Category Archives: LDS History

A New Church History Seminary Manual

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The cover page of the new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History seminary manual.

[Cross-posted from Ploni Almoni: Mr. So-and-So’s Mormon Blog.]

The Church has released a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History manual for seminary students. One of the remarkable aspects of the new manual is that it includes a discussion of several sensitive topics in church history. These topics include the following.

1. The various accounts of the First Vision are highlighted in the new manual. “There are nine known accounts of the First Vision—four written or dictated by Joseph Smith and five written by others retelling his experience,” the manual states (p. 20).

The multiple accounts of the First Vision were prepared at different times and for different audiences. In these accounts, Joseph Smith emphasized different aspects of his experience of the First Vision, but the accounts all agree in the essential truth that Joseph Smith did indeed have the heavens opened to him and see divine messengers, including God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the 1838 account was part of Joseph Smith’s official history and testimony to the world, it was included in the Pearl of Great Price as scripture. (p. 20)

The manual then recommends students to read articles by Milton Backman and Richard Lloyd Anderson published in the Ensign discussing the various accounts of the First Vision (pp. 20, 22).

2. There is an entire chapter devoted to the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Utah War (Lesson 151). The manual gives a brief historical overview of the events leading up to the massacre and acknowledges the participation of “Latter-day Saint leaders and settlers” in the crime (p. 523). Besides citing an article on the Mountain Meadows Massacre published in theEnsign, the manual also reproduces this quote given by President Henry B. Eyring at the 150 year anniversary of the massacre.

The gospel of Jesus Christ that we espouse, abhors the cold-blooded killing of men, women, and children. Indeed, it advocates peace and forgiveness. What was done [at the Mountain Meadows] long ago by members of our Church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct.

3. In a chapter on the history of the Pearl of Great Price there is a brief overview of the history of the Book of Abraham, including the loss and recovery of several papyrus fragments once in the possession of Joseph Smith (pp. 524–526). Included in the discussion about the Book of Abraham is this (which is actually reprinted from the Church’s Pearl of Great Price Student Manual).

In 1966 eleven fragments of papyri once possessed by the Prophet Joseph Smith were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They were given to the Church and have been analyzed by scholars who date them between about 100 B.C. and A.D. 100. A common objection to the authenticity of the book of Abraham is that the manuscripts are not old enough to have been written by Abraham, who lived almost two thousand years before Christ. Joseph Smith never claimed that the papyri were autographic (written by Abraham himself), nor that they dated from the time of Abraham. It is common to refer to an author’s works as ‘his’ writings, whether he penned them himself, dictated them to others, or others copied his writings later. (p. 525)

(Incidentally, yours truly has written a thing or two on this subject over at the Interpreter blog, which you can access here.) The manual also states, “Although we do not know the exact method Joseph Smith used to translate the writings, we do know that he translated the book of Abraham by the gift and power of God” (p. 525).

4. The new manual has material covering the practice of plural marriage, including an entire chapter on Joseph Smith’s plural marriage (Lesson 140) and a mentioning of Post-Manifesto plural marriage. Below are a few pertinent excerpts from the manual.

In this dispensation the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and many other Church leaders found this commandment difficult, but they obeyed it. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church (see Official Declaration 1). (p. 204)

While Joseph Smith was working on the inspired translation of the Old Testament in 1831, he read about some of the ancient prophets practicing plural marriage (also called polygamy). Under this practice, one man is married to more than one living wife. The Prophet studied the scriptures, pondered what he learned, and eventually took his questions about plural marriage to Heavenly Father in prayer. . . . the Prophet Joseph Smith was reluctant to begin the practice of plural marriage. He stated that he did not begin the practice until he was warned that he would be destroyed if he did not obey. . . . Because of a lack of historical documentation, we do not know about Joseph Smith’s early attempts to comply with the commandment. However, by 1841 the Prophet had begun to obey the commandment and to teach it to some members of the Church, and over the next three years he married additional wives in accordance with the Lord’s commands. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s obedience to the Lord’s commandment to practice plural marriage was a trial of faith for him and his wife Emma, whom he loved dearly. (pp. 477–478)

Practicing plural marriage brought additional challenges. Because the practice was initially kept very quiet, rumors began to spread about Church leaders marrying additional wives. These rumors greatly distorted the truth, slandered the names of the Prophet and other Church leaders, and contributed to increased persecution against the Saints. (p. 479)

A small number of Latter-day Saints continued to enter into new plural marriages after the Manifesto was given. In 1904, President Joseph F. Smith announced “that all [plural] marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage he will be . . . excommunicated”. . . . This policy continues today. (p. 530)

Towards the end of the chapter on Joseph Smith’s plural marriage, the manual warns, “Much unreliable information pertaining to plural marriage exists on the Internet and in many print sources. Be cautious and wise with such information. Some authors who write about the Church and its history present information out of context or include partial truths that can be misleading. The intent of some of these writings is to destroy faith” (p. 479). I myself have raised a similar point in this post. The manual then concludes by recommending, “Reliable historical research concerning the practice of plural marriage can be found at josephsmithpapers.org and byustudies.byu.edu” (p. 480).

5. On describing the nature of the Joseph Smith Translation, the manual says the following.

Around the fall of 1830, Joseph Smith was commanded by the Lord to translate the Bible. He did not translate the Bible from one language to another; nor did he have an original biblical manuscript to work from. Instead, Joseph would read and study passages from the King James Version of the Bible and then make corrections and additions as inspired by the Holy Ghost. Thus, the translation was more of an inspired revision than a traditional translation.The Joseph Smith Translation is estimated to have affected at least 3,400 verses in the King James Version of the Bible. These differences include additions (to clarify meaning or context), deletions, rearranged verses, and complete restructurings of certain chapters. The Joseph Smith Translation clarified doctrinal content, especially the mission of Jesus Christ, the nature of God, the nature of man, the Abrahamic covenant, the priesthood, and the Restoration of the gospel. (pp. 180–181)

6. The historical circumstances surrounding the priesthood ban and President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1978 revelation are discussed in a chapter on Official Declaration 2 (Lesson 157). As part of this discussion, the manual reprints the introductory material to OD 2 printed in the 2013 edition of the scriptures.

The Book of Mormon teaches that ‘all are alike unto God,’ including ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female’ (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.

There is also the recommendation at the end of the chapter for students to “go to Gospel Topics on LDS.org and search for ‘race and the priesthood'” to learn more about the priesthood ban (p. 545).

7. Finally, in discussing section 77 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the manual straightforwardly says, “The 7,000 years [in vv. 6–7]  refers to the time since the Fall of Adam and Eve. It is not referring to the actual age of the earth including the periods of creation” (p. 280).

I am sure there is more that could be said about the new manual, but suffice it to say from the above examples that the Church is implementing productive measures towards introducing these sort of issues in a faith-promoting, safe, and positive environment (seminary). This will hopefully serve to “inoculate,” to use the popular metaphor, seminary students against the often highly debatable claims and negative information one can currently find on the Internet. While one might perhaps quibble over how certain issues are addressed in the new manual, that there is even a discussion at all in Church curriculum is, in my estimation, a step in the right direction.

4th Watch 12: Too Serious or not Serious Enough

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4thWatch SmallHow serious do we take the gospel of Jesus Christ?  How serious do we take ourselves in relation to the gospel of our Savior?  Sometimes we can get caught up in the thick of thin things and overlook the weightier matters.

In this podcast brother Scarisbrick reviews a article done by Robert Kirby, a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper.  The article is entitled “Is it worse to be too serious or not serious enough?”  Brother Kirby was also a speaker at the FairMormon conference this past August 2013.  You may read his article from the Salt Lake Tribune  here.

The “Kirb” is somewhat of a colorful character compared to your standard and average Mormon.  His rating for “light-minded” refers to lack of seriousness regarding sacred things.  It’s a class C Church misdemeanor in modern Mormonism.  Light-mindedness was probably a felony during Brigham’s Young’s day.  Brother Ned explores how we see this gospel principle from several perspectives

Book Review: Letters to a Young Mormon

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Title: Letters to a Young Mormon
Author: Adam S. Miller
Publisher: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
Genre: Religion – Faith
Year Published: 2014
Number of Pages: 78 pages
Binding: Paperback
ISBN-10: 0842528563
ISBN-13: 978-0842528566
Price: $9.95

Reviewed by Trevor Holyoak

This is the first book in a new “Living Faith” series from the Maxwell Institute. While reading it, I struggled to determine just who the “young Mormon” is that the book is aimed at. Is it for teenagers, or perhaps for 20-somethings? I think I actually understand it much better as a 40 year old father than I would have at a younger age, mostly due to the knowledge and experience I have since gained. Then I discovered, thanks to Amazon, that there has been a whole crop recently of books entitled “Letters to a Young XXXXX” (for example, Letters to a Young Contrarian by the late atheist Christopher Hitchens). Briefly looking at some of them, it appears that this book may have been loosely modeled after them. However I still question exactly who the intended audience is.

The book covers a wide range of topics of interest to Mormons, including agency, work, sin, faith, scripture, prayer, history, science, hunger, sex, temples, and eternal life. While I did find some new insights in some of these letters, much of what is contained is vague enough that any parent who shares the book with their teenage child may want to read it themselves so they can discuss it together. The chapter on sex, in particular, warrants this, as the only thing really clear in it is an admonition to avoid pornography, and then only for some of what I consider to be the right reasons.

I asked my two teenage daughters to read a couple chapters each. My 17 year old chose the chapters on history and hunger and thought they were too vague and wished the author had connected the dots. She is probably more familiar with some of the things mentioned (but not explained) in the history letter – such as “Joseph Smith’s clandestine practice of polygamy, Brigham Young’s strong-armed experiments in theocracy, or George Albert Smith’s mental illness” (page 48) – than many young LDS people her age because I have tried to teach her about some of the more difficult topics, yet she had questions about the usage of the word “clandestine” and about George Albert Smith. In fact, with that kind of loaded wording, someone picking it up off the shelf and glancing casually at the page might get the initial impression that it is anti-Mormon material. This chapter may provide an opportunity for a parent to teach their child how to find trustworthy answers for any questions that are raised.

On the other hand, my 16 year old (who doesn’t like to read and appreciated the shortness of the sections) read the prayer and the temple sections, and found she could actually relate to some of it. I think the temple chapter is one of the better ones in the book, and it was particularly timely for her because the material in it complemented what I told her in a discussion we recently had after she stumbled upon a critical video on YouTube.

There are a few other places in the book where I feel good answers are given to common issues. One example is an explanation for the seemingly unscientific account of the creation found in Genesis. The author begins by explaining that the Hebrews “thought the world was basically a giant snow globe. When God wanted to reveal his hand in the creation of their world, he borrowed and repurposed the commonsense cosmology they already had. He wasn’t worried about its inaccuracies, he was worried about showing his hand at work in shaping their world as they knew it” (page 53). Miller continues through the creation sequence as the Hebrews would have understood it, and then follows up by relating his experience in changing his point of view from a literal one that he retained beyond his mission to one that allows more for the scientific explanations of today.

In regard to some of the struggles we might have when learning about church history, he points out that “it’s a false dilemma to claim that either God works through practically flawless people or God doesn’t work at all…. To demand that church leaders, past and present, show us only a mask of angelic pseudo-perfection is to deny the gospel’s most basic claim: that God’s grace works through our weakness. We need prophets, not idols” (page 47).

Where Miller is clear on things, he excels by providing much food for thought and discussion. And in spite of its weaknesses, the bright spots in this book make it a worthwhile read for people who will not be troubled by its overwhelming vagueness, although I do believe a parental advisory may be in order.

FairMormon Frameworks 14: Mark Ashurst McGee Church History

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Today’s episode is an interview with Mark Ashurst-McGee.  He is an employee of the Church History Department.  He is also one of the editors on the Joseph Smith Papers project.

Bro. Ashurst-McGee received a B.A. and B.S. from Brigham Young University (BYU) in 1994, and an M.A. in History from Utah State University (USU) in 2000.  His master’s thesis on Joseph Smith’s religious development won the Reese History Award from the Mormon History Association.  His dissertation was on Joseph Smith’s early social and political thought, and won the Gerald E. Jones Dissertation Award from the Mormon History Association.  Through this training, he became a “specialist in documentary editing conventions and transcription methodology.”  BYU professor of religious education and colleague in the Joseph Smith Papers Project, Steven C. Harper, stated Ashurst-McGee “probably knows the field of documentary editing better than anybody that I know.”

Ashurst-McGee is a member of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Along with Richard L. Jensen and Dean C. Jessee, he co-edited the first volume to be published from the series, which was on the early journals of Joseph Smith. Released in 2008, the book became very popular and sold very quickly, prompting expanded additional printings. In 2009, it received the Steven F. Christensen Best Documentary Award (Mormon History Association) and a Special Award in Textual Criticism and Bibliography (Association for Mormon Letters).  Bro Ashurst-McGee is expected to edit future volumes of Smith’s papers.

http://josephsmithpapers.org/

Purchase Joseph Smith Papers Project Books

Joseph Smith Journals by Mark Ashurst McGee

The opinions expressed in this podcast and in the referenced books, presentations, podcasts and articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FairMormon.

Mormon Fair-Cast 185: Race and the Priesthood

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RussellStevensonIn this episode of the Mormon History Guy podcast, Kate Kelly Harline interviews Russell Stevenson (author of Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables and author of the forthcoming, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Documentary History of Blacks and Mormonism,  1830-2013). They discuss the meaning and ramifications of the LDS Church’s new statement on “Race and the Priesthood.”  Russell traces the origins, course, and trajectory of the Saints’ relationship with the black community and racial exclusion.

This podcast is posted here by permission of Russell Stevenson. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of FairMormon or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

FairMormon Frameworks 11: Brant Gardner Gift and Power

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brant-gardnerWe sit down with LDS author Brant Gardner to discuss his book  “The Gift and Power – Translating the Book of Mormon,” and ask him tough questions about the translation process. We delve beyond the surface to try to understand the context of Joseph translating using the “Urim and Thummim.” We touch on topics like Joseph’s Scrying or mystical use of the seer stone and skins of blackness in the Book of Mormon.  We also touch on the Meso-American Setting model for the Book of Mormon.

The opinions expressed in this podcast and in the referenced books, presentations, podcasts and articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FairMormon.

Grant’s Book is available here: The Gift and Power : Translation of the Book of Mormon

Mormon Fair-Cast 179: FairMormon Support Board

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FAIRMORMONSUPPORT.ORG

Welcome to our community! This is not just our community, but it is yours as well. It is a safe place for you to explore with others the questions and challenges that confront you as you live a life of faith as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are here to help you and to support you as you seek continued participation in the Church despite questions or doubts you experience.

No question or concern is off limits. We do ask however, that you approach every issue you face with an eye towards reconciling your questions with the faith you have felt in the past. Our goal is to help you regain, maintain, or increase your faith in the restored gospel. If this is your desire, this is place where you will find help in your journey.  Check it out now at  FairMormonSupport

Welcome Page

Faith Crisis 101

The opinions expressed in this podcast and in the referenced books, presentations, podcasts and articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FairMormon.

Egyptology and the Book of Abraham: An Interview with Egyptologist Kerry Muhlestein

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Kerry Muhlestein, associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

Mormon fascination with the ancient world stems largely from an exotic corpus of writings found in the canon of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One book in the Church’s canon, the Book of Abraham, which Joseph Smith claimed to be an inspired translation of some ancient Egyptian papyri, has captured Mormon imagination with a vibrant narrative involving the eponymous biblical patriarch, human sacrifice, far-off lands, divine encounters and a grand cosmology.

One BYU professor, Kerry Muhlestein, has devoted a good portion of his academic career (over a decade) investigating the saga of the Book of Abraham. Muhlestein, who holds a PhD in Egyptology from UCLA, is an associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU. According to his faculty bio on the BYU Religious Education website, Muhlestein “is the director of the BYU Egypt Excavation Project,” which has led successful archaeological digs in Egypt, and has academic expertise in fields including “Ancient Egypt, Hebrew Bible, [and the] Pearl of Great Price.” Continue reading

FairMormon Frameworks 10: Terryl Givens Crucible of Doubt

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Givens-TerrylTerryl Givens, is professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond, where he holds the James A. Bostwick Chair in English.  He is the author of several books including “By The Hand of Mormon” and has a book approaching publishing called “The Crucible of Doubt”.  Terryl has been part of a series of firesides given to helps doubters address their framework and talks to us today about Faith and Doubt and how we might better navigate these issues.

Terryl’s books can be purchased here

By the Hand of Mormon

People of Paradox

The God Who Weeps

Biography of Parley Pratt

and his talks

Letter to a Doubter

When Souls Had Wings

Lightning Out of Heaven

 

 

FairMormon Frameworks 9: Richard Bushman – Helping Those in Doubt

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RoughStoneRollingRichard Bushman, one of the foremost scholars on Joseph Smith and author of “Rough Stone Rolling,” sits down with me to discuss the experience of a faith crisis and how to support those who are in doubt.  He shares his ideas on what helps and what doesn’t and how we need to deal with the historical issues head on!

Read the 2008 article referenced in the Episode here – 2008 Joseph Smith and His Critics

Purchase his Book “Rough Stone Rolling” – Click Here

The opinions expressed in this podcast and in the referenced books, presentations, podcasts and articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FairMormon.