December 31, 2008

Life On Gold Plates 2008: Year in Review

Since other blogs will be covering Mormonism in 2008 generally I decided to do a little navel gazing.

2008 was a formative year for LoGP. (I hit 30,000 visits last week!) Solo blogging can be tough but the site has come a long way from the original conception, which was essentially a slathering of my rather dull and random thoughts. Many of those posts are rather embarrassing now (I wonder what I'll think of this current stuff in a few years). I soon created a new project, "Journey Through the Journal," an exploration of the Journal of Discourses. It seems to have its wheels stuck in the mud; I made it to volume 4 and there I have stayed. I plan to revamp the series and continue, though it will not be the general focus of the site which has become a discussion on any number of topics of interest to Latter-day Saints. I learned how to make clickable footnotes, which is awesome. Finally, I bought a .com address and changed the design of the site after seeing the default blogger template being used by a billion other sites.

I want to thank other bloggers who placed links to my site on their own sites; otherwise I would have practically no visitors. After being placed on the excellent Mormon Archipelago my daily visits increased dramatically. Being a guest blogger at Juvenile Instructor raised the quality bar for me and I am grateful to them for that opportunity.

Many people found this site via Google and other search engines. Here's a list of some of the more interesting ways people wound up here over the last 12 months:

Top Search terms:

-Richard Bushman
-Brant Gardner
-3 nephites
-constitution hang by a thread 
-Funeral sermon

Interesting search terms:

Search: "how to hide plural marriage"
Result: "Plural marriage as discussed in the Church today"

Search: "what mormons think about intellectuals"
Result: "Rough Stone Rolling and the Intellectual Prospects for Mormonism"

Search: "humble plates"
Result: "Daniel C. Peterson on Humble Apologetics"

Search: "ex-mormon woman blog"
Result: "Bill Maher's "Religulous."

Search "wife murder celestial marriage"
Result: "May 13, 1857: The Murder of Parley P. Pratt"

Search: "baptize me"
Result: "Rebaptism and the Mormon Reformation"

Search: "who are the kids in jesus saves from hell t-shirts" and "anti mormon t shirts"
Result: "The Street Preachers and Me"

Search: "cigarette ash for toothaches" and "joseph smith alcohol teeth pulled"
Result: "The Development of the Word of Wisdom"

Search: "how to draw a liken"
Result: "'Liken With Care' series with Brant Gardner"

Search: "my life on gold"
Result: Life On Gold Plates

Search: "brigham purses"
Result: "Without Purse or Pig? Brigham's Missionary Wage"

Search: "how many mormons really believe the gold plates"
Result: "Method and Skepticism (and Quetzalcoatl...)"

Search: "meaning of profound thought"
Result: "Sacred Sorrow"

Search: "what is q for that gold has 6 and brown has 4?"
Result: "Matthew Brown: The Israelite Temple and the Early Christians"

Search: "mormon engagement plate"
Result: "Panel: Philosophy and Mormonism"

Search: "obama plates"
Result: "Is Obama the Anti-Christ?"

Top 10 Posts of the Year (in my opinion):

1. Brant Gardner and the "Likening With Care" series
      Gardner is an LDS scholar and Mesoamerican specialist who recently published Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon. Gardner spent some time with me discussing his work and the conversations resulted in a twelve-part series on the Book of Mormon.

2. Richard Bushman's transcripts, seminar, etc.
      It began in March when I completed a transcript of Bushman's address at Weber State University called "Rough Stone Rolling and the Intellectual Prospects for Mormonism." Perhaps the most heavily trafficked page on the site this year, his Introduction paper at the 2008 Bushman seminar was a treat to post.

3. 2008 FAIR Conference Notes
     I attended both days of the FAIR conference and jotted some notes as things proceeded for those unable to attend.

4. "Quote Mining"
      The more I blogged about the Journal of Discourses the more I tried to learn about the proper use of historical sources. This post is the result of some frustration over how I saw some historical sources being used. See "Contrasting Attitudes: Keeping things in context" as well.

5. "Committing Suicide to Get to the Telestial Kingdom?"
      This old nugget deserves closer scrutiny. With the help of Dr. Steuss, J. Stapely and Steven C. Harper I chased the origins of this idea.

6. "They leave the Church but can't leave it alone"
     I took a look at the possible origins of this quote and discussed the concept of apostasy generally, arguing that some people do leave the church and then also leave it alone. .

7. "Plural Marriage as Discussed in the Church Today"
     After hearing for the umpteenth time that the Church suppresses information about polygamy, I looked into how current teacher's manuals discuss the issue.

8. "Liken With Care"
     Latter-day Saints can be guilty of misusing or misunderstanding scripture and in this post I discuss the concept of likening scriptures to ourselves without necessarily wresting them from their original context using the concept of "apostasy of the early church" as a springboard.

9. "A Visit to the Southern Settlements: The Miracle of Unity"
     One of the better "Journey Through the Journal" posts, it is based upon an 1856 sermon by Parley P. Pratt and combines ideas from Eugene England's "Why the church is as true as the gospel." Honorable mentions to Spirit Recycling?, "Saints and crockery ware": The Temporal and Spiritual," and "Angels and Outhouses."

10. "The Development of the Word of Wisdom"
     A historical though brief look at the development of this principle-turned-commandment, including a J. Golden moment, of course.

Finally, I'd like to thank many Bloggernaclers who have made my participation worthwhile. I can't name them all but a few whose scholarship and kindness have aided and impressed me include J. Stapley, Ardis Parshall, Kevin Barney, Daniel C. Peterson, Richard Bushman (rarely on the bloggernacle himself of course), Dave Banack, Seth Payne, the folks over at Juvenile Instructor, FAIR, New Cool Thang, and many other friends.

December 29, 2008

Kevin Christensen in "Joseph Smith, Jr.: Reappraisals After Two Centuries"

Terryl Givens and Reid L. Nielson's new book Joseph Smith, Jr.: Reappraisals After Two Centuries, contains a two-part piece called "Seeking the Face of the Lord: Joseph Smith and the First Temple Tradition" by Margaret Barker and Kevin Christensen. (I received the book for Christmas but have yet to delve in.)

Barker is a Methodist preacher who read theology at the University of Cambridge, England. She went on to pursue her research independently and was elected President of the Society for Old Testament Study in 1998.1 Reappraisals isn't the first collection of papers on Joseph Smith in which Barker has been included. For instance, in 2005 she presented a paper for "The Worlds of Joseph Smith," an international academic conference at the Library of  Congress which was subsequently published in a volume by BYU Studies.2

Christensen earned his B.A. at San Jose State University and is a freelance technical writer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has published in Dialogue and the FARMS Review among other places.3 He wrote a chapter regarding Barker's scholarship for Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem4 in addition to a FARMS Occasional Papers series called "Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker's Scholarship and its Significance for Mormon Studies."5 He has discussed her scholarship on various LDS blogs and websites as well.6

Recently on the Mormon Apologetics & Discussion board Christensen made his thousandth post. He spoke briefly of his paper in Reappraisals then expressed some personal views of faith and scholarship. After some "congratulations" for having his paper included in the new book Christensen responded:


Many thanks. It's definitely an interesting experience, more than a little intimidating, being among such company. When Terryl asked me if I'd do it, I immediately leaned upon 1 Nephi 3:7. I could think of many others with far better credentials, but... they had asked me.

The Margaret Barker/Kevin Christensen piece is a two-parter called "Seeking the Face of the Lord: Joseph Smith and the First Temple Tradition." Margaret's part delves deeply into the tensions in the Hebrew Bible regarding whether anyone can see the Face of the the Lord, and is very like the "Transformation and Transfiguration" chapter in her book Temple Themes in Christian Worship. She shows not only some conspicuous passages that illustrate the tension, but identifies many passages where the Hebrew has been pointed to obscure places where the text should explicitly refer to seeing the face of the Lord. The reforms of Deuteronomists make their appearance, and she brings in a lot about the temple as the proper setting for such theophanies.

My eleven page bit simply points out the relevance to Joseph Smith personal experience, to the D&C, to the LDS temple experiences at Kirtland and Nauvoo, and the stories of Lehi and Nephi in the Book of Mormon, as well as the 3 Nephi temple account. My own contribution came together when I thought of Carol Zaleski's observation in Otherworld Journeys that visions don't stand on their own, but require "a community and a context" to make them meaningful.7 Joseph Smith drew upon a Biblical context to interpret his own experiences, and spent his life trying to build a community in which such experiences could be shared.

At one point, one of the peer reviewers commented that our piece read like two separate essays. Margaret's reaction was that that was the point. It's a demonstration of independent witnesses. I think that the notion of independent witnesses agreeing together drives her fascination with Mormonism.

This is my 1000th post. Perhaps a good time for a bit of self-reflection.

While visiting my parents last week, my father printed out a list of all the descendents of Harry and Myrtle Mortenson. Grandpa Harry died of cancer before I was born. Grandma Mortenson lived in Cleveland, in Emery county Utah, a little farming community out in the desert. A little bit of sidewalk, a couple of little stores, a church, a post office, some poplar trees, some open irrigation ditches, and old fences. The print-out is small print, and seven pages. Grandma, from that little tiny town way out in the middle of nowhere had an effect for good that quite literally touched every corner of the world. Her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and now even great-great grandchildren include missionaries who traveled literally all over the world, missionaries to every continent. And all it took was that she loved her 5 children, her many grandchildren, and the great grandchildren that she knew. She loved the gospel. We knew that, and it meant something to us. She did it without office, position, internet, or any other media than birthday cards, and her presence at family gatherings, especially mission farewells and temple marriages.

There is a passage in the D&C 123:15 that I have reflected upon more and more over the years. "Let no one count these as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity which depends upon these things."

I've seen remarkable goodness spreading through the world because of a little old lady living much of her life out in a small desert community. I have also seen the contrast elsewhere, in families broken, and the links between generations broken, testimonies not so much lost, as simply abandoned, and with it, the potential for a continuation of spreading goodness. A decade ago, at a crossroads of my own, I could have turned one way, but instead, turned another. It was nine years ago that I first ran across The Great Angel8 in a Half-Price books in Dallas. As a result I have experienced a great many things that I would not like to have missed, despite the difficult patches I had to get through to come this way. I appreciate the help I have had getting through the difficult bits. From my wife, my parents, my two children, my brothers and sisters, and those who have written the best books, and thought the best thoughts, and listened to the best promptings. Thanks for sharing encouragement, faith, hope, and light.

For those who lurk, who may feel small and voiceless, and without influence at times... think of my Grandma. Or, say, this story.

I think it was on ZLMB9 a few years back, or perhaps here, someone asked Dan Vogel if he and Brent Metcalfe were disappointed in the response to their New Approaches to the Book of Mormon.10 Dan responded that "We had no illusions about the impact of a single book."

At this point I posted a one line comment that "The Book of Mormon was a single book."11

Dan responded that it wasn't the same thing at all, since the church is a massive organization with media and thousands of missionaries. What was their book to that?

To which I noted that in 1830 the missionary program was Samuel Smith and a knapsack, and it was just one of the books in that knapsack that made the difference.

Don't count yourself as a small thing, for there is much in futurity that could depend on you. From some perspectives, we are nothing, as Mosiah and Moses point out with such clarity, re-enforcing a lot of the messages we may get from life. But from another perspective, we are the sons and daughters of God, disciples of Christ. And if we hang around, repent when we need to, and keep our eyes open, we may sometimes get glimpses of why we are here, taking up a little space, on this little planet in an immense speck of a galaxy, for a meaningful moment or two in the vastness of time.

Kevin Christensen
Bethel Park, PA


Barker has published several books including The Great Angel: A Study of Israel's Second God and Temple Themes in Christian Worship. Some of Barker's research can be found on her website, Conversations between William J. Hamblin and Barker can be seen on YouTube.

The two-day academic event (May 6–7, 2005) was cosponsored by the Library of Congress and Brigham Young University. The purpose of the conference was stated as examining Joseph Smith's historical, religious, social, and theological contributions. MP3 are available here. The papers were subsequently published.

See some of Christensen's articles here.

See Christensen, "The Temple, the Monarchy, and Wisdom: Lehi's World and the Scholarship of Margaret Barker," David R. Seely, JoAnn H. Seely, and John W. Welch, Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem.

Kevin Christensen, "Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker's Scholarship and its Significance for Mormon Studies," FARMS Occasional Papers.

See, for example, "Plain and Precious Things Restored: Why Margaret Barker Matters," Meridian Magazine.

See Carol Zaleski, Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times, Oxford University Press (1988), p. 204.

Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel's Second God, Westminster John Knox Press (1992).

ZLMB is an acronym for the now defunct Zion's Lighthouse Message Board, "A Forum Sounding Board for Academicians, Apologists, and Skeptics Interested in things LDS."

Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, Signature Books (1993). Christensen took special interest in the book, publishing several reviews and responses. 

This exchange occurred on May 16-17, 2005. See the thread here.