Finding the Lost 116 Pages

I adore Don Bradley. His scholarship is precise, his efforts are extensive, and he has been generous to me personally. Don is currently completing his Master’s Degree at USU.

Today’s LDS Perspectives podcast allows us to hear from Don Bradley regarding his work on Joseph Smith’s translation efforts and what we can know about the contents of the lost 116 pages (or more accurately, the lost pages that contained information corresponding to the first 116 pages in the original Book of Mormon as published).

I’ll come back later and expand this post to include pretty pictures and stuff, but for now, go to LDS Perspectives and listen to Don.

Brigham Young on the Word of Wisdom

This post is thanks to a comment from Zander Sturgill on other social media.

An interesting quotation attributed to Brigham Young that I had never seen before: “Some of the sisters and some of the brethren will say that tea and coffee is not mentioned in the Word of Wisdom, but hot drinks. As if this doesn’t refer directly, perfectly, absolutely, definitely and truly to that which we did drink hot. What does it allude to? What did we drink hot? Tea and coffee. When we made milk porridge, it was food. We couldn’t wash it down red hot the way we drank down tea. It alludes to tea and coffee or whatever we drank. I said to the Latter-day Saints at the annual conference of 6 April that the spirit whispers to me for this people to observe the Word of Wisdom. Let the tea and coffee and tobacco alone, whether they smoke, take snuff and chew, let it alone. Those that are in the habit of drinking liquor, cease to drink liquor.” Brigham Young Tooele in 1867 (Reported by Gerrit Dirkmaat on LDS Perspectives podcast, PhD in history in 2010 from the University of Colorado. He worked as a historian/writer for the Joseph Smith Papers Project (JSP) from 2010 to 2014. He was coeditor of Documents, Volume 1 and lead editor of Documents, Volume 3. He is now an assistant professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU)

What “tea” could BY be referring to in the 19th century?  In those days, there really was only one kind of tea, and that was from the camellia sinensis plant, which produces black tea, green tea, white tea and yellow tea.

Teas that do not come from the camellia sinensis plant are presumably not part of the word of wisdom.  For example, mint tea comes from a different plant, as does chamomile tea.

(This post is not intended to tell anybody else how they should practice the Word of Wisdom.   That is between you and God.)


The Book of Abraham with John Gee

Kurt Manwaring and respected Egyptologist John Gee sat down to talk about the Book of Abraham in an interview posted on Kurt’s website today. Kurt has allowed us to cross post a portion of that interview here at M*.

John Gee is author of An Introduction to the Book of Abraham. Gee is Mormon and shares his thoughts and experiences regarding the intersection of faith and scholarship. (Image of John Gee courtesy of BYU Religious Studies Center)

Kurt Manwaring: Welcome. Before we begin, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got interested in Egyptology?

John Gee: I had never heard of Egyptology until I got to college. My freshman year, my brother and I stumbled across a book in the bookstore on learning hieroglyphs. There were two copies and so we each got one. I read it and got interested in the subject. He read it and went into something more useful.

Kurt Manwaring: What role did your Mormon faith play during the pursuit of your doctorate at Yale? Did it ever cause problems or open doors?

John Gee: In certain cases, being a faithful Latter-day Saint opened doors. More often it has caused problems.

For example, when I first got to Yale, it took me a while but I finally found a place to stay. After about a week, the fellow who owned the apartment, one of the Yale faculty, found out I was a Latter-day Saint and kicked me out for that reason.

A couple of weeks later I got a letter. Just before going to Yale I had participated at an international conference. My paper was decently received but the letter was from the editors of the proceedings volume rejecting my paper on the grounds that I was a member of the Church.

Such attitudes are still prevalent in academia and I still encounter them with some frequency.

Years ago, Elder [Neal A.] Maxwell warned that “the Saints—meaning you and I—must not make the mistake of assuming the existence of any truce between the forces of Satan and God. To believe so, . . . is a very great delusion, and a very common one.”

Given my own experience and Elder Maxwell’s warning, I do not think this kind of thing is going to go away.

Kurt Manwaring: Did you work with Hugh Nibley? How would you describe him to those today who do not know who he is? Continue reading

Honest questions for Adam S. Miller

Adam S. Miller, the Mormon philosopher who wrote the highly praised book “Letters to a Young Mormon,” wrote a piece that was published on LDS Living yesterday.  The article can be read here.  The title of the article is:  “Defending the Family Means Defending Women and Rooting Out Misogyny.”

I have re-read the article multiple times, and I don’t understand it.  Really.  I think I know what Bro. Miller is trying to say, but then I re-read the article and I think, “no, that can’t be right.”  So, I am back to thinking I don’t know what he is saying.  I wrote this article in the hopes somebody who knows him will pass it along to him and perhaps I can get some answers.

Before we get to the article, I should probably point out that I did not like his much-praised book.  At all.  To sum up my experience, I found it full of convoluted, difficult to understand statements that ended up being dull platitudes.  For me, it was kind of like trying to read a pretentious 13-year-old’s diary.   I would never have read a book like his when I was a young person trying to find my way through life.  (Now to be fair, I only went to church a few times when I was young, and I did not get baptized until I was in my 30s, so perhaps I was not the target audience.  And also to be double-fair to Bro. Miller, many people I respect loved his book).

To understand where I am coming from, let’s take a look at Bro. Miller’s talk at BYU on Jan. 11.

In that talk he said the following:

“It is a mistake to think that Mormonism is about Mormonism. Mormonism is not about Mormonism. And if we try to force Mormonism to be about itself, we paint ourselves into corners and lose track of the very thing we are trying to say. . . . In my experience, Mormonism comes into focus as true and living only when I stop looking directly at it and instead aim my attention at Christ. Instead of aiming at Mormonism, I have to aim what Mormonism is aiming at. Otherwise, I’ll miss what matters most.”

What the heck?  This has to be one of the strangest statements I have ever read.  Mormonism is about Christ.  I mean, it is right there in the name of the Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  What the heck does he mean saying that “Mormonism is not about Mormonism?”  I have read that paragraph a dozen times now, and I have no idea what he is talking about.   Again, to be fair to Bro. Miller, perhaps I would have understood better if I had watched his talk in context.  Does he mean that Mormonism is not about Utah culture?  Does he mean that Mormonism is not about American triumphalism?  Does he mean that Mormonism is not about blindly following prophets?  Does he mean that Mormonism is not about Joseph Smith?  I simply don’t know.

So, question number one for Bro. Miller is:  what the heck does that paragraph mean?

My same concerns apply to his article in LDS Living.

Continue reading

If you believe Christianity is in decline in the U.S., you need to read this article

Here it is.

Some key excerpts:


New research published late last year by scholars at Harvard University and Indiana University Bloomington is just the latest to reveal the myth. This research questioned the “secularization thesis,” which holds that the United States is following most advanced industrial nations in the death of their once vibrant faith culture. Churches becoming mere landmarks, dance halls, boutique hotels, museums, and all that.

Not only did their examination find no support for this secularization in terms of actual practice and belief, the researchers proclaim that religion continues to enjoy “persistent and exceptional intensity” in America. These researchers hold our nation “remains an exceptional outlier and potential counter example to the secularization thesis.”….

Mainline churches are tanking as if they have super-sized millstones around their necks. Yes, these churches are hemorrhaging members in startling numbers, but many of those folks are not leaving Christianity. They are simply going elsewhere. Because of this shifting, other very different kinds of churches are holding strong in crowds and have been for as long as such data has been collected. In some ways, they are even growing. This is what this new research has found.

The percentage of Americans who attend church more than once a week, pray daily, and accept the Bible as wholly reliable and deeply instructive to their lives has remained absolutely, steel-bar constant for the last 50 years or more, right up to today. These authors describe this continuity as “patently persistent.”

The percentage of such people is also not small. One in three Americans prays multiple times a day, while one in 15 do so in other countries on average. Attending services more than once a week continues to be twice as high among Americans compared to the next highest-attending industrial country, and three times higher than the average comparable nation.

One-third of Americans hold that the Bible is the actual word of God. Fewer than 10 percent believe so in similar countries. The United States “clearly stands out as exceptional,” and this exceptionalism has not been decreasing over time. In fact, these scholars determine that the percentages of Americans who are the most vibrant and serious in their faith is actually increasing a bit, “which is making the United States even more exceptional over time.”….

This also means, of course, that those who take their faith seriously are becoming a markedly larger proportion of all religious people. In 1989, 39 percent of those who belonged to a religion held strong beliefs and practices. Today, these are 47 percent of all the religiously affiliated. This all has important implications for politics, indicating that the voting bloc of religious conservatives is not shrinking, but actually growing among the faithful. The declining influence of liberal believers at the polls has been demonstrated in many important elections recently.


The findings of these scholars are not outliers. There has been a growing gulf between the faithful and the dabblers for quite some time, with the first group growing more numerous. Think about the church you attend, relative to its belief system. It is extremely likely that if your church teaches the Bible with seriousness, calls its people to real discipleship, and encourages daily intimacy with God, it has multiple services to handle the coming crowds.

…There is another factor at work here beyond orthodox belief. The University of London’s Eric Kaufmann explains in his important book “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?” (he says yes) that the sustaining vitality, and even significant per capita growth, of serious Christian belief is as firmly rooted in fertility as it is in faithful teaching and evangelism. Globally, he says that the more robust baby-making practices of orthodox Jews and Christians, as opposed to the baby-limiting practices of liberals, create many more seriously religious people than a secular agenda can keep up with.


But what about our young people? We are constantly hearing that young people are “leaving the church in droves,” followed by wildly disturbing statistics. This also requires a closer look at who is actually leaving and from where. Pew reports that of young adults who left their faith, only 11 percent said they had a strong faith in childhood while 89 percent said they came from a home that had a very weak faith in belief and practice.

It’s not a news flash that kids don’t tend to hang onto what they never had in the first place. Leading sociologist of religion Christopher Smith has found through his workthat most emerging adults “report little change in how religious they have been in the previous five years.” He surprisingly also found that those who do report a change say they have been more religious, not less. This certainly does not mean there is a major revival going on among young adults, but nor does it mean the sky is falling.