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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.

    Scriptures through the Jeweler’s Lens

    Scriptures through the Jeweler’s Lens

    Review of Terryl Givens with Brian Hauglid, The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism’s Most Controversial Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). 285 pages. $34.95 (hardback).

     

    Abstract: Among the many revelatory works of Joseph Smith, members and scholars alike seem to give lesser attention to what is found in the Pearl of Great Price. In The Pearl of Greatest Price, Terryl Givens and Brian Hauglid attempt to provide some of the attention that has been lacking. The result is a book that, while spotty in places, provides a good resource that should receive wide exposure in academic circles. Believing members, on the other hand, may find the book lacking or downright questionable because of the secular approach it takes to dealing with scripture understood to have a divine provenance.





    In The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism’s Most Controversial Scripture, Terryl Givens takes the reader on a deep dive to rediscover the Pearl of Great Price. His insights reveal a beautiful, important, and complex book of scripture that can be as challenging as it is dazzling. In this book, Givens gives readers a sweeping survey of the doctrines of the restoration as reflected by the Pearl. This is done in the context of Joseph Smith’s experiences in and often in contrast to his Christian-cultured environment.

    Givens sees the Pearl of Great Price as Mormonism’s greatest treasure and best kept secret. The book’s subtitle, “Mormonism’s Most Controversial Scripture” is the loupe Givens gazes through in his examination of the Pearl. He is eager to show where the Pearl really shines, but he also takes note of any blemishes in the material. The notion of discussing the flaws of the scriptures might be uncomfortable to some readers, but such an approach is a useful and often necessary conversation. Such discussions can certainly shed light on and possibly discredit some claims of the critics; but more importantly, it can [Page 86]illuminate our own unexamined assumptions and faulty expectations about the scriptures which we might have mistaken for fact.

    Givens has noted that The Pearl of Greatest Price is a follow-up to his earlier book, By the Hand of Mormon,1 which explored an early Latter-day Saint viewpoint that the Book of Mormon took the role of an eschatological milepost on the road of the foretold events of the Second Coming. The Pearl of Greatest Price can also be seen as a companion to Philip L. Barlow’s Mormons and the Bible,2 as they both examine Latter-day Saint interaction with the biblical text and explore Joseph Smith’s role as prophet and seer from a secular standpoint.

    This concept of coming from a “secular standpoint” cannot be glossed over. Givens is a believing member of the Church, but because he has written this book aimed at an academic audience, some Latter-day Saint readers might be confused by the tone they find in the pages of the book, especially if they read with homiletic or devotional expectations. Instead, Givens follows an academic approach of historiography to make observations about the Pearl of Great Price from a scholarly position. The Pearl of Greatest Price follows the academic influence of what has been called the “New Mormon History,” wherein scholars examine “Mormonism” with the intent of viewing it from a larger historical a...

    First Visions and Last Sermons: Affirming Divine Sociality, Rejecting the Greater Apostasy

    First Visions and Last Sermons: Affirming Divine Sociality, Rejecting the Greater Apostasy

    Abstract: There is a kinship between Lehi and Joseph Smith. They are linked to each other by similar first visions, and they faced roughly the same theological problem. Resisted by elites who believe God is a Solitary Sovereign, both prophets affirm the pluralistic religion of Abraham, which features a sôd ’ĕlôhim (Council of Gods) in which the divine Father, Mother, and Son sit. These prophets are likewise linked by their last sermons: Lehi’s parting sermon/blessings of his sons and Joseph’s King Follett discourse. Along with the first visions and last sermons, the article closely reads Lehi’s dream, Nephi’s experience of Lehi’s dream, and parts of the Allegory of the Olive Tree, John’s Revelation, and Genesis, all of which touch on the theology of the Sôd (Council).





    A kinship between Lehi and Joseph Smith has been too little noticed and appreciated. It is surprising, given the temporal and spatial distance that separates them, but these prophets seem to have roughly the same ecclesiastical duty: establish a new priesthood line authorized to administer the gospel, build temples, and perform temple ordinances. They seem to confront roughly the same theological problem posed by elites who teach roughly the same incorrect ideas about who God is. They receive their prophetic calling and are given their mission in the same way: through similar First Visions. And there are thematic linkages between the prophets’ last sermons. Indeed, Lehi makes his connection to Joseph Smith the main theme of his very last sermon. These similarities in their experiences and circumstances may be tokens of an important partnership. We may better understand the mission of Lehi if we see how it overlaps the mission of Joseph, and we may likewise [Page 38]better understand the still unfolding Restoration Joseph bequeathed us if we read Lehi closely.

    The parallel First Visions of Lehi and Joseph begin with a pillar of fire followed by a theophany in which the prophet sees the Father and the Son.1 First noting the presence of the Father, both Lehi and Joseph are instructed mostly or entirely by the Son, Joseph receiving verbal instructions from the Son and Lehi reading a book the Son gives him. The joint appearance of the Father and Son as corporeal beings, accompanied by a retinue of angels,2 contains an implicit message — the most important message each prophet receives: God is a social being who lives in community with other divine beings. Lehi and Joseph must reject the orthodox religion espoused by elites that frames the Father as a transcendent, solitary sovereign, a Being without face, feet, or family because God rejects that creed. In his first few words to both Lehi and Joseph, the Son declares the creeds/deeds of their respective days to be an abomination (1 Nephi 1:13; Joseph Smith 2:19). When each prophet subsequently shares with those in authority his message about the nature and being of the Gods, they persecute him (1 Nephi 1:19‒20; Joseph Smith 2:21‒22).A NAME="sdfootnote3anc" HREF="#sdfootnote3sym" title="3. While Lehi and Joseph both face persecution when they offer a conception of God and the Gods that differs from the orthodoxy of their tim...

    Volume 35 Now Available for Ordering in Paperback and E-book Formats

    Volume 35 Now Available for Ordering in Paperback and E-book Formats

    The Interpreter Foundation is pleased to announce that Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, Volume 35 (2020), is now available in paperback and digital formats for ordering and downloading.

    Volume 35 contains the full text of the book Labor Diligently to Write: The Ancient Making of a Modern Scripture by Brant A. Gardner. NOTE: Because of the way that our publication schedule worked out, Volume 35 was actually ready for shipment before Volume 34. YVolume 34 will be available within the next few weeks.

    The 390 page paperback volume can be ordered online at Amazon, or better yet, at AmazonSmile if you would like to donate a portion of your purchase to The Interpreter Foundation at no additional cost to you. The price of the volume is $9.22 plus shipping. This price reflects the cost of printing only, with no markup or royalty. This bound volume includes all of the peer-reviewed articles that have been published in Volume 35 online at journal.interpreterfoundation.org.

    If you purchase the print edition through Amazon or AmazonSmile, you’ll also receive a free copy of the digital Kindle edition of the volume through the Kindle Matchbook service.  Those who have purchased the paperback volumes in the past from Amazon can also access the Kindle edition of those same volumes for free.

    If you’d like to automatically receive Interpreter volumes in the mail soon after they are completed, please consider subscribing to our annual print subscription for the annual price of $50 (covers our cost of printing and shipping only, without markup or royalty).  Annual print subscribers have priority access to our print editions, before they are made available to the general public on Amazon.

    Volume 35 is also now available in several digital e-book formats. They are available for downloading at the following links:



    * PDF (free) – can be read on most computers and devices, but text size cannot usually be adjusted.

    * EPUB (free) – can be read on Apple iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps including iBooks, Stanza, Aldiko, and Adobe Digital Editions.  This file must be transferred to your mobile device.

    * MOBI (free) – can be read on Amazon Kindle devices and Kindle apps. This file must be transferred to your mobile device.

    * Amazon or AmazonSmile (Mobi, $0.99*) – Amazon’s Kindle store, can be read on Amazon Kindle devices and Kindle apps on tablet devices. If you purchase the paperback version from Amazon, this Kindle edition is free. Downloads automatically to your device.

    * Barnes & Noble (ePub, free) – Barnes & Noble’s e-book bookstore, can be read on a variety of devices, including Nook tablets. Downloads automatically to your device.

    * Apple’s iBooks (ePub, free) – can be read on Apple iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Downloads automatically to your device.

    Discipleship of Yesterday for Today

    Discipleship of Yesterday for Today

    Review of Eric D. Huntsman, Becoming the Beloved Disciple: Coming unto Christ through the Gospel of John (Springville, UT: CFI, an imprint of Cedar Fort, 2018). 176 pages. $19.99.



    Abstract: What does the Gospel of John say about discipleship? Does early Christian discipleship matter today? Can coming unto Christ be different for each person? Eric Huntsman offers answers to these questions through his excellent scholarly background in Greek, which lends to crisp exegetic interpretations on the fourth gospel. Even more, Huntsman provides valuable hermeneutic applications for a growing diversified membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Indeed, this book delivers a better understanding of how each child of God uniquely comes to know Jesus Christ.





    When I think about the Book of John, my mind recalls reading a Hugh Nibley statement years ago given in response to Wilford Griggs when he asked Hugh Nibley if had ever considered writing a commentary on John. Nibley’s response was something along the lines, “No, I haven’t. It would take 300 or 400 pages, and then I would be to verse 5.”1 Such a commentary is needed. However, Eric Huntsman, whom I respect and call a friend, opted to write a pleasantly restrained yet nuanced exegesis of discipleship such as permeates John. All who read this book, no matter their background, will likely come away motivated to either start, resume, or continue in their individual path of discipleship in Christ.

    [Page 30]

    Becoming the Beloved Disciple showcases Huntsman’s lifetime of consecrated expertise and research. A professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, Huntsman is trained in classical Greek and as an expert in Johannine literature never fails to maintain and exemplify Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s attitude toward scholarship: “LDS scholars can and should speak in the tongue of scholarship, but without coming to prefer it and without losing the mother tongue of faith.”2

    The overarching intent in Huntsman’s book is to detail the time, place, and actions of the timeless people in the gospel of John. In doing so, we can come to understand the different ways people come to know and accept Jesus. In turn, Huntsman invites us all to apply this to our own lives and the lives of others.



    At a time when the Church and society-at-large are grappling with questions of unity and diversity, the characters of John show that there are many ways to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Yet there are some fundamental beliefs and experiences that we must share if we are to remain faithful in this turbulent and changing world and press forward in Christ to lay hold of life and salvation. (xvi–xvii)



    Huntsman offers the reader both a prologue and a conclusion, along with seven wonderful devotional chapters of exegetic and hermeneutical material that capture the early disciples’ processes of conversion, each unique and individualized.

    Chapter 1, The First Disciples: Come and See (1–15), comfortingly displays a seemingly prosaic but powerful approach to gaining a relationship with and testimony of Christ, primarily by hearing about the good news through prophets, friends, and family. Some perceive that to know that Jesus is the Christ,

    Bad Grammar in the Book of Mormon Found in Early English Bibles

    Bad Grammar in the Book of Mormon Found in Early English Bibles

    Abstract: This study describes ten types of grammatical usage found in early modern Bibles with correlates in the original text of the Book of Mormon. In some cases Joseph Smith’s own language could have produced the matching grammar, but in other cases his own linguistic preferences were unlikely to have produced the patterns or usage found in the original text. Comparative linguistic research indicates that this grammatical correspondence shouldn’t be a surprise, since plenty of Book of Mormon syntax matches structures and patterns found in Early Modern English.





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    It can be difficult to know what to call the Book of Mormon’s grammatical usage that was considered substandard by prescriptive norms of the early 19th century. I’ve decided to refer to its questionable usage using the short phrase at the beginning of the title: bad grammar. This comports with the understanding of many nonspecialists and most Book of Mormon scholars, as exemplified in these excerpts from a recent essay:



    The language of The Book of Mormon does not evince an appreciation for the aesthetic qualities of the King James Bible — the grammar and diction are quite awkward in comparison — yet the narratology is surprisingly sophisticated, ∗ ∗ ∗ the book’s language was so obviously imperfect — it was difficult to find the miracle in poor grammar and monotonous phrasing. ∗ ∗ ∗ the work has more literary interest than is often assumed, despite its sometimes awkward grammar and diction.

    Light Began Once More to Grow

    Light Began Once More to Grow

    Abstract: Readers are surely aware that the birth of the Christ child is the reason we celebrate Christmas. Members of the Church may be less aware, though, of the notable birth of a child, millennia later, of distant secondary importance.







    Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. … [J]ust at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. (Joseph Smith — History 1:15–16)



    By the time anybody out there reads this, we’ll be racing from January into February 2020. However, as I write these thoughts, it’s 23 December 2019. In other words, it’s the eve of Christmas Eve.

    It’s also the 214th anniversary of the birth of the prophet Joseph Smith. Already several weeks ago, some critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were rolling out their annual claim that members of the Church celebrate “Smithmas” — the name that these critics have given to Joseph’s birthday and that only these same critics use — with more enthusiasm and vigor than Church members bestow upon the mainstream Christian holiday of Christmas. Allegedly, our worship services on the Sunday closest to Christmas typically focus on the Prophet, whom we really worship. Jesus, so the charge goes, is scarcely mentioned. For some, I think, “Smithmas” is just a rather bitter and not particularly funny joke. A few, though, seem to take the claim seriously — or, at least, to want others to take it seriously.

    I doubt, though, that many Latter-day Saints actually know that today is Joseph Smith’s birthday or, if they do know it, that they are giving the subject a moment’s thought. Contrary to the claims of our more extreme critics, we don’t put up “Smithmas” lights, sing “Smithmas” [Page viii]carols, or recite the story of Joseph’s advent. Our chapels and homes aren’t adorned with “Smithmas” trees. They don’t feature manger scenes in which Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith gaze lovingly at their son, the infant prophet.

    I won’t be attending a special Joseph Smith memorial mass today. Instead, I’ll be grading final exams and student term papers and otherwise engaging in ordinary, normal activities. In fact, we generally don’t mark Joseph’s birthday at all, let alone celebrate it — and not only because it’s swallowed up in the mega-holiday that follows 48 hours later. If anything out of the ordinary happens today, it’s likely to be last-minute Christmas shopping.

    I recall a conversation from decades ago with Father Georges Anawati, my beloved tutor in Islamic philosophy at the Institut dominicain d’études orientales in Cairo, Egypt. Curious about my personal religious beliefs and somewhat aware of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he asked me whether we venerated the saints. No, I said. But surely, he continued, we pray to Joseph Smith. I replied that we did not. He paused for a moment, smiled, and then said, as if to himself, “These heresies are all so bizarre!”

    However, as I’ve sat down to write this brief volume introduction, it occurs to me that perhaps a word or two about Joseph wouldn’t be out of place today. Or, for that matter, on any day.

    But first, a word about his associate, Oliver Cowdery. In April 1838, charged with serious offenses, Oliver was excommunicated from the Church. By his own choice he was not present to defend himself, though he always vigorously denied wrongdoing ...

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