LDS Perspectives #51: Joseph Smith’s Education in Sephardic Hebrew

Joseph’s Study of Hebrew and the Book of Abraham with Matthew J. Grey

In the winter of 1836, 100 church members enrolled in a seven-week, intensive Hebrew language course. Matthew Grey sees this study of Hebrew as a direct outgrowth of the larger translation project that Joseph had begun in the summer of 1835.

In July 1835, Joseph had purchased Egyptian scrolls and mummies from Michael Chandler. Shortly thereafter he translated what became known as Abraham 1 and Abraham 2 and began working on a “Grammer and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language” (GAEL). In the fall of 1835, Joseph started looking for a teacher of Hebrew for the Kirtland School. By January, the school committee had hired Joshua Seixas as a Hebrew teacher.

Joshua Seixas used his native Sephardic Hebrew in his transliterations, which varied substantially from the more common Ashkenazi Hebrew spellings. Because of the distinctive Hebrew transliterations in Seixas’s texts, we can trace Joseph’s use of his Hebrew training in succeeding years.

Traces of Sephardic Hebrew can be seen in revelations found in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Abraham, and recorded Nauvoo speeches. Joseph’s insights into Hebrew form a foundation for Nauvoo teachings regarding the nature of God, expansions on the plan of salvation, and verbiage in the temple ritual.

Laura Harris Hales talks with with Matthew Grey on the influence Joseph’s Hebrew study had on Joseph’s subsequent teachings and the role Sephardic Hebrew plays in unraveling the puzzle of the Book of Abraham translation puzzle.

Revisiting William Seely

Kate Vasicek Challis brings forward expanded information about William Seely (1816-1851?), first husband of Lucy Ann Decker, the first woman Brigham Young would covenant with as a plural wife. Meg Stout provides a brief response after Kate Challis’s comments.

A New Perspective on William Seely

Kate Vasicek Challis is a 30 year old wife and mother of 4 children living in Iowa, USA. She has a BA in French Teaching and a minor in TESOL K-12 (BYU ’09). She has been blogging at Czech Out Your Ancestors since 2013 and is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists.

Although I enjoyed Meg Stout’s post of 31 March 2014 titled “Wives of Sorrow,” I feel the post had some erroneous and misleading information about William Seely (1816-1851?), the first husband of Lucy Ann Decker Seely Young (1822-1890).

Meg wrote: “Lucy Ann Decker Seeley, born in 1822, was abandoned by her first husband, William, a non-Mormon who was allegedly abusive and an alcoholic.”

He was (at least at one time) a Mormon, according to his own 1840 deposition about being kidnapped by the Missouri mob at the battle of Crooked River, as well as early LDS membership records here and here. Also, according to a biography of Brigham Young, Lucy was told that William was dead, inferring that that knowledge could have influenced her decision to marry Young.

Meg continued: “William left Lucy with the couple’s three tiny children, leaving her a widow for all intents and purposes.”

It is possible that he first abandoned her with their three children (she also had an unnamed stillborn child, according to the above source), but eventually Lucy would travel west with her two children (one of the three died) in the company of Brigham Young. Continue reading

LDS Perspectives #50: Prayers and Pterodactyls with Steven Peck

Prayers and Pterodactyls with Steven Peck

Steven L. Peck is a BYU professor who has emerged as a powerful advocate for science and evolution, publishing two books about the topic in as many years.

His latest offering, Science the Key to Theology, is an impassioned plea to members of the LDS Church to teach the compatibility between science and religion, rather than their supposed conflict. Too many feel they need to make a choice between believing science and believing in religion, and are choosing science.

Steven himself became less active as a youth after learning that his Seminary teacher didn’t believe in dinosaurs. Then Steve went to BYU and found professors who modeled a healthy fidelity to both scientific and religious truths. These professors helped Steve appreciate how science speaks to the “how” of creation, but religion is still needed to speak to the “why.”

Laura Harris Hales and Steven Peck talk about the harm caused by maintaining a faulty tension between science and religion.

LDS Perspectives #49: Mormon Education with Casey Paul Griffiths


Schooling and Being Schooled in Religious Education with Casey Paul Griffeths, interviewed by Stephanie Dibb Sorensen

Casey Paul Griffiths is an expert on LDS Church education and its globalization efforts.

The formal foundation of education in the Mormon Church began in 1888 when the church board of education was established. Around this time, the United States initiated a free schools program. Wilford Woodruff, president of the church at that time, became very concerned that the federal education system was exclusively secular. Starting in the 1890s, he instructed every stake to launch their own academy. In the early 1900s the academy system was discarded for the more affordable seminary model. But this led to a whole new problem — training religious instructors in a lay church. By the 1930s the the existence of professional theological scholars created tensions the church is still grappling with.

Stephanie Dibb Sorensen (in her inaugural LDS Perspectives interview) talks with Griffiths about what this first generation of scholars faced when they came back to Utah to teach after studying in the liberal classrooms of the University of Chicago, as well as how the Church’s Pathways program is continuing this legacy of uniting secular and religious education.

Stephanie Dibb Sorensen is a mother to three and teaches Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University. She blogs about finding faith in motherhood at her blog, Diapers and Divinity, and is the author of Covenant Motherhood.

LDS Perspectives #48: Ardis Parshall, Dime Novels, Churchill, and LDS Women

The Mormon Image in Literature with Ardeth Parshall

Ardis Parshall is one of the most prolific LDS historians. Her blog, Keepapitchinin, has been running for over ten years now and includes over 6,000 posts, almost all written by Ardis.

Ardis has teamed with Michael Austin to republish literature related to Mormonism that is rare, fragile, and soon could be lost. Dime Novel Mormons, their current offering, presents four novellas featuring Mormons as villains.

The way Mormons were portrayed in dime novels was remarkably consistent. The authors played on common stereotypes and themes such as Danites, polygamy, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. As we read these novels, we can better understand what was happening in the minds of those meeting Mormon missionaries for the first time, or the fears Mormon families had as they sent loved ones to serve missions in a world filled with such distorted fiction. The outrage associated with one such Anti-Mormon novel was so great that English citizens called for a removal of all Mormon missionaries. This prompted Winston Churchill to look into Mormon activities, luckily only to confirm actual Mormons were good and sweet.

Laura Harris Hales also talks with Ardis about her forthcoming book, She Shall be an Ensign. In this eagerly anticipated work, Ardis provides us the history of the Church through the eyes of the women who participated.