Many people know of Pres. Monson’s cabin up Provo Canyon at Vivian Park. His son, Clark Monson, reminisces about this on the pages of BYU Studies in “Rod Tip Up!” Kurt Manwaring talked with Monson about the essay. “When I was young, my family and relatives spent considerable time during summers at the family cabin in Vivian Park, Provo Canyon. Dad spent mornings and evenings fishing the Provo River. If we wanted to know where he was, we just walked the short distance from our cabin to the Vivian Park bridge. We could almost always see him fishing, mid-river, within a few hundred yards upstream or downstream of the bridge. It became a habit for my family and relatives to look for Dad whenever we happened to walk or drive across the bridge. If he was within shouting distance of the bridge, we’d call out to him and wave. He’d wave back. If we were driving across the bridge, we’d honk, and he’d look, recognize the car and wave to us. His figure was a regular presence on the river.” “I had started writing down some fishing memories with my Dad that I wanted to include in an essay. And 18 days after Dad died one of my former BYU geography professors, Alan Grey, passed away. Following Alan’s funeral, I was introduced to a friend of the Grey family. I shook his hand and he asked me if Thomas Monson…
Starting at the end of the 80’s a story came to be told of a Book of Mormon written in by Elvis Presley. Over the years people retold the tale, including in the pages of newspapers, inspirational speaking and the like. Even the Osmonds got into the tale, telling people of the King’s interest in the Church. The tale frequently grew in the telling. Elvis was investigating the Church during a period of unease in his life. His book was given by the Osmonds. He was taking the discussions. He investigated on an off for years.
Jana Reiss had up an interesting post last week where she suggested Mormons don’t know what to do with Paul as an apostle. In particular she claimed, “it’s discomfiting to realize that Paul’s apostleship was entirely of the self-proclaimed, charismatic variety.” I’d take some exception to this. A few brief thoughts.
One of the most interesting, most popular, yet also quite controversial elements in the Book of Mormon is Lehi’s and Nephi’s vision. Some readers might agree with the interesting part but be surprised by the controversial part. This is after all one element of the restoration that seems such a big part of our culture. The main problem some see is the purported dependence of the vision on the book of Revelation. Not only is the book of Revelation late – at least the end of the first century – but the genre of Apocalypse is a part of Hellenistic Judaism and Christianity. Nephi is from pre-exilic Israel and so some critics see this as an example of an anachronism in the text.
Scott Esplin is a professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU with a background in late 19th, early 20th century history and educational history. He recently published a social history of Nauvoo with Return to the City of Joseph: Modern Mormonism’s Contest for the Soul of Nauvoo through University of Illionis Press. The book covers not just the history of the city but how the different factions through history have viewed Nauvoo’s history. This goes up through present battles over how to define the meaning of the city. Most people know roughly the history up through the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum but a surprising number of people don’t know the rest of the story. Yet the is, according to Esplin, a fascination with what happened after the martyrdom. Kurt Manwaring has a great interview with Esplin on this.
RoseAnn Benson’s book Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith: 19th-Century Restorationists compares the two best known and successful figures in the broad restorationist movement of the 19th century. While those familiar with Latter-day Saint history know the relationship between the two movements, oddly in broader religious history only Campbell and his Disciples of Christ are considered restorationists. The book was warmly received and helped broaden the sense of restorationists as a more significant movement. Benson’s own background is ecclectic. She minored in history but her degree was in Physical Education and her first Masters was in Exercise Science. She then got a second Masters in Ancient Near Eastern Studies. She’s taught at BYU, George Mason University and UVU. Her new work which we’re focusing in on in association with 12 Questions is “Louie B. Felt, First General Primary President” published by BYU Studies. Felt is a neglected figure in Church history. Her history, brought out by Benson is fascinating. This is an interview that definitely is worth a read.
One interesting thing about most scripture is the gap between the texts we have the the prophets themselves. The Old Testament was heavily redacted and edited during the Hellenistic period to give us the texts we now have. As Nephi was taught, “when [the scriptures] proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord. […] [The great and abominable] have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.” (1 Nephi 13:21-29) This is a rather well known scripture and our basis for the importance of the Book of Mormon theologically. I want to delve into this scripture a bit more.
We’re happy to have an other of our co-posts with Kurt Manwaring with 10 questions with Thomas Alexander. Thomas Alexander was the Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr. Professor of Western American History at BYU. Alexander has had an illustrious career teaching at Berkeley, University of Nebraska, University of Utah and more along with 40 years at BYU. He just wrote the new Brigham Young biography Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith. I bought my copy last month but just started it a few days ago so I can’t say too much about it yet. This is the second recent Brigham Young biography with John Turner’s biography having come out in 2012. Alexander was rather famous in LDS history circles for his extremely well regarded and influential Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints 1890-1830. When he wrote that this transitionary period was very understudied. He is also one of the authors of the Historical Dictionary of Mormonism and the author of Utah, the Right Place: The Official Centennial History along with many other books and papers.
While it seems too soon to say the US is moving towards a more fully secular society like most of Europe, the tensions of the recent changes are playing out in interesting ways. The most recent kerfuffle is between the Catholic journal First Things and more traditional conservative outlets like National Review. Much of the debate is the typical tempest in a tea cup when journalists and pundits who generally agree have a public disagreement. I don’t want to get into the details of the David French vs. Sohrab Ahmari debate. Rather I want to use it to raise the question of the public sphere in general.
We’re happy to have an other of our co-posts with Kurt Manwaring. This is 10 questions with Matt Godfrey. Matt Godfrey is the editor of Zion’s Camp: 1834 March of Faith and is also a general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers. He has a doctorate in American history from Washington State University. Before working on the Joseph Smith Papers project he was president of Historical Research Associates, a historical and archaeological consulting company. He previously won the Smith-Petit Award from the Mormon History Association for Religion, Politics, and Sugar: The Mormon Church, the Federal Government, and the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company, 1907-1921.
Abortion has been in the news of late. Given the polarized times we live in, particularly those of us in the United States, it’s perhaps unsurprising that states are pushing extreme bills. New York’s passed a very liberal law at the beginning of the year making it purely a health care issue. Georgia, Alabama and a few other states effectively banning abortion with no exceptions for rape or life of the mother. Both sides are up in arms over what they perceive as extremism by the other side. I don’t want to get into the politics here – I’d say in many ways the focus of these laws is more symbolic. After seeing many Latterday Saint comment on these in various places, I thought a short primer of our differences from other Christian sects might be in order.
One of the big differences between our faith and traditional Christianity is over the question of Being. Being is one of those weird terms that confuses people studying philosophy. The idea is that “to be” whether within our conscious perception or out in the world has to have an origin. Within our materialist way of thinking about the world in contemporary western thought the issue is why is there matter and/or space. Sometimes well meaning physicists will trot out equations of basic physics and say that’s the answer. But that just pushes the question down a level. Where did those equations come from and why do they work? Asking these questions more or less pushes one into the traditional question of Being that often has strong theological overtones even when an atheist is asking them.
We’re happy to have an other of our co-posts with Kurt Manwaring. This is 10 questions with Quincy Newell. Newell is an associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College. She’s also the author of Your Sister in the Gospel: The Life of Jane Manning James from Oxford Press. James has been a focus of attention the past few years with quite a few things written about her and a well regarded film focusing on her interactions with Emma Smith. One of the great things in the last decade of Mormon history has been a close attention to the lives of early black Saints along with a closer understanding of racism in the Church. Newell was one of the historians who helped initiate this era in church history.
Let me state my priors on the honor code. I think it’s an important set of rules that really sets BYU apart from most other top universities. Yet simultaneously I worry the honor code office has been poorly run for decades. At least it sure seems that way from many reports I’ve heard over the years since I attended. While I think discussion of the honor code office and reforms is important, I think that far too many have muddled the difference between the rules of the honor code and the enforcement tactics of the honor code office.
I’m not big on religious holidays. I know some look at all the holy days of Catholicism or similar faiths with envy. I don’t. I’m definitely a minimalist when it comes to religious days. Yet since the first day I arrived in Utah it has struck me as odd how minor a day Easter is. Spring break never coordinates with Easter. Friday and Monday aren’t holidays. Very little religiously is done over Easter unless General Conference is on Easter. Why?
Now that the latest Church statistics are out everyone is putting up their analysis. I’ve not written a lot on statistics of late so I thought I’d retouch some of the topics I’ve discussed in the past. The short summary is that missionary effectiveness is up slightly but overall growth is decreasing, partially driven by birth rate drops. The year over year growth of the Church was only 1.21%. The lowest rate since the 1930’s and well below the 3 – 4% growth seen during the rise of the international Church.
We’re happy to have an other of our co-posts with Kurt Manwaring. This is 10 questions with Philip Barlow . Barlow is the Associate Director of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU. He’s written or edited a large number of books including Mormons and the Bible, The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism, and A Thoughtful Faith. He was also the Leonard J. Arrington Chair at Utah State University and a constant fixture at many symposia on Mormon topics. That position will now being held by Patrick Mason.
In some ways new discoveries about our modern scriptures have become much rarer of late. There was a burst of information and discoveries when I was young but that has definitely tapered off the past decade or so. Recent work that has pushed our knowledge forward includes discoveries about some of the content on the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon and the influence of Clarke’s Bible Commentary on the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. A more controversial discovery involves the grammar of early modern English (EmodE) in the text of the Book of Mormon. Some of these elements arise out of quotations or paraphrases of passages from the KJV Bible. However far more interesting are the many structures that aren’t in the KJV nor in texts from the late 18th or 19th centuries. Stanford Carmack published several papers on these structures including many at the Interpreter Foundation.
As some of you may have seen, the Church recently released two new doctrinal and historical essays. One is on Masonry and the other on Book of Mormon Geography. Both have a prominent “beta” in the upper left so they may be revised over the following months. LDS Living wrote up a bit on the Masonry article. I am going to assume most of you have read them. Here are a few thoughts on the Masonry essay.