The First Work of Mormon Science Fiction? Maybe, but at Least the Pterodactyls are Cool

The original cover and title page of A Trip to the North Pole; or, Discovery of the Ten Tribes (1903)

On the first Sunday of December in 1903, a headline in the Salt Lake Tribune announced the startling news, NORTH POLE DISCOVERED—six years before explorer Robert Peary’s famous, if disputed, expedition. According to the article, a Mr. O.J.S. Lindelof had, on a recent trip to Europe, been given a waterlogged manuscript that he brought back with him to Salt Lake City. When he finally got around to reading it, the manuscript turned out to be a record of the discovery of the North Pole by a San Francisco-based expedition some years earlier. Unlike Peary, who discovered an uninhabitable frozen wasteland, the explorers in Lindelof’s manuscript describe a verdant, densely populated region that has been hidden from the rest of the world for thousands of years.

As the Tribune reported, “it tells of finding a white and civilized people; tells of their customs, habits, wars, and dissentions, their flora and their fauna, and gives a complete record of their country from the time they arrived until the record was sealed up.”  And, as the book’s subtitle reveals, these are not just ordinary people living in a hidden population center around the North Pole. They speak a form of Hebrew and make sacrifices to “the God of Abraham” (97)—because, as the narrator concludes, they are indeed the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel (9). 

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The Affordability Crisis Hits LDS Homes

Natalie Brown recently completed a dissertation in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University that examines the relationship between homesickness and economic instability in nineteenth-century literature. She is currently guest editing an issue on the role of homes and houses in LDS culture for Irreantum, the literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters. She encourages anyone interested in this topic to read the issue-specific guidelines and submit.

My life before the pandemic feels indistinguishable sometimes from the quarantine that followed. The pandemic exposed more than it created the preexisting cracks in my support network. I was already lonely and inadequately supported as an LDS mother of young children living in Colorado. Like many other families, we’d followed a job and found opportunity. That opportunity, however, came with the costs of living away from extended family and expensive housing that guaranteed my parents and siblings would not follow us.

Living away from family was not a wholly new situation to me. I’m a product of the Midwest, and my own parents raised me hundreds of miles from their families. My current situation, however, feels different from the one in which I grew up. While it’s easy to let nostalgia gloss the past, my parents had a ward with many families they could draw on for support and who actively mentored younger members. My parents could eventually afford luxuries like babysitters, lessons, and gym memberships that allowed them breaks from caretaking that today seem out of reach on any regular basis. In contrast, I find myself struggling with isolation as I stay home with children, as LDS women have long been encouraged to do. I’ve lost most of my local friends with young children in the last five years as families move in and out in search of cheaper housing and struggle to pay for things like preschool. The thing is, we are educated, middle-aged, and far from poor. Housing and childcare, however, are expensive. Which is another way of saying that affording a family today is tough.

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Accomplishing God’s Work of Leading Out Against Prejudice

I wish the Church would tackle racism and nationalism with the same energy it devotes to sex. 

It’s not difficult to envision.  Just take every resource the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently spends defending chastity and reallocate them to anti-racism.  When we’re inevitably challenged for being too “political,” emphasize the great moral need for social policies which recognize the divine worth of every soul.    

We have the foundation to accomplish this.  In October 2020 President Nelson pleaded with us “to promote respect for all of God’s children.”  The Prophet “grieved that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice.”  He then called “upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice.” 

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On the JST of Hebrews 1-6

A COMMENTARY ON JOSEPH SMITH’S REVISION OF HEBREWS 1-6

Kevin Barney

1-2. Hebrews 1:6-7 

And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten first begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him, who maketh his ministers as a flame of fire. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire Angels are ministering spirts.

    The separation of “firstbegotten” into two words, “first begotten,” is a modernization (modern editions of the KJV typically use a hyphen here). Verse 7 is a quotation from Psalms 104:4. The expression “who maketh his ministers a flame of fire” is moved forward and changed to “as a flame of fire.” This reflects a JST tendency to change a metaphor into a simile by adding the word “as” so as to be clear that the comparison is not to be taken literally. The first part of the quote, “Who maketh his angels spirits,” is changed to “Angels are ministering spirits.” The JST revision seems to be based on the idea that angels are already spirits, so “making them” spirits is nonsensical, and is replaced with a definitional “Angels are ministering spirits.” Most modern  translations render something like “who makes his angels winds” (as Greek pneuma may be translated spirit, wind or breath),  which is a natural force paralleling the natural force of “a flame of fire.” 

    Paradigm Classifications A-1 and A-3 (Paraphrase of English KJV Text and Modernization)

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Valentine’s Day

This guest post is from Christina Taber-Kewene, OG BCC Permablogger and self-described “writer, business owner and very pandemic-depressed mother of four trying to survive February.”

I thought I had done an adequate mothering job in preparing for Valentine’s Day this year. I remembered more than a week ahead to order craft supplies from Target so we could make and mail cards for the grandparents, although not before all the pre-made ones were sold out and not in time to have them delivered before the Sunday afternoon I had set aside for crafting. Fortunately, my Sunday morning walking buddy is better stocked than I, and she loaded me up with enough stickers and doilies to get us through the first round of card making.

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Believing Mary Oliver

Image from Pawel Cerwinski via Unsplash

The first time I heard Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese was in a therapist’s office nearly a decade ago. It was our first session, and I was trying to explain the crippling perfectionism that has often accompanied my spiritual life. The man nodded understandingly, then offered this passage as an antidote:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

As I heard the words I felt my heart swell, then promptly clamp down. Clearly, I thought, this guy doesn’t get Mormonism. I called the office later to see if they had any LDS therapists. They didn’t, so I didn’t go back. 

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Whether the temple and priesthood restriction was mistaken

First, before we go on, let us reiterate that the First Presidency has disavowed all teachings, beliefs, and doctrines promoted by Church leaders in connection with temple and priesthood restriction against Black people, including that “black skin or dark skin is the sign of a curse.” [n1] These ideas are a pernicious cancer upon the Body of Christ.

I recently had a conversation with a friend, where I indicated that the best response to questions about the temple and priesthood restriction that endured from 1852 to 1978 was to admit that it was a mistake. This friend was uncomfortable with this position and suggested that the evidence was indicative that despite teaching false and destructive ideas about the restriction, Church leaders nevertheless were following God’s will to instate the restriction. In this post I am going to respond to the primary arguments for this.

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Book Review: N. T. Wright’s Biography of the Apostle Paul

I’ve been saving up some book reviews for you. Here is the first. Enjoy.

N. T. Wright: Paul: A Biography.
San Francisco: HarperOne, 2018. xiii plus 464 pages.

N. T. Wright has produced many monographs on the Apostle Paul. His believing perspective makes his work friendly to Latter-day Saints as does Joseph Smith’s claim that he often felt like his life had some sympathetic mirroring of Paul’s life. That said, the life of Paul is largely mysterious. The sources are nowhere dense.[1] What do we have? The Pauline Corpus (letters of Paul in the New Testament (NT)–with complications noted below). And the Acts of the Apostles following the Gospel of Luke in the NT. Wright is expert at dealing with this material and the context of Paul’s life in terms of Roman and Greek thought and history, and Second Temple Judaism. In some sense his work on Paul’s theology and thought led naturally to the present volume.

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On the JST of 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon

A COMMENTARY ON JOSEPH SMITH’S REVISION OF 2 TIMOTHY

Kevin Barney

1. 2 Timothy 2:5

And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he he is not crowned, except he strive lawfully.

    This revision was based on the italics. The italicized conjunction “yet” has the sense of “but at the same time,” but that nuance is already implicit in the sentence and does not need to be explicitly stated. The Anchor Bible has “And also, if anyone competes in an athletic contest he won’t be crowned unless he competes by the rules.” See Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 364. Although some older translations use “yet” based on KJV influence, modern translations generally do not use that word here.

    Paradigm Classification A-2 (Suspicion of Italicized Text)

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Managing the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in a religious vacuum

In 1937 young Gordon Hinckley, who had been charged with reforming and centralizing the mission programs as part of his job with the Radio, Publicity and Missionary Literature Committee, helped publish the Missionary’s Hand Book. Missionaries were getting younger and younger, and this was the first handbook used by all missionaries in the church (others were produced regionally for specific missions). It holds counsel, advice, regulations, and instructions on administering the liturgies of the church—the first document published by the church that did so. In just a few years, Hinckley had the additional challenge of making a small volume to be carried by a different set of young Latter-day Saints far from home. He needed to produce a handbook for living the Gospel during military service.

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On the JST of 1 Timothy

COMMENTARY ON JOSEPH SMITH’S REVISION OF 1 TIMOTHY

Kevin Barney

1. 1 Timothy 1:1

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and the Lord Jesus Christ, which is our Savior and our hope;

    Two italicized words are removed, and the revision Americanizes the British spelling of “Saviour”  to “Savior” (which drops the u, making it easier to pronounce on sight). But the most substantive change is to avoid predicating the word Savior of God, but predicating that word of Jesus instead. Most commonly in both the New Testament and Christian tradition generally the word “Savior” (Greek soter, Latin salvator) is predicated of Jesus Christ. In the letters of Timothy and Titus, however, there are a handful of places where “Savior” is predicated of God rather than Jesus. In the Hebrew Bible God is often described as a savior, so this is not really that unusual, but it does conflict with common modern usage, and so Smith reworked the passage to make Jesus Christ the Savior rather that God the Father.

    Paradigm Classifications A-2, A-3 and C-1 (Suspicion of Italicized Text, Modernization and Harmonization within the Biblical Text)

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Killing the Buddha

If you meet a Buddha on the road, kill him.

According to tradition, the 9th century Zen Master Linji Yixuan instructed his students with the koan, “if you meet the Budha on the road, kill him.” I am fairly sure that he did not mean this literally. Let’s be clear. Nobody should kill anybody, of any religion, on or off of the road, for any reason. Don’t do it. 

But, as Zen koans go, this one is easier than most. The whole idea of a koan is that it is supposed to make you think for, like, ten years about all of the nooks and crannies of meaning that it contains. Koans are supposed to be confusing. They are supposed to challenge our understanding of what “meaning” means.

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On the JST of 1 and 2 Thesselonians

A COMMENTARY ON JOSEPH SMITH’S REVISION OF 1 THESSALONIANS

Kevin Barney

1. 1 Thessalonians 1:1

Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, servants of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, unto the church of the Thessalonians; which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

    This modification was spurred in part by the italics, but the main driver of the revision is the word “in,”; i.e., that the church at Thessalonica was somehow “in God.” Note that, apart from deleting italicized words and moving some text, the main result of this revision is to delete (and thus avoid) the preposition “in.” Saying the church is “in God” is an obscure statement; what does it mean? The exact phrase is found only here and in 2 Thessalonians 1:1. “In God” (en theo) is unusual for Paul, and may be analogous to “in Christ,” but “in God” (in the sense of the church being or existing in God) is not normal Pauline usage. It is possible that the preposition should be read in an instrumental sense; i.e., “the assembly of the Thessalonians brought into being by God.” For discussion, see the Anchor Bible volume, Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 99. The vast majority of modern translations follow the KJV and render Greek en literally with its English cognate, “in,” thus giving the reader little help in understanding the expression. A number of modern translations render en “in union with” or “united” or “the people of” or “belonging to,” which are plausible suggestions. See CJB, CEV, GW, GNT, ISV, TLB, MSG, NIRV, NLV, NLT, and VOICE. 

    Paradigm Classifications A-1 and A-2 (English Paraphrase of KJV Text and Suspicion of Italicized Text)

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Notes on practice: Folding arms during prayer

A friend emailed me a great question about Latter-day Saint “prayer posture”: “why do we fold our arms instead of folding hands like many other Christians.” The following is a preliminary response.

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“‘I Dug the Graves'” and “Brigham Young’s Garden Cosmology” (AKA “Adam-God”)

The most recent issue of the Journal of Mormon History just dropped. There are a number of articles, essays, and reviews that are very compelling. I recommend becoming a subscriber and checking it out. I have an article that I want to talk about, but first I want to point to Paul Reeve’s article in the same issue.

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On the JST of Philippians and Colossians

A COMMENTARY ON JOSEPH SMITH’S REVISION OF PHILIPPIANS

Kevin Barney

1. Philippians 1:4

Always in every prayer of mine, for the steadfastness of you all, making request with joy,

    The KJV is ambiguous in the second half of the verse as to who is doing the praying. Does “for you all making request with joy” refer to a prayer Paul is making or a prayer the people themselves are making? In the English of the KJV it is not clear. The JST adds commas to clarify that this is Paul’s prayer on behalf of the people. Further, is Paul’s prayer one of petition or thanksgiving? The JST suggests it is both. Adding “the steadfastness of” makes it clear this is a prayer of thanks for the people and all the good they have done, while “making request” are words of Paul’s petition on their behalf. Note how the AMPC expresses this more clearly than the KJV: “In every prayer of mine I always make my entreaty and petition for you all with joy (delight).” (Emphasis in original.)

Paradigm Classification A-1 (Paraphrase of KJV Text)

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Moroni Visits Joseph Smith

I have to admit, I’m going to be a little sad if this week’s Sunday School lesson doesn’t start with Earth Wind and Fire‘s “September.”

Added bonus: after last night’s scripture study (and subsequent Spotify listen and Just Dance game) my family’s never going to forget the date Moroni came to visit Joseph Smith for the first time.

Prejudice Against Me Among Professors of Religion

Sunday evening, my family and I were reading Joseph Smith–History in a not-quite-too-late bid to keep up with the Sunday School reading. And, although I’ve read the first 26 verses plenty of times before, something whetted my curiosity this time.

See, in v. 19, the Personage tells Joseph that all of the creeds were an abomination and that “those professors were all corrupt.” A few verses later, Joseph talks about how his story “excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion.”

I’d always taken for granted that these professors of religion were religious elites, presumably teachers at seminaries or colleges–the caretakers of institutional religion at the time. After all, that’s kind of how we collectively teach and read these passages. (Don’t believe me? Well, the footnote to “professors” in v. 19 references “False Prophets” in the Topical Guide, which at least implies some degree of authority and religious eliteness.)

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No More Disposition to Speak Evil: A Lesson Plan to Address Racism in the Church

Here is a lesson plan for BCC readers who need a Sunday School or Relief Society/Elder’s Quorum lesson to address white nationalism. I welcome constructive feedback and will update this lesson plan periodically to incorporate it, so that it can be a living resource for the future.

Opening Hymn: I’m Trying to be Like Jesus

Objective: Teach members how to use the peaceable doctrine of Christ to confront concrete examples of racism in their everyday lives.

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“None of these offices is he to do”: priests and the administration of the sacrament

A friend shot me a note this week with a question about the “Articles and Covenants.” Revised and included in our Doctrine and Covenants as Section 20, this is the document that functioned as a sort of General Handbook of Instructions and creed for the early church. This document, like most of the Doctrine and Covenants, was crystallized in 1835, however beliefs and policy change (we do have a living church and continued revelation). That presents situations were current practice doesn’t always line up with the text. My friend asked about the duties of priests in verses 46-52, which seem to indicate (in 50-51) that priests shouldn’t administer the sacrament when an Elder is present.

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and his sword is bathed in heaven

Yesterday I got some sort of a reminder, I think on Facebook, that this Sunday begins the new D&C curriculum year, so I thought I would read the assigned text, which is D&C 1. So I’m reading along and I come to verse 13: “And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth.” And I was struck by the expression “his sword is bathed in heaven”; what the heck is that supposed to mean?

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Of Mormon Angels and Catholic Missals

An old friend of mine sent me this story; it has no great message, but it is worth pondering, in these post-Christmas days, as we wait the beginning of, we all fervently hope, a much better year. Enjoy!

Some of us may be familiar with Jorge Cocco Santángelo, an 84-year-old Argentinian Mormon artist who, after a lengthy career making and teaching art in Argentina, Spain, and Mexico, was recently “discovered” by our community. Since much of his recent work depicts the life of Jesus, it has found admirers far beyond his co-religionists; for example, shortly before the covid lockdowns began, the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas held an exhibition of his work. Recently, he was commissioned to do paintings for some Christmas postage stamps (not USPS), which should come out next year.

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Duelling Gift-Bringers: Reconciling Overlapping Traditions

The Christkind was here!

It’s the twenty-fourth of December. Three generations are gathered around the piano in the family room singing Christmas carols. Light from the windows illuminates soft flakes falling silently to the ground. Just as silently, unnoticed by the youngest in the room, grandmother and grandfather exit the room. A while later—no one can recall exactly how long; time seems suspended on this most anticipated evening of the year—young ears pick out the ringing of a bell. The music stops and there is a rush for the door. Small feet pad down the hallway, eager hands throw open the living room door and wide eyes take in the splendour of a decorated tree lit with candles where once the sofa had stood, at its base a pile of wrapped gifts—the Christkind has come!

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On the JST of Ephesians

In honor of Joseph Smith’s birthday, I thought I would post another installment in my recent attempt to write commentaries on the JST revisions to some of the New Testament epistles. I hope you enjoy this installment, and Merry Christmas!

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A Musical Celebration of Christmas

I mentioned the other day that my ward had asked me to perform a virtual musical number for our December 20th Zoom sacrament meeting. I chose a saxophone duet of “What Child Is This”:

I also wanted to see your Christmas performances. So if you recorded a special musical number for your sacrament meeting (or, for that matter, if you want to record one for us), please post it in the comments! (Note that sometimes our spam filter holds up YouTube links; I’ll check periodically and release comments.)

If you’re interested in how I recorded this, I’ll put details below the fold. If you’re not (and feel free to not be interested!) click on “Comments” at the top to jump straight to others’ performances.

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On the JST of Galatians

I decided to take a crack at another commentary on the JST of a book of the New Testament, going with Galatians (following 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians). Since the letters of Paul are organized from longest to shortest, the books keep getting shorter and therefore less intimidating to write a commentary on (1 Cor. had 68 vereses, but 2 Cor. had only about a third as many, and Galatians had only a little over half as many as 2 Cor.) I’m not sure whether I’ll keep churning these things out, but I might do a few more. I think it’s a lot of fun to try to get into Joseph’s head and figure out where he was going with these revisions. And I continue to be impressed by what he did (as in not perfect by any means, but very thoughtful). I checked these against Clarke and saw no likely influence from that source.

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Love for Christmas

Each year during the Christmas season, I try to write a blog post on a Christmas poem that has been meaningful for me. In the last six years, this has meant poems by Whitman, Rossetti, Auden, Elliot, Hardy, and Brodsky. I have also, over this time, managed three of the four Advent themes: Hope, Peace, and Joy. So this post is going to be a twofer: the seve th installment of the Christmas poetry theme, and the final installment on the Advent series. I want to talk about love.

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A year of Book of Mormon Study in review

Over the last two years I have joined a group of people from my ward for a regular study group. Last year was the New Testament, and we used various translations along with supplemental readings, largely drawn from Raymond Brown’s magisterial Introduction to the New Testament. We got together, shared questions and comments from the readings, and ate cheese or brownies as we discussed the intersection of our lives with scripture. As we turned to the Book of Mormon this year, things were different. I used Skousen’s Earliest Text for my scripture reading, and others largely used the Maxwell Institute’s Study Edition. But the supplemental reading was less concentrated in a single text, and the food was stripped from us as was our sociality. Zoom was a passible solution, and in many ways formed the core of my devotional life during the period my stake ended all meetings, even if they were online.

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Special Musical Numbers, Christmas 2020 Edition

A member of my bishopric asked if I’d do a special musical number for church Sunday.

But given that this is 2020 and we have Zoom church, I’m not performing it live. Rather, I recorded it a couple days ago and will upload it to YouTube for him to play during our sacrament meeting.

I imagine that a lot of you may be in similar circumstances. Which has a really cool side benefit–we can share our musical numbers more broadly than just our wards! In fact, we can share it with the internet at large!

So what I’m thinking is this: on Sunday after church, I’m going to put up a post with a link to my number. I would love it if, in the comments, other people who are performing Christmas music for church also posted their performances. That way, we can all share in the uplifting Christmas spirit!

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Hope in the darkness

It’s Advent and I keenly feel the notion of hope against hope, that I am navigating my way with a brief candle in the darkness. I find that I have lost hope in most institutions and groups of humans, but feel hopeful about our individual capacity for goodness. I would really like to hear what you are all hopeful about. I won’t second-guess your sources of hope, but perhaps hearing where you get your hopes will brighten my own. Happy Advent and Merry Christmas.