BYU conference explores Joseph Smith and the ancient world

Published: Saturday, March 9 2013 11:44 p.m. MST

Another highly attended session on the first day of the symposium featured Dr. David F. Holland, associate professor of history at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and author of “Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint.” Holland had the distinction of being the only speaker during the two-day conference introduced by an apostle: his father, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. After listing his son’s academic credentials, Elder Holland assured the audience in the Joseph Smith Building auditorium: “This is a very, very good boy. I know his mother.”

The younger Holland expressed some reservation at the outset of his speaking assignment. “I’m not a specialist in LDS history,” he said, “and I’m speaking to a room full of them.”

Holland’s presentation compared Joseph Smith’s view of the world — past, present and future — with two of his religious contemporaries: Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science; and Ellen G. White, one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

“These three American oracles share a bit in common,” Holland said, pointing out they were all born in New England “into a religious and cultural context defined by the mainstream Protestantism of their nation.” And all three “claimed a special mission and inspiration from God Almighty,” which led to all three producing sacred texts that followers considered “equivalent to Holy Scripture.”

While Holland said “it would be impossible to compare the whole corpus of their writing,” he focused on the way Eddy, White and Smith looked to the historical past and the prophetic future within the body of their work.

“Christianity is unavoidably an historical faith,” he said. “Its scriptures retell the past and foretell the future. They are bi-directional, speaking of fathers looking to the children and children looking to their fathers. God seems to want one’s heart and vision stretch in both direction, with deep reverence for the past and wholehearted commitment to the future.”

Speaking specifically of the LDS prophet/founder, Holland said, “Joseph Smith’s vision flowed both down and up the historical spectrum.”

“He was profoundly interested in the past while looking to the prophetic future,” Holland said, adding that Joseph Smith’s views suggest that there is significance in a relationship between God and man that stretches across time, without generational distinctions.

“In the LDS Church the immediate present, the millennial future and the past are locked in a redemptive embrace,” Holland concluded. “Such a relationship can only come about through a prophet willing to embrace both the ancient as well as the future.”

Other topics addressed during the symposium included “Scholars, Scripts and the Folklore of Antiquity,” “Joseph Smith and Ancient Texts,” “Joseph Smith’s Interest in the Ancient Americas” and “Joseph Smith, the Bible and 19th Century Biblical Scholarship.”

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