Defending the Faith: Mormon studies get a new online voice

Published: Thursday, Aug. 30 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

ashill, All

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An exciting new development in scholarship related to the Restoration is the new online Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, which was launched in early August. (See www.mormoninterpreter.com/.) Openly available at no cost to anybody with access to a computer, Interpreter is directed at a broad audience of educated non-specialists, as well as toward professional scholars and academic libraries. (Its articles are peer reviewed.)

Full disclosure: I'm the chairman of the editorial board for "Interpreter." But one of the many impressive aspects of this new venture is the energetic, committed involvement in it of a large group of people from a wide variety of places, backgrounds and disciplines. The speed with which this sophisticated effort came together, commencing really only after my return from six weeks out of the country toward the end of July, has been stunning — moving, in fact — even to me, and bodes very well for its future.

Already, Interpreter has published three substantial articles and a book review (by George Mitton, of Jeffrey Bradshaw's "Temple Themes in the Book of Moses"), with another item due later this week and with a goal of publishing at least something new roughly 52 times annually (and perhaps more).

David Bokovoy, a scholar of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, led off with Interpreter's first article, titled "'Thou Knowest that I Believe': Invoking the Spirit of the Lord as Council Witness in 1 Nephi 11."

Bokovoy explores some of the ways in which an Israelite familiar with ancient religious experiences and scribal techniques might have interpreted the exchange, atop a very high mountain, between the prophet Nephi and "the Spirit of the Lord." The essay argues that Nephi's conversation, as well as other similar accounts in the Book of Mormon, echoes an ancient temple motif and that this particular account depicts the Spirit of the Lord in a role associated in both biblical and general Near Eastern conceptions with members of the divine council.

Mesoamericanists Mark Wright and Brant Gardiner contributed the journal's second article, a piece titled "The Cultural Context of Nephite Apostasy."

Throughout the Book of Mormon, Wright and Gardiner observe, Nephite apostates turn away from true worship in consistent and predictable ways. These apostates' beliefs and practices, they say, may have been the result of influence from the larger social and religious context in which the Nephites lived.

The authors contend that a Mesoamerican setting for these stories provides a plausible cultural background that explains why Nephite apostasy took the particular form that it did and that may help us to gain a deeper understanding of some specific references that Nephite prophets used when combating that apostasy.

Middle Eastern historian William Hamblin, Interpreter's executive editor, provided the third article, "'I Have Revealed Your Name': The Hidden Temple in John 17."

John 17 contains a richly symbolic Last Discourse by Jesus, Hamblin says, in which the disciples are assured a place in the Father's celestial house or temple. To fulfill this promise, Christ reveals both the Father's name and his glory to his disciples. Jesus' discourse concludes with the promise of sanctification of the disciples, and of their unification — or deification — with Christ and the Father. This interesting essay explores how each of these ideas reflects the temple theology of both the Bible and contemporary first-century Judaism.

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