July 13, 2009

The Curriculum Department and the Search for the Authentic Joseph Smith

As Dean C. Jesse noted in 1991, Joseph Smith's teachings are often viewed with "scriptural reverence" despite the need for careful historical analysis. While reviewing some of the difficulties involved in evaluating Joseph Smith sources, he noted that all too often:

[the] sources are taken at face value without determining how clearly those sources represent his mind and personality. These windows to his life and thought reflect varying levels of proximity to him, a factor that must be dealt with in any serious study of him."1
Scholars from the Joseph Smith Papers Project (JSPP) recently discussed the methodology used in selecting various quotes for the recent Church manual, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. Scholars on the project constructed a criteria of authenticity regarding the various recorded statements, sermons, and memories of Joseph Smith which helped them decide what and how to include certain material.

First, a little background. The manual was published in late 2007 as the latest installment of Relief Society and Priesthood instruction manuals. A flurry of discussion on the manual swept through the Bloggernacle, including many positive and negative comments. The most common criticism is the manual's seeming "proof-texting" of Joseph Smith. It seems to "contemporize" him, missing an opportunity to educate members of the Church on various historical viewpoints not common to discussion of Church history generally.2 The most common praise is the manual's apparently more rigorous selection and use of source material as compared to past manuals. In that regard, the manual has been called a "step forward."3  

An interesting and useful appendix to the manual called "Sources Used in This Book” discusses some of the methods editors of the manual used in putting the pieces together.4 I hope this resource encourages members of the Church to more thoughtfully consider the process of historical inquiry involved in creating Church manuals. This process included members of the team currently working on the Joseph Smith Papers Project, perhaps the most exciting and important historical project the Church has undertaken to date.5 A weekly television broadcast called "Joseph Smith Papers" recently featured a two-part special called "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith." Part one discussed the various books that have been published in the past on the sermons and teachings of Joseph Smith, including the recent Joseph Smith manual.6

According to host Glen Rawson, members of the Joseph Smith Papers Project team assisted in compiling the sources from which the manual's quotes were selected. Rather than relying on past efforts like Joseph Fielding Smith's Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the manual relies on deeper sources.7 They essentially started from scratch.

According to Ronald O. Barney, JSPP editors collected every statement attributed to Joseph Smith they could discover, filling “seventeen 3-inch binders of material which we delivered to the church curriculum department for the curriculum writing committee to produce the manual.”8 Glen Rawson noted that it was evident not every statement could be given equal weight, hence, an "elaborate classification system" was developed which "enabled the curriculum writers to judge whether or not this was a bona fide teaching of Joseph Smith, or not.”9

While it may seem somewhat pedantic, Barney then briefly described the system which was outlined in a document called "Classification of documents which contain teachings of Joseph Smith":
We decided to classify the teachings of Joseph Smith in this way: if something was directly attributable to Joseph Smith, we gave it a capital A. If it was something that he wrote himself, or that we knew in absolute certainty was a dictation from JS, we would give it a capital A and lowercase a.

If it was something that we knew that JS had said, but that was in the handwriting of someone else, and that we could not be sure it came directly out of his mouth or from his pen, we would give it a capital A, lowercase b.

If it was something that was a clerk’s copy of a manuscript, where there was still some feature of uncertainty as exactly—as to what the circumstances were, about its production, but we knew that it came from Joseph Smith, we gave it a capital A, lowercase c.

If it was a contemporary document that had been attributed to the entirety of the First Presidency, but that still had the imprimatur of Joseph Smith on it, we would give it a capital A, lowercase d. If it was something that we were certain we could attribute to Joseph Smith, but it was in someone else's writing and there was nothing to indicate that Joseph Smith had crafted it we would still give it a capital A, lowercase d.

And if it was something that we still felt was attributable to Joseph Smith, but there was no identification of him having been the source of it, we would give it a capital A, lowercase e.

When it came to people who were other than Joseph, who said that Joseph said things, such as his family members or intimate associates like members of the Quorum of the Twelve, we would give a capital B to those.

If it were common Latter-day Saints, who happened to be in a congregation who heard Joseph Smith deliver a sermon and then captured some of the notes of those sermons in their diary or in some other form, we would give it a capital C.

If it was someone who had been a Latter-day Saint, who had said something that later on through time they had heard Joseph Smith say this, but that, they perhaps had a motive that may not have been in a supportive way, we would give it a capital letter D.10
In addition to these stipulations, Barney described two other qualifications taken into consideration:
The qualification of time. Was it a contemporary report? Was it written within a year? Five years? Ten years? Or twenty plus years. And many things that have been circulated through the years that people have attributed to Joseph Smith come in that kind of light. And we would identify about when, or precisely when, those reports were made.

And lastly, is this an eyewitness report? Or is it a secondhand report? Is it something that was produced by an individual who actually heard Joseph Smith say it, or watch him write it? Something to that effect, that would give a feature of veracity to it that would trump something that was hearsay or second or third hand.11
The full document is included below in Appendix I (click here).

Barney said each document in the seventeen binders was reviewed and rated under this rubric by himself and several other scholars, including Glenn N. Rowe and Steven R. Sorensen. This information was taken into consideration when the Joseph Smith manual was compiled, the correlation department giving preference to sources the scholars viewed as more reliable. Though certainly not foolproof or flawless, differentiating in this manner can help members of the Church understand the veracity or strength of various statements attributed to Joseph Smith. Historical inquiry is an art more than an exact science; historians and writers try to make well-informed decisions regarding the weight they give various evidence but cannot determine with 100% certainty the accuracy of any given account. Still, it is useful to consider the variables involved to get a clearer picture.12  The system isn't scientifically foolproof, nor is it expected to be. There are still some aspects of the manual that could use more clarification. For instance, in chapter 38 on the Wentworth Letter Orson Pratt's original proto-Articles of Faith aren't mentioned, though the Thirteen clearly derive from his 1840 missionary pamphlet, A[n] interesting account of several remarkable visions, and of the late discovery of ancient American records. (Yes, the title is that long. See it here. More to come on the comparison.)

As one example, I recently blogged about the statement often attributed to Joseph Smith that a vision of the Telestial kingdom would be so glorious that people would commit suicide to get there.13 According to the criteria developed described here, that statement would rate something like a (C5-), or something along those lines. The source, time elapsed, and personality of the person who recorded the memory must be taken into account when evaluating this statement attributed to Joseph Smith.




FOOTNOTES:
[1]
Dean C. Jessee, “Priceless Words and Fallible Memories: Joseph Smith as Seen in the Effort to Preserve His Discourses.” BYU Studies 31 (Spring 1991): 22. See Appendix II below for a bibliography of material dealing with Joseph Smith's history.

[2]
See J. Nelson-Seawright, "Why Don't We Trust Joseph Smith?", By Common Consent, 16 December 2007. One response, correct though not entirely satisfying, was made by No_Cool_Name_Tom: "The book is, on the whole, the result of deciding what topics each chapter/lesson should cover and then assembling as many direct Joseph Smith quotes—or personal recollections of those close to Joseph—to make the chapter feel like a flowing piece about the topic."

[3]
Tom, "Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith," By Common Consent, 14 August 2007.In comparison, the original manual in the series, the Brigham Young manual, encountered some criticism leading to changes in subsequent manuals. See the Associated Press article "Absence of Polygamy In LDS Manual Stirs Controversy," The Salt Lake Tribune, 5 April 1998, C3. See also Michael Parker, "The Church's Portrayal of Brigham Young," FAIR.org.

[4]
See “Appendix: Sources Used in This Book,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007),558–64.

[5]
See the official website at josephsmithpapers.org.

[6]
The weekly series appears in Utah on KJZZ channel 14 Sunday nights at 8 PM (MST). For more on the series, see KJZZ.com. The two-part special, "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Part 1" aired on Sunday, June 28, 2009 featuring interviews with Ronald Barney, Andrew F. Ehat, and others.

[7]
In 1938 Joseph Fielding Smith compiled Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and it has undergone many reprintings. As the "Book of Abraham Project" authors point out, the book contains some significant flaws based on a less-then-critical reading of the sources from whence the selections were culled. They conclude: "like many other classical collections of Joseph Smith materials, [the book] contains materials that were not actually authored by him. This is not to say such materials are not valuable or that they are incorrect," but that attributing them to Joseph Smith specifically is incorrect. The headings of the inaccurately attributed sections ("about 25 pages virtually all in the first 70 pages of the book") are listed at BOAP.org/LDS/Joseph-Smith/. Thanks to Jonathan Stapley for pointing this source out.

[8]
Ronald O. Barney is editor of volume five of the Documents Series. See his bio here. His description is from "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Part 1," aired on KJZZ TV on Sunday, June 28, 2009.

[9]
Glen Rawson, host of the Joseph Smith Papers Project series, "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Part 1," KJZZ TV, 28 June 2009.

[10]
Barney, opt. cit. The document itself is dated "November 2000." If this date is correct, the document technically preceeded the announcement and official formation of the JSPP.

[11]
Barney, opt. cit.

[12]
As Jesse aptly wrote: "Part of the problem of obtaining an accurate historical understanding of Joseph Smith has been the difficulty, to use Catherine D. Bowen's phrase, of returning to 'that foreign country, the past,' tracking him through a vast thicket where footprints of other men [and women] are interlaced with his....[Using the records] intelligently requires a studious effort to understand its nature and fully appreciate its content - a challenge facing all who seek to probe the mind of Joseph Smith," (Jesse, "Priceless Words," p. 37). An interesting discussion on the use of historical sources, see Trusting Records by Heather MacNeil.

[13]
See BHodges, "Committing Suicide to Get to the Telestial Kingdom?", Life On Gold Plates, 16 December, 2008. 




November 2000
Classification of documents which contain teachings of Joseph Smith

Witness:

 I. Joseph Smith
    
      A- Revelations received and written or dictated by JS
           a. –holograph (e.g. JS’s 1832 history)
               –endorsement signature (e.g. letter signed by JS)
           b. –clerk’s copy of JS (only) holography or endorsed document
               –Church published document with JS only endorsement
                     (e.g. Wentworth letter in Times & Seasons)
               –Church publication with definite attribution to JS as editor
                     (e.g. Savary letter in T&S)
               –JS dictation to clerk (e.g. JS’s diary dictation to Warren
                     Cowdery of 3 April 1836, and JS’s dictation to Robert B.
                     Thompson of October 1840 sermon on priesthood)
           c. –contemporary document (ms. Original clerk’s copy or published
                     copy) with JS, et al. (e.g. statement with attribution to entire
                     First Presidency in T&S)
           d. –contemporary document (ms. Original clerk’s copy or published
                     copy) with JS, et al. where the writer is clearly someone other
                     than Joseph Smith.
           e. –attributed to JS without signature or endorsement (e.g. 22 Jan.
                     1834, “The Elders of the Church in Kirtland…”)

      B– Intimate associate of Joseph Smith
               –document by brethren in presiding quorums, clerks, or family
                     members (e.g. Wilford Woodruff’s report of JS sermon); JS
                     diary kept by clerks (e.g. Willard Richards and James
                     Mulholland, etc.); official publications of Church describing
                     JS sermons (e.g. Elders’ Journal and Times and Seasons);
                    official institutional records (e.g. Female Relief Society of
                    Nauvoo minutes and “Far West Record”.)
    
      C- Supportive Church member
               –document by rank and file of the Church (e.g. claims about
                statements made by or descriptions of JS by Benjamin F. Johnson
                and Oliver B. Huntington.  Also newspaper accounts in The Wasp, 
                Nauvoo Neighbor, and Deseret News.)

      D– Non-supportive Church member
               –document by Church dissenters (e.g. claims about statements made
                by or descriptions of JS made by JS [sic] by David Whitmer, William
                E. McLellin, etc.)

      E– Non-LDS neutral observer (e.g. claims about statements made by or
                descriptions of JS by Josiah Quincey.)
    
      F– Non-LDS antagonist (e.g. claims about statements made by or
                descriptions of JS by Daniel P. Kidder, etc.)

Time:

1. Contemporary
2. Recollection, 1-5 years
3. Recollection, 6-10 years
4. Recollection, 11-20 years
5. Recollection, 20+


Circumstance:

+ Eyewitness
- Non-eyewitness
? Unknown

Download a .doc version of the form here. This is not an official transcript. It is a copy I transcribed from the form as shown on the JSPP program.



Some important studies on the history and reliability of sources on Joseph Smith and the History of the Church:

Howard C. Searle, “Early Mormon Historiography: Writing the History of the Mormons, 1830-1858″ (Ph.D. diss., University of California at Los Angeles, 1979).

Dean C. Jessee, “The Writing of Joseph Smith’s History,” BYU Studies 11 (Summer 1971): 439-73; “The Reliability of Joseph Smith’s History,” Journal of Mormon History 3 (1976): 23-46; “Return to Carthage: Writing the History of Joseph Smith’s Martyrdom,” Journal of Mormon History 8 (1981): 3-19; "Has Mormon History Been Deliberately Falsified?" (Sandy, UT: Mormon Miscellaneous, 1982); “I Have a Question [regarding the reliability of Joseph Smith's history]” Ensign, July 1985, 15; “Priceless Words and Fallible Memories: Joseph Smith as Seen in the Effort to Preserve His Discourses,” BYU Studies 31 (Spring 1991): 19-40.

Howard C. Searle, “Authorship of the History of Joseph Smith: A Review Essay,” BYU Studies 21 (Winter 1981):101-22; “Willard Richards as Historian,” BYU Studies 31 (Spring 1991): 41-62; “History, of the Church (History of Joseph Smith),” in Ludlow, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 2:648.

Paul H. Peterson, “Understanding Joseph: A Review of Published Documentary Sources,” in Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate, eds., Joseph Smith: The Prophet, The Man (Provo, UT: RSC, Brigham Young University, 1993): 101-116.

Davis Bitton, "B.H. Roberts as Historian," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Winter 1968), 25-44.

For B.H. Roberts's evaluation of the history project, see The Autobiography of B. H. Roberts, ed. Gary James Bergera (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 222—23.

Van Hale, "The Compilation of Joseph Smith's 'History of the Church," Mormon Miscellaneous; “Writing Religious History: Comparing the History of the Church with the Synoptic Gospels,” Restoration Studies 3 (1986): 133-38.

Ronald W. Walker, David J. Whittaker, James B. Allen, "Beginnings: Nineteenth Century Historical Writing," Mormon History (University of Illinois Press, 2001), pp.1-30.

David B. Honey and Daniel C. Peterson, "Advocacy and Inquiry in the Writing of Latter-day Saint History," BYU Studies 31/2 (1991): 139–79.

Larry E. Morris, "Joseph Smith and 'Interpretive Biography', Review of Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet by Dan Vogel," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 321–374.

21 comments:

ricke said...

This issue came up in an uncomfortable discussion in Gospel Doctrine class last Sunday. The teacher noted that several General Authorities, starting with Orson F. Whitney, had quoted TPJS as saying that the sealing of righteous parents ensured the salvation of their wayward children. This seems to be contrary to our understanding of individual agency, so I pointed out that the Coray version of Joseph's August 13, 1843 sermon included a conditional statement limiting the blessings to "children who have not transgressed." (See Words of Joseph Smith for that date.) By bringing this up, I seemed to be contradicting Elder Whitney and the General Authorities who had quoted him since, including Elder Packer. My wife and I had a debate later about whether it was worth it or not.

SmallAxe said...

This has probably already been said in the posts you link to, but the problem with the manual, IMO, isn't one of authenticity but one of sterility. The manuals are created, with the possible exception of the BY volume, to create a sense of uniformity among prophets. Practically the only distinguishing feature between each volume is the initial story that's told at the beginning of a chapter to illustrate what ever the chapter is about.

No doubt there's plenty of authentic material, but the choice of what authentic material to include seems to be dictated by larger desire for uniformity.

There may be good reasons for this, of course, but the problem becomes persuading other members that the manual is not exhaustive, nor definitive as far as to who Joseph Smith was.

Jared T. said...

Awesome post, BH, thanks!

BHodges said...

ricke
It is often a struggle to know when it is best to speak up on certain points. It can be hard to know what is worth clarifying and what isn't. Since I typically try to err on the side of grace I probably would have let that one slide. Sometimes we spend too much time closing the doors when they may very well be more open than we think.

SmallAxe
Thanks, and yes, the links to the discussions talk about some of the problems people have with the manual. I would also really appreciate more thorough historical analysis in terms of how the quotes themselves are used, whereas this post focuses more on the process of quote verification itself. The C. department takes a lot of heat from some of us, and the more I think about it the more I feel the need to temper that sentiment a little and try to acknowledge some of the growth we see in their methods, seeking the "praiseworthy" aspects as well as areas I feel can be improved. One point I keep going back to is the internationalization of the Church and the efforts made to cater to that body as opposed to the Wasatch Front, etc.

Moreover, since the manual itself explains its purpose, not as exploring the "historic" Joseph Smith, but as applying the "teachings for our day," it is more palatable, though not completely satisfying. I also wonder how much of the really cool stuff in the new manual that we overlook, stuff we might have expected to see left out. Next time you are reading through a chapter see what strikes you in this way and you might be surprised. I have been a few times, anyway.

Jared T.
Thanks, bro.

Sanford said...

Very interesting. Thanks for the breakdown. It gives me a much better picture of how these manuals come to be and what gets included and why.

I think the JS manual is great step forward but I find the emphasis on present day application tends to dominate lessons. For example in Priesthood meeting yesterday we covered lesson 36 Receiving the Ordinances and Blessings of the Temple. The lesson had some very interesting information about the implementation of the endowment early in Nauvoo. But after a cursory mention, the instruction turned into an often voiced refrain for regular temple attendance with little or no connection to the lesson. I felt that very meaningful lesson material had largely been ignored.

I'm not sure I understand the reluctance of my quorum to dig into the manual. It is a wonderful blessing to be able to read Joseph's own words and those around him. And while I understand that not all teachers teach the same way, there is something about the manual or the setting that seems to makes a real exploration of the manual difficult.

Ben said...

Excellent, Blair. I was not aware of this system, so thanks for spelling it out here.

From my research, I have found that a good number of documents that would here be considered D1-2, E1-2, and F1-2 are sometimes as reliable as, say, something C1-2, and much more reliable than C3-5.

Did the show make it appear that the further down the letter scale, the less reliable it was?

BHodges said...

Ben:

I was somewhat disappointed with the remainder of the program. The description from RB came with only a few minutes left, and they didn't go into much more detail about how the scale was applied, other than that it helped in sorting through the sources. I emailed Ron about it for more info but he said they aren't ready to give more info than what was discussed on the program yet. He said they are working on a way to get something more together, though. I got the general impression that it wasn't a strict scale that rated strictly by the numbers, but that they took into consideration the records, who wrote them, how accurate a particular individual was in other areas, predispositions/bias, etc. The "categorization" document appears to be a tool but not an exact prescription, it seems. I think they could have been more clear on that point, though.

Sanford:
I know what you mean. I threw in a few comments as a participant in the lesson in regards to more specifics on the preparation for the room in the Brick Store, and other historical tidbits, but I would have liked to see more info on the development of the ceremony in terms of the Kirtland experience, the difference in later temples, and so forth. The quote that was emphasized regarding the unchangeable nature of the ordinances probably deserved some treatment as well, seeing that the ceremony has adapted, though there aren't many specifics we can discuss. What source could we turn to on that, speaking from a faithful perspective?

Anonymous said...

I respond to that quotation with context and other quotations.

http://www.mormonmonastery.org/mormon-temple-changes/

David said...

ricke,

I think we have rather robust teachings that support both group and individual salvation, so to me there is no real conflict between the Coray account and the other 3 that day. I recommend putting those quotes in context of the developing doctrinal milieu about sealing (of which there are two levels of: one conditioned on faithfulness, the other guaranteed except in cases of murder, apostasy, and adultery). If sealed parents can transgress so as to nullify their seal, then so can children. What seems important is that righteous parents will have awesome power to positively influence their children.

I did a blog on this awhile ago
http://www.millennialstar.org
/the-most-comforting-doctrine/ but much more work would have to be done to recover Joseph Smith taught compared to what Brigham and Heber experienced and taught sealing in Nauvoo and then Utah. I think J. Stapley was working on a paper covering the latter period.

So to tie it back to Blair's search for the Authentic JS: sometimes recovering the real JS has an added challenge: there are public sources and then there were sources (sometimes unwritten, but passed through oral tradition) not meant for public consumption (like temple marriage and plural marriage).

J. Stapley said...

Great write-up. I think the manual is a step forward, but I don't think it is historically rigorous. The frequency of reminiscences is particularly a sticking point.

Your transcription of the classification system is particularly helpful in understanding what was going on. Nice biblio, too.

BHodges said...

Thanks for the comments, Anonymous and David.

J. Stapley,
I am with you on seeing problems with the new manual. One reason I did this particular post was to try and get a feel for the work that goes into the manuals, hopefully to inspire a bit more appreciation than we typically give the folks who work on them. At the same time, I would really like to see more from our manuals, but it seems the JS one is behind us and likely won't get another official treatment of this kind for years, I suspect. We also have to keep in mind the priorities of the correlation folks, such as making decisions in light of the growing internationalization of the church (along with all the cultural and linguistic baggage related to it).

cinepro said...

It's my understanding that the "Teaching of The Presidents of the Church" series of lesson manuals is part of the great sifting process of the last days, where the wheat will be seperated from the chaff, and only those who remain faithful through years of such lessons will inherit their reward.

Based on the attendance figures for my local EQ, it seems to be working. I don't know if it has anything to do with the manuals, but I no longer have to fight for a cushy seat every week.

Jamal said...

Wow, I just couldn't help but compare this to the Islamic "science" of Hadith (حديث - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadith ) and Isnad (إسناد - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isnad ). Those refer to the very formal process in Islam of trying to determine the authenticity of various statements attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. Now, there's a key difference for us (besides for being much younger and not having as developed or formal a process) in that we claim continuing revelation rather than the Muslim claim that Muhammad was the final "seal of the prophets" (خاتم الانبياء). So aren't we supposed to know through our present Prophet and revelatory authority what is and isn't accurate in purported Joseph Smith statements rather than having to rely on historical best guesses? My presumption is that the answer includes a combination of having to study it out in our minds and hearts (I.e., the Lord expects full research efforts from us if we want the answer) and that in any case prophetic statements in human language are always fatally flawed by finite human minds, that the real goal is to get our spirits to understand the principles through the Holy Ghost, and scriptures and other words of the prophets are meant to turn our spiritual senses on, not to give us a letter-by-letter transcript to wrest. Obviously if we can get that accurate transcript it may be the best available guide, so we should seek it, but no hang our salvation on whether or not we can find it.

BHodges said...

jamal, thanks for the interesting comparisons and thoughts.

I was reminded of Blake Ostler's thoughts on revelation on fallibility in Mormon thought. James over at Lehi's Library reminded me of the interesting section of Ostler's review of How Wide the Divide:

"Instead of inerrancy, I believe that Latter-day Saints should accept a view of revelation/translation as “creative coparticipation” involving both divine inspiration and human interpretation. The scripture is inspired because God imparted knowledge to prophets/writers “in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding” (D&C 1:24). Scripture is the Word of God as proclaimed in the eighth Article of Faith because God has breathed knowledge into the prophets in their own language and according to their varying capacities to understand. Thus the inspiration of scripture is not experienced by the prophet/writer free of human interpretation, cultural biases, and conceptual limitations....Revelation is not the filling of a mental void with divine content. It is the synthesis of human and divine event. The prophet is a coauthor and active participant in conceptualizing, verbalizing, and expressing the message of scripture in language meaningful to his contemporaries."

The whole section is here: http://tinyurl.com/mf2daj which also links to the full Ostler piece.

MoSop said...

I really enjoyed reading this article, and the subsequent conversation. I truly appreciate the church administration for creating the Presidents' series, as it offers members foremost the opportunity to read and study the words of our prophets throughout our relative brief history. As explained, it would be a massive task to pick and choose what to include and what to omit. Perhaps, instead of becoming critical, members should approach the manuals as just an "introduction" to their studies; something to whet the appetite and encourage us to dig deeper. How blessed we are to live in a day and age when digging deeper and obtaining more information is open to everyone! We now have the new Papers Project, the extensive Church History museum in downtown SLC which has made documents and archives available to the general membership and public alike, and the blessed internet which allows us in two clicks more information, conference talks, historical references and commentary than one brain has the capacity to absorb! As each member matures in their personal knowledge, understanding and testimony of the gospel, then it behooves us to expand our personal studies. Jesus taught the principle of progressing from "milk to meat" – and it is one of the amazing doctrines of the church, that each of us may progress both is this life and the next. Every bit of knowledge that we gain here goes with us and we will have that much more advantage in the life to come. However, as much as learning, progressing and expanding our minds is an awesome blessing it comes with serious responsibility to remain humble and realize our human weakness. No matter how much we know in mortality, we still know nothing but a cursory outline of our Savior’s Atonement, and the world to come. I think it’s best to acknowledge that fact first, before embarking into any gospel intellectualism. The only way we can ever learn pure truth is through a personal relationship with the Holy Ghost. I acknowledge that attending instructional church meetings is often an exercise in extreme patience, and the older I get, endurance. However, when I attend prayerfully, seeking to feel the spirit and have my mind personally enlightened, the meeting never fails to edify. The same holds true to studying the scriptures, other religions, secular knowledge, and yes, even the church manuals. ;)

BHodges said...

MoSop, thanks for weighing in. In different times different questions are asked of the past resulting in different histories. It seems the Church is going for the long-term sustainable manual that doesn't get itself too stuck in current historiographical interpretations or themes. There are venue where we can do this, like MHA, JWHS, etc. but as far as a church manual goes, it would be fun for us in the present to see a contemporary historical treatment with standards and approaches of current "scholarly" historians, but in a decade the manual would need to be done all over again. And so on.

BHodges said...

No spam, thanks!

Lance and Caetie said...

It's been a while brother. I enjoy reading this stuff, but I don't know how the %#$@ you get the time to do all this. Your references are very professional and it's great work.

Anyway, I was led to a past post about commiting suicide to get to the telestial kingdom, and after reading your post I don't know why everyone thought that that third hand quote was referencing the telestial kingdom. It said "life beyond the vail," not telestial kingdom. It was also a good point to bring up the fact that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon didn't commit suicide after having a vision of the degrees of glory.

Also, you seemed to have some issue with people assuming that those who commit suicide will go to the telestial kingdom. Can you clarify? Thanks, brother

Elder Carter

PS-Let's talk Jazz sometime!

BHodges said...

Hey Brother! Vanilla Ice doo. Thanks for the compliments.

I think the Telestial kingdom gets cited because it heightens the sentiment. If the Telestial kingdom is so great, imagine how great the Celestial is! That sort of thing.

As for suicide, I don't believe suicide automatically results in a Telestial resurrection. I think God is capable of judging the mental state of those who make such a decision and they'll be judged like the rest of us, coupled with the grace of Christ.

Boozer is gone. An interesting column in the news this week by Gordon Monson basically argued that Boozer always looked out for himself and his career before the success of the team. Sadly I agree with his sentiments, and hope we can get something decent for Boozer.

Shellie said...

I appreciated your comments on By Common Consent @ TB Marsh, as well as this post. You sound like a big voice of reason. Too many people take sides about things that people said or did or what they were like 100+ years ago. It makes more sense to say "possibly" a lot. GA Smith's story may have had a factual basis, even without anything necessarily having been written about it at the time, yet he was privy to it. Or it may have been an ugly rumor GA Smith believed. Either way, when I hear TB Marsh's name I don't think of a bad guy, whether or not he was stubborn about the milk thing. Nor do I get the message that he left over that, more like it was one step in that direction, if it is indeed factual. I didn't even get the impression in lessons that he suffered all those things that happened to him because of apostasy (even if BY obviously did), rather he suffered by not having the blessings of the gospel he once knew. Maybe I'm just dense, but I didn't read all that junk into the story. I do think after reading about him that he was a fascinating person.
Back to the possibly thing, I think people jump to conclusions way too often. And I won't take anything as fact until I have checked out the references to see if they really say what they are purported to say, and consider how reliable these sources are to begin with. It's nice to see some similar efforts being made with the JS papers.Manuals are never going to be that in depth. I'd be happy if they'd just point out people were real flawed human beings, and they were still great. Just my big 2 cents on these types of things and thanks for your common sense.

BHodges said...

Shellie, thanks for reading. I appreciated your comments.

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