Miller Eccles Study Group – Texas Edition: Neylan McBaine & the Hidden Beauty of the Gospel

At the end of Roger Scruton’s controversial documentary Why Beauty Matters, the British philosopher arranges a performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in the St. Pancras railway station. The 13th-century hymn depicts the grieving Mary at the crucifixion of Jesus: “Stabat mater dolorosa juxta Crucem lacrimosa, dum pendebat Filius/At the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to her Son to the last.” Pergolesi himself was suffering from tuberculosis when he composed his rendition in 1736 and passed away soon afterwards. Prior to the St. Pancras performance, there is a segment in which Scruton and the singers discuss the impact of the piece:

Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton

James Bowman (Tenor): “Even a completely unmusical person would get the message that it is a piece of grieving, wouldn’t they? There could be no possible doubt about that.”

Scruton: “The music takes over the words and makes them speak to you in another language in your own heart.”

Catherine Bott (Soprano): “It means that today in our secular world it can delight and move without people having to know what it’s about.” 

Scruton: “We learn without the theological apparatus that there is thing called suffering and that it is at the destiny of all of us, but also is not the end of all of us.”

As the documentary ends, the camera focuses on the various faces of those who have stopped to listen in the station while Scruton’s voice-over summarizes the film’s message. Based on what is seen onscreen, several people stopped and were visibly touched. But the majority moved along.

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Did Joseph Use a Bible in Compiling the Book of Mormon?

The Book of Mormon often quotes the King James Bible. It even reproduces entire chapters from Isaiah, Malachi, and Matthew. Historians disagree as to how these Bible passages came to be in the text.

Some believe Joseph Smith dictated these lengthy quotations either by revelation or a prodigious feat of memory, without looking at a Bible. After all, his wife Emma testified in 1879 that Joseph “had neither manuscript nor book to read from” while he dictated the Book of Mormon.[1] And several witnesses to the translation said Joseph dictated with his head in a hat.[2]

A rival view is that when Joseph and Oliver encountered lengthy quotations from the “brass plates,” they copied from the King James Bible as a shortcut. They may have felt there was nothing wrong with this so long as Joseph examined the King James text and corrected its errors. When Emma denied that Joseph had used a book or manuscript, she may have meant only to deny the persistent rumor that he had plagiarized a novel. Or she may have just fibbed. She certainly told other lies, such as that Joseph had never practiced polygamy and never quarreled with her, or that he hadn’t forbidden her to view the plates but she’d never felt curious enough to peek.[3]
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The Swords of Damocles, Laban, and the Lord

According to legend, the ancient Syracusan tyrant Dionysius II had a flatterer named Damocles. One day Damocles praised the king’s luxurious lifestyle. The king asked, “So, Damocles, since this life delights you, do you wish to taste it yourself and make trial of my fortune?” Damocles eagerly accepted. So Dionysius placed Damocles on a golden couch, surrounded by delicious food and beautiful servants.

But when Damocles looked up, he found a sword suspended above his head, dangling from its pommel by a single horse hair. Poor Damocles found it impossible to enjoy his good fortune and begged to return to the life of a humble flatterer. Dionysius’s point—pun intended—was that kingship is dangerous and stressful business.

A Greek Myth in the Book of Mormon

I’ve long been intrigued by apparent allusions to this myth in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s revelations. The earliest example comes from a revelation dated March 1829, which warns “this generation” that “the sword of justice hangeth over their heads, and if they persist in the hardness of their hearts, the time cometh that it must fall upon them.”[1] Continue reading “The Swords of Damocles, Laban, and the Lord” »

Ezra Taft Benson chronology: Early battle against communism

Ezra Taft Benson Chronology (Part III): May 22, 1961 to October 7, 1963 (Apostle; post-Secretary of Agriculture; pre-2nd European Mission; early John Birch association)


After his service in the Eisenhower administration, Ezra Taft Benson became an avid anti-communist crusader, adopting the philosophies and approach of the far-right John Birch Society. He expounded Birch society thought mixed with church teaching about free agency, calling for a patriotic defense of freedom.

Benson used his position as an apostle to promote the society and its ideas. President McKay shared Benson’s concern about communism, but wanted to avoid any appearance of church endorsement of outside organizations.

Ezra Taft  Benson

Ezra Taft Benson

Benson saw communist influence spreading throughout American society, including through civil rights leader Martin Luther King, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and others. Benson spoke out against these threats despite opposition by the First Presidency counselors and some members of the Quorum of the Twelve. Tensions increased among Mormon Birch society advocates, and those who felt they were overreaching. This tension spilled into Mormon congregations, the floor of the congress, and finally with President Dwight D. Eisenhower — much in the spotlight of the national media. Continue reading “Ezra Taft Benson chronology: Early battle against communism” »

Review: ‘Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan’

Review of Adam S. Miller, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (2015).


When I heard about Adam’s new book, I was excited. The length and structure sounded like Paul’s letter to the Romans meets Letters to a Young Mormon. It was only after I began reading it on my flight home from Washington, D.C. that I realized the book was literally a paraphrase of Romans. For whatever reason, I had expected (hoped for?) a brief commentary on Romans. But this was instead a kind of translation (in both the literal and Joseph Smithian sense of the word). My heart sank. On top of this, red flags began to go off in the historical criticism-loving portion of my brain when I read, “But Paul’s work is too important, his good news too urgent, to leave so much of him locked in the first century” (pg. 2, italics mine). My first thought was, “Don’t do it, Adam. Don’t Frenchify Paul.” Paul, I was convinced, should be locked into a 1st-century context because that is the only way we will determine what he is actually saying and thus know what to actually apply in our day and age. While I’m more than fine with creating theology based on a text without being necessarily constrained by the hermeneutics of historical criticism, I’m very uncomfortable with the blurring of those lines.

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Ezra Taft Benson chronology: Secretary of Agriculture

Ezra Taft Benson Chronology (Part II): Nov 5, 1952 to January 20, 1961 (years as Secretary of Agriculture)


Early in life, Benson was a county agricultural agent and then became involved in various farming enterprises which gave him the experience that lead to his invitation to be the secretary of agriculture in the Eisenhower administration. After consulting with David O. McKay, Benson accepted the appointment where he worked towards a free market economy for agricultural goods, lessening government price controlling measures that protected farmers. Benson’s “get big, or get out of farming” approach made him unpopular among small farmers, who sometimes threw eggs at him. He had limited success in his efforts and eventually the gains he had made were overturned by a democratically controlled congress.

bensonEisenhower appointed Benson as the leader of the secret “Eisenhower Ten” – a group that would run the country in the event of a national catastrophe. Eisenhower eventually distanced himself from Benson when trying to help Nixon get elected. At one point, McKay privately told Eisenhower that if Benson became enough of liability, he (McKay) would extend a calling to Benson to take him out of Washington D.C.

Benson was considered by some to be the most controversial member of Eisenhower’s cabinet, and by others – the most influential. Near the end of his term, his role expanded beyond that of agriculture, and he became a voice on the ideological right of the political spectrum. Continue reading “Ezra Taft Benson chronology: Secretary of Agriculture” »

Ezra Taft Benson chronology: Early life, call to Apostleship & WWII Relief Mission

This year’s Relief Society/Priesthood manual (2015) covers the teachings of Ezra Taft Benson. In conjunction with this topic, I’ve assembled a lengthy chronology of the life of Ezra Taft Benson — a driven man who lived a very dynamic and interesting life.Ezra Taft Benson

Because of the overall length of the chronology, I’ve separated it into several smaller chronologies, covering specific segments of his life, They will be posted separately over the next couple of months.

Posted chronologies:

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JWHA Conference Call for Papers

Do you love church history? Visit the annual John Whitmer Historical Association meeting at Independence, Missouri, September 24–27, 2015. Listen to presentations and discuss historical events with knowledgeable authors like Erin Metcalfe, Newell Bringhurst, Joseph Johnstun, and many more.  Even better, propose your own paper and present your research on a topic pertinent to the Restoration. The proposal deadline is April 1, 2015. Directions for submission can be found here: We would love to see you there!

This Forgotten Restoration Will Sound Amazingly Familiar—Except for the Female Prophets

The Banazova Plateau, site of the New Jerusalem

The Banazova Plateau, site of the New Jerusalem

The prophet drew opinions the way a sweaty horse draws flies. Some reverenced him as God’s sainted mouthpiece, while others called him heretic, madman, and scoundrel. Critics charged that he added to the scriptures, taught a heretical notion of the godhead, and generally had the odor of the devil about him.

Mad he may have been, but people craved his sort of madness. He reintroduced prophetic authority to a Christian world out of touch with apostolic power. Spurned by traditional churches, he established his own and appointed two other prophets to help lead it. Together, the three dictated new scriptures in the divine first person and canonized them alongside the Bible.

Restorers rather than innovators, the Three placed themselves in a line of prophetic succession dating back to New Testament prophets. First in line stood Agabus (Acts 11:28), then Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32), then the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9). Next came Quadratus and Ammia, whose deaths interrupted the succession. In the revelations to the Three—Montanus, Priscilla, and Maximilla—the line was renewed. And yes: like Philip’s daughters before them, Priscilla and Maximilla were female. Even the eunuch Montanus lacked a certain male quality.

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Denver Snuffer and an Emerging Mormon Mysticism

Tim Malone

Tim Malone

Tim Malone was a long-time member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A Latter-day Saint who served as a member of the Stake High Council, went on a mission, and was married in the Temple. From all outward appearances it seemed as if Tim was a typical Mormon who attended Church, respected Church leadership, and made an effort to live a Christ-centered life.

In September of 2014 Tim resigned from the LDS Church.

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