviving example of a biblical text. Two small silver scrolls, dated to the 6th–7th century BC, were found just outside of Jerusalem, with a version of Numbers 6:24–26 inscribed on them. These short texts are of a very different nature than the brass plates, but do nonetheless demonstrate that metallic epigraphy was practiced in Jerusalem in Lehi’s day.
Egyptian writing is also attested. Over 200 texts utilizing Egyptian hieratic have been found in the regions of Israel and Judah, including several found right in Jerusalem, and many of these are dated to 7th–6th centuries BC. Most of these are short, fragmentary texts where hieratic numerals and measurements are mixed with Hebrew, but after carefully reviewing samples from the late 7th century BC, David Calabro concluded that “the hieratic tradition in Judah lasted in fuller form than only the isolated use of numbers and units of measurement.” Calabro felt that the evidence “indicates a widespread presence of scribes educated in this Judahite variety of Egyptian script.”
Of course, the picture is not perfect, and skeptics will no doubt find the holes and seek to exploit them—but don’t forget what we learned from the Amarna letters: archaeology does not always back up every detail found in historical documents. Whatever pieces might still be missing, there is really no question that Nephi’s Jerusalem fares a whole lot better than Amarna’s, and no one questions the authenticity of those letters. The point is that once the pieces are put together, Nephi’s Jerusalem is surprisingly believable—but we have to be willing to take the time to find the pieces, sort them out, and put them in place to see that (see table 1).
|Table 1: Text and Context for Nephi’s Jerusalem|
|Book of Mormon||Archaeology|
|“Great city,” with walls, supposedly indestructible||Has become a “primate city,” fortified by large walls|
|Lehi and Laban are descendants of Joseph through Manasseh||Growth due to northern Israelite refugees, ca. 722 BC|
|Both Lehi and Laban are wealthy, and Laban is a powerful Jerusalem official||Descendants of northern refugees are part of Jerusalem’s elites, including government officials|
|Lehi and Nephi can read, write, and work with metals||Metalworkers are among the social elite, and literacy is spreading to non-scribal elites, including craftsmen like metalworkers|
|Official and family records repository kept in Laban’s home||Private archives in the homes of wealthy individuals, and state archives being kept in the homes of military officers|
|Records kept on metal (brass) plates, written in Egyptian.||Writing on metal (silver) scrolls, and 200 samples of Egyptian hieratic writing found throughout the region|
|Laban has a sword made of steel||Steel sword found at Jericho|
Benefits of Mature Historical Understanding
It is my belief that although learning to read the Book of Mormon this way is difficult and takes time, it is worth the effort. I’ve personally found that when I approach the Book of Mormon with mature historical understanding and thought, it:
- Builds Faith
- Accommodates Questions
- Deepens Understanding
Drawing on the work I and others have done over the last 2 years at Book of Mormon Central, I would like to offer just a few examples of what I mean.
1. Builds Faith
When the context from archaeology and the details in the Book of Mormon converge, to use William Dever’s term, it can build faith and confidence that the Book of Mormon is a genuine historical record.
I’ve actually already provided one example of this by talking about Jerusalem. We don’t usually think about the mention of Jerusalem as “evidence” or something that can be faith building, because its mentioned in the Bible, so it seems like that would be a “given” for Joseph to get right. But as any ancient Near Eastern archaeologist can tell you, things mentioned in the Bible are hardly archaeological “givens.” We’ve already seen that Nephi’s Jerusalem fares better than Amarna’s, but you could argue it does better than David’s and Solomon’s too.
If Joseph Smith’s wife is to be trusted, he didn’t even know Jerusalem had walls around it in Lehi’s day, so the overall accurate picture of Jerusalem ought to count for something—especially since several of the details were once ridiculed by Joseph’s critics. That Laban, Lehi, and the rest of his family can be so well contextualized can build faith that the story is being told by someone who was actually there, in Jerusalem, ca. 600 BC.
By now, all or most of you have probably already heard about Nahom, often touted as “the first actual archaeological evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon.” Nahom was the place where Lehi’s family buried Ishmael and then turned course “nearly eastward” until arriving in a rich and fertile land they called “Bountiful” (1 Nephi 16:34–17:5). The first indication that we might actually be able to locate Nahom on a map came in the late 1970s, when Ross T. Christensen noticed the mention of Nehhm in Yemen, “about 25 miles north of the capital, Sana” on an old, 18th century German map of Arabia. Located “only a little south of the route” then recently drawn by Lynn and Hope Hilton, Nehhm was in the right general area, but it was uncertain whether it was there in Lehi’s day.
Further research revealed that Nehem, also spelled Naham, Nihm, and various other ways, was the land of the Nihm tribe, which had been there at least since early Islamic times. Then in the late-1990s, S. Kent Brown noticed an altar from a temple site at Mārʾib, dated to the 6th–7th centuries BC, recording the dedication of one Biʾathtar, whose grandfather was a Nihmite. Two other identical inscriptions were subsequently found, and all three were later dated to a slightly earlier time period, close to 685 BC, placing its writing in a phase of construction around the 8th–7th centuries BC.
While this was the first archaeological evidence noticed by LDS scholars, subsequent research has revealed that several other first millennium BC inscriptions mentioning Nihmites in the area west of Mārʾib were already known to scholars of south Arabia. These inscriptions have led scholars to the conclusion that Nihm was in the same general area since BC times.
Hence Alexander Sima said that Biʾathtar the Nihmite “comes from the Nihm region, west of Mārib.” Burkhard Vogt noted that the Nihm tribe was “at the time without doubt north of Jawf, today northeast of Sanʾa.” Peter Stein included NHM on a map providing an “overview of places … as well as other identifiable toponyms” found in a collection of Sabean texts from later BC to early AD times, and identifies it with the modern Nihm region. Thus, scholars consistently locate the place of the Nihm tribe in approximately the same location going back to the 1st millennium BC.
What’s more, is it in the vicinity of Nihm that eastward travel becomes possible, and nearly due east of Nihm is an inlet along the coast which meets all the criteria for Bountiful. When all the pieces are brought together—the name, the location, the antiquity attested in several inscriptions, the “bountiful” inlet and the turn eastward—it creates a compelling context for this portion of Nephi’s account in southern Arabia, which in turn can build faith that the Book of Mormon is an authentic historical document.
The next most direct evidence for the Book of Mormon comes from an artifact which may have belonged to Mulek, the son of Zedekiah who, according to the Book of Mormon, escaped the fate of his brothers and made his way with a small group to the Americas. Long thought to be uniquely attested to in the Book of Mormon, it turns out there may be a reference to Mulek in the Bible. During the final years of Zedekiah’s reign, shortly before the Babylonians finally conquered Jerusalem (ca. 588–586 BC), Jeremiah was imprisoned in “the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech” as it says in the King James Bible (Jeremiah 38:6). More recent translations correct this to “Malchiah, the king’s son” (e.g., NRSV, JSB, NIV). Given the context, this Malchiah (also spelled Malkijah, Malkiah, and Milkiah), or Malkiyahu in Hebrew, was likely “a contemporary son of king Zedekiah,” according to Yohanan Aharoni.
In the 1990s, a stamp seal paleographically dated to “the second half of the seventh or early sixth century [BC],” turned up bearing the inscription “Belonging to Malkiyahu son of the king.” Since the information about Malkiyahu in both the Bible and this inscription is quite limited, an absolute identification remains uncertain, but Lawrence Mykytiuk considered this connection as among those “reasonable enough to invite assumption.” If this is indeed the same Malchiah as that mentioned in Jeremiah, this find may not only be another identification of a biblical person, but it might be the first known artifact belonging to a Book of Mormon person as well.
Both Mulek and Malchiah are based on the same Hebrew root (mlk, “king”), and Mulek may be a short form of Malchiah, just as Mike is to Michael today. Learning of this possibility from LDS colleagues, David Noel Freedman thought, “If Joseph Smith came up with that one, he did pretty good!” Taken together, both the biblical reference and the stamp seal add context to who Mulek was that can build faith in his reality as a real, historical member of the royal family in Lehi’s time.
This next example is less direct, but more concrete. Mormon described extensive cement working beginning around 50/49 BC, in a place far to the north of the Nephite homeland. The people there built cement homes and even whole cities made from wood and cement, despite the fact that the region suffered from severe deforestation and they had to supplement their small natural timber supply by having lumber shipped from other regions (Helaman 3:3–11).
Notwithstanding early 19th century reports of Peruvian cement from Alexander von Humboldt, currently the only pre-Columbian cement found by archaeologists is in Mesoamerica. In 1839, John Lloyd Stephens observed cement at several of the Maya cities, but little was known about its use, composition, antiquity, and development until the latter half of the 20th century. Now, Mesoamerican use of limestone-based cement from very ancient times is well documented.
Non-structural lime plasters and stuccos were used as early as 1100–600 BC, and “through the Late Preclassic period [ca. 300 BC–AD 250] … the thickness and quality of plasters increased,” and Maya builders made “improvement[s] in mixing techniques.” According to Michael Coe and Stephen Houston, during this time-period the lowland Maya “quickly realized the structural value of a concrete-like fill made from limestone rubble and marl,” contributing to “an explosion of [building] activity around 100 BC” in the Northern Petén.
In the Valley of Mexico, fully developed cement appeared at Teotihuacán from seemingly out of nowhere in the 1st century AD. By the early Classic period (ca. AD 300–600), cement use had declined in the Maya area, but not at Teotihuacán. There, by AD 300, “most inhabitants lived in substantial plaster-and-concrete compounds composed of multiple apartments.” The city is well known for its obsidian industries, but according to John Clark, “these pale beside its cement consumption.”
“Concrete,” says Carlos Margain, “is encountered in all Teotihuacan constructions of every epoch.” It has also been noted by Nigel Davis that, “excessive use of timber in Teotihuacan denuded the hillsides and led to soil erosion.” Large quantities of wood were needed in the production of cement, and wooden beams were used to support roofs, as well as being in the center of columns, pillars, and door lintels. Indeed, Teotihuacán and other cities in the region were certainly cities made of wood and cement.
Overall, Mormon’s report in Helaman 3:3–11 turns out to be a highly realistic account in the context of structural cement spreading through Mesoamerica in the 1st centuries BC/AD, with cities emerging in Northern Mesoamerica made extensively from wood and cement in a region largely deforested by Mormon’s day. This realistic setting can build faith that the Book of Mormon provides authentic information about pre-Columbian America, just as Joseph Smith claimed it did.
2. Accommodates Questions
Sitting with Discomfort
It is important to keep in mind, however, that this process is not about proving the Book of Mormon, or any other historical work, is true. Rather, as quoted earlier, it is about gaining a “better grounded picture,” a process that will sometimes confirm, but other times qualify what our written record says, or at least how we interpret it. To do this, we must be able to acknowledge that our current understanding is deficient—it is hard to improve our understanding when we think we’ve already got it all figured out. We are trying to mature our understanding, and to mature is to change, to develop, to grow—and growing comes with growing pains.
Sometimes information from the past is jarring. Wineburg warns that “mature historical cognition” does not just engage the mind, but is also “an act that engages the heart.” This is all the more so with the Book of Mormon, when not only historical facts but our faith is often on the line. Persistent questions raised by apparent contradictions in the archaeological context can seem devastating.
Wineburg found that mature historical thinkers displayed patience with the unknown. They were able to call attention to apparent contradictions without immediately seeking to resolve them. This was often uncomfortable, but mature historical thinkers “sat with this discomfort” as they continued to review addition sources. As they did this, they exercised what Wineburg called the “specification of ignorance”: a practice of identifying when you do not know enough to understand something. This is then followed by “cultivating puzzlement”: being able “to stand back from first impressions, to question … quick leaps of mind, and to keep track of … questions that together pointed … in the direction of new learning.”
When approached this way, “Inconsistencies become opportunities for exploring our discontinuity with the past.” Or, as Hugh Nibley put it, “every paradox and anomaly is really a broad hint that new knowledge is awaiting us if we will only go after it.”
When it comes to the Book of Mormon, some of the most persistent questions pertain to anachronistic plants, animals, and technology. But these anachronisms may be a product of how we read the Book of Mormon in the first place. Wineburg notes, “Trying to reconstruct a world we cannot completely know may be the difference between a contextualized and an anachronistic reading of the past.”
Rather than letting questions drive us to anachronistic readings and immediate, premature dismissals, the patience of mature historical thought can allow us to use questions to create contexts which accommodate them and lead to greater learning.
Barley and Archaeology
An important first step in this process goes back to the point I made at the beginning of this presentation: not everything mentioned in written sources gets verified by archaeology. Scholars of the ancient world value inscriptions and other written sources precisely because they can speak to us more directly than potshards and crumbled walls ever will. Requiring a written source to conform to what is presently known through archaeology thus strips it of the very thing that gives written sources their value in the first place.
The problem is compounded by the fact that archaeology is a moving target. Archaeologists don’t just dig into the ground once and suddenly know everything about the past. Instead, archaeology is an ongoing process, and much work remains to be done. Just among the Maya, archaeologists estimate that only 1–5 percent of all sites have been excavated, leading the late-George Stuart to conclude: “we don’t know squat.”
The implications of this should be obvious: with 95-plus percent of known Maya sites—to say nothing of the rest of Mesoamerica—unexcavated, there is no telling what may yet be found. All the archaeological data that I’ve already mentioned was, at some point, missing and unavailable, and thus contexts that can now be fashioned couldn’t have been created any earlier than the late-20th century.
In terms of what this means for anachronisms, consider barley. Since at least 1887, barley has been frequently included on lists of anachronistic plants mentioned in the Book of Mormon. In 1983, however, Daniel B. Adams reported that “salvage archaeologists found preserved grains of what looks like domesticated barley” at a Hohokam site near Phoenix, AZ, dated to AD 900. The grain was an indigenous American species known as little barley, and although this was “the first ever found in the New World,” cultivated specimens of little barley have since been identified at several pre-Columbian sites, mostly in the Eastern United States, though “extensive archaeological evidence also points to the cultivation of little barley in the Southwest and parts of Mexico,” and possibly even Cuba.
Little barley’s exact cultivation and domestication history remains debated, but today scholars generally agree that it was among the major cultivated crops in the Eastern United States by 200 BC. Some will protest that it is not “true” (Old World) barley, but nothing in the Book of Mormon requires such a deliberately anachronistic reading.
Discoveries like little barley are exactly why archaeologist John E. Clark warns, “negative items may prove to be positive ones in hiding. ‘Missing’ evidence focuses further research, but it lacks compelling logical force in arguments because it represents the absence of information rather than secure evidence.” Clark documented that the long-term trend in archaeological data has been toward verification of Book of Mormon claims. This long-term trend toward verification, along with the overall limitations of current archaeological knowledge, provides a context in which we can patiently accommodate questions about remaining anachronisms.
When a Horse Isn’t a Horse
While awaiting further information from archaeology, there are other ways to accommodate unconfirmed details through contextual, rather than anachronistic, readings. For instance, there are numerous historic examples of explorers and settlers encountering new plant and animal species, just as Lehi and his family would have as they settled in the New World. Such encounters inevitably create linguistic problems. One of the most common solutions to this problem is called loanshifting, which, according to Lawrence B. Kiddle, means “to give the animal the name of a familiar animal which the receiving speakers believe it resembles.” The most effective way I’ve found to illustrate loanshifting is through a simple question: which one of these animals is a buffalo?
In most (American) audiences, people usually point to the one of the right, but that is technically a bison. The “true” buffalo is on the left. Early French and English explorers and settlers had never seen a bison before, and thus lacked a proper term for it. So they borrowed—or loanshifted—the name of an animal already familiar to them: buffalo. Obviously, the name has stuck, despite the fact that scientists have ruled it taxonomically incorrect. Other examples of loanshifting from European contact with the Americas include robin, which is the original name of an unrelated bird species common to most of Europe, and elk, which still means moose in most of the rest of the world today.
Europeans coming to the New World were not the only ones who struggled to label new animal species. The introduction of Old World animals into the New World, such as horses and cattle, also created labeling problems for Native Americans and terms for widely different species—such as deer, tapirs, and most commonly dogs—were loanshifted to horses by various native cultures throughout the Americas (see table 2).
|Table 2: Native American Loanwords for Horse|
|Original Meaning||Frequency||Geographic Region|
|Dog||47/105 (~45%)||North America (ex. Mexico)|
|Deer||19/105 (~18%)||North America|
|Elk||8/105 (~8%)||North America (ex. Mexico)|
|Tapir||8/105 (~8%)||Central & South America|
|Caribou||4/105 (~4%)||North America (ex. Mexico)|
|Guanaco||1/105 (~1%)||South America|
“Among these,” noted linguistic anthropologist Cecil Brown, “horse is most closely related to tapir, … so that this naming association is understandable in terms of the closest analogue model.” Brown was surprised, however, by how frequently Native Americans used dog for horse.
From a commonsense perspective, one might expect that … Amerindians would typically have analyzed dog as being least similar to horse because of its relatively small size. Nonetheless, terms for dog are considerably more commonly extended to horse than are labels for other, more horselike-in-size creatures.
From this, it is clear that the specific associations made in various loanshifts are not always “obvious” or what would appear to outsiders as the most logical.
Once loanshifts are made, they often stick for several generations, as evidenced by the fact that we are still using several ourselves (buffalo, elk, robin) from the early post-Columbian period 400–500 years ago, as are many Native Americans. In fact, many common names for animals, as well plants and even objects, are loanshifts made long ago and now widely accepted without any awareness of what they originally meant. For instance, hippopotamus is a Greek term meaning “horse of the river,” which came into use at least as early as the 5th century BC and continues to be used today, despite the fact that hippos obviously aren’t horses.
Considering Lehi and his family arriving in the New World with this widely attested practice in mind, they could have applied their Old World terms for cow, ox, ass, horse, and goat to indigenous species found in the forests of the promised land (1 Nephi 18:24). Although the idea is frequently mocked online, if Lehi and his family were real people, then we would expect them to act the way real people have historically acted in similar situations. Understanding this common practice thus creates a context that can accommodate questions about horses, as well as other Old World plant and animal names mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
Chariots and Translation
Another important thing to remember is that the Book of Mormon is a translation, and translations sometimes create anachronisms, or at least misconceptions, that were not there in the original text. The King James Bible, for example, frequently mentions candles and candlesticks, yet ancient Jews and Israelites did not use candles, but rather oil lamps, thus more contemporary translations properly use lamps and lampstands instead.
Although not strictly an anachronism in the Biblical world, the use of chariot in the King James rendering of Song of Solomon 3:9 is another example where the translation may create a misunderstanding. The Hebrew word here is afiryon, which actually refers to a litter or palanquin, which is “an enclosed couch carried by bearers.” This interesting bit of trivia may be relevant to references to chariots in the Book of Mormon.
Although late-19th century French archaeologist Désiré Charnay actually reported finding “chariots” in Mexico, these were merely “toys,” or figurines. No chariot-like wheeled vehicles have yet been found in pre-Columbian America, but litters or palanquins like that mentioned in the Song of Solomon were known and widely used for royal visits in Mesoamerica as early as the Late Preclassic period (ca. 300–50 BC).
Although such a “chariot” would not be drawn by horses, it is important to notice that neither are the chariots in the Book of Mormon ever described as being pulled by horses, but rather are simply prepared with horses. In Maya art from the Classic period (ca. AD 300–900), at least, an animal (often a dog) is frequently depicted as traveling near the litter as part of the entourage, thus indicating that both animal and royal litter would need to be made ready for a royal visit.
The chariots of Lamoni are twice made ready for occasions not unlike those in which royal litters would be used to “conduct [the king] forth” (Alma 18:9) in Mesoamerica. Understanding the Book of Mormon in the context of translations, with the difficulties and imprecisions that all translations come with, can thus accommodate the mention of chariots, but it creates a considerably different picture than what we are used to envisioning here.
The Obvious and the Evidence
The mention of horses and chariots together brings the image of horse-drawn chariots so naturally to our minds, it seems obvious that this must be what the text is referring to—even if the horses are never said to be pulling the chariots explicitly. But, to paraphrase Lt. Megan Donner on an episode of CSI: Miami, “The problem with the obvious, … is it can make you overlook the evidence.”
Wineburg noticed this same tendency in some of his case studies. After reviewing primary source accounts describing the Battle of Lexington, for instance, students and historians were shown different artistic depictions of the event and asked to “select the picture that best reflected the written evidence.” One student, who made very astute observations while reading the documents, nonetheless choose the image that most reflected “his own modern notions of battlefield propriety,” and justified that choice based on modern combat rationales, while dismissing the more accurate image as being “ludicrous.” What was obvious and natural to this late-20th century student, however, was actually at odds with 18th century military decorum, yet even direct engagement with the evidence couldn’t overcome his deeply held assumptions about battlefield behavior.
My point here is that obviousness depends on context. The past sometimes is very strange, and what might seem ludicrous to us may very well be obvious to someone living in a different time and place. To us, the idea that horse and chariot might refer to anything besides a horse-drawn, wheeled vehicle might seem absurd, yet to a Nephite living in Mesoamerica in the first century BC, the use of their terms translated as horse and chariot might appear to be a rather obvious reference to a royal litter accompanied by a dog or another animal.
This is a very different picture than what we are used to, and not everyone may be entirely comfortable with it. Yet, like I explained earlier, developing mature historical understanding will sometimes require us to “sit with our discomfort” as we learn to allow the context we fashion to change and expand our understanding.
Clarification and Caveat
To be clear, I am not saying that the horse and chariot of the Book of Mormon absolutely is a dog and royal litter. I am merely seeking to illustrate some of the different ways mature, contextual approaches can accommodate persisting questions about Book of Mormon claims. The principles discussed here can be applied to other currently “missing” plants, animals, and technologies while always keeping in mind the limited nature of archaeology and the possibility of future finds.
Speaking of the Bible, one pair of scholars remarked, “the trend of archaeological discovery is to confirm even points that opinion had rejected as false.” As already discussed, there is a similar trend with the Book of Mormon. Horses and chariots may yet conform to this trend. There is already some ambiguous evidence for pre-Columbian horses, and the presence of wheeled figurines demonstrates, at the very least, that “the principle of using wheels to facilitate horizontal movement was familiar to at least some peoples of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.” While patiently awaiting further discovery, however, it is valuable to consider other contextual approaches and grow more comfortable with different interpretive possibilities.
3. Deepen Understanding
I don’t recommend spending too much time dwelling on what we are missing, however: there is far too much already available from archaeology and other disciplines that not only builds faith, but also enriches and deepens our understanding of the Book of Mormon. Beyond waiting and weighing possible answers to difficult questions, I recommend diving into what we already know to see what new things there are to learn about the Book of Mormon and, consequently, the gospel principles it teaches.
Olives and Allegories
A basic example of this is Jacob 5. This chapter comprises of an extended allegory about olive cultivation, and is the longest chapter in all of the Book of Mormon—a curious little detail, since olives don’t grow in New York, but are ubiquitous to the ancient Near East and Mediterranean region. As an allegory for the last days, it is imperative for us to understand it well, and one way to do that is to dig into botanical science and ancient horticultural practices, going back to the allegory’s ancient roots to gain greater context.
Scholars and scientists have done just that, and their efforts have yielded a rich harvest. One of the more interesting insights comes in relation to grafting wild branches into a domesticated tree. In Jacob 5, after an initial effort to save the decaying tree fails, the master has wild branches grafted into it, seemingly as a last-ditch effort (vv. 7–10). Miraculously, the tree begins to bear fruit again (v. 17), and the servant observes, “because thou didst graft in the branches of the wild olive tree they have nourished the roots, that they are alive and they have not perished” (v. 34).
Botanist Wilford Hess, writing with other scholars, observed, “It would … have been unusual for an olive grower to graft wild branches onto a tame tree.” Hess stressed that “olive growers normally use wild olive grafts only to rejuvenate domesticated or tame trees.” In such circumstances, “Due to the vigor and disease resistance of certain wild species, grafting wild stock onto a tame tree can strengthen and revitalize a distressed plant.”
This is, of course, exactly why the wild grafts are done in Jacob 5, and the results are precisely that of a rejuvenated tree, but what I would like to point out is that this is not something an olive grower would just do on an annual basis: it’s a last resort, a desperate move made when all else has failed. The message seems clear: the Lord will stop at nothing to reclaim to his lost fruit—and don’t forget that fruit is us.
This important context thus deepens our understanding of the great lengths Heavenly Father will go to in order to reclaim his lost children, even resorting to unconventional, desperate, and perhaps even counterintuitive methods, if he has too.
Revelation in Context: From the Old World to the New
This year, to go along with the Gospel Doctrine curriculum, the Church published a manual called Revelations in Context, which includes essays discussing the historical background of the various sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. Revelatory experiences in the Book of Mormon can also be contextualized, and doing so can deepen our appreciation for the doctrines revealed, but can also teach us something about the very nature of revelation itself.
Old World Patterns of Revelation
The very first vision in the Book of Mormon is that of Lehi’s, where he sees God on his throne surrounded by angelic hosts (1 Nephi 1:8–14). Several scholars have illustrated that the sequence of events here fits the prophetic call patterns found in biblical and non-biblical texts from the ancient Near East. Nephi’s vision upon a “high mountain” is likewise consistent with ancient Near Eastern patterns (1 Nephi 11–14). Thus, analysis of these revelations predictably benefits from contexts fashioned from the biblical world.
Transitioning Revelation: An Old and New World Ritual Context
King Benjamin’s revelation from an angel, ca. 128/127 BC, shared during a festival occasion where sacrifices mandated by Mosaic law were performed (Mosiah 2:3), naturally becomes more interesting in light of rituals associated with the Israelite festival occasions. Specifically, the sprinkling of bull and goat blood 7 times to purify the sanctuary and the people from sin (Leviticus 16:14–19) on the Day of Atonement creates a vivid context for the angel’s revelation that the “blood of Christ atoneth for … sins” (Mosiah 3:16)—with blood repeated 7 times in the course of Benjamin’s speech.
There were festival occasions in Mesoamerica, as well, and their rituals could be every bit as bloody. In addition to animal and human sacrifices, the king himself, endowed with a divine (or at least semi-divine) status, often performed a bloodletting ritual where “kings voluntarily shed their blood as an offering on behalf of their people.” Typically, a sensitive part of the king’s body was pierced, and then blood would be dripped onto bark paper and burned. The smoke from the fire was then believed to open up a conduit between the natural and supernatural realm, through which divine beings would appear in vision, “communicating sacred knowledge, especially about future events and portents.”
King Benjamin denied having any kind of special or divine status, and by so doing implicitly denied any efficacious power in his own blood (Mosiah 2:10, 26). Yet without bloodletting, he still interacted with a divine being (an angel) who revealed sacred knowledge about the future, telling Benjamin that there will be a future divine king whose blood will have power—and he won’t just bleed from one part of his body, but will bleed “from every pore” (Mosiah 3:7).
Benjamin’s revelation thus invokes both Israelite and Mesoamerican conceptions of blood sacrifice, and would have had quite the impact in its original ritual setting.
New World Patterns of Revelation
Mark Wright noticed that about a generation or so later, a new pattern for revelation emerges. “Unlike Lehi,” Wright pointed out, prophets and others from Alma the Younger’s time, “did not receive their commissions according to [an] ancient Near Eastern pattern; rather, the calls conform to a pattern that can be detected in ancient Mesoamerica.” Specifically, Wright has in mind “the accounts of individuals who are overcome by the Spirit to the point that they fall to the earth as if dead and ultimately recover and through that process become spiritually reborn and subsequently prophesy concerning Jesus Christ.”
Among the contemporary Maya, according to Bruce Love, “Most Maya shamans” report being called “through divine intervention; either through dreams, being miraculously saved, or through near-death experiences.” Ethnographic work by Frank Lipp indicates, “Divine election occurs within a context of some physical or emotional crisis …. During the initiatory dream vision the individual may experience temporary insanity or unconsciousness, and a death experience whereupon he or she is reborn as a person with shamanic power and knowledge.” While the individual is unconscious, healers and holy men may offer prayers and perform other ritual acts “on behalf of the critically ill individuals.”
Wright compares this to the experience of various Book of Mormon prophets, with Alma the Younger as the primary example of this pattern—falling to the earth unconscious for multiple days, while his father and other priests gather together and fast and pray over his body. Alma eventually awakens, “born of God,” and both spiritually and physically healed. From that time forward, Alma frequently displayed prophetic knowledge and power.
This shouldn’t necessarily be taken to suggest that Alma and others participated in all shamanic practices and rituals, but merely to point out how the Lord may have used the expectations of the Nephites’ cultural environment when calling his prophets among them.
Revealing the Risen Lord in the New World
Wright also notes another subtle way Mesoamerican culture may be reflected in divine communication to Book of Mormon peoples. It’s important to realize that while some early Nephite prophets had seen crucifixion in vision (1 Nephi 11:33), generally speaking that is not a form of death or punishment that would have been familiar to Book of Mormon peoples. Nonetheless, “the sacrifice of a human being was the peak of Mesoamerican ritual,” and the Nephites would have been aware of such cultural practices, perhaps even participating in them during periods of apostasy.
While there were a number of different ways such sacrifices would be performed, one of the more common techniques was for a priest to “make a large incision directly below the ribcage using a knife made out of razor-sharp flint or obsidian, and while the victim was yet alive … thrust his hand into the cut and reach up under the ribcage and into the chest and rip out the victim’s still-beating heart.” Wright thus proposes, “To a people steeped in Mesoamerican culture, the sign that a person had been ritually sacrificed would have been an incision on their side—suggesting they had had their hearts removed.”
When Christ appears to Book of Mormon peoples at Bountiful, in contrast to his appearances in the Old World, “He bade them first to thrust their hands into his side, and secondarily to feel the prints in his hands and feet (3 Nephi 11:14).” The difference is subtle, but for his audience, it may have been significant: the wound on his side would have been the most effective way to communicate to Mesoamerican onlookers that he had been sacrificed on their behalf.
While considering each of these instances individually can serve to deepen ones understanding of the Book of Mormon, there is a larger point that can be made here, which is summed up by Nephi: the Lord “speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3; cf. D&C 1:24). Wright correctly argues that language and culture are intrinsically linked, and thus speaking according the understanding of one’s audience requires cultural adaptation as much as it does linguistic accommodation.
By observing how Book of Mormon modes of revelation diverge from biblical patterns and converge with Mesoamerican ones, we gain a deepened understanding of what it really means for the Lord to adapt his message to his peoples understanding, in all times and in all circumstances. This can, in turn, help us better appreciate why the Lord may have communicated with Joseph Smith in ways that seem odd or strange to us today, as well as helping us be more perceptive to how the Lord is speaking to us in the here and now.
Recognizing that the Lord communicates to us within cultural expectations also begins to address why developing a mature, contextualizing approach to the Book of Mormon (and, of course, other scriptural works) is so important: if context matters to the Lord, then it ought to matter to us. In the brief time that I’ve had, I have tried to sketch out what it really means to study the Book of Mormon with mature historical thought, and illustrate the benefits I see in such an approach.
I want to be clear that I am in no way meaning to suggest or imply that everyone who takes a mature historical approach will reach the same conclusions I have, nor that everyone who disbelieves does so for “immature” reasons. All I am saying is that such an approach can build a more sustainable and rewarding faith in the Book of Mormon, one which is less vulnerable to the most common attacks made against it today online and in other venues.
To wrap up, I want to acknowledge that I know all of this can seem a little overwhelming. Believe me, I understand that not everyone can become a historian or dedicate themselves full-time to studying the Book of Mormon. I get that. With that said, let me offer a few words of advice and encouragement:
First, take your time. Scriptural and gospel study is supposed to be a lifetime pursuit, and developing a mature approach to scripture study is less about how much you know and more about having the humility to know when you need to learn more, and then patiently seeking out further information.
Second, maximize the time you do have. You don’t necessarily need to study longer, but you may need to make more of an effort when you do study. Whether you have an hour or just 15 minutes each day, you can maximize that time better by doing more than staring at the words on the page. Even by just taking a few minutes of that time to read up on some background and context can make a difference in how you understand what you are reading.
Lastly, utilize tools like Book of Mormon Central. Our goal is to try to make this easy for you by bringing all the resources on the Book of Mormon into one place, summarizing and synthesizing the best of that material into our KnoWhy articles, and producing multimedia content that makes it easier to understand.
Ultimately, “put[ting] away childish things” will require, as Paul said, learning how to think about, understand, and talk about the Book of Mormon in new ways (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12). While this may be difficult at times, based on my own experience, I am confident doing so can build faith, accommodate and even eventually resolve questions, and deepen understanding and appreciation for our keystone scripture.
Q 1: Why would dog-horses not be translated as dogs?
A 1: That goes into all kinds of stuff on translation theory that I’m not interested in speculating on at this point. Like I said, I’m just trying to promote some possibilities. I’m not saying horses are dogs, I’m just saying, why did Native Americans so persistently associate dogs with horses? I don’t know. You would have to study it and maybe come up with your own answers.
Someone else pointed out, I guess is the point here, that the bison to buffalo shift is also similar to the fact that we call Native Americans “Indians”, which, they obviously aren’t people from India, so good point.
Q 2: What new evidence is found about animals in the Book of Mormon? Is the discovery of the origin of camels in Middle or North America helping?
A 2: I don’t see the Book of Mormon ever mentioning camels unless I’ve missed something, so I’m not sure. But it does maybe help in just the sense that we’re always learning more and more about the history of our world and where animals came from or where they were and when they weren’t there, and so you just, you never, like I said, you gotta just always keep an open mind to what new things could be found. If you’re interested in animals in the Book of Mormon though, there’s a book by Wade Miller on the topic, I’m pretty sure it’s in the bookstore.
Q 3: What evidence leads me to say the brass plates were engraved in Egyptian?
A 3: Mosiah 1:4 basically says they were, so that’s the evidence.
Neal Rappleye is the Research Project Manager at Book of Mormon Central. He has published on the Book of Mormon in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture and has an essay in Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics (2017), published by Greg Kofford Books. He has presented at the 2014, 2016, and 2017 Book of Mormon Conferences, formerly sponsored by the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (now part of Book of Mormon Central).
 For background on the El Amarna letters, see Richard S. Hess, “Amarna Letters,” in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), 50–51; Lester L. Grabbe, Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?, rev. ed. (New York, NY: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark), 44–47. The letters from the king of Jerusalem are EA 285–290.
 EA 287: “land of Jerusalem” and “lands of Jerusalem.” EA 290: “a town of the land of Jerusalem, Bit-Lahmi by name.” EA 280: “‘Abdu-Heba [of Jerusalem] had taken the town from my hand.” All translations from W. F. Albright, “The Amarna Letters,” in The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures, ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), 429–443.
 Margreet Steiner, “Jerusalem in the Tenth and Seventh Centuries BCE: From Administrative Town to Commercial City,” in Studies in the Archaeology of the Iron Age in Israel and Jordan, ed. Amihai Mazer (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 283.
 Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2001), 7.
 Wineburg, Historical Thinking, 7.
 Wineburg, Historical Thinking, 18.
 I am paraphrasing Wineburg, Historical Thinking, 18: “rather than fashioning a context from the raw materials provided by these documents …”
 Wineburg, Historical Thinking, 21.
 Oded Lipschits, “The History of Israel in the Biblical Period,” in The Jewish Study Bible: Torah, Nevi’im, Kethuvim, 2nd edition, ed. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), 2107.
 Linda Schele and David Freidel, A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya (New York, NY: William Marrow, 1990), 55.
 1 Nephi 1:4; 2:13; 4:4–5, 24, 27; 10:3; 11:13.
 1 Nephi 1:4; Alma 10:3; 1 Nephi 5:14, 16
 1 Nephi 3:31.
 1 Nephi 3:3–4; 4:9, 20; 5:11–16; Mosiah 1:4 (cf. 1 Nephi 1:2).
 Obviously, the very existence of the Book of Mormon is evidence of their scribal training, but see 1 Nephi 1:2. See also Brant A. Gardner, “Nephi as Scribe,” Mormon Studies Review 23, no. 1 (2011): 45–55.
 1 Nephi 2:4; 3:16; 1 Nephi 17:9–10. See also John A. Tvedtnes, The Most Correct Book: Insights from a Book of Mormon Scholar (Springville, UT: Horizon, 2003), 78–97; Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Lehi’s House at Jerusalem and the Land of his Inheritance,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2004), 113–117. Also see Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 1:78–80.
 John L. Sorenson, “The Composition of Lehi’s Family,” in By Study and Also By Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, 2 vols., ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 2:176 rejected the hypothesis that Lehi was a metalworker for this very reason.
 Steiner, “Jerusalem in the Tenth and Seventh Centuries BCE,” 284–285.
 Jacob Milgrom, in “Jerusalem at the Time of Lehi,” in Journey of Faith: From Jerusalem to the Promised Land, ed. S. Kent Brown and Peter Johnson (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2006), 37. See also Chadwick, “Lehi’s House,” 87–93; Mordechai Cogan, “Into Exile: From Assyrian Conquest of Israel to the Fall of Babylon,” in The Oxford History of the Biblical World, ed. Michael D. Coogan (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998), 325; Israel Finkelstein, “The Settlement History of Jerusalem in the Eighth and Seventh Centuries BC,” Revue Biblique 115, no. 4 (2008): 499–515.
 Shlomit Weksler-Bdolah, Alexander Onn, Shua Kisilevitz, and Brigitte Ouahnouna, “Layers of Ancient Jerusalem,” Biblical Archaeology Review 38, no. 1 (January/February 2012): 38.
 Weksler-Bdolah, et al., “Layers of Ancient Jerusalem,” 41. Interestingly, one of the seals contains an image of a four-winged serpent, which the excavators interpreted as the biblical “fiery serpent” (p. 40). Note that Nephi changes the “fiery serpents” of Numbers 21:6, 8 to “flying fiery serpents” (1 Nephi 17:41). See Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did Nephi Say Serpents Could Fly?” KnoWhy 316 (May 22, 2017), online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-did-nephi-say-serpents-could-fly (accessed July 18, 2017).
 Steiner, “Jerusalem in the Tenth and Seventh Centuries BCE,” 284–285.
 Lidar Sapir Hen and Erez Ben Yosef, “The Socioeconomic Status of Iron Age Metalworkers: Animal Economy in the ‘Slaves’ Hill’, Timna, Israel,” Antiquity 88 (2014): 775–790, quote on p. 775. See also Neal Rappleye, “Lehi the Smelter: New Light on Lehi’s Profession,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 14 (2015): 223–225.
 See Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager, Life in Biblical Israel (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2001), 164–176; Naama Yahalom-Mack and Adi Elyahu-Behar, “The Transition from Bronze to Iron in Canaan: Chronology, Technology, and Context,” Radiocarbon 57, no. 2 (2015): 285–305.
 Avraham Eitan, “Rare Sword of the Israelite Period Found at Vered Jericho,” Israel Museum Journal 12 (1994): 61–62, quote on p. 62. See also Hershel Shanks, “BAR Interviews Avraham Eitan,” Biblical Archaeology Review 12, no. 4 (1986): 33. For comparison to Laban’s sword, see William J. Adams Jr., “Nephi’s Jerusalem and Laban’s Sword,” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 11–13; Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “All the Glitters is Not … Steel,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 15, no. 1 (2005): 66–67; Matthew Roper, “‘To Inflict Wounds of Death’: Mesoamerican Swords and Cimeters in the Book of Mormon,” presented at the 2016 FairMormon Conference, August 4, 2016, online at https://www.fairmormon.org/conference/august-2016/inflict-wounds-death (accessed July 30, 2017).
 King and Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, 310–315; William M. Schniedewind, A Social History of Hebrew: It’s Origins Through the Rabbinic Period (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 99–122.
 Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, et al., “Algorithmic Analysis of Judah’s Military Correspondence Sheds Light on Composition of Biblical Texts,” PNAS 113, no. 17 (2016): 4667, 4666.
 Aaron Demsky and Meir Bar-Ilan, “Writing in Ancient Israel and Early Judaism,” in Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1988), 11, 15; David M. Carr, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005), 173 n.231.
 Christopher A. Rollston, Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel: Epigraphic Evidence from the Iron Age (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010), 49, 72, 132 suggests that some potters and stonemasons may have received scribal training because stone and pottery were common writing mediums. In light of the Ketef Hinnom inscriptions (see below), it makes sense to extend this to metalworkers as well. Rollston also suggests more generally, “Some skilled craftsmen may have also been able to write and read” (p. 133).
 Seth L. Sanders, The Invention of Hebrew (Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 97–98, 100, 107, quote on p. 107.
 Steiner, “Jerusalem in the Tenth and Seventh Centuries BCE,” 284.
 See Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 8 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1989), 395–396.
 Though Nibley, Prophetic Book of Mormon, 384–386 makes an interesting argument in this regard for the Lachish archive.
 William J. Hamblin, “Sacred Writing on Metal Plates in the Ancient Mediterranean,” FARMS Review 19, no. 1 (2007): 37–54.
 For popularly accessible discussions of these texts, see Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible: Understanding the Bible through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008), 405–407; Gabriel Barkay, “The Riches of Ketef Hinnom,” Biblical Archaeology Review 35, no. 4 (2009): 34–35, 122–126. For some of the more technical discussions of the inscription, its translation, dating, and context, see Ada Yardeni, “Remarks on the Priestly Blessing on Two Ancient Amulets from Jerusalem,” Vetus Testamentum 41, no. 2 (1991): 176–185; P. Kyle McCarter, “The Ketef Hinnom Amulets,” in Context of Scripture, 3 vols., ed. William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger Jr. (Boston, MA: Brill, 2003), 2:221; Gabriel Barkey, Marilyn J. Lunberg, Andrew G. Vaughn, and Bruce Zuckerman, “The Amulets from Ketef Hinnom: A New Edition and Evaluation,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 334 (2004): 41–71. Some have argued for a later dating of the scrolls, most recently Nadav Naʾaman, “A New Appraisal of the Silver Amulets from Ketef Hinnom,” Israel Exploration Journal 61, no. 2 (2011): 184–195. For a response which reaffirms the 6th–7th century BC dating, see Shmuel Ahituv, “A Rejoinder to Nadav Naʾaman’s ‘A New Appraisal of the Silver Amulets from Ketef Hinnom’,” Israel Exploration Journal 62, no. 2 (2012): 223–232. The 7th–6th century BC dating remains the most widely accepted. See Jeremy D. Smoak, The Priestly Blessing in Inscription and Scripture: The Early History of Numbers 6:24–26 (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016), 13–16.
 For previous discussions of these inscriptions in relation to the Book of Mormon, see Dana M. Pike, “Israelite Inscriptions from the Time of Jeremiah and Lehi,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2004), 213–215; William J. Adams Jr., “Lehi’s Jerusalem and Writing on Silver Plates,” and “More on the Silver Plates from Lehi’s Jerusalem,” both in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 23–26, 27–28.
 For more on this, see Book of Mormon Central, “Did Ancient Israelites Write in Egyptian?” KnoWhy 4 (January 5, 2016), online at https://knowhy.bookof mormoncentral.org/content/did-ancient-israelites-write-egyptian (accessed July 30, 2017).
 Stefan Wimmer, Palästiniches Hieratisch: Die Zahl- und Sonderzeichen in der althebräishen Schrift (Wiesbaden: Harraossowitz, 2008). See the map on p. 19 for all the sites such texts have been found, and for the total number of texts, see p. 20. For samples from Jerusalem, see pp. 62–65, 133–135, 161, 163, 164, 166, 175, 176, 177, 180, 187 (17 total). Dating of the texts can be seen for the individual entries.
 David Calabro, “The Hieratic Scribal Tradition in Preexilic Judah,” in Evolving Egypt: Innovation, Appropriation, and Reinterpretation in Ancient Egypt, ed. Kerry Muhlestein and John Gee (Oxford, UK: Archaeopress, 2012), 82–83. For comparison of this Judahite hieratic to Nephi’s statement about language, see Neal Rappleye, “Learning Nephi’s Language: Creating a Context for 1 Nephi 1:2,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 16 (2015): 151–159.
 See William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 107–108; William G. Dever, Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 227–228; William G. Dever, The Lives of Ordinary People in Ancient Israel: Where Archaeology and the Bible Intersect (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2012), 9. Dever’s methods were brought into LDS discourse on the Book of Mormon by Gardner, Second Witness 1:7–8. See also Brant A. Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2015), 47–52.
 See Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Text (New York, NY: Touchstone, 2001). Though this does not represent my own views on the subject, it is illustrative of how archaeology is often seen as undermining Biblical narratives.
 See, for example, Steiner, “Jerusalem in the Tenth and Seventh Centuries BCE,” 281–283; Finkelstein and Silberman, Bible Unearthed, 132–134. Of course, just as with Amarna, this absence of evidence does not prove there was no Jerusalem at this time. See Steven L. McKenzie, King David: A Biography (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000), 18–19; K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 150–154; Steven M. Ortiz, “United Monarchy: Archaeology and Literary Sources,” in Ancient Israel’s History: An Introduction to Issues and Sources (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 254–255.
 See Edmund C. Briggs, “A Visit to Nauvoo in 1856,” Journal of History 9 (October 1916): 454; Nels Madsen, “Visit to Mrs. Emma Smith Bidamon,” 1931. These are each transcribed in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, 2nd edition, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2017), 141–143 (documents 38 and 40). See also Book of Mormon Central, “Did Jerusalem Have Walls Around It?” KnoWhy 7 (January 8, 2016), online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/did-jerusalem-have-walls-around-it (accessed July 19, 2017).
 Jews writing in Egyptian, writing on metal plates, Laban’s steel sword, and northern Israelites being in Jerusalem are all points that were criticized in Joseph Smith’s lifetime. On Egyptian, see Gimel, “Book of Mormon,” The Christian Watchman (Boston) 12, no. 40, October 7, 1831; La Roy Sunderland, “Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman (New York) 3, no. 7, February 17, 1838. On metal plates, see La Roy Sunderland, “Mormonism,” Zion’s Watchman (New York) 3, no. 8, February 24, 1838. On steel swords, see E. D. Howe, Mormonism Unveiled: Or, A Faithful Account of that Singular Imposition and Delusion from its Rise to the Present Time (Plainsville, OH: 1834), 25–26. On northern Israelites, see Origen Bacheler, Mormonism Exposed Internally and Externally (New York, NY: 1838), 11.
 Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 120.
 Ross T. Christensen, “The Place Called Nahom,” Ensign, August 1978, 73. Since then, several other old maps have been identified with Nehhm or Nehem on it. See James Gee, “The Nahom Maps,” Journal of Book of Mormon and Restoration Scripture 17, no. 1–2 (2008): 40–57.
 Warren Aston and Michaela Knoth Aston, In the Footsteps of Lehi: New Evidence for Lehi’s Journey Across Arabia to Bountiful (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1994), 3–25. Another Islamic source which mentions Nihm, unnoticed by Aston, is al-Hamdānī’s al-Jawharatayn al-atiqatayn. See D. M. Dunlop, “Sources of Gold and Silver in Islam According to al-Hamdānī (10th Century AD),” Studia Islamica 8 (1957): 41, 43.
 S. Kent Brown, “New Light—‘The Place That Was Called Nahom’: New Light from Ancient Yemen,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8, no. 1 (1999): 66–68. For the dating of the altar to the 6th–7th centuries BC, see Burkhard Vogt, “Les Temples de Maʾrib,” in Yemen au Pays de la Reine de Saba, ed. Christian Robin and Burkhard Vogt (Paris, FR: Flammarion, 1997), 144; K. A. Kitchen, Documentation for Ancient Arabia, 2 vols. (Liverpool, UK: 1994–2000), 2:18 (Barʾān DAI 1988-1); Alexander Sima, “Religion,” in Queen of Sheba: Treasures from Ancient Yemen, ed. St John Simpson (London, UK: The British Museum Press, 2002), 166 (DAI Barʾān 1988-1).
 Warren P. Aston, “Newly Found Altars from Nahom,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10, no. 2 (2001): 56–61.
 Norbert Nebes, “Zur Chronologie Der Inschriften Aus Dem Barʾān Temple,” Archaologische Berichte aus dem Yemen 10 (2005): 119 catalogues each of the altars mentioning NHM (DAI Barʾān 1988-2 [DAI Barʾān 1988-1], DAI Barʾān 1994/5-2, and DAI Barʾān 1996-1) as dating to the aSabB period, which is defined as ca. 685 BC on p. 115 n.34 (there is a typo that makes it seem like he is saying aSabB dates to 685 AD, but p. 114 and the overall context makes it clear that BC is the correct date). It’s on p. 115 that Nebes also dates the construction of temple 3 to 8th–7th centuries BC and suggests that a few dedicatory inscriptions date to this phrase (as opposed to the “classical” temple 4 phase from the 5th century BC, which is classified as aSabC on p. 114 n.32). Although Nebes never specifically defines the time range of aSabB, its association with inscriptions dated to ca. 685 BC suggests a late 8th to early 7th century BC dating, ca. 750–650 BC. Hence, the ruler Yadaʾil mentioned toward the end of the inscription could potentially be Yadaʾil Dharih I (ca. 740–720 BC) or Yadaʾil Dharih II (ca. 650–620 BC). See Kitchen, DAA 2:744 for the ruler chronology.
 These include Gl. 1637 (ca. 5th/4th centuries BC; Kitchen, DAA 2:208); CIH 673 (ca. 7th/5th century BC; Kitchen, DAA 2:139); and RES 5095 (ca. 8th–4th century BC). Haram 16, 17, and 19 (ca. 660/500 BC; Kitchen, DAA 2:120) may also make reference to Nihmites, though nh[mt]n is a restoration, and it’s been alternatively translated as “stone polishers.” In addition to these 1st millennium BC references, there are also several references to Nihmites in somewhat later inscriptions. See CIH 969 (ca. 3rd century AD; Kitchen, DAA 2:165); Ir 24 (ca. 270 AD; Kitchen, DAA 2:245); BynM 217 (ca. 4th century BC–4th century AD); BynM 401 (ca. 2nd–3rd century AD); YM 11748 (ca. 4th century BC–4th century AD). All of these can be found online in the CSAI database (http://dasi.humnet.unipi.it/), and this is where the dating of the text comes from (except those from Kitchen, DAA). The existence of other NHM inscriptions was first brought to the attention of an LDS audience in Warren P. Aston, “A History of NaHoM,” BYU Studies Quarterly 51, no. 2 (2012): 90–93. Nonetheless, many of these have been available in publications on southern Arabian archaeology and inscriptions for several decades, including one as early as 1942 (see CSAI database entries of bibliographic info).
 According to S. Kent Brown, “New Light from Arabia on Lehi’s Trail,” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 113 n.68, Christian Robin indicates that “the tribal name NHM (and others) … has remained basically in the same place since it first appeared in inscriptions in the first millennium BC.” Brown is citing Christian Robin, Les Hautes-Terres du Nord-Yemen avant l’Islam I: Recherches sur la geographie tribale et religieuse de Hawlan Qudaʿa et du pays de Hamdan (Istanbul: Nederlands historisch-archaeologisch Instituut, 1982), 27, 72–74. Andrey Korotayev, Ancient Yemen: Some General Trends of Evolution of the Sabaic Language and Sabaean Culture (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995), 81–83 likewise cites Robin as indicating that the tribes of the Bakīl confederation have been in the same general area since the first millennium BC. According to Paul Dresch, Tribes, Government, and History in Yemen (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1989), 24 (table 1.2), Nihm is part of the Bakīl confederation.
 Sima, “Religion,” 166–167.
 Vogt, “Les Temples de Maʾrib,” 144: “Le donateur Biʾathtar, originaire de la tribu de Nihm (à l’époque sans doute au nord du Jawf, aujord’hui au nord-est de Sanʾâ) …”. Thanks to Greg Smith for his assistance in translating this source.
 Peter Stein, Die altsüdarabischen Minuskelinschriften auf Holzstäbchen aus der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek in München. Band 1: Die Inschriften der mittel- und spätsabäischen Periode (Tübingen and Berlin, GER: Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, 2010), 23, fig. 1, quote from p. 22: “Eine Übersicht der genannten Orte sowie weiterer identifizierbarer Toponyme, welche in den bekannten Minuskelinschriften Erwähnung finden, bietet die beigefügte Kartenskizze.” NHM falls under “anderer in den Minuskelinschriften erwähnter Orts–, Stammes– oder, Landschaftsname” (“other place, tribal, or regional names mentioned in the minuscule inscriptions”) in the map key. Its inclusion on the map is based on its appearance in YM 11748 (ca. 4th century BC–4th century AD) as a nisbe (nhmyn), the same form as that used on the altars from Mārʾib (p. 22 n.43).
 Some skeptics, of course, will continue to split hairs, and say that this does not prove that there was a place called “Nahom” or NHM. It is important to understand, however, that tribes are frequently described and talked about as locations or places which you can move to and from and that have physical, geographic boarders that can be (and often are) mapped (see Dresch, Tribes, Government, 25, fig. 1.9, cf. 75–83). As Paul Dresch put it, Yemeni “tribes themselves are territorial entities” (p. 75) and “are taken to be geographically fixed” (p. 77). Stein, Die altsüdarabischen Minuskelinschriften, 735–736 included names of tribes (stamm) and tribal affiliation (nisbe) in the “toponyms” section of his index. This kind of conflation between tribe and place is evident in pre-Islamic antiquity, where inscriptions speak of going to and from a tribe as if going from place to place. See, for example, M 247 (ca. 4th–1st century BC), which speaks of traveling “on the route between Maʿin and Rgmtm,” where Maʿin is actually a tribal name. There are also several examples of using tribal names in “land of x” constructs. B-L Nashq (early 6th century BC), for example, speaks of going “into the land of Ḥaḍramawt,” with Ḥaḍramawt listed as a tribal name. In the same inscription, Ḏkrm, Lḥyn, and ʾbʾs in “land of Ḏkrm and Lḥyn and ʾbʾs” are potentially tribal names, though scholars are undecided on whether they are tribal or place names (such uncertainty is, itself, illustrative of how place and tribal names are used virtually indistinguishably). The construction “land of [tribe]” is really no different than Nephi’s “place called [tribe].”
 Korotayev, Ancient Yemen, 80–81 notes that the incense route passed “though the edge of the Ṣayhad desert” to the east of the Wadi Jawf region, and p. 80–81 n. 6 discusses the route north of Ṣayhad, “through the wide passage between this desert and the sand of the Rubʿ-al Khālī.” This route was most directly eastward from Jawf (near Nihm), and was more suitable for “lightly loaded small caravans,” which the Lehites likely were. While current evidence suggests that this route was not formally used until the latter half of the 1st millennium BC, this nonetheless demonstrates that it was a survivable passage eastward through Arabia. LDS scholars are divided as to whether Lehi’s family took this northern passage nearly due east from Wadi Jawf, or if they stuck to the main trade route skirting the southern edge of the Ṣayhad desert, which begins to trend more eastward (but still runs in a southeastern direction) around the Nihm/Jawf region. See Brown, “New Light from Arabia,” 88–89; S. Kent Brown, “New Light—Nahom and the ‘Eastward’ Turn,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12, no. 1 (2003): 111–112; George Potter and Richard Wellington, Lehi in the Wilderness: 81 New Evidences that the Book of Mormon is a True History (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2003), 115–119; Aston, “A History of NaHoM,” 84–85; Warren P. Aston, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia: The Old World Setting of the Book of Mormon (Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2015), 95–99.
 Warren P. Aston, “The Arabian Bountiful Discovered? Evidence for Nephi’s Bountiful,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7, no. 1 (1998): 4–11, 70; Aston, Lehi and Sariah in Arabia, 101–155. A couple of other locations have also been proposed for bountiful, Khor Mughsayl and Khor Rori. See Wm. Revell Phillips, “Mughsayl: Another Candidate for Land Bountiful,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 16, no. 2 (2007): 48–59, 97; Potter and Wellington, Lehi in the Wilderness, 121–136. For a review of all three proposals, see Warren P. Aston, “Identifying Our Best Candidate for Nephi’s Bountiful,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Restoration Scripture 17, no. 1–2 (2008): 58–64. For a short overview of the evidence, see Book of Mormon Central, “Has the Location of Nephi’s Bountiful Been Discovered,” KnoWhy 259 (January 9, 2017), online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/has-the-location-of-nephi’s-bountiful-been-discovered (accessed July 24, 2017).
 For further details, see Book of Mormon Central, “Who Called Ishmael’s Burial Place Nahom? (1 Nephi 16:34),” KnoWhy 19 (January 26, 2016), online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/who-called-ishmaels-burial-place-nahom (accessed July 24, 2017).
 Omni 1:15; Mosiah 25:2; Helaman 6:10; 8:21. On the fate of his brothers, see 2 Kings 25:7; Jeremiah 52:10.
 John Bright, Jeremiah: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible, Volume 21 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965), 226 has “Prince Malkiah.”
 Malkijah is the spelling used in the NIV, also used in Kitchen, On the Reliability, 21. The spelling Malkiah appears in the Aharoni article cited below (p. 22) and Bright cited above. Milkiah appears in Alan Millard, “Owners and Users of Hebrew Seals,” Eretz–Israel: Archaeological, Historical, and Geographical Studies 26 (1999): 130.
 Yohanan Aharoni, “Three Hebrew Ostraca from Arad,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 197 (1970): 22. Kitchen, On the Reliability, 21 also associates Malkijah with Zedekiah, though does not explicitly call him Zedekiah’s son. Zedekiah is the only king mentioned by name in Jeremiah 38 (see v.5).
 Larry G. Herr, “The Paleography of West Semitic Stamp Seals,” Bulletin of American Schools of Oriental Research 312 (1998): 52, seal no. 15.
 Robert Deutsch and André Lemaire, Biblical Period Personal Seals in the Shlomo Moussaieff Collection (Tel Aviv, IS: Archaeological Center, 2000), 29.
 Lawrence J. Mykytiuk, Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 BCE (Boston, MA and Atlanta, GA: Brill and Society of Biblical Literature, 2004), 57. This is Mykytiuk’s short description of the inscriptions he classifies as Grade 2 IDs of biblical figures, explained in greater depth on pp. 73–77. The Malkiyahu seal can be found among the Grade 2 identifications in Appendix C (p. 257).
 See Robert F. Smith, “New Information about Mulek, Son of the King,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 142–144; John A. Tvedtnes, John Gee, and Matthew Roper, “Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 1 (2000): 51, 79 n.58; Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12, no. 2 (2003): 73–74, 83. David Rolph Seely, review of Reexploring the Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5 (1993): 311–315 wisely urges that we be cautious and not be overconfident in this identification. It should be noted that each of these sources mentions the appearance of Berechiah (or Berekhyahu in Hebrew) as a form of Baruch on seal impressions as precedent for shortening Malchiah (or Malkiyahu) to Mulek, citing the works of Nahman Avigad, but these seal impressions have since been determined as likely forgeries. For the original studies, see Nahman Avigad, “Baruch the Scribe and Jerahmeel the King’s Son,” Israel Exploration Journal 28, no. 1–2 (1978): 52–56; Nahman Avigad, “Baruch the Scribe and Jerahmeel the King’s Son,” Biblical Archaeologist 42, no. 2 (1979): 114–118. For the assessment of its (in)authenticity, see Yuval Goren and Eran Arie, “The Authenticity of the Bullae of Berekhyahu Son of Neriyahu the Scribe,” American Schools of Oriental Research 372 (2014): 147–158. Still, it should be noted that no one has questioned that Baruch is a shortened form of Berechiah. In fact, Grabbe, Ancient Israel, 227 cited Goren and Arie while concluding that “the seal is probably not authentic,” but had it been genuine, “the parallel to the biblical Baruch would be impressive.” In any case, I do not believe this materially affects the overall argument, since there are other examples of shortened (hypocoristic) biblical names.
 As quoted in Smith, “New Information about Mulek,” 144, and identified only as “a prominent non-Mormon ancient Near Eastern specialist.”
 Assuming Malchiah is Mulek, he had a personal dungeon and his own stamp seal, indicating that he was probably Zedekiah’s oldest son and the heir-apparent and served his father in some formal capacity. His survival from the Babylonian invasion is likely due to his not being in Jerusalem at the time of the attack. I think its most likely that he was in Egypt, both serving as a diplomate (trying to convince Egypt to come to Judah’s aid), and for his own personal safety, in hopes of preserving the Davidic lineage. See Chadwick, “Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?” 73–83; John L. Sorenson, “The ‘Mulekites’,” BYU Studies 30, no. 3 (199): 6–22. For more on this, see Book of Mormon Central, “Has An Artifact That Relates to the Book of Mormon Been Found? (Mosiah 25:2),” KnoWhy 103 (May 19, 2016), online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org /content/has-a-book-of-mormon-artifact-been-found (accessed July 25, 2017).
 See Matthew G. Wells and John W. Welch, “Concrete Evidence for the Book of Mormon,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 212–214; John L. Sorenson, “How Could Joseph Smith Write So Accurately about Ancient American Civilization?,” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 287–288.
 The full range of possible dates for this event (in 46th year of the judges) spans ca. 50–44 BC. I prefer a 50/49 BC date based on my own (unpublished and currently incomplete) reconstruction of the chronology of Book of Mormon events, which assumes: (1) a spring 595 BC departure date for Lehi’s family; (2) a fall 5 BC birth date for Christ (coupled with an April AD 30 death date); and (3) the use of the Mesoamerican 360-day long count “year” (tun) for record-keeping purposes by the Nephites. The potential difference of a few years makes little difference to my argument here.
 Alexander de Humboldt, Researches Concerning the Institutions and Monuments of the Ancient Inhabitants of America, trans. Helen Maria Williams, 2 vols. (London, UK: Longman, Hurst, Rees, et al., 1814), 1:257–258.
 See Edwin R. Littman, “Ancient Mesoamerican Mortars, Plasters, and Stuccos: Comalcalco, Part I,” American Antiquity 23, no. 2 (1957): 135; David S. Hyman, Precolumbian Cements: A Study of the Calcareous Cements in Prehispanic Mesoamerica Building and Construction (PhD dissertation, John Hopkins University, 1970), i; George Kvbler, The Art and Archetacture of Ancient America (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1975), 201; Raymundo Rivera-Villarreal and Stefan Krayer, “Ancient Structural Concrete in Mesoamerica,” Concrete International, June 1996, 67.
 John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, 12th edition, 2 vols. (New York, NY: Harper and Brothers, 1845), 2:171, 183, 313, 315, 408, 422. When Stephens’ book was first published, it was gifted to the prophet Joseph Smith, who read it and felt it corresponded to and supported the Book of Mormon. The mention of cement is just one of many reasons why Joseph might have felt this way. See Matthew Roper, “John Bernhisel’s Gift to a Prophet: Incidents of Travel in Central America and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 16 (2015): 207–253, mentioning cement on pp. 228–229.
 See Elliot M. Abrams, “Lime and Limestone,” in Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia, ed. Susan Toby Evans and David L. Webster (New York, NY: Routledge, 2001), 402–403; Lynn V. Foster, Handbook to the Life in the Ancient Maya World (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), 239.
 See María Isabel Villaseñor Alonso, Lowland Maya Lime Plaster Technology: A Diachronic Approach (PhD dissertation, University College London, 2009), 47–50.
 Dorn Carran, John Hughes, Alick Leslie, and Craig Kennedy, “A Short History of the Use of Lime as a Building Material Beyond Europe and North America,” International Journal of Architectural Heritage 6 (2012): 130.
 Michael D. Coe and Stephen Houston, The Maya, 9th edition (London, UK: Thames and Hudson, 2015), 81. Of course, the exact trajectories of development vary from site to site. At Nakbé, for example, there was “a drastic increase in the thickness and the quality of plasters throughout the Late Preclassic period,” but “after 100 BC the quality and quantity of plasters falls sharply.” Alonso, Lowland Maya Lime, 54–55.
 See Hyman, Precolumbian Cements, ii; 6.15.
 Alonso, Lowland Maya Lime, 133–134 notes a decline in the use of burnt lime plasters at Calakmul in the Early Classic. Also, D. Clark Wernecke, “A Burning Question: Maya Lime Technology and the Maya Forest,” Journal of Ethnobiology 28, no. 2 (2008): 205: “A difference through time has been noted at some Maya sites with an apparent decline in use of burnt-lime from the Preclassic to the Classic.”
 George L. Cowgill, “Teotihuacán (México, Mexico),” in Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America, 722. See also René Millon, “Teotihuacan: City, State, Civilization,” in Supplement to the Handbook of Middle American Indians, 6 vols., ed. Victoria Reifler Bricker (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1981–2000), 1:203–210.
 John Clark, “The Domestication of Stone in Mesoamerica,” in The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology, ed. Deborah L. Nichols and Christopher A. Pool (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 605.
 Carlos R. Margain, “Pre-Columbian Architecture of Central Mexico,” in Handbook of Middle American Indians, 11 vols. ed. Robert Wauchope (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1964–1971), 10:54.
 Nigel Davis, The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico (London, UK: Allen Lane, 1982), 108.
 Some may see this as a contradiction with the Book of Mormon account, since the account in Helaman 3:3–11 is usually interpreted to mean that cement was used because of the lack of trees. Yet Mormon never says this, and in fact, the use of nevertheless in Helaman 3:7 would suggest that, rather than developing expertise in cement work because of the lack trees, they did so despite the lack of trees—an impressive feat, in context, likely indicating innovations in the production which reduced the amount of wood required by the process. For example, they could have adjusted the aggregate to binder (lime) ratio to reduce the amount of lime needed, and they also could have employed more efficient burning methods to reduce the amount of wood needed to produce the lime. These kinds of adjustments are documented for cement making among the Maya and other Mesoamerican peoples, and were likely used to adjust to environmental circumstances. See Wernecke, “A Burning Question,” 200–210.
 Davis, Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico, 108. See also Margain, “Pre-Columbian Architecture of Central Mexico,” 56–58.
 Some wood may have been shipped to the area from other regions, but the lack of pack animals and river transport “limited long-distance hauling” of timber to this region. Davis, Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico, 108.
 See Gardner, Second Witness 1:7; 5:14–15, 61–67; Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers, 328–331. Although written as if everything happened within a single year, it seems clear that Mormon’s report is actually telescoping several generations of history in the land northward into a single, short report. It should be clear that the migrating, settling, and construction of cities, improving on current cement technology, establishing of shipping industries, etc. all take time to accomplish, and likely did not happen in a single year. Furthermore, the multi-generational nature of the events should be clear when Mormon says they did “multiply and spread” (Helaman 3:8), which inherently requires several generations. Mormon also laments that he cannot include even 1/100th of the history of the people in this region, and that they have many books and records, which were handed down over multiple generations (Helaman 3:13–16). After all this, he returns to his year-by-year report (Helaman 3:17–18), further indicating that he had departed from such a format momentarily. All of this makes it clear that these few verses are Mormon’s attempt to sum up all he wishes us to know about the people in the land northward, from the mid-1st century BC down to his own time (late-4th century AD).
 For more on cement in the Book of Mormon, see Book of Mormon Central, “When Did Cement Become Common in Ancient America? (Helaman 3:7),” KnoWhy 174 (August 26, 2016), online at https://knowhy. bookofmormoncentral.org/content/when-did-cement-become-common-in-ancient-america (accessed July 29, 2017).
 Wineburg, Historical Thinking, 22.
 Wineburg, Historical Thinking, 22.
 Wineburg, Historical Thinking, 20. This should remind us of Nephi, when he said to the angel, “I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17).
 Wineburg, Historical Thinking, 21–22.
 Wineburg, Historical Thinking, 99.
 Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 5 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 365–366.
 Wineburg, Historical Thinking, 103–104.
 Wineburg, Historical Thinking, 21 calls questions the “tools of creation” in the fashioning of contexts.
 The problems of requiring “verification” of ancient sources are more fully explored in Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel, 2nd edition (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2015), 64–69.
 Victor Hernandez-Jayme, “2013 Maya Meetings Held at UT: New Temples, Fire Glyphs and Legends,” The Daily Texan, January 22, 2013, online at http://www.dailytexanonline.com/news/2013/01/22/2013-maya-meetings-held-at-ut-new-temples-fire-glyphs-and-legends (accessed July 29, 2017): “‘Truth is, we don’t know squat,’ said George Stuart, director for the Center for Maya Research and keynote speaker for the 2013 Maya Meetings. ‘There’s about 6,000 known Maya sites and we’ve only researched about 5 percent of them.’” Stuart was one of the leading authorities on the archaeology of the Maya before he passed away June 11, 2014. See also Mark Alan Wright, “The Cultural Tapestry of Mesoamerica,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22, no. 2 (2013): 6.
 Mosiah 7:22; 9:9; Alma 11:1–19.
 Several examples of this (going back to 1887) are cited in Matthew Roper, “Book of Mormon Barley or Going Against the Grain (Howlers #1),” Ether’s Cave: A Place for Book of Mormon Research, June 11, 2013, online at http://etherscave.blogspot.com/2013/06/book-of-mormon-barley-or-going-against.html (accessed July 29, 2017).
 Daniel B. Adams, “Last Ditch Archaeology,” Science 83, December 1983, 32. This news was reported to a Latter-day Saint audience a year later. See John L. Sorenson and Robert F. Smith, “Barley in Ancient America,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 130–132.
 Adams, “Last Ditch Archaeology,” 32.
 Little barley is considered one of the major staples of the “Eastern Agricultural Complex.” See David L. Asch and John P. Hart, “Crop Domestication in Prehistoric Eastern North America,” in Encyclopedia of Plant and Crop Science, ed. Robert M. Goodman (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2004), 314–315; Guy Gibbon, “Lifeways Through Time in the Upper Mississippi River Valley and Northeastern Plains,” in The Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology, ed. Timothy R. Pauketat (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012), 332. Cultivated specimens have been found in 12 sites just within the state of Iowa. See “Little Barley,” The Office of the State Archaeologist, University of Iowa, online at https://archaeology.uiowa.edu/little-barley (accessed July 29, 2017).
 Michael T. Dunn and William Green, “Terminal Archaic and Early Woodland Plant Use at the Gast Spring Site (13LA152) Southeast Iowa,” Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 23, no. 1 (1998): 64.
 Y. Chinique de Armas, et al., “Starch Analysis and Isotopic Evidence of Consumption of Cultigens Among Fisher–Gatherers in Cuba: The Archaeological Site of Canímar Abajo, Matanzas,” Journal of Archaeological Science 58 (2015): 124, 126, 129. Thanks to Matt Roper for sharing this source with me.
 Dunn and Green, “Terminal Archaic and Early Woodland Plant Use,” 47, 63–64; Ehud Weiss, Mordechai E. Kislev, and Anat Hartmann, “Autonomous Cultivation Before Domestication,” Science 312 (June 2006): 1610. Possibly cultivated specimen of little barley were dated to 800 BC by Dunn and Green (p. 64), and 1800 BC by Bruce D. Smith and Richard Yarnell, “Initial Formation of an Indigenous Crop Complex in Eastern North America at 3800 BP,” PNAS 106, no. 16 (2009): 6561–6566, but such early cultivation dates have not been widely accepted. Skeptism also remains as to whether little barley was ever truly domesticated (as opposed to only cultivated), but Dorian Q. Fuller and Robin Allaby, “Seed Dispersal and Crop Domestication: Shattering, Germination and Seasonality in Evolution Under Cultivation,” Annual Plant Reviews 38 (2009): 253–254 proposed similar evolutionary shifts between wild and domesticated forms of barley and little barley, thus suggesting full domestication occurred. In any case, purposeful cultivation during Book of Mormon times is all that is really required.
 See, for example, Deanne G. Matheny, “Does the Shoe Fit? A Critique of the Limited Tehuantepec Geography,” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, ed. Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1993), 302.
 John Sorenson, “Viva Zapato! Hurray for the Shoe!” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6, no. 1 (1994): 342.
 John E. Clark, “Archaeological Trends and the Book of Mormon Origins,” in The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, ed. John W. Welch (Provo, UT: BYU Press, 2006), 94–95.
 Clark, “Archaeological Trends,” 83–104.
 For more on barley in the Book of Mormon and its implications for Book of Mormon anachronisms, see Book of Mormon Central, “How Can Barley in the Book of Mormon Feed Faith? (Mosiah 9:9),” KnoWhy 87 (April 27, 2016), online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-can-barley-in-the-book-of-mormon-feed-faith (accessed July 29, 2017).
 Lawrence B. Kiddle, “Spanish and Portuguese Cattle Terms in Amerindian Languages,” in Italic and Romance Linguistis Studies in Honor of Ernst Pulgram, ed. Herbert J. Izzo (Amsterdam: John Benjamin’s Publishing Co., 1980), 273. Also p. 285, “The loanshift or loan extension involves a familiar animal whose name is applied to the acculturated foreign animal.” Kiddle says that the tapir is the “classic illustration” of this phenomenon (p. 285).
 See Jeanna Bryner, “Bison vs. Buffalo: What’s the Difference?” Live Science, September 6, 2012, online at https://www.livescience.com/32115-bison-vs-buffalo-whats-the-difference.html (accessed July 29, 2017). In all actuality, both buffalo and bison originally had very similar meanings, “wild ox” or “ox-like,” and got applied to various animals over time. The real, “true” (original) buffalo is actually what we would call an antelope today. See Online Etymological Dictionary, s.v., “buffalo,” and “bison.”
 See “Robin,” in Encyclopedia Britannica, online at https://www.britannica.com/animal/robin (accessed July 29, 2017); Valerius Geist, “Elk,” in Encyclopedia Britannica, online at https://www.britannica.com/animal/elk-mammal (accessed July 29, 2017).
 Data in table 2 from Cecil H. Brown, Lexical Acculturation in Native American Languages (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999), 53 (“ex. Mexico” means “excluding Mexico”). Brown also discusses cow loanshifts (p. 52), which include: bison (31/95; ~33%), tapir (8/95; ~8%), deer (7/95; ~7%), caribou (5/95; ~5%), moose (4/95; ~4%), elk (3/95; ~3%), dog (1/95; ~1%), and musk ox (1/95; ~1%). I appreciate Mark Wright for sharing this source with me. See also, Cecil H. Brown, “Lexical Acculturation in Native American Languages,” Current Anthropology 35, no. 2 (1994): 114: “native terms … for dog, deer, and tapir [were extended] to horse in various parts of the Americas.”
 Brown, Lexical Acculturation, 53, note that I’ve chosen to use italics where Brown used ALL CAPS. Brown goes on to explain that, “With few exceptions, extended construction for horse found in languages spoken” within the tapir’s geographic range “are based on tapir.”
 Brown, Lexical Acculturation, 53, again using italics in place of ALL CAPS.
 See Online Etymological Dictionary, s.v. “hippopotamus.” On the antiquity of the name, see Herodotus, Histories 2.71.1, written ca. 420 BC; Robert B. Strassler, ed., The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories (New York, NY: Anchor Books, 2009), 149. In the Yoruba language of West Africa, both hippopotamus and whale are called “elephant of the water,” (erinmi; from erin and omi) instead of “horses of the water.” See Dictionary of the Yoruba Language (Lagos: Church Missionary Society Bookshop, 1913), 89, 170. This further illustrates the point that different loanshift associations made sense to different peoples, and what might make more sense to one group may not make as much sense to others. Greeks clearly thought hippos were more like horses, but natives to west Africa saw more similarity to elephants, and even whales!
 See John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985), 288–299; John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 35, 309–321. For more on the horse, see Book of Mormon Central, “Why Are Horses Mentioned in the Book of Mormon? (Enos 1:21),” KnoWhy 75 (April 11, 2016), online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-are-horses-mentioned-in-the-book-of-mormon (accessed July 30, 2017).
 See George B. Eager, “Candle; Candlestick,” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. James Orr (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1939), online at http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/C/candle-candlestick.html (accessed July 31, 2017). See, for example, Matthew 5:15, which we are accustomed to quoting as, “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” Yet, the NRSV more correctly translates it: “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.”
 J. Cheryl Exum, “The Song of Solomon,” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible: An Ecumenical Study Bible, 4th edition, ed. Michael D. Coogan (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 954. See also Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Boston, MA: Brill, 2001), 1:80.
 Alma 18:9–12; 20:4–7; 3 Nephi 3:22.
 Désiré Charnay, The Ancient Cities of the New World: Being Voyages and Exploration in Mexico and Central America, trans. J. Gonino and Helen S. Conant (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1887), 170–171, 174–176. They are also called chariots in W. H. Holmes, Handbook of Aboriginal American Antiquities, Part 1 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1919), 20. Several more of these wheeled figurines have since been found. See Richard A. Diehl and Margaret D. Mandeville, “Tula and Wheeled Animal Effigies in Mesoamerica,” Antiquity 61, no. 232 (1987): 239–246; John L. Sorenson, “Wheeled Figurines in the Ancient World,” (FARMS Preliminary Report, 1981).
 See Mary Miller and Karl Taube, An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya (London, UK: Thames and Hudson, 1993), 107. The earliest known depiction of a litter in Mesoamerica is Stela 21 at Izapa. See V. Garth Norman, Izapa Sculpture, Part 1: Album, NWAF Papers, no. 30 (Provo, UT: New World Archaeological Foundation, Brigham Young University, 1973), plates 33–34; V. Garth Norman, Izapa Sculpture, Part 2: Text, NWAF Paper, no. 30 (Provo, UT: New World Archaeological Foundation, Brigham Young University, 1976), 122–127. For dating of the Izapan monuments, Norman, Izapa Sculpture, Part 1, 1 dates them to between 300 BC–AD 250. However, site excavators argued that they most likely date to the earlier part of this period, ca. 300–50 BC, with some possibly dating to as late as AD 100. See Gareth W. Lowe, Thomas A. Lee Jr., and Eduardo Martinez Espinoza, Izapa: An Introduction to the Ruins and Monuments, NWAF Papers, no. 31 (Provo, UT: New World Archaeological Foundation, Brigham Young University, 1982), 23.
 See vases K594, K5534, K6317, and K7613 at http://research.mayavase.com/kerrmaya.html. Both K6317 and K7613 show the dog wearing something around his neck, indicating that on at least some occasions they would have to be “prepared” by putting on a necklace of some kind.
 Mark Alan Wright drew attention to this fact, as quoted in James Stutz, “Mesoamerican Art & the ‘Horse’ Controversy,” at Lehi’s Library, April 16, 2008, online at https://lehislibrary.wordpress.com/2008/04/16/65/ (accessed July 31, 2017). See also Gardner, Second Witness 4:285–289; Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers, 289–297 for a similar proposal.
 The best discussion of the Book of Mormon as a translation is Brant A. Gardner, The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2011). He discusses translations and anachronisms on pp. 233–239. See also Brant A. Gardner, “Anachronisms,” in A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History, ed. Laura Harris Hales (Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2016), 33–43.
 For more on chariots in the Book of Mormon, see Book of Mormon Central, “What is the Nature and Use of Chariots in the Book of Mormon? (Alma 18:9),” KnoWhy 126 (June 21, 2016), online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/what-is-the-nature-and-use-of-chariots-in-the-book-of-mormon (accessed July 31, 2017).
 Wineburg, Historical Thinking, 8.
 Wineburg, Historical Thinking, 8.
 Since dogs were known in both the Old and the New World, and are even mentioned in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 12:2; Alma 16:10; Helaman 7:19; 3 Nephi 7:8; 14:6), some might wonder why dog would be loanshifted or translated as horse in these instances. While I am not necessarily arguing that the Nephite horse was a dog, some possible considerations might include: (a) the close association of an animal name with chariot may have influenced Joseph to translation the animal as horse rather than dog, since “dog and chariot” would have been strange to him; (b) while dogs appear with litters on the Classic Maya vases, there may have been variations in the practice among other cultures, and thus the Nephites might have used a different animal, which they called horse; (c) dog may have been loanshifted to another animal, and thus another term (such as horse) had to be used for actual dogs (consider the elk and moose loanshift: there are Old World elk in the New World, but elk got loanshifted to a different species, thus requiring a different term [moose] be used for the Old World elk); (d) since nearly all the references to dogs in the Book of Mormon are in a context which suggests that they were wild, there could have been a terminological distinction between wild and domesticated dogs, with horse being loanshifted to described the domesticated variety, while dog continued to be used for the wild variety. Whatever the case may be, it is important to keep in mind that loanshifting and related phenomena are often unpredictable, and sometimes the outcomes appear to strange and illogical to outsiders.
 Cyrus H. Gordon and Gary A. Rendsburg, The Bible and Ancient Near East (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1997), 41.
 See Clark, “Archaeological Trends,” 83–104.
 See Daniel Johnson, “‘Hard’ Evidence of Ancient American Horses,” BYU Studies Quarterly 54, no. 3 (2015): 149–179.
 Diehl and Mandeville, “Tula and Wheeled Animal Effigies,” 239.
 Wilford M. Hess, “Botanical Comparisons in the Allegory of the Olive Tree,” in Jacob through Words of Mormon, To Learn with Joy, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1990), 91; Wilford M. Hess, “Recent Notes about Olives in Antiquity,” BYU Studies 39, no. 4 (2000): 117.
 See Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 7 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 238–239; Hess, “Botanical Comparisons,” 87–102; Wilford M. Hess, Daniel J. Fairbanks, John W. Welch, and Jonathan K. Diggs, “Botanical Aspects of Olive Culture Relevant to Jacob 5,” in The Allegory of the Olive Tree: The Olive, the Bible, and Jacob 5, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994), 484–562.
 Hess, et al., “Botanical Aspects of Olive Culture,” 507, punctuation altered. Cf. pp. 535–537.
 Hess, “Recent Notes about Olives,” 117, emphasis added. Cf. p. 126.
 Hess, et al., “Botanical Aspects of Olive Culture,” 507, cf. pp. 535–537.
 See Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did Zenos Give Many Details about Raising Good Olives? (Jacob 5:9–10),” KnoWhy 71 (April 5, 2017), online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-did-zenos-give-so-many-details-about-raising-good-olives (accessed August 3, 2017).
 Matthew McBride and James Goldburg, eds., Revelations in Context: The Stories Behind the Sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2016). The essays were actually made available online individually as they became available starting in 2012, at history.lds.org.
 Blake Thomas Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form-Critical Analysis,” BYU Studies 26, no. 4 (1986): 67–95; John W. Welch, “The Calling of Lehi as a Prophet in the World of Jerusalem,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2004), 421–448; Stephen D. Ricks, “Heavenly Visions and Prophetic Calls in Isaiah 6 (2 Nephi 16), the Book of Mormon, and the Revelation of John,” in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch, eds. (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998), 171–190; David E. Bokovoy, “On Christ and Covenants: An LDS Reading of Isaiah’s Prophetic Call,” Studies in the Bible and Antiquity 3 (2011): 36–45.
 David Bokovoy, “‘Thou Knowest that I Believe’: Invoking the Spirit of the Lord as Witness in 1 Nephi 11,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 1 (2012): 1–23.
 See Book of Mormon Central, “How Did God Call His Prophets in Ancient Times? (1 Nephi 15:8),” KnoWhy 17 (January 22, 2016), online https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/how-did-god-call-his-prophets-ancient-times (accessed August 3, 2017).
 Mosiah begins ruling “about four hundred and seventy-six years from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem” (Mosiah 6:4), which is usually taken as ca. 124 BC, assuming a 600 BC departure. I prefer a 128/127 BC date based on my own (unpublished and currently incomplete) reconstruction of the chronology of Book of Mormon events, which assumes: (1) a spring 595 BC departure date for Lehi’s family; (2) a fall 5 BC birth date for Christ (coupled with an April AD 30 death date); and (3) the use of Mesoamerican 360-day long count “year” (tun) for record-keeping purposes by the Nephites. The potential difference of a few years makes little difference to my argument here.
 See Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 6 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 295–310; John A. Tvedtnes, “King Benjamin and the Feast of Tabernacles,” in By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley, 2 vols., ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 2:197–237; Terrence L. Szink and John W. Welch, “King Benjamin’s Speech in the Context of the Ancient Israelite Festivals,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom,” ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 147–223. See also Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did the Nephites Stay in Their Tents During King Benjamin’s Speech? (Mosiah 2:6),” KnoWhy 80 (April 18, 2016), online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral
.org/content/why-did-the-nephites-stay-in-their-tents-during-king-benjamin’s-speech (accessed August 1, 2017).
 See Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible, Volume 3 (New York, NY: Double Day, 1991), 1031–1040; Baruch J. Schwartz, “Leviticus: Introduction and Annotations,” in The Jewish Study Bible: Torah, Nevi’im, Kethuvim, 2nd edition, ed. Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), 231–232.
 See Mosiah 2:27–28; 3:7, 11, 15–16, 18.
 For a discussion of the Book of Mormon in light of Mesoamerican festivals, see Allen J. Christenson, “Maya Harvest Festivals and the Book of Mormon,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 3 (1991): 1–31.
 Mark Alan Wright and Brant A. Gardner, “The Cultural Context of Nephite Apostasy,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 1 (2012): 51.
 Arthur Demarest, Ancient Maya: The Rise and Fall of a Rainforest Civilization (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 184; Wright and Gardner, “Cultural Context,” 51.
 Demarest, Ancient Maya, 184. For more on bloodletting in Mesoamerica, see Joyce Marcus, “Blood, Bloodletting,” in Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia, ed. Susan Tobey Evans and David L. Webster (New York, NY: Routledge, 2001), 81–82; Cecelia F. Klein, “Autosacrifice and Bloodletting,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Studies: The Civilizations of Mexico and Central America, 3 vols. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 1:64–66.
 See Gardner, Second Witness, 3:111–115, 151–156. See also Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does King Benjamin Emphasize the Blood of Christ? (Mosiah 4:2),” KnoWhy 82 (April 20, 2016), online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-does-king-benjamin-emphasize-the-blood-of-christ (accessed August 1, 2017).
 Mark Alan Wright, “‘According to Their Language, unto Their Understanding’: The Cultural Context of Hierophanies and Theophanies in Latter-day Saint Canon,” Studies in the Bible and Antiquity 3 (2011): 59.
 Wright, “According to Their Language,” 59.
 Nicholas J. Saunders, “Shamanism: Pre-Hispanic Cultures,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures, 3:141 cautions against making broad assumptions about the continuity of shamanistic customs, but nonetheless notes, “Ethnohistorical information connects the pre-Hispanic and modern ethnographic worlds and is a powerful argument for continuity in the ideology and symbolism of shamanic activities.” Saunders discusses evidence for shamanism going back to Olmec times (p. 141).
 Bruce Love, Maya Shamanism Today: Connecting with the Cosmos in Rural Yucatan, 2nd edition (San Francisco, CA: Precolumbia Mesoweb Press, 2012), 8.
 Frank J. Lipp, “A Comparative Analysis of Southern Mexican and Guatemalan Shamans,” in Mesoamerican Healers, ed. Brad R. Huber and Alan R. Sandstrom (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2001), 103–104. See also Alan R. Sandstrom, “Shamanism: Contemporary Cultures,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures, 3:143: “Shamans operating as curanderos in Mesoamerica often realize their special role through divine calling, involving such signs as vivid dreams or a miraculous cure from a serious disease.”
 Wright, “According to Their Language,” 60.
 See Wright, “According to Their Language,” 59–64. See also Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers, 288–289.
 For the accounts of Alma’s experiences, see Mosiah 27; Alma 36; 38.
 See Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did the Savior Emphasize His Risen Body in the Nephite Sacrament? (3 Nephi 18:7),” KnoWhy 211 (October 18, 2016), online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-did-the-savior-emphasize-his-risen-body-in-the-nephite-sacrament (accessed August 5, 2017).
 This reality led one critic to remark, “when Jesus appears, he invites the multitude to thrust their hands into the sword wound in his side and feel the nail holes in his hands and feet. How Nephites would know the significance of the wounds is a question.” Earl M. Wunderli, An Imperfect Book: What the Book of Mormon Tells Us about Itself (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2013), 217.
 Yólotl González Torres, “Sacrifice and Ritual Violence,” in Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures, 3:102.
 We certainly know that both Nephites and Lamanites were practicing human sacrifice by Mormon’s time (see Mormon 4:14–15, 21; Moroni 9:9–10). The Zoramites also may have participated in human sacrifice. See Mark Alan Wright, “Axes Mundi: Ritual Complexes in Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 12 (2014): 89–90.
 Wright, “Axis Mundi,” 89. See also Torres, “Sacrifice and Ritual Violence,” 103; Davíd Carrasco, “Sacrifice,” in Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America, 639–640.
 Wright, “Axis Mundi,” 91.
 Wright, “Axis Mundi,” 91, emphasis added. In Luke 24:39–40, he only invites them to feel the marks in his hands and feet, and in John 20:19–20, 26–27, he invites them to first feel the marks in his hands and only secondarily the wound in his side.
 Brant A. Gardner (personal communication, August 3, 2017), believes that the wound on the side did not signal to the Nephite audience that Christ had been sacrificed, but that he had died—an important point, since he was clearly alive when they saw him. The wounds on the hands and feet would not have signaled that them, but the wound on the side would. This minor difference in interpretation does not materially affect my thesis, since it still maintains that Christ is adapting how he presents his body to them based on the different circumstances of the Nephites. See Brant A. Gardner, “The Book with an Unintentionally Self-Referential Title,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 12 (2014): 24–26.
 See Wright, “According to Their Language,” 51–52.
 See Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does the Lord Speak to Men ‘According to Their Language’? (2 Nephi 31:3),” KnoWhy 258 (January 6, 2017), online at https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-does-the-lord-speak-to-men-“according-to-their-language” (accessed August 5, 2017).
On October 22, 2014, the past practice of polygamy by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made for colorful headlines in national media outlets for the third time in less than a decade. This time the frenzy centered on the release of two essays written in conjunction with the Gospel Topics project. Elder Snow, the Church Historian, explained the intent of this initiative: “There is so much out there on the Internet that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go to get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history.”
Ten months after the release of these essays, the national press has quieted, losing interest after exhausting the mileage obtained from sensational soundbites. Among many in the Latter-day Saint community, however, the topic is proving to have a much longer shelf life, as some members wrestle with deep concerns and an inability to embrace and understand the Church’s relationship with polygamy.
Instead of acting as a much needed salve, the essays may have reopened a deep wound prevented from festering only by the thinnest of scabs—denial and neglect. Polygamy is a topic that has been mostly ignored, brushed aside, and minimalized in Church discourse for nearly a century. With the release of the essays, long-existing concerns about the practice of polygamy in the early Church and its enduring legacy have been pulled off the proverbial shelf and some members are re-examining their significance.
Not all members are equally troubled by this issue, though. Recently I was approached by an acquaintance who asked a simple and sincere question. “Why,” she asked “do people get angry about polygamy?” Another friend e-mailed me after hearing a news story about members leaving the Church over the issue and asked, “Why now? This information has been around for years.” In both cases, I did my best to explain the factors I see contributing to the distress felt by many members of the Church—both male and female—over this most painful topic.
I don’t remember when I first learned that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy, but my knowledge of it expanded uncomfortably after reading Brian Hales’ overly comprehensive, 1500-page treatise on the topic. What I learned on those pages was informative, but also at times discomforting, disappointing, and even shocking. There were clandestine marriages, pretend husbands, young brides, already married brides, altogether too many brides, Abrahamic-like tests, and surprising interactions between Joseph, Emma, and his plural wives, coupled with a doctrine that I struggled to understand.
As I grieved the loss of the Prophet Joseph I thought I had known, I embarked on a quest to not only answer lingering questions but also attempt to develop sympathy and respect for the characters in a drama played out nearly 175 years ago. Perhaps as I share a few thing I have learned, you, too, will be able to gain better understanding and maybe even feel a little more empathy—for those early Saints who practiced “the principle” and for those who anguish over it today.
Joseph Smith’s Personal Practice of Polygamy
It is plausible the Prophet married up to thirty-six women. Descriptions of these marriages have been the subject of dozens of books, scores of scholarly articles, and more than one master’s thesis. The most popular theory promoted for this string of marriages is a zest for unfettered sexual conquest, but that doesn’t hold up under careful scrutiny any more than another popular theory that Joseph only acted because of repeated prodding from an increasingly frustrated angel. Discarding completely the merits of either of these opposing theories might lead to error. What I propose it probably something in between.
Processing Polygamy through a Monogamous Mindset
While doing research for his landmark article “Plural Marriage,” published in 1887, independent historian Andrew Jenson interviewed Eliza Snow, who wrote the name Fanny Alger on a list of Joseph’s plural wives. Fanny is widely considered to have been Joseph’s first plural wife. Of this union, Benjamin F. Johnson, one of Joseph’s good friends, wrote: [I]t was whispered among the residents of Kirtland that Joseph loved Fanny.” The thought that Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration, would love any other woman but his legal wife Emma may be uncomfortable to think about, but it is likely he did.
Lucy Walker, another of Joseph’s plural wives, said on one occasion that Joseph told her: “Men did not take polygamous wives because they loved them or fancied them or because they were voluptuous, but because it was a command of God.” Another time she mentioned that Joseph “often referred to the feelings that should exist between husband and wives, that they, his wives, should be his bosom companions, the nearest and dearest objects on earth in every sense of the word.” Though plural marriages may not have been initiated for carnal reasons, after the nuptials, there was every expectation a plural marriage for time and eternity would eventually contain the same elements of affection as that of a monogamous marriage.
For some, it might be more comforting to see Joseph marrying mostly widows and spinsters or stepping up to the plate because of a supposed shortage of marriageable males in Nauvoo, but that is not what happened. The creative marital dynamics Joseph engaged in, left unexplained, appear odd to most, even with favorable historical gap-filling. While eternity-only sealings to civilly married women with non-member husbands may be more understandable, similar sealings to women with active husbands may always defy explanation. Time-and-eternity unions to five women of prime marrying age, who had come to live with the Smith family in the Mansion, has caused some to cry foul, despite the lack of any accusations of coercion from the women. And the Prophet instructing trusted associates such as Joseph Kingsbury that a man “had the privilege of having more than one wife . . . if he was considered worthy,” somehow does not make one feel better about the thirty-five wives. Though we know Joseph was not infallible, we may naively expect him to always have behaved with wisdom beyond his years, knowledge beyond his education, and social enlightenment beyond his time — lofty accomplishments even for a prophet.
Marriage to Helen Mar Kimball
Regarding one plural marriage, though, further context may quiet an often-repeated criticism. Joseph married Helen Mar Kimball, his youngest bride, “several months before her 15th birthday,” which means she was fourteen. One morning in May of 1843, Helen’s father, Heber C. Kimball, who was preparing to leave for a mission to the East, casually asked Helen “if she would believe him if he told [her] that it was right for married men to take other wives.” Helen’s first impulse was anger as she thought her father was testing her virtue. She replied “emphatically, No. I wouldn’t!” Her reaction seemed to please her father, but then he started talking seriously and explained to her the principle of plural marriage, and why it was again to be established upon the earth, but he did not tell her then “that anyone had yet practiced it, but left [her] to reflect upon it for the next twenty-four hours.”
In her writings, Helen shared some of the thoughts she had that night. Mostly they centered on her repugnancy for the doctrine in contrast to her belief that her father “loved her too well to teach [her] anything that was not strictly pure, virtuous and exalting in its tendencies.” The next day she was taught the principle by the Prophet and was sealed to him for time and eternity. Helen mentioned that the sole reason she accepted the marriage proposal was because of her father’s teachings, who loved the Prophet and wished to bind his family to Joseph’s for eternity.
In a letter composed for her children late in life, Helen speaks of her youthful marriage in an often quoted poem. Her words mention thoughts that this union was for “eternity alone,” sadness at being “bar’d out from social scenes,” and feeling like a “fettered bird.” She also shares that she did “brood and imagine future woes.” Less frequently quoted is a line in the middle of the poem where she speaks to the young Helen and gives her counsel: “But could’st thou see the future & view that glorious crown, Awaiting you in Heaven you would not weep nor mourn.” Those don’t sound like the words of a mature woman crying victimhood but rather those of one documenting spiritual growth over time.
In February 1846, following the Prophet’s death, Helen was sealed for time to Horace Whitney in the Nauvoo temple. After the death of her second child in as many years, Helen fell into a deep depression, lamenting she “hated polygamy” because of the trials she had seen her mother go through. Helen had been sealed to Joseph Smith in 1843, but there is no evidence that the marriage was consummated, though it could have been as it had been performed with her agreement and the permission of her parents. Her sealing to Joseph Smith appears to have been more similar to a betrothal than a marriage.
In time, Helen would gain a testimony of the “principle” and not only give two plural wives to her husband Horace but also write much in defense of polygamy and the Prophet Joseph Smith’s teachings on the topic. She respected and loved her father and didn’t resent the things he taught or asked of her. While we may not understand Heber’s desire to bind his family to Joseph’s through the marriage of his young daughter, let’s be careful not to exaggerate this episode into something it was not. Helen was not “underage” according to legal codes or social mores and brokering of marriages in the nineteenth century was not that unusual.
Doctrine and Covenants 132
Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy has not been the sole object of enhanced scrutiny and discussion. Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which discusses plural marriage, has some people questioning its validity and value as scripture. Though it has the unique distinction of being the only modern-day revelation to appear in two books of canonized scripture simultaneously, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of members didn’t linger there long until recently.
Several factors could contribute to its lack of appeal. First, it is a confusing revelation. Extracting exact meaning from some passages is impossible and getting even close requires a large amount of historical context. President Brigham Young explained why some scripture, like this one, may be particularly difficult to comprehend: “When revelations are given through an individual appointed to receive them, they are given to the understandings of the people. These revelations, after a lapse of years, become mystified to those who were not personally acquainted with the circumstances at the time they were given.”
The revelation now known as D&C 132 was recorded for the benefit of Emma Smith. In 1842, Joseph, who up to that time had been the sole male participant in plural marriages, began authorizing and encouraging the practice among trusted associates and the twelve apostles. Counterintuitively, his confidants did not include members of his first presidency, his brother Hyrum, or his legal wife Emma. Somehow the secret was kept despite rumors. It is hard to imagine Emma, so upset by the Fanny Alger incident in Kirtland, not having at least a suspicion, but the human mind is an interesting thing. It is often loath to follow the breadcrumbs when it is not capable of accepting where they may lead.
We don’t know when Joseph told Emma about his plural wives. He may have done it in stages: first introducing the concept of eternity-only sealings and later revealing sealings that included marriage for time and eternity. By May of 1843, Emma was, at least temporarily, on board with the prospect, participating in the unions of the Partridge and Lawrence sisters to Joseph. Soon thereafter, she changed her mind, and what ensued was the most difficult period in Joseph and Emma’s marriage, with divorce, after having passed through so much together, becoming a serious possibility.
William Clayton recounted that he wrote “the revelation on Celestial marriage given through the Prophet Joseph Smith on the 12th day of July 1843. When the revelation was written there was no one present except the prophet Joseph, his brother Hyrum and myself. . . . It took some three hours to write it. Joseph dictated sentence by sentence. . . . After the whole was written Joseph requested me to read it slowly and carefully which I did, and he then pronounced it correct.”
From William Clayton’s journal, we learn what happened next:
After it was wrote Presidents Joseph and Hyrum presented it and read it to E[mma] who said she did not believe a word of it and appeared very rebellious. Joseph told me to Deed all the unencumbered lots to E[mma]. And the children. He appears much troubled about E[mma].
This was not the first revelation that was directed at Emma. Section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants was dictated in July 1830. Emma treasured this first revelation, which instructed her to compile a hymnal and referred to her as an elect lady. The words of this revelation are loving, affirming, and gentle in their reproving. If Emma was expecting something similar from this second revelation, she was most surely disappointed.
The tone of the two starkly contrast each other. A comparison of verses from both sections, which impart essentially the same meaning but in diverse manners vividly illustrates the difference. In section 25:15, Emma is reminded: “Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.” In section 132:54, the Lord warns: “But if she [meaning Emma] will not abide this commandment [plural marriage] she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law.”
Of the canonized scripture revealed through Joseph, section 132 is singular for its harsh tone and frequent use of the word “destroy.” In section 19:7, the Lord reveals that the term “eternal damnation,” which the term “destroy” could plausibly equate to in the context of its usage in section 132, may be used so “that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men.” This could account for the abundant use of the word in the revelation. Joseph preached that he had been commanded of God to practice polygamy, and Emma was rebelling and impeding his ability to comply with that commandment. It is also conceivable there were additional factors that affected the framing of the revelation as it currently reads.
The Process of Receiving and Printing Revelations
Elder Orson Pratt, who lived with the Smiths for a period of time, described the manner in which the Prophet received revelations: “Joseph . . . received the ideas from God, but clothed those ideas with such words that came to his mind.” Authors at The Joseph Smith Papers further elaborated on the process of receiving and recording revelations:
Joseph Smith and his followers considered his revelations to be true in the sense that they communicated the mind and will of God, not infallible in an idealized sense of literary flawlessness. “The revelations were not God’s diction, dialect, or native language,” historian Richard Bushman has written. “They were couched in language suitable to Joseph’s time.” Smith and others appointed by revelation . . . edited the revelations based on the same assumption that informed their original receipt: namely, that although Smith represented the voice of God condescending to speak to him, he was limited by a “crooked broken scattered and imperfect language.”
Wilford Woodruff once wrote of Joseph Smith that he was “full of revelation,” which he defined as “the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to man.” In the early days of the Church, the revelations were written down and circulated among the members. Because of the inaccuracies that inevitably were introduced into copies, members voted to print the revelations and make them available for distribution. Orson Pratt described the compilation process:
Joseph, the Prophet, in selecting the revelations from the Manuscripts, and arranging them for publication, did not arrange them according to the order of the date in which they were given, either did he think it necessary to publish them all in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, but left them to be published more fully in his History. Hence, paragraphs taken from the revelations of a later date, are, in a few instances, incorporated with those of an earlier date. Indeed, at the time of compilation, the Prophet was inspired in several instances to write additional sentences and paragraphs to the earlier revelations. In this manner the Lord did truly give “line upon line, here a little and there a little.”
Section 132 never went through this process because the Prophet was killed on June 27, 1844, and it was not added to the Doctrine and Covenants until 1876.
Even in 1878, there was some controversy about the revelation and its language. Elder Joseph F. Smith remarked in a conference that year:
When the revelation was written, in 1843, it was for a special purpose, by the request of the Patriarch Hyrum Smith, and was not then designed to go forth to the church or to the world. It is most probable that had it been then written with a view to its going out as a doctrine of the church, it would have been presented in a somewhat different form. There are personalities [Emma Smith specifically] contained in a part of it which are not relevant to the principle itself, but rather to the circumstances which necessitated its being written at that time. Joseph Smith, on the day it was written, expressly declared that there was a great deal more connected with the doctrine which would be revealed in due time, but this was sufficient for the occasion.
The decision to include the revelation in the Doctrine in Covenants without further clarification and editing has rendered some verses “mystified,” leading to much debate about their meaning.
Polygamy Is Not Commanded of Everyone
Several questionable interpretations have gained traction. For example, some mistakenly assume that plural marriage is commanded to the general membership in this section. In its 66 verses, there is discussion of Abraham and other Patriarchs righteously participating in plural marriage when commanded (v. 34, 35; 37–39), that Joseph was authorized to permit its divinely sanctioned practice (v. 48), and that if the holder of the sealing keys (in this case Joseph) taught his wife the principle then she (in this case Emma) was obliged to accept plural marriage or be destroyed (v. 64). No other group is mentioned specifically.
The Section Is Not a Rule Book for Polygamy
Others have asserted that the revelation is meant as a rulebook for the practice of polygamy. Verses 61–62 are particularly singled out in this discussion. They state in part:
And again, as pertaining to the law of the priesthood [plural marriage]—if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouseth another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else.
. . . [A]nd if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.
Some contend this verse specifies that a man must have the permission of the first wife to marry another and that that woman must be a virgin.
The principle of Occam’s Razor, which states that the simplest explanation is usually correct, may be helpful in evaluating this argument. If verse 61 contains the requirements for all plural marriages, Joseph would have dictated a revelation that went counter to his own behavior and those of other Nauvoo polygamists. Heber C. Kimball, most probably the second sanctioned polygamist in Nauvoo, took Sarah Noon as his first plural wife in the spring of 1842. Sarah’s husband had deserted her and returned to England leaving her and her children penniless. At Joseph’s encouragement, Heber married Sarah, a non-virgin, without his legal wife’s knowledge. This would clearly be in violation of the supposed rule.
Another interpretation of the references to virgins and the first wife’s consent, which has the added benefit of comporting with history, is that this may have been a reference to Joseph’s marriages to Emily and Eliza Partridge. After Emma had placed their hands in Joseph’s, she almost immediately regretted the decision and began pestering them into divorcing Joseph and marrying other men. References to marrying up to ten virgins could have been included to address the number of wives Joseph had married and Emma’s desire to reduce that number. It reflects his teachings to early polygamists as captured by William Clayton: “It is your privilege to have all the wives you want.”
The Giving of Virgins
Another criticism of these verses is that they reference virgins being “given” unto men. One young woman mentioned that the phrase gave her cognitive dissonance because on the one hand she was told she was a daughter of her Heavenly Father, who loves her, and on the other she reads in this section that she can be given to another. It made her feel like chattel. This is definitely an overly literal reading. “Given” was a common term in marriage rituals of the time. Even today, the word “give” is commonly used in wedding ceremonies in and out of the Church. But that is only part of the story.
In a recent address before the Mormon Historical Association, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich noted that women were indeed considered chattel, or property, if you will, in the nineteenth century, both legally and socially, and marriage was considered to be for life, making divorce an undertaking of the rich or of those with connections. If anything, Joseph Smith was sympathetic to the cause of women caught in unhappy marital relationships. According to Ulrich, “about 20 percent of plural wives in Nauvoo before Joseph Smith’s death were legally married to other men. . . . Their splits were either consensual or the wives left through folk divorces or desertions, sometimes by the husband.” Joseph began marrying couples in an anachronistic “idealized notion both spiritual and sentimental.” In Ulrich’s estimation, “relationships are too important not to marry where there is affection. You don’t want to be bound for eternity with someone you can’t get along with.” In no case, are we led to believe that a woman was married against her will to Joseph. In fact, many of the women who married Joseph left testimonies of their personal struggle to first accept the concept of plural marriage and then to accept Joseph’s proposal. If the “virgins” (or non-virgins) were “given” in marriage, it was because they chose to give themselves.
And as you would expect, not all virgins chose this option. In 1908, Almira Hanscom, daughter of Martha McBride Knight, was asked if she had ever received a proposal to be a plural wife. She looked startled and answered, “Yes and No.” She recalled, “One day mother and I were in the front room and Joseph Smith came walking down the street and turned in at our gate. I had a hunch and as he entered the front door I went out the back and remained until he left. When I returned my Mother told me that Joseph had come at the request of his brother, Hyrum, to ask me to be his wife. And also asked Mother to ask me, seeing I wasn’t in. So when my mother said, Almira what do you say about it?” I said, “No.”
The Law of Sarah
In verse 65 of section 132, there is a reference to the “law of Sarah,” which is not fully defined. It is the only specific reference to such a concept in all of scripture. Of anything in the section, this, I have found, tends to raise ire. The distress seems to be of a two-pronged nature. First, comparing the Old Testament practice of polygamy in a land where progeny were necessary for survival and polygamy was socially and legally acceptable to a needed practice in nineteenth century Nauvoo where both of those elements were missing seems incongruous. Second, some women feel the law of Sarah is unfair, with the first wife only given power to participate in polygamy rather than to veto polygamy.
Verse 34 states that “God commanded Abraham and Sarah gave Haagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law.” Notice different motivations are given for Abraham and Sarah’s behavior. Abraham was commanded, but Sarah was following the “law.” Why not just say that both were commanded? The distinction seems deliberate.
Abraham and Sarah were governed by laws preserved in the Code of Hammurabi, which is the Babylonian law of ancient Mesopotamia, discovered and translated at the beginning of the twentieth century. Parts of this code were later incorporated into the Law of Moses. Under the Code of Hammurabi, if a man’s wife was childless, he was allowed to take a concubine, a wife of lesser social status, and bring her into his house, or the first wife might give her husband a servant. Interestingly, the husband needed to obtain the permission of the first wife unless there were special circumstances such as barrenness, illness, or misconduct on the part of the first wife. The law was actually designed to restrict a husband from taking additional wives without good reason or his first wife’s blessing.
In section 132, we learn that monogamy is the marriage standard and plural marriage is divinely sanctioned only when it is commanded of God and authorized by his representative on earth who holds the sealing keys. Why was Sarah not commanded to give Abraham a plural wife? A reasonable interpretation could be because she was already compelled to do so by the law of the land.
Why does a wife become a transgressor and lose the ability to administer unto her husband when she does not obey a command to practice plurality? Because her dominion would impede his ability to obey the commandment and would therefore limit his agency. In this analysis, the mention of the law of Sarah is not an offering of any great power to an obedient first wife, but more of a guarantee that a wife cannot exert her will to force her husband to disobey a direct command from God. Historically, this could be a reference to Emma’s rejection of Fanny Alger years earlier as Joseph’s first plural wife and his subsequent sanctioned secret plural marriages later in Nauvoo.
As mentioned earlier, this revelation was not very popular with Emma. At her request, Joseph allowed the original manuscript of the revelation to be burned. If it were the only copy, then we wouldn’t be here talking about its meaning. It wasn’t. A copy was shared with dozens of individuals in Nauvoo including Lucy Walker, Mercy Thompson, the Laws, and the Nauvoo High Council and then quietly disappeared from circulation for the next nine years.
Polygamy Is No Longer a Secret
By the fall of 1851, federal officers appointed by the president of the United States had hastily left the Utah territory after extended verbal skirmishes with the seated governor. Their reports of the practice of polygamy, especially by Brigham Young, were published around the country, and one LDS missionary in particular felt the need to respond not only by publishing an affirmation on the purported size of Governor Young’s family but also by promoting the practice of plural marriage as a moral band aid to a “false ‘Christianity.’” Parley Pratt, ever zealous, concluded his publication by proclaiming, “The law of God, from Zion, in the top of the mountains, when taught to the nations, will provide the means for every female to answer the end of their creation; to be protected in honor and virtue; and to become a happy wife and mother, so far as they are capacitated and inclined.” With that, he tacitly acknowledged the worst-kept secret in the Utah territory.
Whether it was in response to this article or simply a matter of convenience, the decision was made to present plural marriage to the general membership of the Church in conjunction with the next conference. On August 21, 1852, a notice appeared in the Deseret News that read: “Special Conference of the elders of Israel, to commence, Saturday 28 Aug. 10 a.m. at the Tabernacle. All elders, within reach, read and attend.”
A week later, President Heber C. Kimball announced the business of the conference to the nearly two thousand men in attendance: “We have come together to-day, according to previous appointment, to hold a special conference to transact business, a month earlier than usual, inasmuch as there are elders to be selected to go to the nations of the earth and they want an earlier start than formerly.” Before adjourning for the day, over 100 men had been called to missions to such diverse locations as China, Ireland, New Orleans, and the Sandwich Islands.
When the conference commenced the next day Elder Orson Pratt timidly began the meeting with these words:
It is quite unexpected to me brethren and sister to be called upon to address you this forenoon; and still more so, to address you upon the principle which has been named, namely, a plurality of wives. . . .
It is rather new ground for me, that is, I have not been in the habit of publicly speaking upon this subject: . . . we shall have to break new ground.
It is well known however, to the congregation before me, that the Latter Day Saints have embraced the doctrine of a plurality of wives, as a part of their religious faith. It is not, as many have supposed, a doctrine embraced by them to gratify the carnal lusts and feelings of man; that is not the object of the doctrine.
We shall endeavor to setforth before this enlightened assembly, some of the causes why the Almighty has revealed such a doctrine, and why it is considered a part and portion of our religious faith.
He then continued with what turned out to be a prediction of a battle that would play out over the greater part of the remainder of that century and into the next:
And I believe that . . . the government of the United States [will not] try us for treason for believing and practicing our religious notions and ideas. . . . [T]he constitution gives the privilege to all the inhabitants of this country, of the free exercise of their religious notions, and the freedom of their faith, and the practice of it. Then, if it can be proven . . . that the Latter Day Saints have actually embraced . . . the doctrine of a plurality of wives, it is constitutional.
In explaining the doctrine to the congregation, he started by recounting the first eternal marriage—that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were immortal beings; therefore, their marriage was eternal. In the final dispensation of time, all things needed to be restored. Thus, eternal marriage needed to be restored because that ordinance had been lost. Here was offered some much needed clarification on what essential ordinance needed to be restored as part of the restitution of all things.
In Acts 3:21, we are taught the Savior will not be received in heaven “until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” Of course, “all things” didn’t need to be restored as we have not adopted the Law of Moses, which was fulfilled with the atonement of Christ. The essential covenants and ordinances of the gospel are what needed to be brought back. The first of these to be restored was baptism through the Aaronic priesthood, which occurred on May 15, 1829. The second was the oath and covenant of the Melchizedek priesthood given to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery by Peter, James, and John shortly thereafter. No additional authorities with their associated ordinances or covenants were restored until the Kirtland Temple was dedicated on April 3, 1836. On that date, three angelic messengers appeared, Moses, Elias, and Elijah, restoring keys and authorities that apparently could not be bestowed without a temple and are used to officiate in temple ordinances.
While the keys restored by John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John allowed for the establishment of an earthly church organization, the keys restored in the Kirtland Temple authorized the sealing of families that will continue after death in the celestial kingdom. The framework for building eternal families begins by laying a foundation through an eternal marriage covenant, the uniting of a husband and wife together forever. Plural marriage can be considered a part of the “restitution of all things,” but only so far as a practice sometimes allowed within the larger doctrine of eternal marriage. There has never been a covenant or ordinance of plural marriage in the modern Church, though the first wife sometimes participated, the words to the plural marriage ceremony did not divulge whether the man had been previously sealed to another woman.
Though Elder Pratt would later preach on the necessity of allowing plurality to ensure the exaltation of all righteous women, on this occasion he encouraged the taking of plural wives for different reasons. In addition to his brother Parley’s argument that it would curtail sexual sin in society, he added that it would provide homes for noble spirits to raise up a righteous generation, and allow men to claim the blessings of Abraham, namely “a promise of seed as numerous as the sand upon the sea shore.” The revelation dictated for Emma in Nauvoo was read to the congregation that day and later distributed in pamphlet form, making plural marriage the new marital expectation in the Church.
Consistent and Changing Themes
Slightly over a decade after the Prophet Joseph Smith introduced plural marriages to select Church members, the rhetoric had already started to change. In part, the theological defense became more nuanced, but in other respects, leaders began to promote the practice with dialogue not traceable to Joseph in a somewhat parallel evolution with the justifications for the priesthood and temple ban. No longer was plural marriage described as an onerous burden that must be borne. Instead it was a blessing that came with righteousness, though it was difficult. The menacing angel with the sword, so familiar today, was only referenced twice in recorded priesthood discourses of the period.” In its place, other themes were regularly emphasized: plurality provided for more noble spirits to come to righteous homes and all members were at that time under the obligation to obey or their reward would be of less glory. The last item was emphasized with more and more rigor as the century progressed.
Monogamy Is Once Again the Standard
With the issue of the Manifesto in 1890, monogamy once again became the standard in the Church. Members began the slow process of accepting a new dialogue regarding marriage, which included changes in understanding and vocabulary. Celestial marriage, patriarchal marriage, and the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, once associated mainly with plural marriage now equated to monogamy. Some critics would dwell on statements of past leaders, uttered under a different divine dictate, holding them up as if they had efficacy today. The utility in debating what past leaders preached in light of what current leaders now preach is an exercise in historical curiosity rather than an indication of current doctrine. On May 4, 2007, the Newsroom of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released this statement: “Because different times present different challenges, modern-day prophets receive revelation relevant to the circumstances of their day. . . . [T]he Church does not preclude future additions or changes to its teachings or practices. This living, dynamic aspect of the Church provides flexibility in meeting those challenges.”
Eternity and Agency
The practice of earthly polygamy has not been sanctioned by the Church since 1904, so why are we still talking about it? Polygamy on earth does not sit well with what the majority of twenty-first century members envision as an optimal marital dynamic and its practice in heaven is nearly as impossible to embrace. Current Church dialogue centers on the marriage of one man to one woman for time and eternity. Nevertheless, this only eliminates the performing of plural marriage in part, as a widower is allowed to marry another woman in the temple for time and eternity. The fear that some women retain is that they will pass away prematurely, and their husbands will remarry, making them eternal polygamists independent of their agency. The common response that no woman will be forced to stay in a relationship may provide little comfort because none of the choices seem optimal from our current, earthly perspective. Her spirit world options would include leaving her husband, accepting the plural union, finding a new man to be sealed to, or remaining separate and single without exaltation for the rest of eternity.
One situation that seems to be of increasing concern is created by the single feature that is most desirable about a marriage performed in a temple: eternal marriage is eternal. Elder Nelson has emphasized that “celestial marriage is a pivotal part of preparation for eternal life. It requires one to be married to the right person, in the right place, by the right authority, and to obey that sacred covenant faithfully.” This task is not as easy as it sounds. Even in conservative Victorian America, Brigham Young recognized the difficulty in finding a companion for eternity. He once gave this enlightened advice:
[W]hen your daughters have grown up, and wish to marry, let them have their choice in a husband, if they know what their choice is. But if they should happen only to guess at it, and marry the wrong man, why let them try again; and if they do not get it the right place the second time, let them try again. That is the way I shall do with my daughters, and it is the way I have already done. . . . Take this or that man if you want them my girls, I give you good counsel about it, nevertheless you shall have your own agency in the matter, even as I want mine.
When a couple is married in the temple, at least in the United States, they receive a marriage certificate that indicates they were joined in the holy bond of matrimony for time and eternity. The Church considers that bond valid even if a legal divorce ensues. In a case of a couple who divorces legally then remarries later; their temple ceremony does not need to be repeated. Should a couple divorce legally and a woman desire to marry another man in the temple, a cancellation of the sealing needs to be obtained first to avoid polyandry. The marriage bond is considered intact without a cancellation.
If a divorced man desires to marry in the temple, he needs to receive clearance to marry another in the temple. After receiving that clearance, he is free to be married for time and eternity to another woman, with the marriage for time and eternity to two living women remaining intact until such time as a sealing cancellation is granted. Obtaining that sealing cancellation is a long and invasive process. In fact, now that the Church has computerized the cancellation application process the choices offered for “reason for request” do not even include the possibility that a man may want to cancel a sealing to a legally divorced wife simply due to the reasons the divorce occurred in the first place.
Some members find this theologically problematic. The second sealed wife of a legally divorced man may struggle to ignore that, on paper at least, she is a polygamous second wife unless that first sealing has been officially cancelled by the first presidency. Assurances that all will work out in the end seem to be the only comfort that are now being given. While acknowledging that these sealings are solemn and are designed to be eternal, and divorce is undesirable for many reasons, perhaps someday this type of ceremonial polygamy will be more easily addressed than at present.
So why is there so much recent outcry about polygamy? One reason could be that the details of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages are new to many, peculiar, and readily available on the Internet with varying degrees of accuracy. Finding this information outside of traditional channels has left some members thinking they have been betrayed or were taught a false narrative. Many grieve at the loss of perceptions held dear. Passing through the grieving process can lead to greater understanding or hopelessness, with the person feeling they are in the midst of a crisis that needs immediate resolution. Richard Bushman cautioned against panicking. He noted:
We are in a period of transition with regard to our history. The narrative is in the process of reconstruction. Right now that means there is the standard, comforting story, and then a series of controversies. . . . In time I think this problem will go away. All the controversial questions will be absorbed into the standard narrative, and we won’t have a sense of two tracks. . . . There are already lots of surprising things in the standard narrative. We will simply flesh that out.
Such patience like Dr. Bushman advocates may not be an easy sell to a Google generation accustomed to answers at a click of the mouse, but it might go over better if peppered with affirmation, support, empathy, and, importantly, more accurate information. Increased engagement of the Church membership in discussing our collective history and theology can be a good thing as we go through these growing pains together. If members feel safety in sharing concerns as they progress through the initial shock, fear, and panic of learning information that challenges their belief, they will better weather the nadir if there is a faithful member holding their hand in empathy. Encouragement, validation, and direction will provide needed support as they grieve. If members don’t find this care within their congregations and families, they may feel their only option is to turn to other communities for support.
Better information will help inoculate members, reducing additional distress. The essays on polygamy are a good step in that direction, but the Church’s efforts to inform have not stopped there. The Gospel Topics Essays have been incorporated into Institute curriculum, and the Church History department continues to add new information to such websites as The Joseph Smith Papers and nine other associated websites that provide context to Church history. For this wound to fully heal, though, more must be done by rand-and-file members in spreading this information; creating a safe environment for family members, friends, and ward members to explore, and showing empathy. In this way, we can all work toward a better understanding of Joseph Smith’s polygamy. History is in the past, but the future is what we make of it.
Question: With many more adult females than males in the church today, would plural marriage be a viable solution?
Answer: Gratefully, I am not the key holder, so I don’t need to contemplate that question.
Question: How do we reconcile the sealing commandment with the dearth of lack of eligible male suitors on the church?
Answer: I think if we look at what we’re doing in the temple, sealing past, people who didn’t have the opportunity to have the gospel, the same type of thing we’ve been told and taught will happen in the Millennium. So that’s how I would reconcile it.
Question: What do you think of LeRoi Snow’s account of Emma throwing a plural wife of Joseph’s down some stairs?
Answer: I would say it didn’t happen. And actually in our book, we cover that in two pages. LeRoi Snow’s account is fourth hand. And actually if you look at pictures of the homestead where – Eliza Snow was the plural wife who was supposedly thrown down the stairs – the way that LeRoi Snow described it, it could not have occurred, so I don’t believe it.
That doesn’t have to do with plural marriage.
Question: In the age of DNA why do you think there is not a documented offspring from Joseph Smith’s many marriages?
Answer: Well, actually, quite a bit of DNA work has been done by Dr. Ugo Perego who currently lives in Italy but used to work out of Salt Lake – and you’re probably aware that the world of genetics has exploded over the last 20 years and the last time a study was run on expected progeny of Joseph Smith, there was only one that came even close and that’s one we expect to be positive, though it came up equivocal, and that is Josephine Lyon. There is technology now to determine more closely if the DNA will prove conclusively that there is a tie, and Dr. Perego has a GoFundMe going right now and you can contribute to that to fund that study.
Question: What reasons do we have for thinking Joseph and Helen’s marriage was not consummated?
Answer: Well, we have no reason to believe — I’ve read everything written by Helen herself on the topic — that they were actually alone together. I think her statement that she hated polygamy because of her mother’s suffering is very telling. Helen did not testify in the temple lot case. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it was in 1892. They were trying to prove that polygamy started with Joseph Smith and so that the Utah church was the legitimate church rather than the Reorganized Church. So several of Joseph Smith’s plural wives were still alive at the time and were called to testify, three in particular. And they lived, some of them, quite far away. One was in Logan. Helen lived a few blocks away and she was not called to testify, and you would think, if it had been consummated, that it would be easier for her to testify. So that is probably another clue that we have that it wasn’t consummated. Plus, in Utah, men were instructed, sure, you can marry younger brides, but wait until they grow a little bit older before you consummate their marriages. We assume that policy started in Nauvoo.
Question: This is so difficult, losing sons and grandkids over it. Please help us.
Answers: It is a difficult topic. We are losing people over it. I think part of the problem is that we came into the game late. We let other people tell the story with varying degrees of accuracy and that is part of the reason why, though I don’t really choose to talk about the topic of plural marriage out of a delight in it, it’s out of a necessity to make sure the facts are clear. Because I have found they become conflated, stories get mixed up, they get blown out of proportion and Brother Otterson talked about presentism. We look at it from our perspective now and it doesn’t make sense. I think for me the most helpful thing is to have read the testimonies of the plural wives who married Joseph. They’re powerful and they give me something to hold onto. Also, Brother Bushman — I quoted him earlier – said how important it is to base our testimony on Christ. We do love the prophet of the Restoration. We’re grateful for all he did. But also he wasn’t a perfect man. He never said he was a perfect man. We may have done things differently and we just need to separate that from our testimony in Christ. I believe that is the most helpful.
 The first time was in 2008, during Warren Jeffs’ trial and the invasion of the YFZ ranch in Texas; the second time was during the 2012 Presidential campaign, where Mitt Romney’s religion was brought up in this discussion as well as his credentials.
 “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed July 9, 2015, https://www.lds.org/topics/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo.
 Laurie Goodstein, “It’s Official: Mormon Founder Had up to 40 Wives,” The New York Times, November 10, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/11/us/its-official-mormon-founder-had-up-to-40-wives.html.
 Brian C. Hales and Laura H. Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015), 103–04.
 Dean R. Zimmerman, ed., I Knew the Prophets: An Analysis of the Letter of Benjamin F. Johnson to George F. Gibbs, Reporting Doctrinal Views of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon, 1976), 37–38.
 Lucy Walker Smith Kimball, “Talks of Polygamy,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 24, 1899, 4.
 Lyman Omer Littlefield, Reminiscences of Latter-day Saints: Giving An Account of Much Individual Suffering Endured for Religious Conscience (Logan, Utah: Utah Journal Co., 1888), 45–46.
 Joseph Kingsbury, deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, respondent’s testimony, part 3, pp. 209–10, questions 681–89, 714.
 “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” para 19.
 “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” para 19.
 Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, “Autobiography, 30 March 1881,” MS 744, CHL; italics added. See opening paragraph and last two lines of poem.
 Jeni Broberg Holzapfel & Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, A Woman’s View (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1997), 486 (1881 Autobiography); italics added.
 Holzapfel and Holzapfel, A Woman’s View, 327.
 Augusta Joyce Crocheron, Representative Women of Deseret (Salt Lake City: J.C. Graham & Co., 1884), 112; italics added.
 Holzapfel and Holzapfel, A Woman’s View, 198.
 From 1879 to 1891, the revelation appeared in both the Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price.
 Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 3:333.
 Emily D. Partridge Young, autobiographical sketch, CHL. See also Almira Hanscom statement, 1908 in “Autobiography of Hyrum Belnap,” from a compilation by Della Belnap titled “Biographies of the Belnap and Knight Families,” copied by BYU library 1958; copy at BYU HBLL Special Collections—Amer BX 8670.1 .B41. This statement is found on page 55 of whole compilation or page 20 of Hyrum Belnap Autobiography.
 Eliza R. Snow, “Sketch of My Life,” Utah and Mormons Collection, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley; microfilm copy in CHL, MS 8305, Reel 1, item 11, 7.
 Emily D. Partridge Young, “Incidents in the Life of a Mormon Girl,” MS 5220, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah, 186, 186b.
 George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 117.
 William Clayton, letter to Madison M. Scott, November 11, 1871, William Clayton Letterbooks, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah.
 Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle, 110.
 Matt Grow, “Thou Art an Elect Lady,” January 9, 2013, accessed July 6, 2015, https://history.lds.org/article/doctrine-and-covenants-emma-smith?lang=eng.
 Minutes of the School of the Prophets, Salt Lake Stake, December 9, 1872, CHL. Quoted in Robert J. Woodford, “The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants,” Ensign, December 1984, accessed July 8, 2015, https://www.lds.org/ensign/1984/12/the-story-of-the-doctrine-and-covenants?lang=eng.
 The Joseph Smith Papers, “Introduction to the Manuscript Revelation Books, accessed July 21, 2015, http://josephsmithpapers.org/intro/introduction-to-revelations-and-translations-volume-1?p=1&highlight=revelation.
 Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 174.
 [Introduction to?] “The Conference Minutes and Record Book of Christ’s Church of Latter Day Saints,” Minute Book 2, 1838, 1842, 1844. CHL.
 Millennial Star, October 12, 1891, 642.
 Millennial Star 17, April 25, 1857, 260.
 Joseph F. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 20:29 (July 7, 1878); brackets in original.
 Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 3:333.
 Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, “Scenes and Incidents in Nauvoo,” Woman’s Exponent 10, no. 10 (October 15, 1881): 74.
 Emily D. Partridge Young, “Incidents in the Life of a Mormon Girl,” 186–186b.
 Affidavit by William Clayton, February 16, 1874, CHL, MS 3423_1_30; also quoted in Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record 6 (July 1887): 225–26.
 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Young Women Theme,” accessed July 23, 2015, https://www.lds.org/young-women/personal-progress/young-women-theme.
 See D&C 132:62.
 See Paul F. Bradshaw, New SCM Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (Norwich, UK: SCM Press, 2002), 306.
 Great Officiants, “Ceremony Samples,” accessed July 23, 2015, http://www.greatofficiants.com/design-your-ceremony.
 Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Bad Marriages Had Women Running to and away from Mormon Polygamy, Historian Says,” The Salt Lake Tribune, July 1, 2015, accessed July 17, 2015, http://www.sltrib.com/home/2626102-155/bad-marriages-had-women-running-to.
 Brian C. Hales, “Stories of Faith: Joseph Smith’s Plural Wives,” Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, accessed July 23, 2015, http://josephsmithspolygamy.org/stories-of-faith-joseph-smiths-plural-wives/.
 Almira Hanscom statement, 1908 in “Autobiography of Hyrum Belnap.”
 Walter Scheidel, Sex and Empire: A Darwinian Perspective (Stanford: Stanford University, 2006), 21, accessed July 21, 2015, http://www.princeton.edu/~pswpc/pdfs/scheidel/050603.pdf.
 Scheidel, Sex and Empire, 21.
 See D&C 132:34, 38–39.
 See Orson Pratt, “Celestial Marriage,” The Seer 1, no. 2 (February 1853): 16; Steven M. Murphy, ed., L.D.S. Conference Report Extracts: 1852–1886 (Wendover, Utah: Peace Mountain Publishing, 1998), 474 (September 21, 1856).
 “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” para 28.
 Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 13:193 (October 7, 1869).
 Affidavit by William Clayton, February 16, 1874, CHL, MS 3423_1_30; also quoted in Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” Historical Record 6 (July 1887): 225–26.
 Lucy Walker Kimball, deposition, Temple Lot Transcript, respondent’s testimony, part 3, p. 452, questions 66–68.
 Jed Woodworth, “Mercy Thompson and the Revelation on Marriage,” Revelations in Context, accessed July 22, 2015, https://history.lds.org/article/doctrine-and-covenants-eternal-marriage, para 30.
 William Law, “Affidavit,” Nauvoo Expositor, June 7, 1844, 2.
 Fred C. Collier, ed., The Nauvoo High Council Minute Books of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 114 (August 12, 1843).
 Parley P. Pratt, “‘Mormonism!’ ‘Plurality of Wives!’ An Especial Chapter, for the Especial Edification of Certain Inquisitive News Editors, Etc.,” San Francisco, July 13, 1852, accessed July 22, 2015, https://ia600801.us.archive.org/28/items/mormonismplurali00smit/mormonismplurali00smit.pdf.
 Conference notice, Deseret News, 2, no. 21, Saturday, August 21, 1852, 3.
 Heber C. Kimball, Deseret News—Extra, September 14, 1852, 1.
 Orson Pratt, Deseret News—Extra, September 14, 1852, 14.
 Orson Pratt, Deseret News—Extra, September 14, 1852, 14.
 Orson Pratt, Deseret News—Extra, September 14, 1852, 15.
 Orson Pratt, Deseret News—Extra, September 14, 1852, 17–18.
 See 3 Nephi 9:17.
 D&C 13:1.
 D&C 27:12.
 D&C 110:11–16.
 Russell M. Nelson, “Celestial Marriage,” Ensign, November 2008, 92.
 Orson Pratt, “Celestial Marriage,” The Seer 1, no. 2 February 1843.
 Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 6:358–59 (July 24, 1859).
 Orson Pratt, Deseret News—Extra, September 14, 1852, 19–20.
 The original was preserved, but the copy was kept by Bishop Whitney who gave it to Brigham Young at Winter Quarters. Brigham Young, Deseret News—Extra, September 14, 1852, 25.
 See Erastus Snow, St. George Utah Stake Conference General Minutes, June 17, 1883, LR 783611, Reel 1, CHL; Joseph F. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 20:29 (July 7, 1978).
 Joseph F. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 20:24–31 (July 7, 1978).
 See, for example, James R. Clark, ed., Messages of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75), 5:329.
 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Newsroom, “Approaching Mormon Doctrine,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, May 4, 2007, accessed July 10, 2015, http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/approaching-mormon-doctrine.
 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Lesson 19: The Doctrine of Eternal Marriage and Family,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Manual (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2015), 84–88, accessed July 23, 2015, https://www.lds.org/bc/content/ldsorg/manual/institute/Foundations_of_the_Restoration.v2_eng.pdf.
 Russell M. Nelson, “Celestial Marriage,” Ensign, November 2008, 94 (quoting Bruce R. McConkie); italics added.
 Richard S. VanWagoner, The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2010), 2:782.
 A temple marriage is only considered “intact” or valid if it is sealed with the “Holy Spirit of promise,” which requires worthiness of both parties. See D&C 132:19. If the man remarries without a formal cancellation of the first sealing, a second wife might worry that a once unworthy first wife would repent and the ordinance would become valid again. In a second case, both women may be worthy, but presumably the “Holy Spirit of promise” would not bless the first sealing because of the reasons for the legal divorce. Paperwork reflecting the long-term status of the first marriage that ended in divorce would alleviate confusion.
 “Richard Bushman AMA, 3 pm to 6 pm, Eastern Time,” accessed July 25, 2015, https://www.reddit.com/r/latterdaysaints/comments/3dnmfn/richard_bushman_ama_3_pm_to_6_pm_eastern_time/.
This is a wonderful conference, full of bright people asking and answering great questions. The list of speakers and their topics is impressive, and it’s encouraging to see how FairMormon has grown in recent years. Among the rich assortment of topics in these two days of presentations, I’ve thought carefully about what I could and should contribute that’s related to my work in Church Public Affairs that would also be helpful to this inquiring audience.
First some background. This is somewhat of a personal nature, so please forgive me for that, but it has a bearing on what I will say later. I’m a convert to the Church, and in my particular line of work I have found that to be an advantage. I was 19 when I joined the Church in England, after a rather intense and lengthy engagement with lots of missionaries. Before I joined the Church I read everything I could get my hands on, and my first hint at that time of the controversial nature of our faith came from my visit to the large city library in Liverpool. Now, when I mention Liverpool as my birthplace, I’m frequently asked whether I knew the Beatles. The answer is “No, not personally,” although my wife as a teenage girl did once knock on Paul McCartney’s front door with the excuse that she needed to use the bathroom. She was admitted, but sadly he wasn’t home. But in the Church, Liverpool is more importantly known as the landing place for the first missionaries in this dispensation outside of North America, Heber C. Kimball having leapt to the dock as his ship, the Garrick, moored there in 1837. Later, in 1851, Franklin D. Richards compiled the first edition of The Pearl of Great Price in Liverpool, and the city became the publishing center for the Millennial Star.
One hundred and thirty years after Heber C. Kimball’s leap to the dock on the River Mersey, I went to the main library in that same city to see what I could find about Mormons. I found more than 30 volumes that either dealt with the subject in detail or in extracts. If memory serves, all but two of those volumes had a negative tone or were outright attacks. I therefore became familiar, even before I was a member, of the nature and tone of criticism of the Church.
The fact that I am here suggests that I didn’t find those arguments more persuasive than the Book of Mormon itself – not intellectually, and especially not when matched against a powerful spiritual witness of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Fast forward to April 19, 1970, where I was living in Australia with my new bride. When a dear patriarch laid his hands on my head to give me a patriarchal blessing, his words included this phrase: “You will be given opportunities to defend the gospel.” I was always interested in that choice of words – “defend,” not “preach” or “proclaim” or “teach.” What was it that the patriarch saw that I didn’t at that time, in choosing the word “defend?”
One month later my wife and I were at the temple in New Zealand where, since I was now an elder, we could be sealed. In the temple, where we stayed for a week, one of the veteran temple workers approached me. “You’re a journalist, aren’t you?” he asked. The question surprised me because I wasn’t aware I had mentioned that to anyone. He then directed me, rather forcefully, to listen very carefully to the language of the male initiatory ordinance that had to do with defending truth. I won’t mention them here, but I think of those words every time I do initiatory ordinances.
Fast forward again, to 1974, back in England where I was Business Editor of the Liverpool Daily Post. One day I took a call from President Royden Derrick, who was the president of the England Leeds Mission, which covered all of northern England. He was in Hull, a city on the northeast coast almost directly east of Liverpool, where he had seen a critical letter about the Church in a local newspaper from a minister of another faith. He knew my profession, and wondered if I had a suggestion as to how it might be handled. I took a few minutes to write a kind, conciliatory letter to the paper and included an invitation to anyone who wanted to know what we really teach to “come and see.” The letter was duly printed, and although I didn’t know it, I had just embarked on a journey that would immerse me in Church public affairs for the next 40-plus years.
Two years later I was invited by the Church to manage the newly opened Public Affairs office in London, and three years after that I returned to Australia at Church invitation to establish a public affairs office for the Pacific Area based in Sydney. For the past 24 years I have been here at Church headquarters.
What has changed in those 40 years? Less than we might think, in terms of the questions being asked today. In fact, many of them are pretty similar to questions that confronted me in the Liverpool Library, which were the same as those raised in Joseph Smith’s day: the veracity of the Book of Mormon, the witnesses, the translation process, the nature of revelation, the personal history of Joseph Smith. Perhaps it shouldn’t have, but it mildly surprised me, in the wake of publication on LDS.org of a series of in-depth essays on various topics, that so many faithful members expressed surprise at discovering some things like multiple accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision for the first time in their life-long membership. Since I was reading that readily available stuff in 1967 before I was even a member of the Church, I had erroneously imagined that most members read the same things. For example, the Improvement Era – the forerunner to the Ensign – carried a detailed article on eight contemporary accounts of the First Vision in its April, 1970 edition.
In other ways, a great deal has changed in the past few decades, and I don’t just mean world-class historical scholarship and the immense amount of research material and resources that are at our fingertips today, such as the Joseph Smith Papers, and insightful work by some brilliant young and emerging historical scholars. I refer primarily to the environment created by the Internet, and to social media in particular, which has brought both challenges and opportunities that we all recognize. For Church Public Affairs, the explosion of voices – both pro and con – have made our work demanding and exciting all at the same time. For instance, I love the Church’s passionate commitment to religious freedom as a universal human right, and I applaud its increasing transparency – evidenced again this week in the announcement of the latest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers.
Since we are often on the cutting edge of public issues, I’d like to give you an insight today into how Church Public Affairs works, and then I’d like to share some perspectives on some much-discussed topics that will illustrate that working process. I have chosen to call this discussion “On the Record” because I think some things have not been said clearly enough, or they have been overlooked or misconstrued. I won’t be breaking any new ground today on such perennial topics as race or polygamy or other questions on which there are more competent speakers. I will try to leave 10 minutes at the end for questions, and I invite you to write your question on a card and pass it to an usher in the next 30 minutes or so. Please focus your questions on matters directly related to public affairs so I have a chance of responding. (So, no, I don’t know where the Ten Lost tribes are…. Although I did have a bishop once who was called by a member at 1 o’clock in the morning who asked him exactly that. The bishop’s pointed response: “I presume they are all in bed”).
How Public Affairs is structured
The Public Affairs work of the Church is overseen by the Church’s Public Affairs Committee, which is chaired by a member of the Twelve. Other General Authorities or General officers include the senior president of the Seventy, the Presiding Bishop, the Church’s legal counsel, one of the female general officers, and an additional seventy who serves as executive director of the department. The executive director works particularly closely with me, especially on strategic planning matters. In addition, several senior Public Affairs staff, including myself, attend the weekly committee meetings.
The first thing I want to put on the record is this: Public Affairs does not have its own agenda, independent from the Brethren. I work on a daily basis with the member of the Twelve and the Executive Director. In addition to regular meetings twice a week with the member of the Twelve, we talk every day, often several times. With the executive director, I make presentations to the full Quorum of the Twelve monthly and receive direction from them. Sometimes a member of the staff with a particular specialty makes a presentation and receives counsel. I mention this because we sometimes have rocks thrown at us by some bloggers who love to postulate as to why Public Affairs does this or that. One blogger even referred to Public Affairs recently as a “rogue department,” which would be news to the Brethren. Newsflash: We don’t freelance.
Sadly, the insight and understanding of some who love to write volumes of commentary seems often in inverse proportion to the amount of words they write. Perhaps it’s simply easier to target Public Affairs because it seems less disrespectful than criticizing Church leaders. If so, we are honored to take those “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” A thick skin is a pre-requisite for Public Affairs employment. This makes me think of that wonderful verse in Acts, when the high priest and his council were attempting to intimidate Peter and the apostles, and had them beaten up. Verse 41 of Acts 5 says: “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” And the next verse notes, almost parenthetically, “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” (Acts 5:41-42).
No member of the Public Affairs staff would last long if he or she issued a statement on behalf of the Church that had not been approved. Of course, we frequently suggest a response to a breaking issue, but the Brethren are not shy in editing or rejecting those statements or writing their own versions. In addition, the member of the Twelve who chairs the Public Affairs Committee will confer with other members of the Twelve or with the First Presidency on major issues. Our task is to find language that most accurately reflects what’s in the Brethren’s minds. There is no place for private agendas on the part of staff.
I’m taking more than a moment on this point because it is extraordinarily important. This audience probably understands, but let me give you an example of what happens when it isn’t understood. Earlier this year, the Church held a news conference to call on the Utah Legislature to pass a bill that treated religious rights and gay rights in a balanced and fair way. Three apostles attended that news conference, and Elder L. Tom Perry later attended the bill signing with the Governor and other community leaders. Some people actually challenged the validity of the message because there were “only” three members of the Twelve, and not all of them plus the First Presidency. Presumably these three apostles were “rogue” also. This so reminds me of the Savior’s critique of “blind guides” who “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23: 24)
What about other communications, for instance on Mormon Newsroom? Newsroom and the department’s Facebook and YouTube channels are among the primary communications media we use to disseminate significant news and latest developments. Much of what is posted there deals with routine news stories, but even these cannot be posted without approval from Church Correlation, which has the responsibility to ensure that all Church communications are doctrinally sound and consistent. Because of the nature of our work, Correlation gives us high priority when we are dealing with breaking news or issuing a commentary on a significant topic. But again, there is a check-and-balance system that should give members of the Church a high level of comfort that what they read on Newsroom has been well vetted. Are we infallible? Of course not. Might we occasionally make mistakes or fail to choose exactly the right word in a statement or interview? Assuredly, yes. But you can be sure we know who runs the Church, and of the respect we have for the established processes.
“Defend” v “Promote”
Despite the words my patriarch chose when he said I would have opportunities to “defend the gospel,” there are words I prefer to use other than “defend.” If all we ever play is a defensive game, the most we can hope for is a draw. While it can be extraordinarily difficult when under attack or critique from unfriendly voices, it’s important that we try not to sound defensive. We would do better to explain or promote an idea, concept or principle. For example, when the “Book of Mormon Musical” first surfaced, despite its blasphemy, crudeness and bad language, we opted for a non-defensive statement that taught a principle. Our much-quoted response was: “The Book of Mormon musical may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.” As many of you know, we even took out ads in the show’s Playbill, inviting people who had seen the show to now “read the Book.”
It isn’t easy to avoid sounding defensive when things we love are belittled. This applies also to critiques of the Brethren themselves. Personally, I view habitual criticism of the Brethren as one of the most pernicious of pastimes, so let me spend a moment on this. I will use the term “Brethren” here because this is an LDS audience and you all know what that term usually means – the General Authorities of the Church, and in particular the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles. I try to avoid that term when talking to secular media because it sounds strange, even antiquated, to non-LDS ears, and I generally opt instead for the term “Church leadership.”
If memory serves, I think the first time I encountered an accusing finger pointed at the Brethren was from an English journalist who I’d invited to meet with a visiting apostle while I was managing the Church’s London public affairs office. He asked how we could justify leaders of the Church flying trans-Atlantic jets when Jesus used a donkey. My response to him was that as soon as they invent a trans-Atlantic donkey we would be happy to use it. That may not have been original – I can no longer remember whether I borrowed it from something I’d heard – but it did seem to address the absurdity of the question. I can hardly believe it when I hear people question the motives of the Brethren for the work they do, or when they imply there is somehow some monetary reward or motive.
Let me share the reality. Not all the Brethren have been businessmen, but most have had extraordinarily successful careers by the time they are called to be an Apostle. As President Spencer W. Kimball once pointed out, the ability to lead people and an organization is a more-than-helpful attribute in a Church of millions of people, especially when combined with spiritual depth and a rich understanding of the gospel. Because several have been highly successful in business careers, when they become apostles their stipend and allowances may literally be less than a tithe on what they previously earned.
Some of the Brethren have been educators. Elder Scott was a nuclear physicist, Elder Nelson a heart surgeon. Several were highly successful lawyers. Right now we have three former university presidents in the Twelve. President Boyd K. Packer was also an educator by profession, although in his spare time and in his earlier days he loved to carve beautiful things out of wood. That sounds curiously related to another scripturally honored profession – that of a carpenter.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be called to the Twelve? In most cases you have already had a successful career. You know you will continue to serve the Church in some volunteer capacity, but you have begun to think of your future retirement. The First Presidency and the Twelve, of course do not retire. Neither are they released. With their call comes the sure knowledge that they will work every day for the rest of their lives, even if they live into their nineties, until they literally drop and their minds and bodies give out. Their workday begins early and does not end at 5pm. The Twelve get Mondays off, and those Mondays are frequently spent preparing for the rest of the week. If they have a weekend assignment, they will often travel on a Friday afternoon. Periodically, even though in their 80s, they face the grueling schedule of international speaking conferences and leadership responsibilities.
What about when they are home? I have the cell phone numbers of most of the Brethren because I sometimes have to call them in the evening, on weekends or when they are out and about. I’m not naïve enough to think that I am the only Church officer to do so. So even their downtime is peppered with interruptions. I invariably begin those calls by apologizing for interrupting them at home. I have never once been rebuked for calling. They are invariably kind and reassuring, even early in the morning or late at night.
Their primary time off each year is from the end of the mission presidents’ seminar at the very end of June, through the end of July. And while this time is meant as a break, most of the Brethren use this time to turn their thoughts, among other things, to October General Conference and preparation of their remarks. During Christmas break they do the same for April conference. Every one of them takes extraordinary care and time in deciding on a topic and crafting their messages. The process weighs on them for months as they refine draft after draft.
This is not a schedule you would wish on anyone. Yet they bear it with grace and find joy for some overwhelmingly important reasons – their testimony and commitment to be a witness of the Savior of the world and their desire to strengthen His children everywhere. They would be the very first to acknowledge their own faults or failings, just as we can readily point to the apostles of the New Testament and see imperfect people.
As I read the gospels and the book of Acts, or the various letters written by the apostles to the various groups of members scattered throughout the Mediterranean area, I get a glimpse of extraordinary men. Men with individual faults, certainly. Yet I choose not to view Peter through a critical lens that dwells on the impetuous elements of his nature, or as the wavering soul who failed to affirm he knew the Christ. I see him more in the winter of his life, having weathered trials and storms to become one of the towering figures of Biblical history, whose name and accomplishments have endured for two millennia. The same can be said for many others of the ancient apostles, perhaps especially Paul whose life transformed him from persecutor to persecuted. And so today, because my testimony tells me that the gospel has been restored, I see the senior Brethren in the same way. Yes, they are individual, mortal men, but the Lord has given them, not me, the mantle to lead the Church and make the tough decisions. I am not lionizing the Brethren. I am not over-awed because I have shaken the hand of an apostle. But I do sustain them with all my heart, and I have a quiet and reassuring confidence born of personal experience and exposure to their councils that the Church is in good hands.
The big questions
Certain it is that the Brethren have to wrestle with big questions. Let me turn to some of those now, and since I am about half way through I have time to address perhaps three or four before we break for questions. Since it has become such a big question, I’ll talk a little about the emergence of gay rights and what it has meant for the Church, especially as it relates to religious freedom.
I will also talk a little about dissent and disciplinary councils, and the in-depth Church essays now appearing on LDS.org. And I’ll end with an explanation of what principles shape and drive our messaging from Public Affairs.
One advantage in having worked for Church Public Affairs for so long is that one gains a long-term perspective that comes with institutional memory, and that sometimes is valuable. Certainly you don’t have to be very old to remember a time when some of the language used in the Church to describe homosexual behavior was intemperate, even harsh, by today’s standards. We’ll talk more about that in a moment. But the fundamentals haven’t changed. Sex outside marriage is morally wrong, by God’s law. Sex with a person of the same sex is wrong, by that same standard. The doctrine hasn’t changed, but our way of addressing it has changed significantly.
Most people here will understand the word “presentism” – defined by Webster’s as “an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experiences.” Presentism is a common problem. It’s so easy to dig into the past and find a statement that reflects the norms of the times in which it was stated and then incorrectly apply it to our day. Is there any one of us who wouldn’t like to un-say or un-write something we once said that in today’s parlance seems at best in-artful, and at worst, offensive?
Unquestionably, there has been a more careful and considerate choice of language in the past few years, as the Church has engaged with the pro-gay rights movement. As I said, this doesn’t reflect a change in a doctrinal understanding of the purpose of sex, marriage and the family, or what constitutes sin, but it does reflect a deeper understanding and consciousness among Church leadership of the unwelcome trials of some of our own people.
While acknowledging that, it would be a mistake to assume that the Brethren were ignorant of these trials years ago. I’m thinking particularly of Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Twelve, who was a stake president in – of all places – San Francisco in the ‘80s when the AIDS epidemic broke out. I was with Elder Cook when we interviewed him on camera about this topic, and it was clear that he was deeply, emotionally touched by his experiences in helping several gay members with AIDS navigate their last days. Likewise, I have heard others among the Brethren describe the pain they feel for families, including gay family members, who have been torn apart while trying to navigate this extremely difficult issue.
As same-sex attraction has become more talked about in society, our language has changed in order to speak to an evolving audience even as our standards of chastity have remained constant. One might say the same for co-habitation before marriage of heterosexual couples. We don’t like it, we discourage it, we teach young people chastity before marriage, but we also understand the reality that most of the world today has different, ever-changing standards or values, and a strident voice from the Church is going to do nothing to change behavior.
Toward the end of the 2012 presidential election campaign, Public Affairs prepared a website that we called “mormonsandgays.org.” The site included several interviews with members of the Twelve, and it had the most intense scrutiny by the Brethren before it was launched. Frankly, the website had more than one purpose. In the heat of an election campaign in which a member of the Church was his party’s nominee for the presidency, we thought it likely that the “gay issue” would be dragged into the campaign at some point, and we would be confronted with all of the misrepresentation and distorted perspectives that we had dealt with ever since Proposition 8 in 2008. But the website was also an opportunity to recognize the plight of some of our own young people who were struggling with their sexual identity.
In some Latter-day Saint homes, when teens had “come out” as gay to their parents, the reaction had been anything but compassionate, or reflective of a mutual search for understanding. In extreme cases, young people were ordered out of their homes. Being homeless and destitute made such young people prey to drug pushers, prostitution and other degrading experiences, and in some cases even to suicide. I am unaware of any Church leader who countenanced such actions, but awareness of some of these problems was not universal among leadership and certainly not among the membership at large. Mormonsandgays.org, which was carefully scrutinized by the Brethren before it launched, was designed to address that by encouraging parents and other family members to embrace their children, brothers or sisters while not condoning immoral behavior.
This issue remains a difficult one. The Church is now working to further develop mormonsandgays.org, and version 2.0 is scheduled for completion and launch early next year. Meanwhile, the topic leads us naturally to a related one, and that is the Church’s position on religious freedom vis-à-vis LGBT rights.
Even as early as Proposition 8, the Church said publicly that it did not oppose extending rights to LGBT people covering such areas as housing, employment, probate, hospital visits, etc., that posed no threat to the family. The problem it had was with efforts to redefine marriage. Even at that early date I remember the Brethren opining strongly that legalizing gay marriage would bring multiple challenges to religious freedom. In that, they were remarkably prescient. If you aren’t aware of the great cultural clash that has arisen between LGBT rights proponents and many faith groups over the perceived threat to religious rights, I can assure you that it’s becoming one of the great social issues of the day.
It’s beyond my scope today to dig more deeply into this topic than I need to, but even a casual read of what many LGBT advocates are saying about religious rights is sobering. The ink was barely dry on the recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Council to allow gay scout leaders, when the Human Rights Campaign – one of the major LGBT advocacy groups – was saying that it was a helpful “first step” – meaning they won’t be satisfied until all churches are also forced to accept gay scout leaders in their troops. Even before the scout issue arose, many on that side of the debate had been clamoring for removing university accreditation from religious colleges who failed to meet the LGBT definition of what is or isn’t socially acceptable. And removing tax exemption from churches has been another agenda item emerging recently.
The Church’s response has been a model of restraint, reasonableness and Christ-like behavior. While not yielding an inch on our Father’s plan for his children and the purpose of our life here on earth, including how sexuality is to be expressed, the Church has recognized the legitimacy of LGBT claims to fair housing, employment and other services such as those I have mentioned. Further, without the Church’s public call last January in a news conference for an equitable treatment of both religion and LGBT rights, Utah would not have the laws it has today protecting the rights of both.
Going forward, the Church will continue to urge for this kind of balance. It is not easy for all of our members to understand this. There are some whose views carry a tone we heard many years ago, and who believe that any gesture of compassion toward LGBT people is tantamount to condoning sin, even though simple attraction in itself is not a sin.
Others seem to want to reshape the Church into whatever the latest politically correct social convention says it should be. Consequently, much internal teaching needs to be done on this topic, especially among our youth and millennial members – i.e. young adults. Wisely, the Brethren will chart a course that adheres to the doctrine of the Church while emulating Christ’s inclusiveness and love for all people.
Can members have their own views on this topic and still stay faithful to the Church? That’s a question we hear often, and it arises from a number of different scenarios. Can a member be a Democrat and a good Mormon? That one makes me smile, because if the members who ask it could travel to some countries of the world and meet faithful members of the Church who belong to their national communist parties I fear their blood pressure might be permanently damaged. Can I believe in women’s rights and be a good Mormon? Can I think that our hymnals might benefit from a good revision? If I sometimes think that every minute of our three-hour block isn’t entirely inspirational, am I on the road to apostasy?
I don’t mean to be flippant, because I know that some questions are more important than others. All I can tell you is how I approach this subject personally. I have never found the Church to be an intellectual straitjacket. We have an enormously diverse membership. I have spent time with members of the Church on every continent where we have units. One of the most thrilling aspects to being a Latter-day Saint is the sense that we belong to a diverse but unified global family. Because I’m British, I admittedly joke about the French from time to time – it’s kind of an obligatory thing that goes with British citizenship. (Actually, I’ve never forgiven them for backing the wrong side in the American Revolutionary War). And, of course, the French respond in kind about the English. But if I’m on a plane and sitting next to a French Latter-day Saint, I feel an immediate bond. National and cultural differences evaporate. I have far more in common with that person than with one of my own non-LDS countrymen, even one my own age from my hometown or school. As a Latter-day Saint, I know instantly that my newly met French acquaintance and I share the most important core values and experiences, and we have the same broad aspirations for this life and the next. I am content to rest on the assurance that as Latter-day Saints we are, in reality, no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens in a kingdom that traverses all national boundaries and cultures.
Am I interested in making sure that my French seat companion comports precisely with my views in every nuanced interpretation of how to live his or her life? Do I insist that we both must be on exactly the same point on our spiritual journey? Or do I, like the Lord, allow room for personal interpretation, growth and understanding?
It is only when my friend begins to insist that I interpret everything his way, or that he suggests the Brethren are misleading the members, or that he elevates himself to be more than my friend but rather my uninvited teacher, that I may worry about his direction. If he tells me about his blogs and public demonstrations to prove the Brethren are wrong, and resists counsel, I might expect that Church leaders would counter that influence even if they would prefer not to. If kindness and gentle persuasion and love unfeigned prove unsuccessful, I would fear for his eternal future. But I would not deny him the right to believe differently. While I love the diversity in the Church, I don’t believe that ultimately, diversity trumps unity. “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.”
To my certain knowledge, the First Presidency and the Twelve do not direct the outcomes of disciplinary councils, and studiously avoid doing so. Indeed, as the court of final appeal, the First Presidency cannot do so. They must remain independent. Church policy is that decisions rest with bishops and stake presidents, both as to whether to hold such councils and what the outcome might be. Of course, stake presidents may confer with Area Seventies up their priesthood line for counsel about process, but not about decisions and outcomes.
There has been speculation recently that disciplinary councils, or invitations to a sit-down with the bishop, have coincided and therefore have the appearance of being centrally directed. This is not the case, however, and there is a simple, plausible explanation that requires no mental gymnastics to understand. General Authorities – including all of the quorums of seventy – come to Church headquarters every six months for training right before General Conference. Over the years, these training sessions cover a wide range of diverse topics. If how to hold disciplinary councils in accordance with Church processes is one of those topics – which it was recently was – it isn’t surprising that as the training works its way down to the stake and ward level, some leaders may feel better prepared to engage with members whom they feel need counsel. This might especially occur at a time when some members are publicly campaigning for changes counter to Church policy or doctrine. Frankly, I don’t know whether there has been any increase in such counseling, and if there has, whether I have correctly identified the reason. But looking for a conspiracy behind every hint of change isn’t healthy and is rarely accurate.
I promised a word about the in-depth essays on LDS.org that address subjects that some members have found challenging. Frankly I don’t have much to say about these. Feedback we received on LDS.org suggests that some members felt the essays should have been placed in a more prominent position and preceded by a major announcement. Other members think they got more attention than they deserved. Overall, I think there’s some merit in the argument that they should have been more prominent from the beginning, but there is more context to this. Certainly several of them received significant press coverage when published. Those who follow Church developments closely will have seen an increasing emphasis on study and learning in the home, on Sabbath day observance that incorporates such learning into our daily lives, and an increasingly flexible teaching curriculum that draws on many resources – including these essays – for content and support. It’s the intent of Church leaders that these essays be more than just a one-read experience on LDS.org, but rather that their content and principles work their way into the larger tapestry of learning, especially for our youth.
Much discussion preceded the publication of these essays, including a determination about their length. At one point, 50-page page essays or even longer were contemplated, and some were drafted with extensive footnotes. But it was acknowledged that few rank-and-file members would wade through such heavy work, other than scholars who were already familiar with the substance of the issues. An alternative was considered – a brief two- or three-page commentary, but this was felt to be inadequate and failed to meet the main criterion of transparency. The result of these deliberations is what you currently have on LDS.org and generally these essays have been well received. Although highly competent LDS scholars prepared initial the drafts, they had extensive review by Church History staff and other scholars. Their review was followed by a rigorous reading for accuracy and balance by the Twelve before approval by the First Presidency.
Now, let me wrap up and then we’ll take some questions. Earlier, I mentioned the importance of not being too defensive. I hope I have not sounded overly defensive today. You may find this a little surprising coming from someone whose profession is public relations, but I’d like to leave you with a final thought.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell, also a former chairman of the Public Affairs Committee, used to talk about what he called “the central dilemma of public affairs.” Do we let our light shine so that men may see our good works, or does that risk looking like doing alms before men, for the praise of the world.
Today we have an additional dilemma. The core function of the Public Affairs department is to build relationships with opinion leaders whose influence can either help or hinder the Church’s mission. We can do much good in society with that objective. It leads to such things as engagement with other churches, with political leaders of different stripes, with LGBT and other community leaders and many others.
At the same time, the Church from ancient times has essentially been counter-cultural, which means that it often pushed back against social conventions and established institutions. Jesus talked a lot about sheep, but he never acted like one. He challenged social norms, associated with people who polite society rejected, and confronted the Establishment when it displayed hypocrisy. The apostles, too, fearlessly challenged convention time after time in order to teach gospel truths.
So how do we balance these two seemingly competing principles, of building relationships in the secular world with those outside the Church who see things differently, yet pushing back against growing secularism and disaffiliation with organized religion?
The answer to these and other difficult questions is found in following Jesus Christ in every circumstance. This is our principal mandate, our prime directive. Our Church bears the Savior’s name. It’s His Church. The teachings are His and we try to model our lives on what Jesus taught. Our messages from the Church, therefore, must always be crafted with that in mind, and the Church’s actions must always be consistent with what it says. In every decision that we make, and every recommendation we take forward, we try to keep that in mind. What would the Savior do? Those associated with FairMormon, in particular, have an obligation to engage with the kind of language with which the Savior would identify, and avoid polemical, confrontational tactics. We have identified six simple principles that, rather than defend, assert what we stand for. They are these:
- We have faith in God, strive to live the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ and embrace God’s plan for his children, bringing joy into our lives and the lives of others.
- We are strong supporters of the family, defenders of strong, enduring marriages and child bearing, and of raising well-educated children with high moral values.
- We value and defend freedom, including freedom of religion, respect individual agency and moral choices, freedom to worship and freedom to share our faith.
- We hold and try to live by strong moral values, including personal honesty and trustworthiness, and other Christ-like attributes.
- We serve others, including those in our own faith and those not of our faith. Charity, or love of our fellow men and women, is a source of joy.
- We strive to demonstrate through the redemptive power of the gospel that lives can change for the better. We think of this in terms of faith, repentance and the Atonement.
Such are the issues and challenges that face us today. Thank you for listening. In the name of Jesus Christ.
I’ll now be happy to take a few of your questions for the next 10 minutes, so let’s look at the cards.
So, I’m going to respond to those that particularly touch on Public Affairs matters, of course, and the one thing that’s a little different with me responding to questions is that I’m a Church Spokesman, so what I say will be immediately attributed to the church. I’m going to be quite careful in what I say. I don’t get a chance to edit. Lyman might help me [guestures to Lyman Kirkland].
Q: As an assertive and capable woman in the church, I have experienced marginalization in my local unit. What can you share to reassure women that the Brethren are aware of and care about the continuing marginalization of women in the church?
A: What can I say to reassure you? Only that the place of more than half of the [members] in the Church is a matter of huge importance to the Brethren. I sit on one particular committee that looks at this frequently, but I’m also in many, many meetings, and there is a momentum inside the Church organization to address what appear to be inequities which I find to be incredibly encouraging. You’ve seen some small measure of these in things like photographs of the womens’ presidencies in the Conference Center and some other things like the placement of the women leaders in the Conference Center during General Conference. But there’s so, so much more going on. All I can say to you is, be patient, it takes awhile, especially for things to trickle down to the local ward level, but have confidence that it will.
Q: When dealing with sensitive issues such as women and the priesthood or race, do the Brethren consult with women and persons of color for insights on how to respond to the media and members in the world?
A: The answer is absolutely yes.
Q: If not already addressed, what do you do with mass media that will not report your articles, or take out of context parts to slur and adjust to their agendas?
A: That’s a good question. One of the great things that’s happened in recent years, and I mentioned this at the beginning, is the change in the way information is communicated. Back in the old days, you know, we would write a press statement, and we’d put it out and give it to the media, and then we’d look at the abbreviated version that eventually would appear–maybe–and the context in which it was placed. And we would be very frustrated because we were entirely dependent on the media. First of all, the reporters’ understanding, and the headline writers’ understanding, and the editors’ decision where to place that story on the page, and who else they’d talked to. That can be very challenging, and for most of my working life, that’s been what we’ve had to deal with. And then along came the internet, and along came social media, and isn’t that great? Because now we can say whatever we want to say, and it’s visible to everyone. Mormon Newsroom is a great example of that. We don’t send out press releases anymore. I don’t know that anyone sends out press releases anymore. We simply publish a statement on Newsroom then wait for the phone to ring. And it does. The media–not only the local media, but national media–especially religion writers, follow Newsroom. They have it on their feeds, and as soon as we post anything they will pick it up. And then, of course, they can still interpret, they can still talk to other people–of course they will. But at least what we’re saying is on the record, and it’s clear. We even have a little segment on Newsroom, if you’re not more familiar with it, called “Getting it Right.” We used to call it “Mistakes in the News,” but that seemed a little defensive. If somebody made a mistake, we’d correct them publicly. One reporter who no longer works for the particular TV station in a particular exchange with us said “now if I don’t do this correctly, am I going to be in that column?” Our response was “absolutely, yeah.” But we changed that to “Getting it Right,” and what we try to look for examples of really great reporters who go the extra mile, not in just writing favorable stories, but those who really try to get the balance and the nuances correct. So it is an issue, but it’s much better now than it used to be, even though you’ve also got the echo chamber of negative blogs that will always dissect everything we say and read more into it. But that’s just life today with social media. Good question.
Q: Why do some of the church essays have no byline?
A: That was discussed, but it’s important that when these essays are published that people see them as having the imprimatur of the Church, and not the work of an individual scholar. The sense was that if someone’s byline goes on there, has anybody told you what happens when only three members of the Twelve go to a press conference? Can you imagine what it would be like–“well, that essay doesn’t mean anything! Where’s President Monson’s name on that?” So it’s important, I think, that they’re presented in a way that looks like, and is, reflective of the Church’s leadership.
Q: How does the allowing of gay marriage infringe on our religious freedom if the Supreme Court was expressly clear that we can retain our rights?
A: I could talk for an hour on this topic. Several hours, because it’s very complex. As I already mentioned, we are already seeing the rise of cries for curtailing religious freedom in such areas as accreditation of religious colleges, as tax exemptions. No one is suggesting that at some point pastors or ministers of churches who don’t agree with it will have to perform gay marriages themselves. We have a constitutional protection that prevents that. It’s the ancillary issues that are the challenge. We track this very carefully, and we particularly see across the country now, in the drive for what the LGBT community refers to as “public accommodations,” that is constantly clashing with religious conscience. We are, I think, in a good and proper place with this issue. There are some churches–our brethren and sisters in these other churches–that take a very strong view of these kind of things and refuse to budge one inch on LGBT rights. There are others, as I have indicated, who want to go the whole way and let social norms drive their policies and doctrine. We are in a very even place. If you haven’t read it in detail, I strongly encourage you to go back and look on Newsroom and the January 27 news conference when we talked about fairness for all. We articulated with three different members of the Twelve, and a sister leader, Sister Marriott–we articulated precisely where the Church stands on that issue, that religious freedom is going to be the next great battle.
Q: Please report the members of the Public Affairs council and comment on the strength the council could obtain with a second woman present.
A: Well, I mentioned that we have senior staff there, including a senior woman staff member, a director, who is very capable. I was in a meeting just the other day, with the Priesthood Executive Committee, and there were six women in that meeting, all of them very senior. So I think the Brethren try as much as possible to embrace women’s voices. One of the things that I did in my own capacity as Managing Director of Public Affairs, is that I established what we call a Women’s Outreach Group. We have about eight women in that group; they are all highly professional, faithful, seasoned women who address some of these issues, draft recommendations, and so on. Interestingly, the chairwoman of that group approached me recently and said “I think we need a couple of men on this group–we’ve got to try to balance this.” We don’t typically talk about the names of the members on the Public Affairs Council because the minute we do that, they start getting letters from people. It just becomes unmanageable. But I think I told you what the offices are that they hold. I can tell you that Elder Christofferson chairs that committee, because he’s been publicly involved in a number of events.
Q: Some conspiratorial ex-Mormons speculate about ideological factions within the Quorum of the Twelve, such as a “Packer faction” or an “Oaks faction.” Can you comment on the diversity and the unity of mind among the Brethren?
A: That’s going to be the last question. I’d love to go through these others–these are great. There are no factions among the Twelve. I have been in those meetings enough to see the diversity of opinions and different perspectives aired and thoroughly talked through. My experience is that unless the Brethren are united on something, the issue just doesn’t move forward. They always go for unity, complete unity, which is what you’d expect in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Thank you so much for your time. I’ve really enjoyed being here today. Enjoy the rest of the conference.