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The Interpreter Foundation is a nonprofit educational organization focused on the scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, the Bible, and the Doctrine and Covenants), early LDS history, and related subjects. All publications in its journal, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, are peer-reviewed and made available as free internet downloads or through at-cost print-on-demand services. Other posts on the website are not necessarily peer-reviewed, but are approved by Interpreter’s Executive Board.



Our goal is to increase understanding of scripture through careful scholarly investigation and analysis of the insights provided by a wide range of ancillary disciplines, including language, history, archaeology, literature, culture, ethnohistory, art, geography, law, politics, philosophy, statistics, etc. Interpreter will also publish articles advocating the authenticity and historicity of LDS scripture and the Restoration, along with scholarly responses to critics of the LDS faith. We hope to illuminate, by study and faith, the eternal spiritual message of the scriptures—that Jesus is the Christ.



Although the Board fully supports the goals and teachings of the Church, The Interpreter Foundation is an independent entity and is not owned, controlled by, or affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or with Brigham Young University. All research and opinions provided on this site are the sole responsibility of their respective authors, and should not be interpreted as the opinions of the Board nor as official statements of LDS doctrine, belief, or practice.

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The Interpreter Foundation is a nonprofit educational organization focused on the scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, the Bible, and the Doctrine and Covenants), early LDS history, and related subjects. All publications in its journal, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, are peer-reviewed and made available as free internet downloads or through at-cost print-on-demand services. Other posts on the website are not necessarily peer-reviewed, but are approved by Interpreter’s Executive Board.



Our goal is to increase understanding of scripture through careful scholarly investigation and analysis of the insights provided by a wide range of ancillary disciplines, including language, history, archaeology, literature, culture, ethnohistory, art, geography, law, politics, philosophy, statistics, etc. Interpreter will also publish articles advocating the authenticity and historicity of LDS scripture and the Restoration, along with scholarly responses to critics of the LDS faith. We hope to illuminate, by study and faith, the eternal spiritual message of the scriptures—that Jesus is the Christ.



Although the Board fully supports the goals and teachings of the Church, The Interpreter Foundation is an independent entity and is not owned, controlled by, or affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or with Brigham Young University. All research and opinions provided on this site are the sole responsibility of their respective authors, and should not be interpreted as the opinions of the Board nor as official statements of LDS doctrine, belief, or practice.

    “The Lord God Will Proceed”: Nephi’s Wordplay in 1 Nephi 22:8–12 and the Abrahamic Covenant

    “The Lord God Will Proceed”: Nephi’s Wordplay in 1 Nephi 22:8–12 and the Abrahamic Covenant

    Abstract: Nephi quotes or alludes to four distinct Old Testament passages — Genesis 22:18; Isaiah 29:14; Isaiah 49:22–23; and Isaiah 52:10 — twice each in 1 Nephi 22:6, 8–12. These four texts form the basis of his description of how the Lord would bring to pass the complete fulfillment of the promises in the Abrahamic covenant for the salvation of the human family. These texts’ shared use of the Hebrew word gôyim (“nations” [> kindreds], “Gentiles”) provides the lexical basis for Nephi’s quotation and interpretation of these texts in light of each other. Nephi uses these texts to prophesy that the Lord would act in the latter-days for the salvation of the human family. However, Nephi uses Isaiah 29:14 with its key-word yôsīp (yôsip) to assert that iterative divine action to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant — taking the form of “a marvelous work and a wonder” — would be accomplished through a “Joseph.” Onomastic wordplay involving the names Abram⁄Abraham and Joseph constitute key elements in 1 Nephi 22:8–12.





    Some of Nephi’s most sophisticated and significant prophetic uses of Isaiah’s writings involve appropriations of Isaiah 11:11–12 and Isaiah 29:14. For example, in 2 Nephi 25:17 he merges these two prophecies to create his own prophecy of the latter-day gathering of Judah and Israel: “And the Lord will set his hand again [yôsîp] the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state [Isaiah 11:11]. Wherefore, he will proceed [yôsīp (or yôsip)] to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men [Isaiah 29:14].” As has been argued elsewhere,1 Nephi interprets these two Isaianic prophecies in light of [Page 52]each other on the basis of their mutual use of the Hebrew verb yāsap, “to add”; “continue to do, carry on doing”;2 “increase, have more”;3 Hiphil (causative), “increase,” “to do again, more.”4 Nephi’s evident juxtaposition of the homophonous and morphologically-similar forms yôsîp (Hiphil, third-person masculine singular jussive) and yôsīp/ yôsip (Qal masculine singular participle)5 evokes the name “Joseph” (yôsēp, “may he [God] add”).a id="footnote6anc" href="#footnote6sym" title="6. See Martin Noth, Die israelitischen Personennamen im Rahmen der Gemeinsemitischen Namengebung (Hildesheim, DEU: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1966), 212, originally published under the same title in Beiträge zur Wissenschaft vom Alten und Neuen Testament 3, no. 10 (1928). Ephraim Speiser suggests that the full meaning of the name ...

    Verbal Punctuation in the Book of Mormon I: (And) Now

    Verbal Punctuation in the Book of Mormon I: (And) Now

    Abstract: The Book of Mormon, being an ancient book, was originally written without typographic punctuation and employs verbal punctuation instead. This article looks at the use of “and now” as verbal punctuation in the Book of Mormon. The phrase is used to mark major breaks in the text, not only for chapters but also within chapters of the text. The Book of Mormon usage is borrowed from Classical Biblical Hebrew (the Hebrew used before the exile) and follows the pattern set by pre-exilic Hebrew scribes. While this usage dropped in the Old World after the Babylonian exile as Aramaic replaced Hebrew as the major language spoken, the Book of Mormon preserved the usage until the end of Nephite civilization.





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    According to John Gilbert, the typesetter, the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon was unpunctuated: “Every Chapter, if I remember correctly, was one solid paragraph, without a punctuation mark, from beginning to end.”1 This is in keeping with many ancient languages and scripts that work without punctuation marks. Ancient languages tend to do without typographic punctuation; they use words for punctuation instead. This verbal punctuation provides the signposts that control and structure the flow of the narrative.

    Historical Examples of Verbal Punctuation

    Sentences in Anatolian languages like Hittite and Luwian, usually start with a particle to which various enclitic particles are attached. The [Page 34]particle functions as verbal punctuation because it signals where a new sentence starts. Consider, for example, the simple Hittite sentence:

    nu-wa-ra-aš TI-an-zaNow he will live.2

    The Hittite particle nu “now” (the Hittite and English words are, in fact, cognates)3 functions as verbal punctuation to let the sentence start.a id="footnote4anc" href="#footnote4sym" title="4. Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., and H. Craig Melchert, A Grammar of the Hittite Language (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 1:390–92.

    A Comparison of the Book of Mormon’s Subordinate That Usage

    A Comparison of the Book of Mormon’s Subordinate That Usage

    Abstract: This paper compares the Book of Mormon’s subordinate that usage with what is found in the King James Bible, pseudo-archaic writings, and the greater textual record. In this linguistic domain, the Book of Mormon manifests as thoroughly archaic, and it surpasses all known pseudo-archaic writings in breadth and depth of archaism. The implications of this set of linguistic data indicate that the translation as originally dictated by Joseph Smith cannot plausibly be explained as the result of Joseph’s own word choices, but it is consistent with the hypothesis that the wording was somehow provided to him.



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    Book of Mormon excerpt with an archaic subordinate that:“after that they had hid themselves, I Nephi crept into the city”

    (1 Nephi 4:5)1



    In 1 Nephi 4:5, archaic subordinate that usage (also called pleonastic that in the literature)2 involves the time conjunction after. This “after that S” usage (where S stands for a sentence-like subordinate clause) is frequently found in the King James Bible (74 times by one count, if we include the Apocrypha, which was often present in earlier Bibles). Yet as we shall see, this particular archaic subordinate that usage, as well as [Page 2]subordinate that in general, occur to a limited extent in pseudo-archaic texts of the 18th and 19th centuries. The reason for this is twofold: some biblical subordinate that usage is only lightly represented in the King James text (≤ 5 times), and subordinate that usage “declin[ed] rapidly in the 17th century to such an extent that it became virtually obliterated towards the end of that same century.”3

    I will first review biblical types of archaic subordinate that usage, then pseudo-archaic usage, and then the types found in the original Book of Mormon text. Pseudo-archaic writings constitute a control group that is important to consider (see below and the final section of the appendix for how these texts were chosen). The approach taken here is not to assume that any biblical usage was automatically reproducible by Joseph Smith, as a biblical imitator, since such an assumption is not a principled, rigorous approach.

    If God Does Not Exist, Is Everything Permitted?

    If God Does Not Exist, Is Everything Permitted?

    Abstract: Can people be good without believing in God? Obviously, yes. They can. Is atheistic naturalism capable of supplying a foundation for morality? That is a separate question, to which more than a few theists have answered No. However, a relatively new book by a very prominent student of religion and society suggests otherwise. A rational morality can, it argues, be founded upon atheistic naturalism — but it will necessarily be a modest and quite limited one, lacking universal scope and without a belief in human rights as objective “moral facts.”





    The striking statement that, “if God doesn’t exist, everything is permitted,” is often attributed to the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821–1881) and, more specifically, to perhaps his greatest novel, The Brothers Karamazov, which was first published in 1880. Theists have used the statement to argue that the alternative to belief in God is moral nihilism. Absent a grounding in the divine, so the argument goes, human moral systems are without foundation — and, thus, are likely to crumble in the face of human self-interest, error, and corruption. At best, we will be left with the world described by the prophet Isaiah, a world of “slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine,” in which the shallow refrain is “let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die” (Isaiah 22:13). At worst, as I discuss shortly, human life will more closely resemble that of the “state of nature” portrayed by Thomas Hobbes in the thirteenth chapter of his 1651 classic, Leviathan: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”1

    [Page viii]Shakespeare’s Macbeth famously captures the cynical and disenchanted mood of such a devalued world:

    Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrowCreeps in this petty pace from day to dayTo the last syllable of recorded time.And all our yesterdays have lighted foolsThe way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle.Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor playerThat struts and frets his hour upon the stage,And then is heard no more. It is a taleTold by an idiot, full of sound and fury,Signifying nothing.2

    In recent years, however, atheists seeking to rebut the theistic argument — and others, as well — have commonly denied that such a statement even occurs in The Brothers Karamazov. Perhaps, some will allow, it’s a decent though fairly loose paraphrase; others refuse to grant even that.

    It appears, though, that Dostoevsky really did say “If God doesn’t exist, everything is permitted.”3 Or, at least, that his fictional character Ivan Karamazov did. Whether the statement accurately represents Karamazov’s actual viewpoint, of course, let alone Dostoevsky’s, is a separate question. (Presumably, not everything said by Iago or Macbeth or Richard III represents the views of Shakespeare.)

    But the more important question, plainly, is whether it’s really true that “if God doesn’t exist, everything is permitted.” Does atheism actually entail moral nihilism? Please note that the question isn’t whether or not atheists can behave ethically or be morally good. Obviously, they can. Many have been and many continue to be. The question is whether,

    Christmas and a Condescending God

    Christmas and a Condescending God

    Abstract: As religious holidays go, Christmas has been domesticated unusually well — and effectively commercialized — among people and even whole cultures that don’t accept (or even care about) the central theological claim that Christmas asserts. After all, who doesn’t like cute little babies, at least when they’re not crying? But that theological claim is stunning. Radical. It’s radical in the strictest sense of that word, because it goes down deep, to the very root (Latin radix). Beyond the pleasant and comfortable sentimentality of favorite holiday foods, scenes of carolers in snowy villages, and warm family gatherings, Christmas dramatically distinguishes Christianity from every other major world religion.





    Landing during the Christmas season at the international airport in Cairo, Egypt — the busy gateway to a city and a nation that are roughly 85%-90% Sunni Muslim — you will see Christmas decorations everywhere. And such decorations show up prominently in hotels and public spaces well beyond the airport and the city.

    In Japan, where estimates put the number of Christians at somewhere between 1%­–2% of the population or perhaps even lower, a quite secularized version of Christmas focused on Santa Claus and gift-giving is widely observed. Also prominent among Japanese Christmas traditions, by the way, is eating fried chicken from KFC, where the statues of Colonel Sanders that stand in front of KFC restaurants are dressed as Santa Claus during the holidays. Residents of Japan who don’t pre-order their KFC Christmas dinners can end up waiting in long lines for them, and could miss out altogether.

    “Why KFC?” you might ask.

    In 1970, just a few months after Takeshi Okawara opened the first KFC restaurant in Japan — he would go on thereafter to become the CEO of Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan from 1984 to 2002 — he conceived [Page 276]the idea of a Christmas “party barrel” containing not only chicken but, in some premium cases, also ribs and stuffing and cake and even wine. In 1974, the promotional campaign went national with the slogan “KurisumasuniwaKentakkii” (“Kentucky for Christmas”).1 Since, in the 1970s, there were few if any traditional Japanese Christmas observances, KFC filled a void.

    In the West, too, Christmas remains by far the dominant holiday, even among those indifferent to its theological underpinnings, including many non-Christians. In increasingly post-Christian Europe, for example, the colorful Christmas markets of such cities as Krakow, Dresden, Cordoba, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam continue to flourish. In America, scores of virtually interchangeable Christmas-themed television movies celebrate “redemption through romance” nonstop throughout an elongated Christmas season, with little or (usually) no specific religious content at all.

    What can explain the appeal of Christmas to people well beyond the community of committed Christian believers?

    First of all, it must be recognized that a superficial view of Christmas can easily be rendered much less threatening, theologically speaking, than Easter. Everybody can accept and celebrate the birth of a baby, whereas the revivification and eventual ascent to heaven of a crucified dead man is difficult to reconcile with a secular or even merely non-Christian worldview.

    It seems clear, though, that there is a very great deal, even in the most watered-down versions of Christmas (as illustrated in those television movies), which speaks to the deepest longings of human hearts around the world.

    Whatever our culture or religious views, for instance, the message reported by the gospel of Luke as h...

    A Masterpiece on Resisting Our Impulses to Leave

    A Masterpiece on Resisting Our Impulses to Leave

    Review of S. Michael Wilcox, Holding On: Impulses to Leave and Strategies to Stay (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2021). 128 pages. $11.99 (paperback).

    Abstract: In his latest book, S. Michael Wilcox has written a masterpiece on grappling with doubts and overcoming our impulses to leave the Church. Wilcox displays a refreshing degree of personal vulnerability and openness, deep empathy and compassion for the struggling; and concrete and memorable suggestions for successfully dealing with faith crises. These traits give this book a power that no other work published by Deseret Book on this topic can match.





    In the past decade, there have been many wonderful books directed at those who are struggling with doubts or who find themselves in a crisis of faith. Deseret Book has published several of these stellar titles from such notable authors as Patrick Mason,1 Bruce and Marie Hafen,2 and Terryl and Fiona Givens.3 Now they have published S. Michael Wilcox’s Holding On: Impulses to Leave and Strategies to Stay, which deserves the same amount of attention and praise these illustrious forebearers received.

    Wilcox’s book is somewhat unassuming. It is a slim 128-page volume. Its tone is devotional yet conversational. Wilcox offers at least three things that together set this work apart from others I have read on the topic. First of all, Wilcox shows a degree of personal vulnerability and [Page 270]openness with his own personal faith struggles that is very refreshing. Second, Wilcox shows a great degree of empathy and compassion for those who struggle. Third, Wilcox offers in his compact volume many memorable and concrete tips for reframing and overcoming doubt.

    Personal Perspective on Faith Crises

    “I remember vividly my first ‘faith crisis’” (p. 7). This is how Wilcox begins the first chapter of the book. He goes on to describe his teenage agony of being unable to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. This story sets the stage for other similar reflections throughout the book.

    Wilcox admits that he “had to grapple with faith-shakers, interrupting moments, and even individuals who desired to destroy my ‘rejoicings’” (p. 26). He emphasizes that these types of moments of struggle through doubt and darkness have “happened more than once in my life” (p. 10), and that for him this is an “ongoing battle” (p. 12). Indeed, he notes his “awareness that I will probably go to the grave facing the battlefront of personal faith’s oppositions” (p. 17).

    Wilcox, a popular devotional speaker and the well-known author of many books published by Deseret Book, is no stranger to sharing deeply personal experiences in his books. For instance, in 2011 Wilcox published Sunset: On the Passing of Those We Love, a highly personal reflection on loss and mourning, written shortly after the death of his wife Laurie. And yet it is still somewhat jarring and deeply refreshing to hear an author, in a Deseret Book work on faith and doubt, so openly and candidly discuss his own personal moments of doubt and uncertainty.

    Other works on faith crisis published by Deseret Book have lacked this personal element. For instance, Mason effectively relays stories of others unsettled in their faith,4 as do the Hafens.

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