Juvenile Instructor


Self-Blame and The Twin Relics of Barbarism
November 12, 2007, 9:24 pm
Filed under: Jared, polygamy, Uncategorized

Carmon Hardy, in his article “Self-Blame and the Manifesto”, draws a parallel between elements of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy and Mormon explanations for the Manifesto.  After tenaciously clinging to “The Principle”, and after repeated affirmations of the justness of the polygamous cause, the Mormon people had to account for the cessation of plural marriage.  Increasingly, Latter-day Saints looked inward and cited a failure on the part of the Latter-day Saints as the reason the promised protection did not come.  An excerpt from the Anthon Lund diaries illustrates this view:

[October 27, 1901] “…Prest. Jos F. Smith followed and spoke…Said none could have done what Prest. Woodruff did in regard to the Manifesto.  Said: ‘The Lord withheld this principle from the people because 96 pr cent did not obey it and ninety pr cent of those who did obey it had abused it'” (John Hatch, ed.  Danish Apostle: The Diaries of Anthon H. Lund, 1890-1921, 159).

 Likewise, Hardy cites self blame on the part of Southerners as an explanation for the loss of the Civil War.  What are the weaknesses or possibilities of this analysis?

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Change(s) in The Book of Mormon Introduction
November 8, 2007, 10:33 am
Filed under: Book of Mormon, Jared

One word can speak volumes says this morning’s Salt Lake Tribune.  It carried a small story on a change to a single word in the introduction of the Book of Mormon in the recent Doubleday edition.  Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote the introduction in 1981 for the then new edition of the Book of Mormon and it contained this statement:

“After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.”

 The new wording is:

“After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”

A commonly held presumption has been that all Native American groups from Alaska to the Patagonia were descendants of the Lamanites ( I certainly grew up with this idea).  For some time a growing segment has felt that since the text itself does not argue for this kind of all-encompassing ancestry, there is little reason to perpetuate that view.  Though “principal” does not have to mean “sole” anyway, I can only surmise that rather than try to influence the commonly held view by redefining the “principal”, the word itself has been changed to provide minimal commentary. 

It will be interesting to see how this will affect dialogue both within the Church and outside it as we talk about Book of Mormon origins. 

Also, as pointed out by David Grua below, there is another interesting change in the Doubleday introduction.



Joseph Smith Papers Project: A Television Foreword
November 5, 2007, 9:59 pm
Filed under: documentary editing, Jared

Tonight KJZZ featured an hour long documentary on the Joseph Smith Papers Project.  It was billed as a television foreward. 

The first 15-20 minutes of the documentary consisted largely of devotional material such as a series of interviews with LDS Church conference goers about how they felt about Joseph Smith.  We then proceeded to some discussion of past (and ongoing) efforts to compile and edit the papers of prominent Americans such as presidents and founding fathers.  The program proceeded to recount some of the standard information about the genesis of the project in Dean Jessee’s efforts to compile Joseph Smith’s papers.  What was supposed to have been a 9 volume effort was recognized as more than one man could accomplish.  Soon after the idea gained support from the Church.  At this point, it was explained that the next stage of the project occured when Larry H. Miller attended a lecture by Ron Barney on Joseph Smith.  Miller was stirred and set up an appointment with Barney, but was unable to come to a determination as to why he was there.  Both discussed a few programs that prominent historians were working on, but none struck them.  Later, the connection was made that brought Miller in as the major funding force behind the project. 

Elder Marlin Jensen, Church Historian and Recorder said that he agreed with Harold Bloom that Joseph Smith was one of the least studied geniuses of our time.

The documentary cameras followed Ron Esplin, one of the general editors, home and onto the Trax on the way to work in Salt Lake.  On the trax, Esplin explained that the vision was of a shelf of books, about 30 volumes, and a living website.  He said that the books would be good for a generation or two, but the website was meant to be living and capable of updates that would enable the addition of documents and an expansion of knowledge of already published documents.  When asked if there were things in the documents that “we don’t want to know about”, Esplin answered that when you get into real history, you have to adjust your expectations, the ritualized version we tell each other is too condensed and doesn’t get into rich detail.  At that level of detail, it’s fascinating.  There’s nothing we’ve found to be afraid of.

When asked, What do you hope it does for the membership and the outside world?  He answered, I hope we finally come to terms with our documentary record in a comprehensive way.  We don’t even have a list of the documents much less an understanding of the record.  It’s past due.  Question: Will the complete JS Papers make it more dificult for enemies of the Church to do what they do? Esplin said, in essence, today you can get by with some shoddy scholarship because it’s hard to get into the record, but scholars will be held to a higher standard. 

One of the highlights of the documentary was the myriad shots of the scholars with the actual documents they were working on.  Mark Ashurst-McGee and Robin Jensen were shown with some of the revelation books and diaries. 

Mark Ashurst McGee is working on the three volume series of the diaries of Joseph Smith. 

Sharalyn Howcroft, documents specialist for the legal series, discussed how though many aspects of Joseph Smith’s life have been touched upon, one of the least researched areas has been his legal history.  Esplin related that it was previously thought that Joseph Smith was involved in about 30 legal cases.  Now we know that there were over 200 cases where he was involved in some way in the proceedings. 

 There will be a volume on authorized histories of Joseph Smith, one of which was written by John Corrill. 

The JSP is getting high marks from national boards of documentary editors. 

One segment showed how the use of UV light shed new light [no pun intended] on the writings of Joseph Smith.  One piece of writing of Joseph Smith says, “Lord, spare thou the life of thy servant, amen.”  Looking under the UV light, you can see that under the word “the” was written “me”, so he first wrote, “Lord, spare me (then “thou” over “me”).

Elder Marlin Jensen, Church Historian and Recorder said that Pres. Hinckley has said that all that we have is a lengthened shadow of Joseph Smith.  “I want to be careful to stress that Joseph Smith himself would have viewed himself as a means to an end, not the end himself.”

The last 15-20 minutes were largely devotional in nature as well with shots of the scholars expressing testimonials of the character of Joseph Smith.  Apparently starting in January there will be a weekly series of about 50 documentaries that will talk about not only advancements with the project, but segments of many of the editors and other Mormon history scholars at significant Church sites explaining their convictions about the Prophet Joseph.  The final quote was from Harold Bloom about how Joseph Smith, “remains the least-studied personage, of an undiminished vitality, in our entire national saga.” ( The American Religion: The Emergence of a Post-Christian Nation, [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992], 95.)

A few comments.  I thought that one of the strengths of the documentary was that a good number of scholars were featured on film.  Many who have not had the opportunity of visiting scholarly conferences have had no exposure to the authors who have shaped Mormon history.  Milton Bachman, Richard Bushman, Ron Esplin, Ron Barney, and many others were shown and in many cases with the documents they were working on, which was also a positive feature.  I feel the documentary’s presentation and editing was somewhat poor as documentaries go.  “The Mormons” was certainly better presented, even Groberg’s “American Prophet” was better produced.  I was somewhat turned off as well by the narrator. 

Oh, I almost forgot.  Toward the end, Ron Esplin put three spiral bound volumes on his desk and mentioned that there were the first three volumes and that they expected to, “with some luck” publish them and perhaps a fourth, next year.  They did mention that three were expected per year thereafter.  I, for one, will be praying for their efforts!



Mormon Studies at BYU: Tactical Retreat?
November 2, 2007, 1:32 am
Filed under: Jared, Mormon studies

Recently, after a tight vote by the faculty of the BYU History Department, it was decided to furlough the graduate program in history.  Apparently, the struggle for the survival of the program has raged for years.  One of the reasons voiced for the suspension of the program is that the resources devoted to the graduate program can be better utilized on undergraduate education.

As one who is in the process of applying to graduate school, I was first not only surprised, but saddened.  I thought about the important influence that solid grad students, friends, had had (and continue to have) on my education and what I would have done without that influence.  I also wondered about what this would do for Mormon studies.  Understandably, with a preponderance of well respected scholars in Western American, American, and Mormon History, many of the thesis topics have focused on Mormon-related themes.  BYU grad students under this capable tutelage have participate in national conferences such as the Western History Association and gained admittance to prestigious doctoral programs at universities such as Notre Dame.  Because of it’s stellar faculty and having the third best (and probably most under-appreciated) university library in the nation, even with Mormon Studies programs being set up at great schools such as Claremont, USU, The University of Wyoming, and even UVSC, I can’t think of a more fitting place to do Mormon studies than BYU. I find it surprising that after discontinuing the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute of Latter-day Saint History, the next step has been to furlough the grad program in history.  One non-student friend declared, “Mormon Studies is dead at BYU.” 

Has BYU’s decision crippled Mormon studies?  Or could this be a boon by forcing interested students out to a wider variety of schools and perspectives?  Or, thirdly, will this loss have no effect on Mormon studies?



Brigham Young, Conspiracy, and Long Lost Diaries
November 1, 2007, 10:51 pm
Filed under: 19th-century Mormonism, Jared

A news report aired tonight about the recent surfacing of the diaries of one of Brigham Young’s personal secretaries that died under mysterious circumstances.  If authenticated, this promises to be an important discovery.  However, I was disappointed at the angle of the broadcast and in comments by both Mr. Bagley and Mr. Sanders in alluding to Brigham Young as a murderer. 

That being said, I’m ecstatic at this discovery and ones like it. New documents shed new light on the past and in many cases lead to new and richer interpretations of history.

Are there any other Mormon-related recent documentary discoveries that anyone is aware of? 



Joseph Smith Papers Project TV Show (Sitcom?)
October 27, 2007, 12:28 pm
Filed under: documentary editing, Jared

I got word that a tv ad ran on KJZZ featuring a soundbite from Elder Marlin Jensen advertizing a tv program about the Joseph Smith Papers.  A tv listing here shows that on Nov. 5, at 7 pm a one hour show is to air (the site shows the current listing, you have to use the drop down menu to get to Nov. 5).  Does anyone have any more information on this?  This appears to be Larry H. Miller’s TV station. 

Second issue:

Here’s a 2005 blast from the past about the Papers and Larry H. Miller’s role.

The article states the following:

 “The project earned a major stamp of scholarly approval last year when it was endorsed by a division of the National Archives, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.”

 I’ve heard expressions of the hope that this project will be similar to the Hamilton or Jefferson Papers.  I wonder if the JSP will really attain that kind of scholarly acceptance the Jefferson Papers enjoys without being seated or printed at a University.  Questions about where the project is housed as well as its funding source, whether everything was placed in the volumes that should be might keep skeptics furrowing their brows.  Does it matter whether it attains that status? 

Whether accepted fully or not, one thing that is interesting is that it appears that the first volume of the Jefferson Papers appeared in 1950.  Now, 57 years later, Volume 33 is out.  Even though JS’s papers are not as voluminous as Thomas Jefferson’s, we may yet be in for a long wait before we get the whole series out.