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BYU Studies Vol. 44 (2005)
Nephi tells the story of the founding events of the Nephite people in such a way that his readers will see him as a second Moses. Although Nephi’s use of the Moses typology has been previously noted, what has not been noticed before is that his father, Lehi, also employs this same typology in his farewell address in 2 Nephi 1-4 in order to persuade his descendants of his own divine calling and of their new covenant relationship to the same God who had given the promised land to ancient Israel. The fact that Nephi and Lehi both saw themselves as Moses figures demonstrates their awareness of a recognizable feature of preexilic Israelite literature that has only recently been explicated by Bible scholars.
On two occasions while he worked on his New Translation of Genesis in 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith dictated to his scribe Oliver Cowdery a word combination that in English is awkward and umgrammatical, though in the Hebrew it is not: “Behold I.” The first occurrence reads, “Behold I am the Lord God Almighty.” The second reads, “Behold I send me.” Both passages are in the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, but “Behold I” is not found in either of those passages today because, after the time of Joseph Smith, each was edited out of the text . .
Throughout his long life, Martin Harris consistently testified that he knew Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from golden plates. At first affiliated with Joseph Smith and the main body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for a time Harris associated with a schism led by James J. Strang. He served a mission in England in 1846 for the Strangites, but he claimed to the end of his life that he never preached against Mormonism or against the Book of Mormon. Indeed, he was a powerful witness of the Book of Mormon during his mission.
Few verses in the Bible have produced as much debate and commentary as Psalm 22:16: “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.” The discussions center on the last character (reading right to left) of the Hebrew ×•×¨××› (“pierced/dug”), assumed to be the word from which the Septuagint Greek á½¢ÏÏ…Î¾Î±Î½ (“they have pierced”) was translated—assumed because the original Hebrew texts from which the Septuagint was translated are no longer extant. If the last character of the Hebrew word was a waw ()×•, as the Greek seems to indicate, then the translation “pierced” is tenable. But a later Hebrew text called the Masoretic text has a yod (×™) instead of a waw (×•), making the word ×™×¨××›, which translated into English reads “like a lion my hands and my feet.” Thus, two divergent possibilities have existed side by side for centuries, causing much speculation and debate. The controversy has often been heated, with large variations in modern translations into English, as evidenced by a brief survey of some important Bible translations.
I have long thought that the importance and role of Joseph Smith in the history of religion in America has been muted more than necessary by the Latter-day Saint church. As his biographer, I was and remain very anxious that his contribution to American culture and religion in general be recognized and appreciated, both by Mormons and by non-Mormons.
Richard Bushman’s wonderfully expansive paper “Joseph Smith’s Many Histories” reminds us in forceful ways of the historical complexity that helped create the Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith. Bushman also reminds us that while historical complexity is embedded in history, it embeds itself as well in the hearts and minds of human beings who discover the various realities of history and then appropriate those realities for their own purposes. As an illustration of this point, Bushman tells the story of Christopher Columbus—how his standing as the grandfather of the United States was neither acknowledged nor celebrated until after 1776.
Undergirding Richard Bushman’s insightful paper is a profound recognition (and a reminder) that histories are the creations of authors, not photographs of the past. Every aspect of writing a history, from the selection of sources to the interpretation of those sources bears the imprint of the author. The profoundly precarious and contingent character of all reconstruction of the past led Roland Barthes to quip that biography is “a novel that dare not speak its name.” Clearly, this is an overstatement, but it does warn us away from an unhealthy critical complacency when engaging in studying written histories.
Joseph Smith was an explorer, a discoverer, and a revealer of past worlds. He described an ancient America replete with elaborate detail and daring specificity, rooted and grounded in what he claimed were concrete, palpable artifacts. He recuperated texts of Adam, Abraham, Enoch, and Moses to resurrect and reconstitute a series of past patriarchal ages, not as mere shadows and types of things to come, but as dispensations of gospel fullness equaling, and in some cases surpassing, present plenitude. And he revealed an infinitely receding premortal past—not of the largely mythic Platonic variety and not a mere Wordsworthian, sentimental intimation—but a fully formed realm of human intelligences, divine parents, and heavenly councils.
My thoughts on Joseph Smith’s interest in past worlds cluster into three sections. The first deals with the challenge of evaluating and assessing Joseph Smith’s recoveries of texts or views from past worlds or civilizations.The second develops a list of ways in which the past functioned in Joseph Smith’s process of continuing revelation. The third focuses on the dynamic link between the past and the present in Joseph Smith’s concept of priesthood authority and its restoration.
My subject is Joseph Smith in a personal world. My lens is primarily a personal one—his impact on me and believers I have known during my lifetime. I will also discuss Joseph Smith’s own personal world and his impact on his acquaintances and friends. A major focus will be Joseph Smith’s role as a prophet and his teachings on the reality of revelation. By prophet I mean one who speaks for God in revealing divine truth to others. By revelation I mean God’s communication to man—to prophets and to every one of us, if we seek.
In his published dialogue with the Evangelical theologian Craig Blomberg, Stephen Robinson observed that one of the factors that makes it so difficult for Mormons and Evangelicals to understand each other is the issue of terminology. The theology of the Latter-day Saints, he noted, has not been shaped by the same developments that Protestants have experienced since the days of the Reformation. This means, Robinson said, that “Latter-day Saints are generally quite naÃ¯ve when it comes to the technical usage of theological language.”
It is difficult for me to respond to David Paulsen. I am not—nor have I ever claimed to be—a theologian.I will not presume to engage many of the issues or to intrude on the conversations in his paper.I am intrigued,however, by several themes raised in his paper. I will comment, first, on the crisis of authority; second, on the centrality of epistemology and the perils of theological circularity; and third,on the quintessentially modern enterprise of apologetics.
During the last decade, a recurring question has been posed to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Is the church “changing?” In addition, it is asked,Is there some effort on the part of the church leadership to have the church and its teachings, particularly those concerning Jesus Christ, become more acceptable to and thus more accepted by other Christians? The natural Latter-day Saint inclination is to react sharply that the church’s doctrines concerning Jesus Christ are intact and even eternal, that doctrines of Joseph Smith’s day and the doctrines of our own day are one and the same, that little of consequence has been altered.