Category: Book of Mormon

Theology in Alma

Just in time for us to study Alma in “Come, Follow Me,” the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk published an interview with Kylie Nielson Turley about theology in Alma. Kylie Nielson Turley wrote the Maxwell Institute’s brief theological introduction to the first half of the Book of Alma and has a lot of insights to share from her time researching and studying about Alma. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

Sherem the Native American

Despite keeping the name-title of the Nephite founder in their royal name, the outsized positive influence of that prophet-king and founder of the Nephites was clearly quickly missed. “The people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices,” Jacob lamented (Jacob 1:15). They began to be preoccupied with obtaining riches and indulging in immoralities. Realizing that the Jewish immigrants were just a fraction of the People of Nephi helps many more things make sense. After all, the multiple wives and girlfriends of the wicked Nephites were not just Jacob’s grandkids and nieces and nephews sinning with each other. 

Nephite Succession Crisis

It was a coup (or divine providence) that Nephi and his brothers Jacob and Joseph were able to assert themselves as religious leaders in this new land, spiritually guiding thousands who were already in the Americas. Emerging as the political leaders of this large, mostly non-Jewish People of Nephi was trickier. Nephi’s inspired leadership, however, was a tour de force.

“All Those Who Would Go with Me”

As the Lehites increasingly mingled with the locals, there eventually arose a division, accelerated upon the death of their patriarch Lehi. Part of Lehi’s family (led by Laman) was attracted to a hunting and gathering lifestyle. Likely, this way of life was common among the Native Americans they were interacting with in the Land of First Inheritance. Laman and his clique possibly saw this as the easier way to make a living and adopted the ways of the locals.

Lehi’s Thanksgiving

I envision Lehi and his family encountering some curious native villagers near their initial landing beach in the Promised Land. I can imagine that the first Native Americans to see these strangers from the Middle East sailing to their shores in a vessel larger than any canoe may have viewed them as gods. From Christopher Columbus in the West Indies to Hernando Cortés riding into Montezuma’s Mexico, it was natural for the locals to view these otherworldly newcomers as gods. The righteous Nephites would have dissuaded any worship or being treated like gods. Like Ammon later before King Lamoni, they would have denied that they were “the Great Spirit” (Alma 18:18-19). However, it would have been natural for this party of prophets and priests to evangelize to their new friends about the Lord who guided them there.

The Tribes that Greeted the Lehites

As we read the Book of Mormon, we will better appreciate its authenticity if we see its stories in the context of the Nephites and Lamanites continuously bumping up against Native American tribes who were already in the Americas. The Promised Land was not an empty land, as many throughout Church history sometimes imagined. In fact, our testimony of the truths taught within its pages are all the more powerful when we look at this ancient record with eyes wide open to the cultural world it actually took place in.

Atonement in the Book of Mormon

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is central to our faith and also central to the message of the Book of Mormon. What exactly, however, does the Book of Mormon say about the Atonement of Jesus Christ? In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Nick Frederick discussed Atonement in the Book of Mormon. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Missions and memory

People keep asking me for proof that the irritating tics in Mormon writing I’ve mentioned actually exist. In that respect, Taylor Kerby’s post over at BCC is useful in a couple of ways.

The Testimony of Two Nations: A Review

The Testimony of Two Nations: How the Book of Mormon Reads, and Rereads, the Bible by Michael Austin (University of Illinois Press, 2024) is a delightful and insightful venture into the ways in which the Book of Mormon interacts with the Bible.

“I Am” Statements of Jesus in the Book of Mormon

When Moses was called by YHWH, he asked the Lord, “when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” In response, YHWH said, “I Am That I Am” (Exodus 14:13–14). This type of “I am” statement is significant and has echoes throughout the Bible. A recent interview with Joshua Matson at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk highlighted the types of “I am” statements that are also found in the Book of Mormon. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Misinterpreting “Large in Stature”

By Mike Winder   When Nephi says he is “large in stature” does that mean he is merely “tall and muscular” or something else? Sometimes in the Bible stature means height, such as “a man of great stature” in 2 Samuel 21:20 speaking of the man born to the giant of Gath.

Come, Follow Me: Book of Mormon Resources

As Jonathan has been pointing out in his posts about Reading the Book of Mormon in wartime and Book of Mormon historical revisionism, we are only a few weeks out from starting the next year of the reading cycle. Come, Follow Me 2024, will focus on the Book of Mormon. We’ve had posts and discussions about what are some good resources in the past, such as the one David Evans put up about this time during the previous reading cycle that are worth looking over in preparation. But there are some good resources that are more recent that are worth discussing as well.

Book of Mormon historical revisionism

As we study the Book of Mormon next year, there will be suggestions to read between the lines, to resist the surface or official or dominant reading, to see through the authoritative narrative to the unvarnished reality behind it – like the standard works, these suggestions too come around every four years. The instinct is understandable, as that’s how scholars are trained to read, and a lot of us have different varieties of scholarly training – but attempts at historical revisionism are misguided.

Reading the Book of Mormon in wartime

Next year, the focus of scripture study in Sunday School and Seminary classes will cycle again to the Book of Mormon. Compared to previous years when the Book of Mormon has been the focus, war will loom larger in the background than it has since at least the 1960s, even including the messy realities of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2004.

Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates: A Review

Richard Lyman Bushman’s Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates: A Cultural History (Oxford University Press, 2023) is an important contribution to Book of Mormon studies. As a cultural history of the gold plates, the book traces the story of the plates and the translation of the Book of Mormon, reactions to the story and the development of folklore about the gold plates over the subsequent two centuries. It also discusses how the plates have been portrayed in artwork and literature, used in teaching programs in the Church, and some of the debates about the plates.  Even while visiting the story of the plates—as he has before in Rough Stone Rolling and Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism—Bushman provides fresh perspectives on the story. For example, he focuses on the idea that Joseph Smith may not have understood the purpose of the plates as a record that needed to be translated initially, rather than being a treasure. At first, Joseph Smith may have approached the plates with his treasure hunting in mind rather than a religious perspective. After all, the idea of a book-length record on gold plates wasn’t really something that was a common idea. It was only gradually, as he became acquainted with the interpreters and what was on the plates that he realized it needed to be translated. It was a perspective that I’ve not seen emphasized before (at least within my memory). As you read, you can tell…

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 12: Bautista’s Lamanites

While efforts to gather converts from central Mexico failed and the mission in central Mexico closed, there would still be future successes. Among the earliest converts in the 20th century in Mexico, the Bautista family would go on to have an impact on the Church for years to come, including the development of an indigenous-affirming perspective on Lamanite identity.

Translation theory won’t decide your polemic argument

One of the recurring irritations of reading apologetic, polemic, or scholarly work in Mormon Studies addressing Joseph Smith’s translations of ancient scripture is that the authors nearly always ignore the perspective of practicing translators and the field of translation studies, instead basing their analyses in simple notions of linguistic equivalence that may still prevail in graduate language exams, but that the field of translation studies abandoned as unworkable several decades ago.

Asking Questions About the Book of Mormon

A central question about the Book of Mormon that has been asked over and over again is whether it is an ancient document or a modern one. Despite being asked and answered by so many people, that question is still being argued and fought over and probably will be indefinitely. But what other questions are being asked about the Book of Mormon? In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Joe Spencer and Nick Frederick talked about some of those questions in a discussion about the field of Book of Mormon studies. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion.

Translation or Revelation?

I posted about Book of Abraham translation a couple weeks ago as part of a co-post on an interview with Stephen O. Smoot. This time, we’re looking at a different interview with Michael Hubbard MacKay, who had a different perspective about Joseph Smith’s translation projects. The interview on Book of Mormon translation is over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, so what follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

Antipus, a Forgotten Hero

This is a guest post by Brian Stubbs. The faith, feats, and divine protection of the 2,000 stripling warriors is a favorite episode for many readers of The Book of Mormon.  Yet a number of less-than-obvious details may muster even more admiration.  The people of Ammon were called Anti-Nephi-Lehi (Alma 23:16-17), likely meaning ‘those of Nephi-Lehi’ (Book of Mormon Onomasticon, online; Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now, Stubbs 2020, 101). The original adults covenanted never to kill again and were given protection within Nephite territories. With time, the Nephite burdens of war led to 2,000 Ammonite youths, teenage sons who had not entered into such a covenant, to volunteer for service.  These 2,000 striplings asked Helaman, the son of Alma the younger, to lead them (Alma 53:19). From Middle English, the word stripling basically means ‘skinny teenager’; its dictionary definitions include ‘youth’, ‘adolescent’, ‘boy’, ‘young man’, ‘teenager’, etc.  In earlier English, the -ling suffix referred to one of the category or quality of the preceding stem: compare yearling (one-year-old), underling (one serving under), hireling (one hired), earthling (one of earth).  It also often referred to the young of whatever species: duckling (young duck), gosling (young goose).  So stripling means one like a strip, a long narrow or slender youngster, not yet a fully filled out adult, though some of us overshoot the filling out part.  Perhaps only as a matter of interesting trivia, stripling warriors is one of our…

Loving the Book of Mormon Prophets without Accepting Their Prejudices: A Review of “The Book of Mormon for the Least of These, Volume 1”

A while back, a friend sent me an uncomfortable text. She is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but someone had given her daughter the old illustrated Book of Mormon Stories book, and her daughter came across the passage in Second Nephi when Nephi narrates that Laman and Lemuel’s descendants are cursed because of their wickedness and become a dark-skinned people. My friend texted, “We were wondering if there is some context missing that would make it seem less racist?” It’s a troubling passage for me and many other readers, but I finally had words to formulate a response, and for that, I can thank Fatimah Salleh and Margaret Olsen Hemming’s wonderful commentary The Book of Mormon for the Least of These: 1 Nephi – Words of Mormon, which the authors dedicated to “those who seek God and work for justice.” In this volume, Salleh and Hemming show a deep love and respect for the individuals in the Book of Mormon while also examining the challenges they experienced and how those may have colored some of their own perspectives, as in the passage referenced above. They invite us to not only consider the voices we hear and events we see but also those we do not: “Who is present but unheard? Who is suffering and why?” But they also invite us to question the perspectives of the narrators: “What are the assumptions this person…

Daniel Becerra on 3rd and 4th Nephi

Within the Book of Mormon, 3rd and 4th Nephi are arguably some of the most important portions of the book, with their focus on the in-person ministry of Jesus Christ among the children of Lehi and what followed because of that ministry.  Daniel Becerra, author of the book 3rd, 4th Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction, recently sat down with Kurt Manwaring to share some of his insights from the process of writing his theological introduction to the books.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview, with excerpts and some discussion, but if you want to read the full interview, you can head on over to Kurt Manwaring’s site here. Daniel Becerra is a scholar of early Christianity who is an assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU.  As he explained in the interview, his background played an important role in how he approached the Book of Mormon: “My training is in early Christian literature and my research focuses on moral formation, so I am very interested in how Christians understand perfection as well as in how they conform themselves to this ideal. I think the shape of my volume reflects this.”  He added: I … tried to situate the teachings of 3–4 Nephi within the larger tradition of Christian theological thought. I was pleasantly surprised at how much more I was able to get out the Book of Mormon when I started reading it in conversation with other…

“You shall obtain a view of them”

What were the three witnesses promised and what did they claim to experience?  The basics of answering this question seems obvious—they saw the gold plates and other artifacts related to them.  What is less apparent is how the Three Witnesses had that experience, since there are indications that they viewed the plates in vision, rather than experiencing them in a tangible way.  There is often a desire to make their experience out as being more materialistic than it was, perhaps as a result of conflating their experience with that of the Eight Witnesses, contradictory recollections of those who knew the witnesses, or a desire to have the experiences seem more real by being more physical in nature.  Whatever the case, it seems that the Three Witnesses saw and heard in a supernatural setting in a direct contrast to the experience of the Eight Witnesses, who claimed to have touched and handled the plates. Both early revelations and the Book of Mormon itself lay out the promises made to the three witnesses.  The earliest promise of a chance to witness the Book of Mormon was a revelation that was received in March 1829 (now D&C 5). The text states that: “three shall Know of A surety that those things are true for I will give them power that they may Behold & v[i]ew these things as they are.”[1]  Next, while translating Moroni’s writings in the Book of Ether, the promise was made to…

Pondering on Isaiah and the Abrahamic Covenant

For the past few years, I’ve tried to take some time each year to focus in on a specific subject related to the section of scriptures covered in Sunday School.  Last year, for example, I tried to scratch the surface of understanding Paul in the New Testament and look at some of how scholars approach him.  This year, I focused on understanding how the Isaiah texts are used within the Book of Mormon—particularly in Nephi’s writings.  I shared some very preliminary thoughts from studying Isaiah in 1 Nephi earlier this year, but since then I’ve done a lot more reading and thinking.  I think the most insightful book I read was Joseph Spencer’s The Vision of All, but I also enjoyed pondering on a few other books too. One issue that came up over and over in literature about Nephi’s use of Isaiah was his efforts to reaffirm the Abrahamic Covenant.  Nephi does say, after all, that the “marvelous work” of the Lord in the Latter-days shall be of worth “unto the making known of the covenants of the Father of heaven unto Abraham,” while he explained his interpretation of Isaiah’s words to his brothers.  He also stated that his “soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers” as part of his explanation for including the large block of Isaiah text in 2 Nephi.[1]  What is interesting to me, however, is that while…

A Soft Closing for the End of the World

Let it be said first off that I am a last days cynic. It’s not that I think many current ideas of apocalypticism are weird (I mean, I don’t just think they’re weird). I just really hate them. This is likely partly due to growing up in the 90’s right when apocalyptic fervor was still enjoying a level of mass popularity that put it up in the doctrinal hierarchy somewhere in between the Resurrection and not committing murder. I vividly remember sitting in seminary and Institute and Sunday School classes brooding, teenage-like, as I listened to lesson after lesson about all the cruelty and abuse and carnage hanging like a sword over our heads that was going to fall any moment now and there was nothing you could do about it except get food storage. (How food storage was going to help protect us from the nuclear war which was apparently imminent I did not know, but it seemed to make sense to people.) Since this was a time in my life that I was in desperately profound need of hope and comfort, hearing that God was going to unleash terror unlike anything the world had ever known but that it was for our own good was, needless to say, not super faith instilling. This got to the point that by the time I was an adult I had shut my eyes and ears to the last days. My heart…