New Context for Joseph Smith’s Revelations

POSTED BY: holzapfel


BYU hosted the Thirty-Seventh Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium on campus, 

“The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context” this past weekend (24-25 October 2008). It was a beautiful fall weekend in Provo!

Named in honor of Sidney B. Sperry, a well-known and respected BYU Religious Education faculty member who taught from 1932 until 1969, the symposium focuses on the Gospel Doctrine topic for the upcoming year. As a result, this year’s symposium highlighted the Doctrine and Covenants, the “capstone” of the Church. This is one of the strongest volumes in the series and features new insights from the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Elder C. Max Caldwell, released Seventy and former Doctrine and Covenants teacher at BYU, was the keynote speaker on Friday evening. The remaining sessions on Friday and Saturday were held in the Joseph Smith Building (JSB) and the Martin Building (MARB). For those who missed this opportunity this past weekend, we have printed selections from the conference in our newest RSC publication, The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2008).

Andrew H. Hedges, J. Spencer Fluhman, and Alonzo L. Gaskill, the volume editors, provided thoughtful essays—fresh insights to the story behind the revelations and revealing analysis of the doctrinal content of several Joseph Smith revelations. You will not want to miss Robert J. Woodford’s essay, “Discoveries from the Joseph Smith Papers Project: The Early Manuscripts” or Steve Harper’s article, “All Things Are the Lord’s: The Law of Consecration in the Doctrine and Covenants.” Both contributions force us to rethink what we have thought about before on these subjects because the authors have moved the boundaries of knowledge with their meticulous efforts. Personally, I think J. B. Haws’ article, “Joseph Smith, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Section 76,” has provided a definitive response to our critics who have attempted to demonstrate the influence of the eighteenth-century Swedish visionary Emanuel Swedenborg on Joseph Smith. Finally, Grant Underwood’s contribution to the volume, “The Laws of the Church of Christ” is amazing—he gently gets us back to the original setting by providing a detailed analysis of the text, “offering insight into the revelatory process that produced the canonical texts” (p. 135). I will never teach my Doctrine and Covenants classes the same after this symposium.

The Sperry Symposium is always a marvelous opportunity to “teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118).

It’s a classic!

POSTED BY: holzapfel


Book of Mormon

Book of Mormon

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines a classic as “having lasting significance or worth; enduring” or “a work recognized as definitive in its field.” Until the second half of the twentieth century, anyone interested in building a library of classic books from the past would expect to find them in expensive bookstores. Such books were usually bought by academics, book collectors, or wealthy individuals who could afford not only leather-bound books but also a library to house them.

In 1946, the owner of Penguin Books, Allen Lane, decided to release the first book in a new series, “Penguin Classics.” Translated by E. V. Rieu, the book was truly a classic, Homer’s Odyssey. The series produced modern translations of the classics in paperback editions, making them affordable and readable for a new generation of people. Over the years more than 1,300 titles have become part of the now world-famous series.

The most recent addition to the Penguin Classics series is The Book of Mormon (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), with an introduction by Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, a well-known academic observer of Mormonism and associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Penguin Books chose to republish the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon because it “was the last of three revision undertaken by Joseph Smith Jr. . . . before his death in 1844” (vii). This reader-friendly edition replicates the 1840 edition, which had no verses, few chapter divisions, and none of the student helps in modern editions, such as footnotes and chapter summaries. As I began reading it today, I felt like one of the early Saints who read the book in full-page narrative style, which provided a different kind of experience.

Since 1830, the story of the book’s origins, the historical and cultural context of the narrative itself, and the book’s message have become part of a large and rather sophisticated discussion at all levels. Scholars–both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and those of other faith traditions–have read it, studied, and written about it.

The BYU Religious Studies Center, established in 1975 by Jeffrey R. Holland, has been involved in that discussion, sponsoring conferences and publishing articles and books on the Book of Mormon that have helped many appreciate in new ways this “marvelous work and a wonder.” I hope you will join us in a journey of discovery as we continue to fulfill Elder Holland’s vision, which he recalled in 1986, “When the Religious Studies Center was established at Brigham Young University in 1975, it was intended to facilitate not only the University’s commitment to religious studies but was also to serve those same interests among the general membership of the Church.”