Joseph Smith

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Bricolage and Eclecticism

There was a conference that went on recently that my brother-in-law brought back to my attention called New Perspectives on Joseph Smith and Translation (His in-law are co-founders of FaithMatters.org). I was interested to hear what this panel of speakers had to say and compare it with an enjoyable MormonMatters podcast I listened to a couple of years back. If you are interested in theories about the mechanics of Joseph Smith’s translation process, these are intriguing resources.

Terryl Givens was a featured speaker at the New Perspectives conference, and I found his association of bricolage with the translation process to be intriguing. Bricolage is a French term that describes the construction of ideas by using whatever is at hand. (Merriam-Webster) In the past, Givens has regarding Joseph Smith being an “inspired eclecticist” and a “sponge.” (An Approach to Thoughtful, Honest and Faithful Mormonism) An eclectic will select “what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles” or will compose from “elements drawn from various sources; (Merriam-Webster)

The Book of Mormon came down to us with a mix of voices. Most notably we seeRead Full Post

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God’s Justice as Taught by the Book of Mormon, Qur’an, and Joseph Smith

These quotes have been sitting in my notebook for a while and a recent conversation with a friend brought them back to my attention. What I find remarkable is how nicely they fit together and convey this idea that all people on earth have been given a portion of God’s light and truth. The Qur’an and Joseph quotes talk about a reconciliation in the afterlife when more will be revealed as to how this all works. Personally, I find these teachings bring great peace of mind and understanding when pondered. I have found tremendous insights from other faith traditions around the world that have brought me closer to God and my fellow man. Read Full Post

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Willing to give up

Joseph Smith once said:

“I am at all times willing to give up that which is wrong for I wish this people to have a virtuous leader.”

This quote has always been a source of personal motivation for me, especially when I adapt it slightly to reflect what I value most:

“I am at all times willing to give up that which is wrong for I wish my Parents to have a virtuous son.”

“I am at all times willing to give up that which is wrong for I wish my wife to have a virtuous husband.”

“I am at all times willing to give up that which is wrong for I wish my daughters to have a virtuous father.”

This phrase “willing to give up that which is wrong” is kind of intriguing to me. At first I thought it seemed as if it was too focused on the negative. If we are pursuing truth continually then why worry about the wrong stuff?Read Full Post

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The Motto of the Church of Latter-day Saints

The Constitution of our country formed by the Fathers of liberty. Peace and good order in society. Love to God, and good will to man. All good and wholesome laws, virtue and truth above all things, and aristarchy, live forever! But woe to tyrants, mobs, aristocracy, anarchy, and toryism, and all those who invent or seek out unrighteous and vexatious law suits, under the pretext and color of law, or office, either religious or political. Exalt the standard of Democracy! Down with that of priestcraft, and let all the people say Amen! that the blood of our fathers may not cry from the ground against us. Sacred is the memory of that blood which bought for us our liberty.

JOSEPH SMITH, JUN.,
THOMAS B. MARSH,
DAVID W. PATTEN,
BRIGHAM YOUNG,
SAMUEL H. SMITH,
GEORGE M. HINKLE,
JOHN CORRILL,
GEORGE W. ROBINSON
(March, 1838).

Notes:

I thought it might be of use to point out the difference between the following terms:

Aristarchy (live forever): A body of good men in power, or government by excellent men.

Aristocracy (woe to): A form of government, in which the whole supreme power is vested in the principal persons of a state; or in a few men distinguished by their rank and opulence. When the supreme power is exercised by a small number, the government is called an oligarchy. The latter word however is usually applied to a corrupted form of aristocracy.

While it seems that this wasn’t actually ever adopted by the church (it’s kind of a long motto and very politically oriented), it’s significant that it was liked enough for Joseph Smith and several other important men to put their names to it.

Screenshot 2016-05-15 20.11.13

Original document here at the Joseph Smith Papers.

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Margaret Barker Transcript from The Worlds of Joseph Smith Conference

I love reading anything by Margaret Barker, if you don’t know who she is then you need to look her up and buy some of her books or read some of her articles online. She’s a Methodist scholar and has brought some amazing insights into Judeo-Christian studies that have piqued the interest of LDS scholars. Over the years, she has made many wonderful contributions to LDS research and I am grateful for the interest and respect she has for LDS theology.

The following transcript is her analysis of how Joseph Smith’s contributions to an understanding of the ancient world match up with some of the things we have discovered in modern scholarship. Enjoy!


Margaret Barker

A Transcript of Her Response

The Worlds of Joseph Smith

An International Academic Conference at the Library of Congress

May 6, 2005

– – –

It isn’t easy to respond in twenty minutes to such a rich and interesting paper. Professor Givens has set Joseph Smith in the religious and cultural context of his time and has raised many important issues. I should like to take a few of these issues and set them in another context—Jerusalem, in about 600 BCE.

Do the revelations to Joseph Smith fit in that context—the reign of King Zedikiah, who is mentioned at the beginning of the First Book of Nephi? (King Zedikiah was installed in Jerusalem in 597 BCE.)

I am not a scholar of Mormon texts and traditions, and I must emphasize that. I’m a biblical scholar specializing in the Old Testament. Until some Mormon scholars made contact with me a few years ago I would never have considered using Mormon texts and traditions as part of my own work.

“Are the revelations to Joseph Smith consistent with the situation in Jerusalem about 600 B.C.E?”

Since that initial contact I have had many good and fruitful exchanges and have begun to look at these texts very closely. I’m still, however, very much an amateur in this area. What I offer can only be the reactions of an Old Testament scholar—“Are the revelations to Joseph Smith consistent with the situation in Jerusalem about 600 B.C.E?”

First, Professor Givens raised the question of ongoing revelation and an open canon. As far as we know there was no question of a canon in 600 BCE and ongoing revelation from the prophets was accepted, even if what the prophets said was uncomfortable.

One generation earlier there had been the great upheaval inRead Full Post

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All that he seeth fit that we should have.

In the Southeast part of Las Vegas where I live, there are some foothills that are within walking distance from my home. Occasionally I will hike up to a certain spot and look out over the city at sunrise.

From my vantage point I can see everything, Mt. Charleston, the Strip, the Las Vegas temple and hundreds of thousands of homes. There are millions of people out there, sleeping, eating, loving, fighting, happy, depressed, comforted, confused, and on and on. I ponder the variety of lives and circumstances and all the minds with their own unique perspectives on life.

Then I ponder my unique perspective. I think about the millions in this city and the billions around the world, the billions who have lived and died and will live after I am gone. Each person views the world through their own eyes and in their own minds, just like me. What makes my view more important? What makes one grain of sand more valuable than another on a beach?

My own little perspective isn’t really that important to the whole. It will have about as much impact as a small stone in the ocean. The ripples will fade into the waves and it will beRead Full Post

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Truths that Joseph Smith’s Seer Stone Continues to Reveal

When I first saw the pictures of Joseph Smith’s primary seer stone my first thought was, “Oh, cool, I’m glad they released some pictures. I knew it was a small, chocolate-colored stone but I didn’t realize it had stripes.” and that was that.

I see conversations around the web indicating that some members of the Church are upset about the seer stone and the part it played in our history. Some were unaware of its existence, but I remember learning about it as a teenager. I didn’t know that much about the process of the translation and how the seer stone and Interpreters fit into the picture, but I did when I cared enough to research it on my own.

Skeptics find humor in the seer stone looking like just a plain old rock and are no doubt enjoying the opportunity to further paint Joseph Smith as an occultic scheister.

Instead of trying to address all of the legitimate concerns and questions, I want to write about my own perspective and the much larger themes at play.
Read Full Post

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Appropriate Appropriation

Just to be clear here, I’m not talking about the adjective, “He was wearing appropriate attire for the occasion, but the transitive verb where one might say, “Christians appropriated the cross symbol to represent the faith.”

Here are some definitions to consider:

APPRO’PRIATEverb transitive [Latin ad and proprius, private, peculiar.]

1. To set apart for, or assign to a particular use, in exclusion of all other uses; as, a spot of ground is appropriated for a garden.

2. To take to one’s self in exclusion of others; to claim or use as by an exclusive right.

3. To make peculiar; as, to appropriate names to ideas.

Mormonism is a philosophy rooted in appropriation.

I think one of the most illustrative quotes that can be used to support this idea is from Brigham Young:

“I want to say to my friends that we believe in all good. If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it.” (DBY, 2)

Too often do we neglect individual appropriation of knowledge, choosing instead to wait for institutional appropriation? In other words, do we rarely venture outside theRead Full Post

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A Collector of Truth

“…lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not…” – Moroni 7:19

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:21

The scriptures encourage us to seek after that which is good and there are ways explained that illustrate how we can do that.

Like many kids, I enjoyed collecting things such as baseball cards, coins, rocks, fossils, etc. Over the years my interests changed; I no longer collect any of the things that I valued so highly as a child.

What I have enjoyed collecting over the course of my adult life is truth.

The scriptural admonitions that encourage me to lay “hold” on good things drive me to dig and discover the good in everything I explore. If you think about it, truth and good are not hard to find, but they can be difficult toRead Full Post

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Terryl Givens – An Approach to Thoughtful, Honest and Faithful Mormonism

I transcribed the following from the third part of an interview with Terryl Givens on the Mormon Stories podcast. I can’t remember how I came across this interview, but I remember seeing Terryl Givens’ name which immediately drew my interest. I’m a big fan of Terryl and his wife Fiona, they are delightful people.

Based on my own research, I am inclined to agree with Terryl’s perspective on many (but not all) things. Here are a few highlights concerning Joseph Smith and the restoration that I find extremely insightful and consistent with my own beliefs.Read Full Post

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Joseph Smith on Truth

© Kim Marshall

© Kim Marshall

Receiving truth
“One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” (Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 199)

The best way to obtain truth and wisdom
“The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching.” (History of the Church, 4:425)

Gather all the good and true principles
“We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true Mormons.”
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 316)

We have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth without limitation
“Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth: consequently the shackles of superstition, bigotry, ignorance, and priestcraft, fall at once from his neck; and his eyes are opened to see the truth, and truth greatly prevails over priestcraft… Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.” (Letter from Joseph Smith to Isaac Galland, Mar. 22, 1839, Liberty Jail, Liberty, Missouri, published in Times and Seasons, Feb. 1840, pp. 53–54; spelling and grammar modernized.)

Ready to believe all true principles that exist
“I stated that the most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter-day Saints and sectarians was, that the latter were all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived its members the privilege of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter-day Saints … are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time.” (History of the Church, 5:215; from “History of the Church” (manuscript), book D-1, p. 1433, Church Archives.)

Limitations on knowledge
“I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes [limits], and say, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further’ [Job 38:11]; which I cannot subscribe to.” (History of the Church, 6:57; punctuation modernized; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Oct. 15, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards.)

Pure intelligence
“A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; [that is,] those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.” (B.H. Roberts, History of the Church 3:381)

Alway acknowledge virtuous qualities
“When we see virtuous qualities in men, we should always acknowledge them, let their understanding be what it may in relation to creeds and doctrine; for all men are, or ought to be free. … This doctrine I do most heartily subscribe to and practice” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 345–46).

Revealed in the abstract
“All things whatsoever God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit and proper to reveal to us, while we are dwelling in mortality, in regard to our mortal bodies, are revealed to us in the abstract, and independent of affinity of this mortal tabernacle, but are revealed to our spirits precisely as though we had no bodies at all.” (Joseph Fielding Smith (editor), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 355)

The oldest book
“I thank God that I have got this old book [the Bible]; but I thank him more for the gift of the Holy Ghost. I have got the oldest book in the world; but I have got the oldest book in my heart, even the gift of the Holy Ghost. I have all the four Testaments.” (Alma P. Burton, Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 343-344)

Condeming each other
“The [Muslim] condemns the heathen, the Jew,and the Christian, and the whole world of mankind that reject his Koran, as infidels, and consigns the whole of them to perdition. The Jew believes that the whole world that rejects his faith and are not circumcised, are Gentile dogs, and will be damned. The heathen is equally as tenacious about his principles, and the Christian consigns all to perdition who cannot bow to his creed, and submit to his ipse dixit. But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes “His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Times and Seasons, 15 April 1842, 758)

Related: Brigham Young on Truth

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Joseph Smith Explains How God Will Judge the Nations

I love this quote from Joseph Smith on how mankind will be judged. The truths expressed are so clear and plain, you cannot help but stand in awe at the incredible balance of justice and mercy God extends to each of us.

“But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes “His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, “according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,” or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. He will judge them, “not according to what they have not, but according to what they have,” those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 218)

Joseph’s doctrine suggests that God isn’t just involved in the lives of “his people” but that everyone, no matter what religion or culture, is experiencing a life that is purposeful and accountable. While it is true that having access to the blessings of the restoration is something to be grateful for, it should not cultivate an attitude of elitism in anyone’s heart.

Rather, we should each be grateful for what we have as well as what others have as well. It isn’t that we have all the truth and everyone else is wrong. We have all been given portions of truth to serve specific purposes on this earth and it is only gathering all things into one that each of us can truly be blessed in a manner that is universally beneficial.

Brigham Young once taught:

It is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church (Jesus, their Elder Brother, being at their head) to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion (DBY,248).

Perhaps instead of saying to our neighbors, “Hey, I have some missionaries you need to listen to,” we could begin the conversation by asking, “Will you share with me what you believe?” and go from there. I’ve been blessed many times in my life by inviting others from various religious traditions to express to me some of their most sacred beliefs. When there is truth being expressed, the Spirit will attend, no matter who is speaking.

We cannot gather up all the truths in the world, if we don’t take the time to listen to others. You just might find that inviting others to share first, builds fertile ground for an even exchange of cherished beliefs.

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Understanding the Character of God and Revelation

There are but a very few beings in the world who understand rightly the character of God. The great majority of mankind do not comprehend anything, either that which is past, or that which is to come, as it respects their relationship to God. They do not know, neither do they understand the nature of that relationship; and consequently they know but little above the brute beast, or more than to eat, drink and sleep. This is all man knows about God or His existence, unless it is given by the inspiration of the Almighty… Having a knowledge of God, we begin to know how to approach Him, and how to ask so as to receive an answer. When we understand the character of God, and know how to come to Him, he begins to unfold the heavens to us, and to tell us all about it. When we are ready to come to him, he is ready to come to us. (Joseph Smith’s King Follet Sermon)

A great resource to begin understanding the character of God are the Lectures on Faith, particularly the third lecture which specifically examines six points that define the character of God. Below is an excerpt from this lecture which details these six points:

  • First, That he was God before the world was created, and the same God that he was, after it was created.
  • Secondly, That he is merciful, and gracious, slow to anger, abundant in goodness, and that he was so from everlasting, and will be to everlasting.
  • Thirdly, That he changes not, neither is there variableness with him; but that he is the same from everlasting to everlasting, being the same yesterday to-day and forever; and that his course is one eternal round, without variation.
  • Fourthly, That he is a God of truth and cannot lie.
  • Fifthly, That he is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted of him.
  • Sixthly, That he is love.

It’s one thing to read about these things, it is another to know them by experience. In what ways has God provided us with the paths that lead us to this knowledge concerning his character?

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The Tomb and the Grove

the-tomb-and-the-grove

The Tomb

In the what is today the first book of the New Testament we have an interesting account at the very end of Matthew. Here, it appears that Matthew is attempting to debunk an anti-Christian rumor that was going around concerning the resurrection of Christ.

Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. (Matthew 28:11-15)

According to Matthew a common explanation for the missing body of Christ was attributed to fraud committed by his followers.

Is it really that far of a stretch to believe that among Jesus’ closest confidants and hundreds of followers that someone might have stolen his body in an attempt to somehow “prove” the resurrection? Or that the remaining apostles could have fabricated the story of the resurrection in order to keep the movement going and save face? Isn’t this the simplest explanation if you don’t accept the reality of miracles or the existence of God?

In the case of the Latter-day Saint claim that God restored his Church to the earth, a skeptic might ask Read Full Post

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