The Paper Plates of Laban

Bind up the testimony, seal the teaching among my disciples. I will wait for Yahweh, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. (Isaiah 8:16-17)

This cryptic command reveals the earliest stage of the textual history of the Book of Isaiah. The author had disciples, with whom he deposited his teachings for the future, and continued in silence, waiting for Yahweh. Isaiah became a prophet emeritus. It appears that this verse inspired Waiting for Godot, the 1949 play by Samuel Beckett. Here Beckett turns the verse into an existentialist metaphor. There is a tone of both resignation and distant hope in waiting for God.

In both Daniel 12:4 and Isaiah 8, the prophets are told to “seal” their teachings for the future.[1] In these two instances, seal ( חָתַם) probably refers to hiding, or safe securing of their teachings.[2] But what did Isaiah seal? What was the medium of his teaching that he left with his followers?  In the early nineteenth century, biblical commentaries discussed the nature of the writing materials that Isaiah used to preserve his message for followers. Among the more prominent theories was that Isaiah wrote his message on brass tablets or brass plates of some sort. (See Protestant commentaries by Lowth, Clarke, and Scott.) Early Mormons shared this view. (See EMS vol. 1 no. 8, 116)

No metal plates from the eighth century BCE containing words of Isaiah have ever been discovered. Thus, the Book of Mormon and the Brass Plates of Laban were precisely what the audience of the Book of Mormon would have expected—the word of God on metal plates to Restore what was lost. The Book of Mormon relates the story of Lehi, a contemporary of Jeremiah, who leaves Jerusalem for America with a set of Brass Plates, containing prophetic writings, including a version of our current Book of Isaiah.

I argue here that the records that serve as the source of the text of Isaiah in early Mormon scriptures were not Gold Plates or Brass Plates, but rather Paper Plates—texts that served as sources of prophetic creativity in Joseph Smith’s rereading of Isaiah. I say “rereading” because neither these Paper Plates nor Joseph Smith’s prophetic midrash contain an original text nor the authorial intent of Isaiah. The Paper Plates from which the early Mormon text of Isaiah was drawn were the King James version of the Bible, the Septuagint in English (LXX), the Isaiah Targum, and nineteenth century biblical commentaries. Early Mormonism used these Paper Plates as part of Mormon midrash, as a new modern rereading of Isaiah for a modern audience. This prophetic midrash changed the text and thus interpreted it in new creative ways for its audience at the end of the world. This rereading can be described as Christocentric, apocalyptic, and Restorationist. Above all, it was an excellent marketing strategy for a populist religion against learned professors of religion.

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Embrace the Weirdness: Review of ‘The Garden of Enid, Part 2’

Image result for garden of enid part twoReview of Scott Hales, The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, Part Two (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2017).

I often feel like a fraud when it comes to the world of Marvel, DC, and others. I rarely read comic books as a kid. Granted, I would skim through some at various book stores and a couple of my friends had them. For example, a good friend of mine during the elementary years introduced me to The Death of Superman and Batman: Knightfall. I think I even recall a few Aliens issues. I had a copy of Spider-Man #34 (1990) titled “Vengeance: The Conclusion.” It was the finale of a trilogy. I never read the first two installments. Still haven’t. And much like Spidey in the issue I owned, I have no idea who the Master of Vengeance was. My main source for the characters and stories of comic books was television: X-Men: The Animated Series, Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Batman: The Animated Series, and (to a lesser extent) Superman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures. It wasn’t until my mission that a fellow missionary and cinephile introduced me to the wonderful world of graphic novels and comics (well, as much as he could while on a mission). It was there I learned about Batman: The Killing Joke, The Walking Dead, and others.[1] While I’m still not much of a comic reader even now (though I did hit up Civil War and Wolverine: Old Man Logan in anticipation of the movies), these friends did introduce me to a new format of artistic storytelling.

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A Colorful God: Review of ‘The Garden of Enid’

Image result for the garden of enidReview of Scott Hales, The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, Part One (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2016).

When I was still in elementary school, I used to remove the “funnies” every Sunday morning from the paper in order to read the latest strip of Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes. My love of Star Wars combined with a steady diet of the Sci-Fi Channel provided by my dad–including Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Quantum LeapSliders, Stargate SG-1, and so on–led me to develop a love for the character Spaceman Spiff. These specific strips were pretty rare, so any time they were in the paper I would cut them out and keep them in a folder. I can’t answer as to why I did this exactly. It was probably akin to director Joel Allen Schroeder in his documentary Dear Mr. Watterson who plastered his childhood room’s wall with C&H strips. Nonetheless, I did it. And I treasured those strips for a long time, trying my best to keep them wrinkle free in an everyday school folder. I was devastated when the paper stopped running the strip (Watterson’s final C&H strip ran in December 1995). Sometime after the final strip, I received The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book as a gift. It was the first in what became my 5-book collection and features an introduction by Watterson, which discusses the transition of comics, his influences, the constraints of Sunday strip formats, an explanation of the recurring characters, etc. But the best part is his commentary on the various strips, no matter how brief. For example, the strip where Calvin breaks his dad’s binoculars features this insert from Watterson: “I think we’ve all gone through something like this story. You die a thousand deaths before you even get in trouble.” Comments like this give us a peek into the genius behind the art. They also remind me why I love Calvin & Hobbes. The writing is full of nostalgia, wisdom, practicality, imagination, and, obviously, humor. And yet, it is very much rooted in everyday life.

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The Policy on Gay Couples, and the Priesthood Ban: A Comparison

I’ve heard people wonder what relationship there might be between the Church’s policy banning gay couples including their children from the church, and Brigham Young’s ban against blacks holding the priesthood, including access to the temple. I thought I’d look into this to see what parallels might exist.[1]

Brigham Young and Interracial Marriage

In the new republic, some felt that African Americans intermarrying with whites could introduce widespread infertility, jeopardizing the existence of the white race or its de-evolution.[2] Brigham Young adopted these ideas and would eventually implement the priesthood and temple ban, apparently to prevent black and white couples from engaging in temple marriage. In 1847 he became aware of several black priesthood-holding Mormon men married to white LDS women. Speaking of one of these LDS interracial couples, he shared his thoughts about the couple and their child:

If they [the couple and child] were far away from the Gentiles they wo[ul]d all have to be killed[.] [W]hen they mingle seed it is death to all.

If a black man & white woman come to you & demand baptism can you deny them? [T]he law is their seed shall not be amalg[a]mated.  Mulattoes are like mules[,] they cant have the children, but if they will be Eunuchs for the Kingdom of God’s Heaven’s sake they may have a place in the Temple.”[3]

Young states his belief that the couple’s mixed-race child, or mulatto is like a mule, unable to reproduce. He points out that when such couples reproduce, “it is death to all” indicating either that all interracial families should be killed, or perhaps that the seed of mulattos that were able to reproduce would spread infertility through the population and eventually bring “death to all” (also believed at the time). He says the preferred solution would be to kill the family, but he fears gentile (non-Mormon) reprisal. He affirms interracial couples can be baptized, but could only have access to the temple as eunuchs (probably meaning celibate). Continue reading “The Policy on Gay Couples, and the Priesthood Ban: A Comparison” »

Christ’s Unassuming Kingdom: A Review of “One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly”

A preliminary note on audience: I’m new to the blog as a writer, but I’ve been reading since Chris started it all so I realize we’re not all Mormons here. I assume a Mormon audience in this post because it seemed fitting for the review. I’m hoping it’s useful to give Mormons and non-Mormons alike a sense of how the faith feels to me from the inside right now. (But really, I’m just trying to preach to Chris.)

 

100-birds-draft

Ashley Mae Hoiland’s new book One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly is the newest installment in the Maxwell Institute’s Living Faith Series. I was a big fan of the series already, and Ashmae’s book only improved it. Like the other books, it ably reveals how familiar parts of Mormon faith and practice shine with a light we have forgotten or perhaps overlooked.

But One Hundred Birds also stands out in some really significant ways.

The distinguishing characteristic of the book is its femininity. I’m told One Hundred Birds is the first Maxwell Institute monograph* by a woman (a reason for both rejoicing and repentance), but it’s not merely the bare fact of a woman’s voice in the series, or the conversations the series takes part in, that is notable. And it’s not just the presence of a woman’s stories either. (The storytelling of Sam Brown’s First Principles and Ordinances drew almost exclusively from the Mormon Women Project.) It’s the feminine content of the book that adds exciting substance to our conversations about the conditions and possibilities of contemporary Mormonism. Continue reading “Christ’s Unassuming Kingdom: A Review of “One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly”” »

The Vision of All: A Review

Image result for the vision of all spencerReview of Joseph M. Spencer, The Vision of All: Twenty-Five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi’s Record (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2016).

In his introduction to the Book of Isaiah a couple years ago, my Gospel Doctrine teacher (inspired by this post) compared Isaiah’s writings to Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto. The beauty, complexity, and sheer ecstasy of the piece he said were similar to the layers of abundant wisdom and meaning found within the pages of Isaiah. As the post linked above describes it,

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MHA 2017 Call for Papers Deadline Extended

Dear members and friends of the Mormon History Association:

Due to recent requests, we have extended the deadline for proposals for the 2017 MHA conference to be held in the St. Louis, Missouri metro area, to 1 November 2016. Please see the Call for Papers HERE for additional information. We will still send notification of acceptance or rejection by 15 December 2016.

Kind Regards,

David W. Grua Janiece Johnson

MHA 2017 Program Co-Chairs

mhaconference2017@gmail.com

Council of Fifty minutes: anti-American sentiment, theocratic aspirations, and institutional transparency

a1-coverMatthew J. Grow, Ronald K. Esplin, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, and Jeffrey D. Mahas, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records, Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846, Ronald K. Esplin, Matthew J. Grow, Matthew C. Godfrey, general eds. Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2016. Hardcover. 734 pp. $59.95. ISBN 978-1-62972-242-9.

If you follow Mormon studies through journals, blogs, and social media, you’ve no doubt become aware of the significance of this volume. For those who don’t, here is a synopsis of what the Council of Fifty was and why this organization is historically important to Mormonism: Continue reading “Council of Fifty minutes: anti-American sentiment, theocratic aspirations, and institutional transparency” »

Emma Smith’s ‘Elect Lady’ predecessors

As part of a discussion on the gospel topics essay on Women, Temple and Priesthood, I looked briefly at Emma Smith as an “Elect Lady” who was to be “ordained” by Joseph Smith to expound and exhort (D&C 25:7). I’ve since looked a bit more of the idea of an Elect Lady in the 18th and 19th centuries, in particular two other “Elect Ladies” in American religion who preceded Emma. Their religious movements shared a number of curious parallels to Joseph Smith and Mormonism which would emerge five decades after their establishment.

Jemima Wilkinson

Jemima Wilkinson

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