Monthly Archives: June 2010

Review: The Joseph Smith Papers Television Documentary Series, Season 1 (DVD Set)

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Those of us in Utah were treated, beginning near the end of 2007, to a TV series created by and aired on Larry H. Miller-owned KJZZ TV about the Joseph Smith Papers Project. It began with a pilot episode (“A Television Forward”), followed by a regular weekly schedule that started in early 2008, showing a new episode each Sunday night followed by a repeat of the previous week’s episode.

People outside of Utah, upon hearing about it, immediately began wondering when (or even if) they would have a chance to see the series. It was quickly ascertained that KJZZ would not be providing it for viewing on their web site as some hoped, but eventually BYUTV picked it up. Today, season 1 can be watched on BYUTV and Utah viewers can see season 2 (now in reruns) on KJZZ. And now (as of 2009), season 1 is available on a 7 disc DVD set from Deseret Book.

The set contains 52 episodes, numbered from 0 to 51, which are about one half hour each, except for number 0 which was the longer pilot that was aired ahead of time. A booklet is included that gives a brief summary of each episode and lists the contributing scholars, along with an index. Unfortunately, it does not state which DVDs contain which episodes, so I ended up noting that myself in my copy. Each DVD contains a message at the beginning apologizing that the sound and video quality are not always perfect, but the one big drawback of this set is a total lack of closed captions. Anyone that can’t hear will not be able to watch it, and even for those of us who are able to hear, it would have been nice to be able to read what is being said at times, particularly when trying to take notes.

Season 1 is filmed at historic sites as well as in a studio, using visual aids ranging from photographs, to paintings, to the actual writings of Joseph Smith and others. It includes interviews with scholars such as Ronald Barney, Richard Bushman, Steven Harper, Richard Turley, Richard Anderson, Larry Porter, Milton Backman, Robin Jensen, Jeffrey Walker, Jill Derr, Royal Skousen, Mark Staker, Dean Jessee, Carol Madsen, and many others.

In the pilot episode, Ronald Esplin (managing editor of The Joseph Smith Papers) said, “I think in today’s world, every Latter-day Saint will encounter things about Joseph Smith they didn’t know before. We have an informational overload – informational access – that has never been available before, and to the degree that Latter-day Saints are left only with what they learn at Pioneer Day, they are going to be vulnerable, because there is so much more to learn. And I think it’s very important that we come to a true understanding of our history, and of our people, that involves dealing with all the issues, and dealing with all the personalities, and doing it broadly so that we understand our own heritage, and then we will not be overturned by some new little fact that we didn’t have room for in our scheme, because we prepared ourselves to look at the whole picture.”

Many of the other episodes in the series are spent giving us this understanding, beginning with familiarizing us with early 19th century America and Joseph Smith’s heritage and local environment, and then going through many of the events in Joseph’s life and the history of the church, and then his death and the aftermath. A good job was done in many areas where the church has been accused by critics of hiding information. For example, the different versions of the First Vision are discussed, and there is a very good history and explanation given of the Book of Abraham and associated papyri.

However, one weakness that stuck out to me was that the discussion of plural marriage was not as thorough as it might have been. The host, Glenn Rawson, was kind enough to answer my question about that: “Our discussion of Plural marriage was limited of necessity. We could only say what we could prove by reliable documentation and only a small portion of that. It was the first in-depth broadcast statement on the subject of plural marriage that had been done under Church auspices. We tried to be careful and circumspect.” Indeed, it is significant that plural marriage was discussed to the depth that it was.

There are a couple of episodes devoted to a roundtable discussion featuring members of the Papers staff explaining what the project is all about, and the significance for members and nonmembers alike. There is an episode about the medical aspects of Joseph’s leg operation. Separate episodes are devoted to the revelations and sermons of Joseph Smith, respectively. There are also episodes covering Joseph’s encounters with the law.

To give an example of some interesting points covered in a typical episode, in episode 7 (“The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon”) we are told that in the early 20th century, a farmer filled in the depression on the hill where the plates had been stored, because he was tired of people coming on his land to see it. It is pointed out that those who knew Joseph best believed him the most. And we are told that Joseph said he could see anything through seer stones.

There is much to learn about the history of the Church up through the 1840s, and this DVD set does a good job of helping to provide a foundation for more in-depth learning, and “to look at the whole picture.” It also helps the viewer have a better understanding of some of what is being published as part of the Joseph Smith Papers. This set would be excellent for use in Family Home Evening, as well as for personal study. Season 2 will also be out on DVD shortly, which Rawson told me covers some of the potentially troubling issues more thoroughly, and he also mentioned that season 3, entitled “History of the Saints: Gathering to the West” will begin airing on KSL and KIDK (Idaho Falls) TV the weekend of General Conference in October.

Gospel Principles Chapter 12: The Atonement

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This week’s lesson on the Atonement takes what is the most important part of what was studied last week and goes into much greater detail. As such, many of the potential issues were covered in last week’s blog post. However, there are a couple of areas that may be helpful to go over this week.

Gerald N. Lund wrote an article for the Ensign in 1990 that explains in detail why the atonement was necessary and how it works, calling the Fall of Adam “one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted doctrines in all of Christianity”: Gerald N. Lund, “The Fall of Man and His Redemption,” Ensign, Jan. 1990, 22.

Most Christians (not just Latter-day Saints) believe that everyone will be resurrected. However, there are some critics that claim such beliefs are unbiblical, and that only those who are saved will be resurrected. While the Book of Mormon speaks plainly of the resurrection being universal (see, for example, Alma 11:40–45 and Mormon 9:12–14), the Bible also speaks of it. Here are some examples:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 – “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
  • John 5:28-29 – “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
  • Acts 24:15 – “And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.”

This doctrine was also clearly taught in the early Christian church:

  • “If only a just judgment were the cause of the resurrection, it would of course follow that those who had done neither evil nor good, namely, very young children, would not rise again. However, we see that all persons are to rise again, including those who have died in infancy” (Athenagoras, 175 AD.)
  • “By mentioning both the judgment seat and the distinction between good and bad works, he sets before us a judge who is to award both sentences. He has thereby affirmed that all will have to be present at the tribunal in their bodies.” (Tertullian, 207 AD.)
  • “Since the entire man consists of the union of the two natures [body and soul], he must therefore appear in both natures. For it is right that a man should be judged in his entirety…Therefore, as he lived, he must also be judged.” (Tertullian, 210 AD.)

It is unfortunate but telling that our most important doctrines receive so much criticism from those who would have the world believe that we worship “a different Jesus.” Indeed, if our Jesus is different, it is because we believe in the uncorrupted concept of Jesus Christ found in the scriptures, and not in the creeds of man.

Gospel Principles Chapter 11: The Life of Christ

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This week’s priesthood and Relief Society lesson is on The Life of Christ. Listed below are links to related issues from the FAIR web sites, organized according to the sections of the lesson.

The Life of Christ Was Predicted Long before His Birth
Book of Mormon/Textual changes/”the Son of”
Alma 7:10 – Jerusalem vs Bethlehem

He Was the Only Begotten of the Father
The “Mormon” vs. the “Christian” Jesus
Worship different Jesus
Jesus Christ/Brother of Satan
Jesus Christ/Conception

He Led a Perfect Life
Gordon B. Hinckley states that Latter-day Saints don’t believe in the “traditional” Christ
Baptism essential

He Organized the Only True Church

He Redeemed Us from Our Sins and Saved Us from Death
Jesus Christ/Atonement
Jesus Christ/Crucified on a cross
Sweat and skin pores

His Sacrifice Showed His Love for His Father and for Us
Grace and works