Monthly Archives: February 2010

Huge new database of 19th-century publications about the Book of Mormon

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The earliest known published reference to the Book of Mormon, ca. 1829.

Matt Roper from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship (formerly FARMS) has managed to track down, compile, and scan 556 publications discussing the Book of Mormon from between 1829 and 1844. The collection, called “19th-Century Publications about the Book of Mormon (1829–1844)” (also known as the “Kirkham project” after Francis W. Kirkham), is available for digging through online at the Harold B. Lee Library Digital Collections.

The collection includes facsimile copies as well as .pdf transcriptions of each publication. It seems to be an exciting resource for researching the reception and analysis of the Book of Mormon in early American print culture. The collection is described as follows:

“Since its publication in 1830, the Book of Mormon has been cast in a variety of roles by both Latter-day Saint and non–Latter-day Saint readers. Published literature relating to the book that appeared during the Prophet Joseph Smith’s lifetime is one of the best historical windows for understanding how this ancient American scripture was interpreted, used, and understood by early readers. This collection represents an effort to gather together that body of literature and make it available to those interested in the origins of the Book of Mormon.”

The cropped image above is an excerpt from The Wayne Sentinel, Palmyra, New York, 26 June 1829. It is the earliest known publication mentioning the Book of Mormon. Here’s part of the provided transcript:


Just about in this particular region, for some time past, much speculation has existed, concerning a pretended discovery, through superhuman means, of an ancient record, of a religious and a divine nature and origin, written in ancient characters, impossible to be interpreted by any to whom the special gift has not been imparted by inspiration. It is generally known and spoken of as the “Golden Bible.” Most people entertain an idea that the whole matter is the result of a gross imposition and a grosser superstition. It is pretended that it will be published as soon as the translation is completed. Meanwhile we have been furnished with the following, which is represented to us as intended for the title page of the work–we give it as a
“The Book of Mormon, an account, written by the hand of Mormon upon plates, taken
from the plates of Nephi—


See the collection here: Having these sources in one place is great. I hope it grows, too.

Troy Wynn on O’Donovan’s Soapbox

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[editor's note: Troy Wynn is a doctoral student studying physics. He runs Some Mormon Stuff which is a "blog about Mormon history, its people and beliefs." He has done several well-researched articles dealing with racial issues in the LDS church, including one that addressed Lawrence O'Donnell's charge made the height of the Romney campaign that Mormonism was pro-slavery. Troy has been invited as a guest blogger to do a series on interracial marriage and to provide a critique of Connell O'Donovan's seminal work on the topic. Previous discussion can be found here at FAIR and at the Juvenile Instructor blog.]

In his paper titled “LDS Historical Rhetoric & Praxis Regarding Marriage Between Whites and Blacks,” Connell O’Donovan asserts that Brigham Young’s fear of black sexuality was the reason he prohibited black-white marriage and instigated the priesthood-temple ban, and that Young’s resistance to black-white marriage must be seen within the context of his own marital experimentation which at that time was receiving scrutiny via the press and the Massachusetts State Supreme Court. He then lists several topics of discussion, such as, examples of inter-racial marriages in LDS history, the fruition of anti-miscegenation laws under BY, statements about black-white marriage from the Deseret News, and eventually how LDS leaders abandoned their restrictions against black-white marriage. Or, as O’Donovan puts it, “unnecessary restrictions on the boundaries of love and marriage.”

His paper also demonstrates that LDS feelings at one time were deeply hostile to black-white marriage and that many Latter-day Saints believed black-white marriages would never be permitted, etc. Continue reading

19th Century Nuptiality and Propaganda II

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Some recent volleys have been fired in the on-going culture wars between the faithful Mormon community and their anti- and ex-Mormon counterparts. It is not quite fair to contrast a general authority’s polished speech and some off-hand message board remarks backed by shoddy research. Bruce C. Hafen’s remarks were summarized in this Mormon Times article, but I take responsibility for applying them to my recent experiences in researching marital ages of 19th century wives alongside those of Joseph Smith and the Deseret era saints. Some excerpts from MT:

“Readers have no way of knowing which critical claims have already been discredited, and the anti-Mormon sponsors are certainly not going to tell them right there on the site,” he said.

The democratization of ideas sometimes confuses the reader as to what is true and what is not, as all ideas are presented horizontally and as fact, thus positioning the blogger’s flippant opinion alongside the scholar’s well-researched dissertation.

Continue reading