Vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve

With the death of 86-year-old Elder Richard G. Scott, three vacancies have opened up in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Also recently passed away were 90-year-old Boyd K. Packer and 92-year-old L. Tom Perry.

Richard G. Scott

Richard G. Scott

The question of the age of the governing quorums of the church was raised last Spring when 87-year-old President Thomas S. Monson was unable to meet with visiting President Barak Obama. The average age of the two highest quorums (15 men) at that time was 80 — the highest ever in the history of the church.[i]

However, vacancies of three (or more) in the Quorum of the Twelve are not unprecedented in church history. In fact, it has been quite common, although for varying reasons. Continue reading “Vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve” »

Conference on Black Saints Coming Up This October

Black, White, and Mormon: A Conference on the Evolving Status of Black Saints within the Mormon Fold

October 8–9, 2015

In December 2013, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a new essay on Race and the Priesthood on its Gospel Topics page at  The statement was the strongest to date in distancing the LDS Church from its prior teachings on the status of black people within Mormon theology.  This conference seeks to offer a multi-disciplinary assessment of that status across time and space.  It seeks to explore the historical evolution of race based priesthood and temple bans, the historical roots of segregation in America and how it impacts Mormonism, the expansion of Mormonism into inner-city locations in the United States as well as the impact of race on Mormonism’s international reach. It will also consider the intersections between race and Mormon women, notions of social justice within Mormonism, the implications of race upon educational opportunities at LDS universities, and a discussion of how race plays out at the ward level. In short, this conference will talk about race and Mormonism as it seeks greater understanding and higher purpose.

All location and time details are included in the links embedded in this post.

Thursday Schedule

Continue reading “Conference on Black Saints Coming Up This October” »

Source Criticism and the Books of Moses and Abraham

Latter-day Saint (LDS) scripture is filled to the brim with biblical quotations, allusions, and echoes that tie back to earlier scriptural writings. The use and interpretation of scripture goes far back in the Jewish and Christian traditions,[1] and can sometimes be as difficult to untangle as the authorship of the books of the bible. It has been an integral aspect to the creation of new scriptural texts to rework and use earlier authoritative religious literature and it should not be too surprising to find a blog post dedicated to this area of study on books as important to the Mormon faith community as those in the LDS Pearl of Great Price.[2] Joseph Smith (JS) not only spent an enormous amount of time producing the books of Moses and Abraham, but they also became very important through their transmission process and gained new meaning and significance when they were both canonized during the October 1880 LDS General Conference.[3]

In this post I will look specifically at the Book of Moses (BMos). I will consider the Book of Abraham (BoA) in a subsequent post. I will look at each text through the lens of source criticism, since both of them are essentially two different revisions of the King James Version’s (KJV) Genesis text, we can therefore track the similarities and differences between each text and its sources. This aspect of the study of these two books is not new (nor would it be new to the Book of Mormon [BM]), but there are several important observations that have not been made up to this point that I think will be important for future discussions. Past studies have also lacked not only methodological rigor,[4] they have also been limited in their understandings of the wider field of source criticism. I hope to offer a few short notes that will help future discussions (online or otherwise) of the composition of these two important texts, and to keep the focus on the texts themselves.

Continue reading “Source Criticism and the Books of Moses and Abraham” »

How the Book of Mormon Translation Story Changed over Time

When Joseph Smith began the Book of Mormon translation, he acted in his capacity as a treasure seer and used the tools of that trade. But beginning about 1827–28, Smith and his followers began to change how they talked about the translation process, transforming it from magical treasure lore into Christian epic. What follows is my reconstruction of the different stages of the story’s evolution, including how the seer stone and spectacles came to be all but erased from the official narrative.[1]

Stage 1: Obscuring the Spectacles’ Magical Origin (ca. 1828)

As I explained in a previous post, the idea that “spectacles” were buried with the gold plates seems to have been first proposed by treasure seer Samuel T. Lawrence.[2] When Joseph obtained the plates on September 22, 1827, he also obtained the spectacles. When he reported on his success to Joseph Knight Sr. , he “seamed to think more of the glasses . . . then he Did of the Plates for[,] says he[,] I can see any thing[;] they are Marvelus[.]”[3]

Continue reading “How the Book of Mormon Translation Story Changed over Time” »

Joseph Smith’s Seer Stone: A Historiographical Glimpse

The recently released images of Joseph Smith’s brown seer stone in the Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 3: Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon and forthcoming article in the Ensign titled “Joseph the Seer” discussing Smith’s method of translation has become a bona fide social media event. Many are decrying, perhaps rightly, that the church has been less than forthcoming in the past about Smith’s use of seer stones for translating and receiving revelation. Others are critiquing those who were surprised by this information, pointing out a handful of articles in the Ensign and Friend magazines over the past three decades as evidence of transparency.[1] These few articles notwithstanding, it is disingenuous to claim that the church widely accepted and taught Joseph Smith’s method of translation through seer stones.

Taking a brief look at the following officially-sanctioned histories yields mixed results. Furthermore, the historiographical treatment has been to preferentially emphasize the Urim and Thummim over the seer stone as Smith’s method of translation, with the former providing a legitimizing narrative based on scriptural precedent rather than folk-magic. Continue reading “Joseph Smith’s Seer Stone: A Historiographical Glimpse” »

Magical Artifacts and Book of Mormon Translation

snapJoseph Smith initially told the story of the golden plates in the language of folk-magic and treasure-digging culture.[1]

In the 1820s Joseph possessed at least three seer stones, which he used to locate buried treasures.[2] However, the treasures tended to be protected by guardian spirits. Joseph negotiated with these spirits or tried magical means to control them, usually without success.[3]

In 1823 the spirit of an ancient Nephite appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him about a set of golden plates buried in a nearby hill.[4] Joseph negotiated with the spirit for years, fulfilling magical requirements such as that he come to the hill on the autumnal equinox, wear all black, and bring a specific person with him. After four years and several failed attempts, Joseph finally obtained the plates in 1827.[5]

Later tellings of this story would transform the spirit into an angel and drop all references to magical requirements.[6] But originally, Joseph’s discovery of the gold plates fit seamlessly into his career as a treasure-seeker.

So did his translation of them.

Continue reading “Magical Artifacts and Book of Mormon Translation” »

Church Unveils Joseph Smith Seer Stone in Drive toward Historical Transparency

At a press conference yesterday the LDS Church released photographs of the chocolate-colored, egg-shaped seer stone that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon. For decades the stone has resided in the restricted First Presidency vault, and visitors have rarely seen it.

Until recently the Church also restricted access to sensitive archival documents and occasionally punished historians who publicized problematic Church history. Around the turn of the century the Church began a drive to shed its reputation for secrecy. The mainspring of this effort has been its critically acclaimed Joseph Smith Papers Project, which seeks to publish “Everything of a written nature Joseph Smith generated, or over which he had oversight.”

But while the Church has relaxed its restrictions on archival access, the First Presidency vault has remained closed. For some detractors this has signified a continuing lack of historical transparency. The seer stone’s unveiling is changing all that.

As historian Dan Vogel wrote to me about yesterday’s announcement, “Several months ago when I made [a YouTube video] on the translation process I said I wouldn’t consider the church truly open on the translation issue until they published photos of the stone. I guess I got my wish.” Continue reading “Church Unveils Joseph Smith Seer Stone in Drive toward Historical Transparency” »

Family Breakdown, the Welfare State, and the Family Proclamation: An Alternative History*

Laura Compton at Rational Faiths has an enlightening and informative post on the origins of the Family Proclamation. She effectively demonstrates that the controversy surrounding Baehr v. Lewin–the first major victory for same-sex marriage proponents–gave birth to the quasi-canonical document. I do not dispute the influence of this legal case in the creation of the Proclamation. However, I do think there are other possible influences and contexts that helped mold its final shape. I hope to explore one of these possibilities below. And since she began with a time traveler, I will too. So please step into the blue box…

Continue reading “Family Breakdown, the Welfare State, and the Family Proclamation: An Alternative History*” »

Too Much Monkey Business: Reconstructing Joseph Smith’s Polygamy for the Unsettled Latter-day Saint

Title: Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding
Authors: Brian C. Hales and Laura H. Hales
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Genre: Religion
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 204
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 978-1-58958-723-6
Price $19.95

Reviewed by: Cheryl L. Bruno

Too Much Monkey Business: Reconstructing Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

Quoting a familiar nonsense rhyme, Samuel W. Taylor described the condition of post-Manifesto Mormons with regard to the once-crucial principle of plural marriage:

Yesterday upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today,
I wish that man would go away.

Although Brian C. Hales and, more recently his wife Laura H. Hales cannot make the issue of Mormon polygamy disappear, they have done everything in their power to make it more palatable for faithful members of the Church.

Continue reading “Too Much Monkey Business: Reconstructing Joseph Smith’s Polygamy for the Unsettled Latter-day Saint” »

Ezra Taft Benson Chronology: Presidency

Ezra Taft Benson Chronology (Part VI): November 10, 1985 to 2014 (President of the Church)


Ezra Taft Benson became the 13th President of the LDS church in 1985 after the death of Spencer W. Kimball. His first address began a recurring theme of his presidency – calling on members of the church to read the Book of Mormon. Conspiracies described in the Book of Mormon to overthrow God’s plan – rang true to Benson, who saw similar conspiracies in his time. He compared his call to read the Book of Mormon – to that of Lorenzo Snow’s call to pay tithing. “The Lord has revealed [this, in order] to get the Church … out from under condemnation”.

Upon his ascension to the presidency, non-Mormon journalists noted that his anti-communist politics had “antagonized numerous members of the church, leading to fears of a major schism if he became president.” But the political passion of the 50s and 60s had retreated and the John Birch Society had lost much of its relevancy. He became president in the middle of America’s conservative “Reagan Revolution”, and he largely abandoned his ultra-conservative evangelism, but never-the-less promoted “Birchism” to an extent, such as buying subscriptions to a Birch publication for his new counselors.

During his administration, the Church established a relationship with the communist German Democratic Republic. First, missionaries were first allowed into the country. Then the church was allowed build a temple. And later, the Berlin Wall came down. Also during Benson’s administration, Russia granted the church official recognition. These events seem to be poetic justice for Benson’s earlier anti-communist efforts. Continue reading “Ezra Taft Benson Chronology: Presidency” »