Robert L. Millet Blog Posts
Publications Director of BYU Religious Studies Center
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Guest blog by Richard E. Bennett, professor of Church history and doctrine.
The success of the Protestant Reformation owes everything to the translation and printing of a book. Surely the efforts of such early martyrs as John Wycliffe and of later reformers such as William Tyndale and Martin Luther to print and disseminate the Holy Bible were indispensable to the ultimate success of the Reformation, also made possible by the previous invention of movable type and the printing press by Johann Gutenberg. No amount of book burnings those many years ago, which tried to destroy the power of the written word, could hold back the oncoming printed tide of religious change.
So, too, the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in large measure depended on the power and printing of another book. On this, the 165th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, it is appropriate to pause and remember its causes. Historians continue to offer a variety of immediate explanations: the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, Missourians anxious at extradition, Thomas C. Sharp and the issue of separation of Church and state, the intrigue of John C. Bennett and a cadre of other disgruntled former Latter-day Saints, plural marriage?the list goes on.
However, it may be instructive to remember that in Doctrine and Covenants 135, John Taylor, who was an eyewitness to the event, attributed it not to any one of these things but rather to the power of the pen?or press?specifically to the publication of two new books of scripture. As John Taylor stated, it was the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants that “cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth for the salvation of a ruined world” (D&C 135:6).
The published herald and evidence of the truthfulness of the Restoration was ever the Book of Mormon. More than any other factor, it was the Book of Mormon which distinguished the rise of the early Church of Jesus Christ and converted a foundation of loyal and devoted membership upon which the Church was built?and later thrived. Said Parley P. Pratt:
I read it carefully and diligently, a great share of it, without knowing that the priesthood had been restored?without ever having heard of anything called “Mormonism,” or having any idea of such Church and people.
There were the witnesses and their testimony to the Book, to its translation, and to the ministration of angels; and there was the testimony of the translator; but I had not seen them, I had not heard of them, and hence I had no idea of their organization or of their Priesthood. All I knew about the matter was what, as a stranger, I could gather from the book: but as I read, I was convinced that it was true; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon me while I read and enlightened my mind, convinced my judgment and riveted the truth upon my understanding, so that I knew that the book was true, just as well as a man knows the daylight from the dark night, or any other things that can be implanted in his understanding. (In Journal of Discourses [Liverpool: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1858], 193–94)
And even before Pratt met with Joseph Smith, he visited with his brother, Hyrum, who unfolded to him “the particulars of the discovery of the Book; its translation; the rise of the Church of Latter-day Saints, and the commission of his brother, Joseph, and others, by revelation and the ministering of angels, by which the apostleship and authority had been again restored to the earth” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985], 22).
“Parley Pratt’s experience with the Book of Mormon was not unique,” President Gordon B. Hinckley commented in much more recent times. “As the volumes of the first edition were circulated and read, strong men and women by the hundreds were so deeply touched that they gave up everything they owned, and in the years that followed not a few even gave their lives for the witness they carried in their hearts of the truth of this remarkable volume” (“A Testimony Vibrant and True,” Ensign, August 2005, 3).
And if the work of these two brothers?loyal to each other as they were to the message of Cumorah?began with the Book of Mormon, it ended with it. The final scripture the two men read together before they were shot to death in Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844, was not from the Bible but from the Book of Mormon.
The same morning, after Hyrum had made ready to go?shall it be said, to the slaughter??he read the following paragraph, near the close of the twelfth chapter of Ether, in the Book of Mormon, and turned down the leaf upon it:
And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity. And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore thy garments shall be made clean. And because thou has seen thy weakness, thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father. And now I . . . bid farewell unto the Gentiles; yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood. (D&C 135:5)
“He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!” (135:3).
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Guest blog by Kent P. Jackson, professor of ancient scripture.
This month we celebrate the 179th anniversary of something that most Latter-day Saints take for granted. It was in June 1830, just two months after the Church was organized, that the Prophet Joseph Smith began working on his Bible translation. Today we usually call it the Joseph Smith Translation—JST for short—but the Prophet himself called it the New Translation. The first nineteen pages, revealed between June 1830 and the end of that year, contain his revision of the first few chapters of Genesis. When the Pearl of Great Price was created in 1851, those Genesis chapters were included in it, and they’re still there today. It is the Book of Moses.
Is there anything new in the New Translation? Let’s take a look at just one chapter, the very first chapter of the translation, revealed in June 1830.
What we now call Moses chapter 1 is the text of a vision that Moses experienced before the Lord revealed to him the account of the Creation. It is thus the preface to the book of Genesis. This is one of the most remarkable chapters in scripture, and it is full of doctrines that set Latter-day Saints apart from all other Bible believers. Although Moses’s vision is a biblical event and takes place in a biblical context, there is no record of it in the Old Testament. It has no biblical counterpart at all. But it is one of the great gems of the Restoration—a real pearl of great price.
In this one chapter, we learn a lot.
Moses speaks with God “face to face” in terms that indicate strongly that God indeed has a face. We learn of God’s Only Begotten Son. As the Father speaks with Moses and teaches him of Jesus Christ, we are reminded in clear scriptural terms that the Father and the Son are separate divine beings. We also learn something of ourselves, that we—left to our own resources—are “nothing,” yet we are sons and daughters of God created in the image of his Only Begotten, endowed with enormous potential.
We learn about God’s glory, the celestial power that emanates from him and surrounds him. Humans must be transfigured to abide God’s glory, but Satan can only feign having it and possesses none of it himself. We see God and Satan juxtaposed in striking contrast, and we learn that Satan has a pathological need to be worshipped and seeks only his own interests.
We learn something of God’s power and of the awesomeness of his creations. Moses, enveloped in God’s glory, was able to see every particle of this earth and to discern every soul on it. He was even shown other inhabited worlds—worlds without number. He learned that Christ is the Creator of all those worlds, and he learned that God’s work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of his children who dwell thereon.
Needless to say, none of this was the standard fare of mainstream Christianity in June 1830 when the Lord revealed these things to Joseph Smith.
Indeed, there is much new in the New Translation. But that was only the first chapter.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
According to CNN, this past Wednesday, English added its millionth word. Academics argue that is not even possible to count the number of new words and that such announcements are more hype than substance. Nevertheless, everyone agrees that English contains more words than any other language on the planet and is growing rapidly each year. Chinese, for example, is estimated to have some 450,000 words—a distant second to English even with a conservative count. The Oxford English Dictionary has some 600,000 entries.
Today, some two billion people speak English. More documents, articles, and books are translated into English than any other language. One example, there are only about a dozen translations of Homer’s works into French. However, there are several hundred in English. English continues to be the language of business and the Internet.
One reason English is so pervasive is that it accepts new words. While many purists try to put walls around their language, English adopts and adapts words from around the world.
Another reason for its pervasiveness is the influence of the English Bible, which traces many of its words and phrases to translator William Tyndale. David Daniel, professor emeritus of English at University College London and Honorary Fellow of Hertford and St. Catherine’s colleges, Oxford, observes, “The English language, when Tyndale [1494–1536] began to write, was a poor thing, spoken only by a few in an island off the shelf of Europe, a language unknown in Europe” (The Bible in English [New Haven: Yale, 2003], 248).
Tyndale’s translation minted fresh words and phrases that still resonate with emotions. His command of English and the ancient biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek was remarkable, and his “gift to the English language is unmeasurable” (158). The King James Bible translators “adopted his style, and his words, for a good deal of their version” (158).
Several words or phrases he contributed include “atonement,” “Passover,” “Let there be light,” “I am the good shepherd” and “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Daniel notes the timelessness of this latter translation: “The simplicity of those seven words, in Saxon vocabulary and syntax, matching the original koiné (common) Greek, has continued since 1526, in almost all English Bible translations, in the twentieth century made in their scores, with only occasionally the substitution of ‘today’ for ‘this day’” (133).
Whether or not last Wednesday was a red-letter date for the English language, such an announcement draws our attention to this remarkably resilient language that is spreading to every nook and cranny around the globe.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
The book of Exodus preserves the Ten Commandments, including “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). From an early period, the meaning of the fourth commandment has been discussed and debated. Fortunately Craig Harline, history professor at BYU, has written a history of the efforts to set apart a special day each week. The book is titled Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl (New York: Doubleday, 2007).
Harline’s story begins on a particular Super Bowl Sunday, focusing on his ninety- year-old grandmother’s reaction to the televised event as the family gathered to watch it. She finally left the room wondering how society had arrived at this point. He reveals his concern too, but for a different reason. Harline recalls that he was “struck by the Sunday part of ‘Super Bowl Sunday.’ How did that happen?” (viii). The book answers that question.
The author is an excellent writer and a thoughtful observer of people and places, including texts, both ancient and modern. He not only tells the story and history of important words like Sabbath and Sunday but also weaves in the life experiences of real people who have attempted to make sense of special time—holidays and holy days. He provides word-pictures of life in the ancient Mediterranean basin; medieval and modern Europe; and nineteenth- and twentieth-century England and the United States.
Among the hundreds of insights, here are two that helped me reconstruct the past so that I could appreciate the present.
First, the creation of the “free Saturday afternoon” in England was the beginnings of the “weekend.” Many “countries adopted both the term and the [English] practice of a ‘weekend’” after World War I (217). This reconstruction of the week, from a six-day workweek, provided additional opportunities to rest and to engage in leisure activities. Some people claimed the purpose of a free Saturday afternoon was to allow people to do what they need to do on Saturday, leaving Sunday for worship and quiet meditation, the traditional English “quiet Sunday” (218). Instead, “those who wished to broaden the English Sunday held that, despite an increase in free time, new leisure opportunities and facilities were not enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to take advantage of them, unless these were available on Sunday too” (218).
Second, for some, engaging in sports on Sunday grew from a noble idea that sports “could be the bearer of moral virtues” like “team spirit, discipline, unselfishness, and more” (261). In one sense, participating (not watching) in “good games” was better than playing cards or wasting time in the pub, as one Englishman argued, “Our games keep us healthy, and mean abstaining from habitual drinking, late hours, etc.” However, participating in Sunday sports for some “meant more work for others” (261). This was specifically true following the shift from participating in sports to watching sports on Sunday.
Harline demonstrates that Sabbath practices continue to change over time, adding, “It seems safe to say that this process will continue: Sunday will change as the world around it changes.” Nevertheless, he opines, “It also seems safe to say that, whatever the changes, Sunday will retain its extraordinary character, however one might understand that” (381).
I have learned a lot from my colleague and will use some of the cogent insights in my Honors New Testament class when I teach the Sabbath controversies between Jesus and the Pharisees as recorded in the Gospels and when I teach the modern revelation (section 59) on the Lord’s holy day in my Honors Doctrine and Covenants class this coming fall semester at BYU.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk every day and then celebrate with family each evening at dinner. Several years ago during this special season, I was leading a group of BYU Jerusalem students on a field trip into the West Bank (known today as the Palestinian Territories or simply as Palestine). Nablus, ancient Shechem, was just heating up as one of the flash points in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so a BYU Palestinian security guard (all of whom were loved by the students) accompanied us as additional safety precaution for our trip into this Palestinian area. As we made our way back to Jerusalem, the students were surprised when he pulled out his lunch and began to eat it. As he looked around with a sandwich in one hand, he said to the shocked students, “Hey, I’m Christian!” It had not dawned on them that any of the security guards could have been Christians; they were simply assumed to be Muslims.
My experience as tour director to the Holy Land is that most North American tourists assume that all Palestinians or Arab-Israelis are Muslims. Truly the Arab Christians are “the forgotten faithful” (see “The Forgotten Faithful: Arab Christians,” National Geographic, June 2009, 78–97). Surprisingly, in 1914 more than 26 percent of the population living in what is known today as Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian territories, and Syria were Christian (87). Not too long ago, Palestinian Christians constituted the majority in Bethlehem, representing about 80 percent of the population. Today they make up about 10 percent of what is now decidedly a Muslim city. The decline in Bethlehem, as well as Nazareth, parallels what has happened in the entire region, where Christians now constitute less than 9 percent of the total population. Ironically, today, much of the West views these Christians suspiciously, and at the same time they are increasingly marginalized and even forced to convert or flee by their Muslims neighbors. They are between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
It may be interesting to note that there have been many well-known Christians from the Middle East or Middle Eastern descent. For example, Abdalá Jaime Bucaram Ortiz, Lebanese Catholic president of Ecuador (1996–97); John Sununu, Palestinian-Lebanese Greek Orthodox Christian U.S. political leader; Carlos Ghosn, Lebanese Maronite Christian CEO of Nissan and Renault; Hanan Ashrawi, Anglican Palestinian activist and spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority; Paul Anka, Syrian Christian U.S. pop singer; Salma Hayek, Lebanese-Mexican Roman Catholic actress; Azmi Bishara, Arab-Israeli Greek Orthodox member of the Israeli Knesset; and Tony Shalhoub, Lebanese Maronite Christian and Emmy Award-winning TV star of Monk.
A few more experiences in the Middle East reveal the unique situation that Middle Eastern Christians find themselves in today.
In a private conversation with a Palestinian Christian friend several years ago, he told me he did not like living under Israeli occupation but he feared that if the Palestinian established their own nation, it would become an Islamic religious state. In what I can only describe as complete but composed despair, he added, “There may be no future for me and my family in this land,” a land where Christianity was born and a land where his family had lived for more than five hundred years as Christians.
During a tour of the Holy Land five or six years ago, several participants talked to a Palestinian during one of our rest stops. Apparently, the brief discussion had begun with a few harmless questions about his opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, as they talked with him, it became clear that they supported the current policies of the political state of Israel, including the expansion of the Jewish settlements into Palestinian lands of the West Bank. As I drew nearer, they asked him, “Why don’t the Palestinians just move to Jordan and allow Israelis to have their own country?” They apparently assumed that Palestinians did not have the same kind of historical connection or claims to the land that Jews did—that the Palestinians, as Muslims, were aliens and foreigners in the Holy Land.
These tourists were surprised when he responded, “Why don’t you Americans think or care about us, your Christian brothers and sisters? Aren’t we followers of Jesus like yourselves? Aren’t Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, and Jerusalem sacred to us too?” Then he revealed himself as a Palestinian Christian—not a Palestinian Muslim. They simply assumed, like my BYU students, that all Arabs or Palestinians were Muslims. They discovered in their conversation that his family had lived in the land for centuries and had been Christians far longer than their own families, who were most likely pagan peasants living in the backwaters of Europe when his progenitors accepted Christianity in the Holy Land nearly two thousand years ago. Somehow, it now seemed wrong to them that believing Christians who had lived in the land for so long were persecuted, driven, and marginalized by competing political, economic, and religious ideologies of the region.
This month’s National Geographic article on Middle Eastern Christians is a great introduction to their story, highlighting an important insight to the conflict that may not be as familiar to us as it should be. In the end, it is all a lot more complex than we generally assume.