RSC Blog Posts
POSTED BY: admin
Alexander L. Baugh
Professor of Church History and Doctrine, BYU
I was a late bloomer when it came to my pursuit of the study of history, and more particularly Mormon history. History was one of my least favorite classes in high school. It might have had something to do with my teachers, but nonetheless, I didn’t have much of an appetite for the subject at the time. However, while serving on my LDS mission in Virginia I began to feel the nudges that put me on the path toward the historical profession. During my mission I took the opportunity on preparation day to go to some of the historic places in or near Virginia—Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields, museums, the White House of the Confederacy, Monticello, and Kitty Hawk, to name a few. I learned a great deal and found myself wanting to know more. However, even after my mission, I was not yet converted to the study of history, although one of the first classes that I took at Utah State University after returning home was a Civil War class taught by Clyde Milner, a Yale graduate. Yet I remained content just to dabble in history from time to time while pursuing a degree in marriage and family studies.
I was well on my way toward completing my BS degree when I took a class at the LDS institute building from Kenneth W. Godfrey, Religion 341 (LDS Church History, 1805–1844). Godfrey had a definite flair for teaching the subject and he was well read. To supplement the class, he provided the students with a bibliography containing a number of historical articles published in BYU Studies, the Ensign, Journal of Mormon History, and the Improvement Era, which students could read before each class period. I soon found myself reading all of the articles he recommended on the reading list, and I even outlined the information that I learned. Godfrey’s class got me more and more excited about history in general, but more particularly early Mormon history. I subsequently enrolled in Religion 342 (LDS Church History, 1844–1877), followed by Religion 343 (LDS Church History, 1877–present). However, by the time I had finished taking these courses, I was well on my way toward completing my marriage and family degree; otherwise I might have switched my undergraduate major to history. Instead, I decided to remain in the field of family studies.
I graduated from Utah State in 1981 and moved on to teach in the LDS seminary program. While teaching at Viewmont Seminary in Bountiful, Utah, I learned that the BYU History Department was beginning an MA program in Western American history and I decided to look into the program. I met with Dr. James B. Allen, the department chair and the former assistant Church historian to Leonard Arrington. Professor Allen was reluctant to let me in the program, considering I was a non-history major had taken only a couple of undergraduate history courses. He informed me that before I could be admitted to the MA program I would be required to take several undergraduate classes, after which I would be evaluated. For the next year and a half, I took a number of courses, all with the hope that my performance would lead to my acceptance into the graduate history program. Things eventually worked out, and I was admitted. However, it was still four more years before I got my MA—two years to do the course work, and two years to write the thesis.
After defending my thesis I asked my thesis chair, Dr. Fred R. Gowans, if he felt that I had what it would take to get a PhD. He gave me some wonderful encouragement, and a year later I was admitted into BYU’s doctoral program in American history. It was a rough road, one much harder than I anticipated, but nine years later, at the age of thirty-nine, I received my doctorate. However, through my entire educational training, I felt that I was being led by a very kind and loving Heavenly Father and his Son, who made it all possible. I firmly believe that those who keep the commandments and strive to follow Christ’s example will receive the inspiration necessary to enable them to make the correct decisions that will help them be successful in the path of life that they pursue. President Ezra Taft Benson has written: “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their mind, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace” (“Jesus Christ–Gifts and Expectations,” Ensign, December 1988, 4). Recognizing the power that is in Christ, the Apostle Paul taught the Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).
I believe that Joseph Smith was called by God to bring about a restoration of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so for me, the study of Mormon history has been a deeply moving spiritual experience. Furthermore, I consider the history that I teach, research, and write about to be a sacred trust, and in my pursuit of historical truth I have attempted to interpret the history of Mormonism “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118) through what could simply be called “Restoration eyes.” And while I believe that non-believing historians have made wonderful contributions in the field of Mormon history, I am of the opinion that the best scholarship in Mormon history has been, and will continue to be produced by believing Latter-day Saint historians and writers—those on the “inside”—who understand the spiritual dimensions and workings of the Church and its leaders and members who possess the gift of the Holy Ghost, which enables them to tap into the higher source of knowledge and truth, the truth that God possesses.
Some time ago, I was discussing with one of my colleagues in Religious Education about the incredible amount of historical scholarship and literature that has been produced about the Latter-day Saints. To this he said something quite profound. “Yes, much has been done,” he remarked. “And yet, with all that has been done, what has been written is only a prelude. There is so much more to do.” Truly there is “much more to do,” much more to research, much more to write about. And the best in Mormon history is yet to be written. And I believe it will be written by scholars who see through the lens of faith the ever-unfolding history of the Latter-day Saints.
POSTED BY: Millet
I was sitting in a Sunday School class once when the teacher began to address the issue of comparing ourselves to one another. He warned of the hazards of doing so and then added, “We should never compare ourselves or our situations in life to others. If you must compare yourself to someone, then compare yourself to Christ, for he is our Exemplar.” I reflected on that comment for quite a while that day and found myself thinking, “Oh, we should compare ourselves with Christ. Well, that certainly makes me feel better! From now on I will lay my deeds and my puny offerings next to his, and then I can really get (and stay) depressed.”
The fact is, comparing just doesn’t work. Period. We will either maintain a constant feeling of inadequacy or cultivate an inappropriate view of our own importance. Neither is healthy. Even some of Jesus’ chosen disciples were tempted to seek for positions of prominence, and the Master chastened them with the words, “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:26–27; compare Mark 10:28–41). Jesus himself set the standard and abolished all forms of spiritual pecking orders when he, the greatest man to traverse earth’s paths, described his role as follows: “I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:27).
Andy Stanley put this all into perspective when he asked: “When you die, do you get to go to heaven if your good deeds constitute 70 percent of your overall deeds? Or does 51 percent earn you a passing grade? . . . Or what if God’s holiness and perfection outweigh his mercy and he requires that 90 percent of our deeds be good? Or what if God grades on a curve and Mother Teresa skewed the cosmic curve, raising the bar for good deeds beyond what most of us are capable of?” (How Good Is Good Enough? 45–46.)
While for Latter-day Saints, salvation is a family affair, coming unto Christ by covenant and carrying out the will of God is an individual undertaking. When it comes to standing at the bar of judgment, a summary of our lives (including our good deeds) will not be placed alongside anyone else’s. We are baptized one by one, confirmed one by one, ordained one by one, set apart one by one, and endowed one by one. And even though we kneel in the house of the Lord opposite the love of our life in the highest ordinance this side of heaven, the keeping of temple covenants and ultimately the matter of being conformed to the image of Christ is accomplished one soul at a time. We are all in this together. No one of us is exempt from the examinations of mortality or receives a bye in the game of life. We’re here to do the best we can. The quest for spirituality doesn’t entail our being xeroxed into the image of another human, but rather the quest to have God, through his Holy Spirit, make you and me into all that he desires us to be. Through the years and after the Holy Ghost has fashioned our hearts, after the Lord has educated our consciences, after the Spirit has matured our judgment and enhanced our wisdom, then “when [Christ] shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (Moroni 7:48; compare 1 John 3:1–2).
POSTED BY: holzapfel
This past month Andrew Lawler published an essay on the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Smithsonian magazine (“Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?” [January 2010]: 40–47). The media likes controversy, and Lawler highlights it in this interesting essay.
Since the first discoveries in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls have captured the imagination of the public, including Latter-day Saints. The importance of these textual discoveries on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea can hardly be overestimated. They open an important window onto the past, particularly for the period when the paucity of sources made it frustrating for scholars attempting to reconstruct the Jewish world during the intertestamental period. They also illuminate the world of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth, although it is doubtful that either of them spent time at the site where the scrolls were copied.
In the end, some 800 manuscripts were found in eleven caves near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Among them were the oldest copies of the Old Testament, except for the book of Esther. Additionally, numerous unknown texts were discovered at the site, increasing our appreciation for the complex and interesting world of Second Temple Judaism. Most of the manuscripts are written with square Hebrew characters (Aramaic or Assyrian script), but a few manuscripts exhibit what scholars call the Paleo-Hebrew script. The dating of the manuscript range from as early as 300 BC until just before the Romans destroyed the site in AD 68.
From the very beginning, many scholars believed those who collected, copied, and hid the massive library were the Essenes, a first-century Jewish sect known only, until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, by what other people had written about them. Scholars never unanimously accepted the identification, although a majority has done so reasoning that it as the best explanation for the documents and the site.
In the latest installment of the debate, some consensus has been reached. There is almost universal agreement that many of the scrolls found at the Dead Sea were not produced at the Dead Sea site. One of the current theories, highlighted in Lawler’s article, is that Jews fleeing the advancing Roman army during the Jewish War gathered at Qumran, a fort, and brought with them the writings they felt were sacred and important. This proposal suggest that “the scrolls reflect not just the views of a single dissident group [Essenes] . . . but a wider tapestry of Jewish thought” (p. 44).
If anyone ever wanted to get inside the world of academia to see how scholars deal with controversial topics, this essay will surprise and depress you as it highlights the intrigues of one such debate. In the end, the debate concerning who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls will continue to attract attention, but it will most likely never be resolved, leading us to consider the possibilities.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Hanukkah, the Jewish Feast of Dedication, begins this Friday night at sundown. The Hebrew word Hanukkah actually means “dedication.” The eight-day festival in 2009 runs from Saturday, December 12, to Saturday, December 19. It is a holiday period of considerable significance, both religiously and historically, to Jews the world over. But it should also be of some importance to Christians, including Latter-day Saints, for without the events celebrated in Hanukkah there would have been no Christmas.
Here’s the story: The ancient Jewish people in the land of Israel faced a grave threat when the Greco-Syrian despot Antiochus IV became king of the Seleucid empire in 175 BC. Syria controlled Judea at the time, but the Jews had been treated with tolerance by previous Syrian rulers. Antiochus IV, however, saw himself as a Greek deity in human form (he even adopted the name Epiphanes), and he set a goal to convert all the peoples of his realm to the worship of the Greek pantheon.
Seeking this goal with the Jews, Antiochus had his troops occupy Jerusalem and its Jewish temple, replacing the ceremonies that honored the God of Israel with pagan rites, and converting the edifice into a shrine for Zeus. The temple was defiled. Pigs were slaughtered on its altar by false priests in acts of disdain for the law of Moses and Jewish values.
Jewish religion in general was outlawed. The scriptures (books of what we call the Old Testament) were confiscated and burned. Jewish ordinances and practices, such as circumcision and prayer to the Lord, became capital crimes. The historical book of 1 Maccabees reports that “the women who had circumcised their children they (the Syrians) put to death under the decree, hanging the babies around their necks, and destroying their families and the men who had circumcised them” (1 Maccabees 1:60). Had not something happened to change the course of Antiochus’ program of cultural genocide against the Jews, their religion and identity would have been obliterated within a few generations.
But something did happen. In 167 BC, inspired by an Aaronic priestly family known as the Hasmoneans, the people of Judea revolted against the Syrian occupiers. Their war of independence was led by a Hasmonean priest known as Judah Maccabee. Often called the Hasomonean Revolt, or alternatively the Maccabean Revolt, the insurrection gained strength and was ultimately successful in repulsing the Syrian forces. By the winter month of Kislev (around our December) in 164 BC, the Jewish freedom fighters had recaptured Jerusalem’s temple mount, and liberated the temple from the pagan Syrians. As the war continued, the Maccabean forces eventually drove the Syrians out of the land of Israel.
Having freed Jerusalem, the Jews undertook to cleanse and rededicate their holy temple. According to rabbinic tradition recorded in the Talmud (TB Shabbat 21:b), when the Hasmonean priests entered the temple they found only one jar of consecrated olive oil to light the great seven-branched lamp (menorah) in the temple holy place for a single day. But anxious to rededicate the edifice, the high priest poured the oil into the seven cups on the menorah branches, and lit the lamp. The oil that was only enough for one day burned for eight whole days, enough time for new oil to be pressed and consecrated. This was seen as a miracle and a sign that God had been with the Jews in establishing their freedom and saving their religion and identity. The eight-day dedication period was celebrated by the Jews in Israel, and eventually throughout the world, each winter from that very year until the present, beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, and has always been known as festival of Hanukkah, the “feast of dedication.”
Modern Jews do a number of things in their Hanukkah celebrations. The first, and most important, is the lighting of Hanukkah lights. A nine-branched Hanukkah menorah (known in Hebrew as a Hanukiah) is the main instrument of the lighting. Small candles or vials of olive oil are placed in the arms of the menorah, one of which is elevated above the other eight. On the first night of Hanukkah, the elevated candle (known as the Shamash) is lit, followed by one other candle which represents the first day of Hanukkah. On the second night of Hanukkah, the Shamash and two candles are lit, on the third night three, and so forth until the eighth night of Hanukkah, when the Shamash and all eight candles are lit. The lit Hanukiah is placed in a windowsill each night so that all in the community can see that the Jewish family is celebrating the festival.
Other Hanukkah activities include the preparation and eating of foods fried in oil, such as potato latkes (spicey, fried potato pancakes) and donuts known as sufganiot. The frying in oil is a reminder of the miracle of the oil. The old practice of giving children coins to spend at Hanukkah has evolved into a gift-giving tradition for the holiday season. And children often play a game with a small, four-sided top called a dreidel. Sometimes Hanukkah is called a minor festival, but this is only because it is not mandated in the Torah (the scriptural law of Moses). In practice it is a major Jewish holiday period, widely celebrated and loved.
Those who celebrate Christmas each December may find it of interest to know that Jesus, who was genuinely Jewish, traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Hanukkah. The Gospel of John reports, “It was . . . the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch” (John 10:22–23). Jesus honored the Hanukkah festival the same way he honored the Passover and other feasts: he taught the people of his own divine identity and mission.
Christians also ought to consider this: If there had been no Hasmonean revolt, and if Jerusalem and the temple had not been liberated and rededicated—if Antiochus and the Syrians had succeeded in obliterating Jewish religion and identity—then there would not have been a Jewish village called Nazareth, nor would there have been a Davidic Jewish village called Bethlehem. There would have been no Jewish nation awaiting the coming of that Redeemer. The entire setting for the birth and life of Jesus of Nazareth would not have existed!
But, thanks be to heaven, there was a revolt, and the Jewish nation not only survived but thrived. And because of these events, the way was prepared for the first Christmas. It seems entirely appropriate at this season that we join in wishing each other “Happy Holidays.” Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to all!
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Guest blog by David Rolph Seely, professor of ancient scripture at BYU.
The Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur in Hebrew—is the most solemn and holy day of the Israelite calendar. It falls on the tenth day of the seventh month, and this year (2009) it will begin at sundown on September 27. Ancient Israelites prepared themselves by refraining from work as on the Sabbath, repenting of their sins, and fasting. The purpose of this day is described in Leviticus: “For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord” (Leviticus 16:30). The high priest performed a series of rituals, including washing himself, offering sacrifices, and taking blood into the Holy of Holies of the temple, where he sprinkled it on the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant. The power of the Lord to cleanse his people was dramatized when the high priest cast lots over two goats. One goat was designated as belonging to the Lord and was sacrificed by the high priest. The high priest took the other goat and transferred the sins of the people to this goat by laying his hands on its head. The second goat, called the “scapegoat” in English, was driven into the wilderness, symbolizing the cleansing of the people from the stain of ritual impurity and sin.
The book of Hebrews in the New Testament teaches the doctrine of the Atonement of Christ through the symbolism of the Day of Atonement. Christians believe that Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice to cleanse his people from their sins. Just as the high priest on the Day of Atonement, Jesus “by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:12). Because Latter-day Saints understand the Day of Atonement was part of the law of Moses fulfilled in Christ, we do not formally celebrate this occasion, but we do regularly take of the tokens of the sacrament as symbols of the power of the redemption of Christ to cleanse us from our sins and transgressions.
After the destruction of the temple in AD 70 the Jews were no longer able to offer sacrifice, and the celebration of Yom Kippur moved from the temple to the synagogue. Today Jews celebrate Yom Kippur as the culmination of the process of repentance that begins with Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the seventh month. For nine days Jews engage in personal retrospection and repentance, reaching out to those around them to confess their sins and ask forgiveness. On the tenth day, Yom Kippur, each individual solemnly presents him or herself before God in the synagogue in fasting and prayer seeking for divine forgiveness for their sins and shortcomings. In light of the absence of the temple, the Talmud prescribes the study and recitation of the biblical ritual described in Leviticus 16 on Yom Kippur. The meaning of Yom Kippur is eloquently expressed in Song of Songs Rabbah 6.11: “Just as a nut falls into some dirt you can take it up and wipe it and rinse it and wash it and it is restored to its former condition and is fit for eating, so however much Israel may be defiled with iniquities all the rest of the year, when the Day of Atonement comes it makes atonement for them, as it is written, ‘For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you.’”
One year my family and I experienced Yom Kippur in Jerusalem. There was complete silence in the streets throughout the day as all normal daily activities came to a complete stop. It was a vivid reminder of the need to take time, whether once a year, or once a week, to pause and inventory one’s standing with God and with each other, and to seek to find “at-one-ment” with the Lord through repentance and divine forgiveness.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Guest blog by Brent L. Top, professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.
A miracle occurs every August in Provo. I have seen it with my own eyes. In fact, I have been not only an observer but also a participant. The miracle is Campus Education Week. Brigham Young University is transformed almost overnight. For one week each year, classrooms usually filled with young adults are suddenly filled with gray-haired grandmas and grandpas, worn-out moms thrilled to have time for themselves, excited teenagers looking to meet new friends, and dads with wallets full of cash and cards to ensure that everyone has a good time. RVs fill the parking lots, and area hotels are full of families having a vacation, attending classes, concerts, plays, and activities. The class offerings vary as much as the age-groups, body shapes, and circumstances in life. For every student—whether a wide-eyed fourteen-year-old who has never been on a college campus before or a ninety-year-old who has never missed an Education Week (and usually doesn’t even stop for lunch)—there is something that can enlarge the intellect, strengthen the spirit, and comfort the soul.
This miracle is a reflection of Latter-day Saints’ deep commitment to continuing education—a commitment founded on the revelations of the Restoration and teachings of latter-day prophets. Continuing education has both temporal and spiritual benefits—benefits that enrich our lives on earth and bless us throughout all eternity. We are commanded to “seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom” (D&C 88:118) and to seek learning “in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God” (D&C 88:78). In addition, we are to learn “of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and perplexities of the nations . . . ; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms” (D&C 88:79). Our continuing education should be as much a spiritual quest as it is an intellectual or vocational one. The Lord has taught us that learning will prepare us in all things to magnify our foreordained callings (see D&C 88:80) and will rise with us in the resurrection and be to our advantage in the eternal worlds (see D&C 130:18—19).
In light of these scriptures, it is no wonder that education—formal as well as informal—plays such an important role in the lives of faithful Latter-day Saints. Our faith should propel us forward in the quest for truth and knowledge of God. “When all is said and done, we are all students,” President Gordon B. Hinckley taught. “If the day comes when we quit learning, look out. We will just atrophy and die.”
There is great potential within each of to go on learning. Regardless of our age, unless there be serious illness, we can read, study drink in the writings of wonderful men and women. . . .
We must go on growing. We must continually learn. It is a divinely given mandate that we go on adding to our knowledge.
We have access to institute classes, extension courses, education weeks, and many other opportunities where, as we study and match our minds with others, we will discover a tremendous reservoir of capacity within ourselves. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997], 302–3.)
Over the past twenty years, I have been one of many teachers at Campus Education Week. It is always a privilege to participate because I always gain more than I give. It makes me want to be better. My faith in the Lord and love for the gospel are always strengthened as I witness the August miracle—thousands and thousands of Saints from every part of the world who literally “enter to learn” and then “go forth to serve” as better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, grandparents, sons and daughters, and fellow servants in God’s kingdom. Because their lives have been enriched, they are better able to serve those around them for weeks and years to come. That is indeed a miracle.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Guest blog by Reid L. Neilson, assistant professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.
Pioneer Day typically invokes images of handcarts and wagons on the westward trail to Utah. Such a myopic view of our Church’s history, however, obscures the pioneering efforts of Latter-day Saints around the world. Thankfully, historian Andrew Jenson did all he could to expand the historical awareness of Church members—something we all should remember during this holiday time.
While working for the Church’s Historical Department in Salt Lake City, Jenson was sent by the First Presidency to tour the Church’s mission field outside North America. The intrepid Dane departed from Salt Lake City on May 11, 1895, and did not return to the City of the Saints until June 4, 1897. Over the course of his twenty-five-month solo circumnavigation of the world, Jenson passed through the following islands, nations, and lands (in chronological order): the Hawaiian Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Society Islands, Tuamotu Islands, Australia, Ceylon, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Italy, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Prussia, Hannover, Saxony, Bavaria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. He traveled 53,820 miles by a variety of steamships and small boats on water; his land conveyances included railroads, carriages, jinrikishas, horses, donkeys, and camels. Jenson became the first Latter-day Saint to visit all the existing non–North American LDS missions after the Mormon evangelization of the Pacific Basin frontier commencing in the 1840s.
Jenson preached the importance of record keeping in his many sermons and general conference addresses. “If it had not been for the writers . . . who belonged to the original Church, what would the doings of Christ mean to us?” Jenson challenged the Latter-day Saints on one occasion. “And if somebody had not recorded them and other beautiful sayings of Christ and his apostles, what would we have known of the ministry of Christ and of his apostles? We would merely have had some vague ideas handed down by tradition that would lead astray more than lead aright.” In other words, if not for the writers and historians of past dispensations, there would be no sacred history in the form of Hebrew and Christian scripture. The same would hold true in this dispensation, he often taught, if church members failed to keep contemporary ecclesiastical and personal histories. This spiritual sense of destiny, coupled with an unmatched work ethic and passion for history, shaped Jenson’s life and work. One merely needs to search the Church History Library catalog for works by Jenson to get a glimpse of his labors.
I have argued elsewhere that global LDS history is Church history. Latter-day Saints need to realize that much of our most interesting history has occurred abroad. We must remember that the “restoration” of the gospel occurs every time a new country is dedicated by apostolic authority for proselyting. In other words, the original New York restoration of 1830 was in many ways replicated in Great Britain in 1837, Japan in 1901, Brazil in 1935, Ghana in 1970, Russia in 1989, and Mongolia in 1992. Mormon historians need to refocus their scholarly gaze from Palmyra, Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake City to Tokyo, Santiago, Warsaw, Johannesburg, and Nairobi. These international cities and their histories will become increasingly important to our sacred history. These non–North American stories need to be told with greater frequency and with better skill. In this sense Jenson was a man ahead of his times. In the final years of the nineteenth century, the yeoman workhorse of the Church Historian’s Office had the foresight and willingness to dedicate two years of his life to documenting the global Church and its membership. As Louis Reinwand points out, “Jenson played a vital role in keeping alive the ideal of a universal Church. He was the first to insist that Mormon history include Germans, Britons, Scandinavians, Tongans, Tahitians, and other national and cultural groups, and that Latter-day Saint history should be written in various languages for the benefit of those to whom English was not the native tongue” (“Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Historian,” BYU Studies 14, no. 1 [Autumn 1973]: 44).
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Latter-day Saints are fond of quoting a phrase from modern revelation, “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). From the beginning of the Restoration in the 1820s, a common theme of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s religious quest was to seek knowledge, light, and understanding. When he went into a grove of trees near his home to pray in the spring of 1820, Joseph Smith was impelled by his trust in the biblical promise found in James 1:5 that he could find wisdom if he sought it. This prayer resulted in the First Vision, in which Joseph saw the Father and the Son—beginning a spiritual sunrise unexpected by men and women of Joseph’s own day, but anticipated by prophets and apostles of old (see Acts 3:20–21).
Gospel truths continued to roll forth through the young prophet as he personally sought wisdom from God. Interestingly, Joseph Smith not only prayed for such wisdom but also studied the word of God and the languages of the biblical world (for example, Hebrew and Egyptian), practicing the command to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” His example in this two-part effort set a pattern for Latter-day Saints that continues to challenge us today.
Recently, there has been an explosion of self-help books for “dummies” or books to make something easy. With less time in a busy world, we often look for a quick fix to our problems, even when it comes to scripture study. However, when applied to the scriptures these efforts, even though popular and well meaning, may not necessarily raise one’s understanding of the topic. My colleague Robert J. Millet opined sometime ago that we need the scriptures to be understandable, not easy. I do not believe that he was playing a semantic game but that he was identifying an important difference between the two approaches.
Fortunately, Joseph Fielding McConkie, professor emeritus of ancient scripture at BYU, helps us in making the scriptures more understandable with his latest book, Between the Lines: Unlocking Scripture with Timeless Principles (Honeoye Falls, NY: Digital Legend, 2009).
What I like most about this book is that it forced me to think about how we read and study the scriptures. Sometimes in order to focus our thoughts, it is important to consider how and why we do a routine thing such as studying the scriptures. McConkie is not interested in “procedures,” such as what color of pencils one use to mark the scriptures or whether one should mark the scriptures at all. His goal is to enhance our study by providing “timeless principles that facilitate sound scriptural understanding” (viii).
The book contains more than just ideas about scripture understanding. There are also concrete suggestions. For example, the author suggests that we take advantage of “various study Bibles” (29). He enjoys “the help of an Archaeological Study Bible, The Jewish Study Bible, The Catholic Study Bible, and a variety of Protestant study Bibles” (29) and even provides a brief list of such study Bibles in the section “Sources” (165–66).
There are some light-hearted moments scattered throughout the book as the author has some fun pointing out rather common practices that we have engaged in through the years that may in fact have diverted us from understanding the scriptures. It may be healthy to laugh at ourselves from time to time, especially when we consider that we all have likely endured our “fair share of scripture abuse” (viii). I recommend this book to all who want to improve the quality of their scripture study and teaching.
POSTED BY: holzapfel
Guest blog by Robert C. Freeman, professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.
Strike up the band, fire up the grill, and get to your favorite fireworks show. This month American Latter-day Saints will join the rest of the nation in celebrating the birth of the United States. For the past fifteen years, I have been involved in collecting stories of Church members who have served in the military (Click here to learn more: www.saintsatwar.org).
Latter-day Saints have a long history of patriotism to their individual countries, including the United States. Sentiments of loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution were espoused by Joseph Smith himself. He said, “I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on the earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights. The only fault I find with the Constitution is, it is not broad enough to cover the whole ground” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith [SLC: Deseret Book, 1976], 326). The Prophet’s perception of the Constitution’s need to be broader is insightful when one considers that he died well before the addition of such crucial constitutional additions as the civil rights amendments (thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen) and the nineteenth amendment, which extended the right to vote to women.
Today, American Latter-day Saints are as red, white, and blue as ever. Brigham Young University’s hometown of Provo boasts one of this nation’s biggest Fourth of July celebrations—the Freedom Festival. Of course, the influence of the Church stretches across the earth, which prompts us to consider some important questions—for example, what does patriotism mean in view of the global church? Certainly, we are obliged to maintain a proper perspective on patriotism. We celebrate because this is the land of our fathers and the land for our children. We embrace all that is good about our country and hope to make a difference in matters of freedom both at home and abroad. We espouse the principles of liberty and equality anywhere they are under attack.
Several decades ago, at the time of the bicentennial of the founding of America, President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of the militant tendencies of modern mankind: “We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching” (“The False Gods We Worship,” Ensign, June 1976).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks also warned of other risks of overzealous patriots when he said, “Love of country is surely a strength, but carried to excess it can become the cause of spiritual downfall. There are some citizens whose patriotism is so intense and so all-consuming that it seems to override every other responsibility, including family and Church” (“Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” Ensign, October 1994, 17).
Such teachings remind us of the need to refine our patriotism to ensure it is genuine and within the Lord’s bounds. True patriotism brings honor upon any nation in which freedom and liberty are embraced. Such liberties are needed in order for the kingdom of God to flourish among the Lord’s people. There is much to be celebrated about our blessed country and other countries that strive for freedom. Let the fireworks begin!
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).Older Posts »