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FLASH SALE: Award-winning Latter-day Saint books — 30% off retail prices! September 23 2020

We are proud of our authors and books! Expand your collection of biographies and narrative histories, anthologies and personal essays, and scripture scholarship with these award-winning titles below. Now 30% off through the end of September.

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Q&A with Samantha Richardson, co-editor of Miracles Among the Rubble September 08 2020

 
Miracles Among the Rubble is available paperback, hardcover, and ebook

 


Q: For those unfamiliar with Carol Gray, what can you tell us about her? 

A: Carol Rosemary Gray was born in Sheffield, England, to parents Rosemary Addis, born in Glasgow, Scotland, and James Addis, born locally in Sheffield, England. 

Carol met Stuart Gray at church in Sheffield when they were 16 or 17 years old and a few years later they married and were eventually blessed with seven children. Sadly, because of illness, my Nana was never able to have more children, so Mum remained an only child. Mum always said that when she started her own family, she would fill the house with children. She loved babies and loved to love; being a mother made her so happy. 

As the years went by and her children grew, mum felt a niggling sense that she had another purpose, which at this point she could not articulate. She was not aware of how strong her desire was to fill this purpose until she saw the atrocities on television of the war in the former Yugoslavia in the summer of 1992. The day my mother was galvanized into action was after watching a news report where a mother, running like a terrified rabbit and clinging to her three young children while dodging an onslaught of army vehicles, bullets, shells, and fire, tried desperately to get them to safety.

Q: Can you give us a brief overview of Carol's humanitarian work?

A: The death of Yugoslavian President Josip Tito in 1980 ended a six-decade-long coalition between the republics of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. In 1991 Serbian nationalist groups called for independence in Croatia and Slovenia, leading the Serb - dominated Yugoslav army to lash out in both countries. The ensuing civil war soon engulfed the whole region spilling over into Bosnia. In 1995 NATO intervention brought the war to an end, which divided Bosnia into two self-governing entities—a Bosnian Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat federation.

At the height of the war in late 1992, mum and I joined a mile-long aid convoy to Zagreb, Croatia, in what would be the first of many convoys to these devastated regions. During the following three years, Carol took convoys to Croatia and Bosnia more than twenty times, visiting refugee camps and orphanages, rebuilding schools and hospitals, and clearing the land of mines to allow people to plant donated seeds, using donated shovels. In Karlovac, Croatia, Carol took much-needed aid to orphanages. On the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, she and other convoy members rebuilt a school in Rovanska and delivered supplies to suffering civilians on the front line in Zadar. In Sarajevo, Bosnia, she delivered surgical equipment to a hospital. Also, in Sarajevo, her convoy members renovated and furnished a school for orphans. In Kupres, Bosnia, Carol’s convoy worked with locals to clear the city of trash and renovate the hospital. Impressive as the work projects and donations were, Carol maintained that the most important service she and other convoy members gave was their love, manifested through hugs, and a readiness to listen. 

After the war in Bosnia ended in December 1995, Carol carried on taking convoys of hope. With her last convoy in 2001, she had been to Croatia and Bosnia more than forty times. 

Q: You accompanied your mother on some of her humanitarian trips. What are some of your memories from these trips?

A: As I reflect on the aid trips I undertook with mum, there are a number of experiences that stand out. I’m not sure whether it was naivety, ignorance, or that part of me that yearns for adventure, but I never gave it a second thought when mum and I had a discussion about how to get the aid to those who needed it most, which meant going to the front lines of the fighting. Getting the aid into the country was one thing; getting it to front line crisis areas in Croatia to make sure it was delivered directly to those in desperate need was another thing entirely.

On one occasion, as I drove the truck to the next village where we were to deliver aid, we could hear gunfire and explosions close by. As we passed homes and buildings in ruins, the destruction, devastation, and the residents’ heart-wrenching pain at the loss of their loved ones clawed at our hearts and followed our every move. Mum felt very nervous and worried about my safety. I wore a hat constantly, so I didn’t stand out so much because of my long blonde hair. On one occasion we stopped at a village that had its own soldiers, feeling we had some protection. We delivered the aid, told stories, and hugged a lot. What small rations of food they had they gladly shared with us. The soldiers invited us to see their home and ushered us to a bedroom shutting the door behind us. Just as I was about to react in defense, the soldiers noticed the shock and worry on our faces and started to laugh. They reached for the weapons they had hidden away. All they wanted was to show us the weapons they had used to defend their village. They were proud of what they had achieved. The Serbians had tried to occupy their land but were not successful. As they told their stories, gradually mum and I began to relax and joined in the laughter as we quietly listened to their tales of heroism.

There were moments where we laughed so hard at the silliest things, which brought small moments of respite and healing. On our return home, we had 1500 miles to drive to reach a comfy bed and normal food! We had delivered all our aid supplies, so the van was empty. Mum was exhausted and for the first time in days had managed to get a few hours of sleep in the back. As I drove, I noticed we were nearing the Croatian/Slovenian border. I called out to mum that the ID checkpoint was coming up. She jumped up half-asleep, diving around the back of the wagon like a crazy person, wobbling around because—surprise, surprise—she had lost her small backpack, which contained all our money and her passport. I pulled up to the border window while mum was still in the back frantically looking for her ID. To my astonishment, they just waved me through without checking. Breathing a sigh of relief, we realized she now couldn’t join me in the front seat—they might think I had a stowaway. As I drove on, I heard mum giggling and squealing in the back as she swung from side to side and rolled around, falling over, her legs in the air, then her behind, lunging back and forth. I couldn’t drive in a straight line as tears of laughter filled my eyes. When we were far enough away from the border, I stopped to let mum out so she could sit with me in the front. Shortly after we got underway, something hit me on the back of the head—it was mum’s missing bag.

Q: How did Carol raise the money and donations she used for humanitarian relief? 

A: Initial donations came from Carol’s appeal to local church members from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What started out as a local project soon turned into a regional effort, which then grew into a national humanitarian project. The national newspapers, moved by the idea of a mother of seven spearheading such a project, became involved. Nationwide appeals went out on television inspiring others to donate in any way they could. 

As the project grew, Carol traveled throughout the United Kingdom and the United States, devoting her time tirelessly to speaking at conventions, colleges, and other events in order to raise funds for the convoys. She was met with such generosity and was so grateful to all who gave of their substance and to those who donated anonymously.

Q: When did you decide that you wanted to publish her personal writings? What was the process of putting them together and seeking publishing? 

A: Mum spent many years writing a manuscript by hand that she eventually wanted to publish. Sadly, her illness took hold and in 2010 she was taken from us. A year or so later, my father gave me a typed draft of the manuscript, along with many handwritten notes and additional writings, and asked if I would take this on as a project. Having never before published a manuscript, I was nervous and procrastinated, unsure where to start. However, the real reason I held off moving forward with the manuscript was my inability to read through more than a few pages without tears rolling down my cheeks. I could hear her voice in every word I read. I finally chided myself and was able to move through the book with a sense of purpose, one of a longing to bring mum’s manuscript to life and fulfill her desires for it to be published. Around the same time, I received a call from my co-editor Rebecca Johnson asking if she could assist with editing. Having Rebecca to assist me spurred me on and I began searching for a publisher. I researched publishers that might be interested in taking on the manuscript and was delighted to find that Loyd Ericson from Greg Koffords Books knew of my mother and, after reading our proposal, was happy to assist me in preparing the manuscript for publishing. 

Q: What do you feel your mother's legacy is?

A: One could say that my mother is a bit of an anomaly—she was strong but also vulnerable. She was never judgmental and had a courageous naivety that allowed her to seemingly float past danger. As a consequence, many doors opened up for her that otherwise may have remained closed. 

My mother called herself an ordinary woman, but she would demonstrate time and again that her spirit and determination could move mountains. She believed unflinchingly that any one of us is capable of effecting change and can achieve anything they put their mind to.

My siblings and I always say that mum had a super glue effect with everyone: she had charisma, was fun, and just drew people toward her like a moth to light with her healing hugs. Most importantly, and in simple terms, my mother (indeed, both my parents) left a legacy of love for others. 

Q: What do you hope readers will gain from reading this book?

A: Carol had a huge heart—she loved openly and generously shared that love in many ways. Her hugs had the power to heal. She was deeply grateful to her Heavenly Father and threw herself into serving others, promising that she would give a portion of herself “to provide a listening ear, an understanding heart and hands, and feet that would not weary in service.” We cried together, we laughed together, we hugged and consoled others, and our hearts ached for the families who had lost so much. We fell to our knees and prayed together, we faced down many frightening challenges together and rejoiced with grateful hearts at coming out the other side alive. Each convoy presented the volunteers with opportunities to overcome new challenges, experience amazing moments of learning, and discover along the way how truly capable and extraordinary we can all be. I hope readers will believe they too have a tremendous capacity to effect change, whether in their own lives or in the lives of others. Many of us, particularly women, can feel reticent to make the leap into the unknown, afraid to take that first step beyond our comfort zones. This book shows what incredible personal growth could be waiting for us if we take that leap of faith.

Samantha Richardson
September 2020


Back to Church Sale: 30% off Select Titles in Print and Ebook May 26 2020

As in-person church services slowly and carefully begin to reopen, we have an opportunity to reconnect with our neighbors and ward families. Below are several titles that will help you engage with deeper gospel learning and strengthen our commitment to serving others as we participate in a community with different needs and expressions of faith.

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Q&A with Richard G. Moore, editor of The Writings of Oliver H. Olney April 1842 to February 1843 — Nauvoo, Illinois May 11 2020

Book Description: Oliver H. Olney, an early convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, fled to Nauvoo, Illinois, following persecution in Missouri. In Nauvoo, Olney became disgruntled with church leadership and viewed Joseph Smith as a fallen prophet. His writings, consisting of journal entries, letters, and booklets, express his concerns about what he viewed as serious iniquity within the Church. Despite his opposition to church leadership resulting in his excommunication, Olney remained in Nauvoo and wrote about the things he witnessed.

The handwritten papers of Oliver Olney are housed in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University and are made available in published form for the first time. They offer historical researchers and interested readers of the early Latter-day Saint movement a unique glimpse from the margins of religious society in Nauvoo. Olney’s writings add light to key events in early Mormonism such as rumors of polygamy, the influence of Free Masonry in Nauvoo, plans to migrate westward to the Rocky Mountains, as well as growing tensions with disaffected church members and rising conflict with Nauvoo’s non-Mormon neighbors.
 

 


Q: How did you discover Oliver Olney and what made you decide to transcribe his writings?

A: Some years ago, I was looking for a topic for a paper to present at the John Whitmer Historical Association Conference. The theme that year had to do with the divergent paths of belief that some early converts to the Restoration took. I remembered reading a Times and Seasons editorial called “Try the Spirits” that mentioned a number of people who had left the church founded by Joseph Smith after receiving their own revelations. Returning to that article, I found the name of Oliver Olney. I didn’t know if there was enough information about him to write a paper but was surprised to discover that there were over four hundred-fifty pages handwritten by Olney housed at Yale. I obtained a copy of his writings, transcribed much of what he had written, and was able to present a paper at the conference. After my presentation, Greg Kofford approached me and said that he would like to publish all of Olney’s writings. I began the work of transcribing everything that I could find written by Oliver Olney.

Q: Can you describe Oliver Olney? Who was he and why is he a significant source for the Nauvoo era?

A: Oliver Olney joined the Latter-day Saint movement in 1831 while living in Ohio. He and his wife moved to Kirtland where he became president of the Teachers Quorum. His wife was the daughter of John Johnson and the sister of Luke and Lyman Johnson, two of the Restoration’s first apostles. He and his wife later moved to Missouri and experienced the anti-Mormon violence there. They eventually moved to Nauvoo. Oliver was on a mission to the Eastern States when his wife, who had remained in Nauvoo, passed away. Returning from his mission, he became disaffected with the Church and its leaders. However, after being excommunicated, he remained in Nauvoo and wrote down what he observed taking place there. His writings are first-hand accounts, albeit biased, of a person living in Nauvoo during the early 1840s.

Q: Can you give us a brief overview of how this documentary history is organized?

A: Olney wrote something of a dated journal for several years. However, he often wrote more than one version for a particular date. His papers were in numbered folders at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Unsure which version Olney wrote in what order, the book is arranged by date, in order of the folder in which they appear. In other words, if he wrote three entries for June 3, they would be arranged like this: June 3 [folder 2], June 3 [folder 5], June 3 [folder 7]. Also included in the book are two complete booklets that Olney had published.

Q: What are a few big takeaways that we get from Oliver’s writings?

A: Olney had heard rumors spreading around Nauvoo about polygamy among Church leaders and he wrote about what he had heard. He also noted the establishment of a Masonic chapter in Nauvoo. He said that he was unsure about the virtue of Masonry and claimed that the Mormon version of Masonry being practiced in Nauvoo was an immoral thing—even connecting the Danites to what he referred to as “new-fangled” Masonry. Olney also viewed the formation of the Relief Society as Masonry for women. In 1842 he stated that the Mormons were already making plans to move to the Rocky Mountains and establish a kingdom there.

Q: Can you share a few issues Olney had with church leadership? Why do you think he remained in Nauvoo after his excommunication?

A: Some of the biggest issues that Olney had with church leadership were financial. At the time he was writing, he viewed himself and others in Nauvoo as being poverty stricken while church leaders lived in luxury. He viewed tithing and the law of consecration as gouging the Saints for the benefit of church leaders. He was also troubled by rumors of plural marriage being practiced by church leaders. He felt that the Restoration had gone off the track. Olney did stay in Nauvoo for several years after his excommunication, even though he said in a few of his writings that he believed his life to be in jeopardy. I believe he stayed at first because he thought a reformation could take place within the Church and he saw himself as the person who could help that reform take place. After coming to believe that there was no hope for church leaders to repent, I believe he stayed to get more dirt or ammunition for his attack on Mormonism.

Q: Can you give us a little insight into Olney's claimed visions and heavenly visitations?

A: Olney recorded visits of heavenly messengers, giving him instructions for building God’s kingdom on the earth in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. Prominent in these visits were the Ancient of Days, twelve prophets from Old Testament times that would meet with him quite often. Olney claimed that these twelve, who lived on the North Star, called him to choose a new Quorum of the Twelve. He was ordained to a special priesthood by them and was told where to find a buried Nephite treasure to fund the building of the kingdom. He also said that he was visited several times by the deceased apostle, David W. Patten.

Q: Do we know what became of Oliver Olney after Nauvoo?

A: Prior to leaving Nauvoo, Olney remarried a Mormon woman, a believer who was assistant secretary in the first Relief Society. Very little is known about him after he left Nauvoo. He returned to Nauvoo after the death of Joseph Smith and, according to his own writing, hoped to be able to receive his endowment in the Nauvoo Temple. I was unable to find anything about him after that except the assumption that he died in Illinois sometime in 1847 or 1848.

Richard G. Moore
May 2020


Church History and Doctrine Sale: 30% off Select Titles in Print and Ebook April 15 2020

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Spring Flash Sale: Up to 88% off Select Ebooks March 24 2020

Stay at home with a great book and help take the pressure off delivery services by going paperless. From now through Easter, download select ebook titles for 30% to 88% off regular price.

Sale ends Monday, 4/12/2020 

****NOTE: Due to an error, the discounts for the Kindle ebooks of Second Witness volumes 5 and 6 were not applied. They should be available at the discounted rate by Sunday*****

 

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Q&A with Don Bradley, author of The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon's Missing Stories December 09 2019

 

 

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For readers less familiar with the "lost 116 pages" can you provide a brief synopsis of what they were and how they became lost?

After Joseph Smith dictated to scribes the first four and half centuries of the Book of Mormon’s chronicle of ancient Jewish settlers in the New World (the Nephites), the manuscript of this account was borrowed by the last of those scribes, Martin Harris. The manuscript later disappeared from Harris’s locked drawer and has been lost to history ever since. The current Book of Mormon text is therefore incomplete, substituting a shorter account for this lengthy missing narrative.

Can you piece together what most likely happened to this lost early manuscript? Does the standard narrative that Lucy Harris likely destroyed them hold up? If not, why and what other possibilities should we consider?

When the manuscript disappeared, Martin Harris initially suspected his wife of the theft. Lucy Harris had been skeptical of her husband’s investment in the book and would have had motive to interfere. Lucy Harris has been regarded as the prime suspect in the theft since the late 1800s, and it has been widely presumed that she burned the manuscript. However, the explanation that Lucy Harris burned the manuscript was first proposed as only a speculative possibility a quarter-century after the fact, but the dramatic image of the disgruntled wife throwing the pages into the flames quickly caught fire and became increasingly popular with time. The further the historical sources get from the actual theft, the more likely they are to tell this story, indicating that it was the story’s sensationalism, rather than its accuracy, that led to its popularity. The first person to have suspected Lucy Harris of the theft, her husband Martin, abandoned this theory when he learned that his estranged but devout Quaker wife had denied on her deathbed knowing what happened to the pages.

The presumption that Lucy Harris stole the pages, acted alone in doing so, and burned them has prevented investigators from looking closely at other suspects, including a number of people who had previously attempted to steal other documents and relics associated with the Book of Mormon. Former treasure digging associates of Joseph Smith had attempted several times to steal the original Book of Mormon—the golden plates. And Martin and Lucy Harris had a son-in-law, a known swindler, who once stole the “Anthon transcript” of characters copied from the plates. Fixating on Lucy Harris as the only possible thief has blinded inquirers to noticing these obvious suspects.

Despite the widespread presumption that Lucy Harris was guilty of taking and burning the manuscript, the manuscript’s ultimate fate is an open question.

You assert that the lost early manuscript might have been longer than 116 pages. Can you provide some reasoning for this? Can you also speculate on how long they may have been?

The number given for the length of the lost manuscript—116 pages—exactly matches the length of the “small plates” text that replaced that manuscript. This coincidence has led several scholars, beginning with Robert F. Smith, to propose that the length of the lost manuscript was actually unknown and the 116 pages figure was just an estimate based on the length of its replacement.

While we can’t know for sure the length of the lost manuscript, unless it turns up, we can do better than just guessing at its actual length, because we have several lines of evidence for this, all of which converge on a probable manuscript size. Joseph Smith reported that Martin scribed on the lost manuscript over a period of 64 days, which, given Joseph’s known translation rate would have produced a manuscript far larger than 116 pages. In line with this, Emer Harris, ancestor to a living Latter-day Saint apostle and brother to Martin Harris, reported at a church conference that Martin had scribed for “near 200 pages” of the manuscript before it was lost. A later interviewer recounted Martin himself reporting a similar scribal output when stating what proportion of the total Book of Mormon text he recorded. Since Martin was not the only scribe to work on the now-lost manuscript but, rather, the fifth such scribe, the manuscript as a whole would have been well in excess of the nearly 200 pages produced by Martin, likely closer to 300 pages. Other lines of evidence within the existing Book of Mormon text point to a similar length for the lost portion.

What sources are used in this book to identify what was in the Book of Mormon's lost 116 pages?

To reconstruct the Book of Mormon’s lost stories this book makes use of both internal sources from within the current Book of Mormon text and external sources beyond that text. Internal sources from the Book of Mormon include, first, accounts from the narrators of the small plates of Nephi, which cover the same time period as the lost portion of Mormon’s abridgment, and, second, narrative callbacks in the surviving remnants of Mormon’s abridgment that refer to the lost stories. External sources used in the reconstruction include statements in the earliest manuscripts of Joseph Smith's revelations describing and echoing the lost pages, statements by Joseph Smith reported by apostles Franklin D. Richards and Erastus Snow, an 1830 interview granted by Joseph Smith, Sr., a conference sermon by Martin Harris’s brother Emer Harris, and reports by several other early Latter-day Saints and friends of Martin Harris.

Can you provide a few examples of how your research into the lost early manuscript has increased your awareness of a Jewish core in the Book of Mormon text?

The research that went into this book has disclosed to me a Jewishness to the Book of Mormon that I could never have imagined. Through the lens of the sources on the lost manuscript, we can see the Jewishness in the Book of Mormon from the very start: according to Joseph Smith, Sr., the lost pages identified the Book of Mormon as beginning with a Jewish festival, namely, Passover. This Jewishness is particularly striking in the sources on the lost manuscript’s narrative of the book’s founding prophets Lehi and Nephi. Their narrative begins in that of the Hebrew Bible, at the start of the Jewish Exile. The recoverable lost-manuscript narratives of Lehi and Nephi show them seeking to build a new Jewish kingdom in the New World systematically parallel to the pre-Exile Jewish kingdom in the Old World. Having lost the biblical Promised Land, sacred city, dynasty, temple, and Ark of the Covenant, they set about re-creating these by proxy.

This Jewishness in the Book of Mormon is paralleled by a distinct Jewishness of the Book of Mormon’s coming forth. Reconstructing a chronology of the several earliest events in the Book of Mormon’s emergence shows every one of these events to have been keyed to the dates of Jewish festivals. In ways not previously appreciated, the Book of Mormon is a richly and profoundly Judaic book.

In your book, you discuss temple worship among the Nephites. Can you summarize some of your findings?

Temple worship stands at the center of Nephite life and of the Book of Mormon’s narrative. The early events of Nephite history, as chronicled in the present Book of Mormon text and fleshed out further in the sources on the book’s lost manuscript, all build toward the ultimate goal of re-establishing Jewish temple worship in a new promised land. Re-establishing such worship required constructing a system closely parallel to that of Solomon’s temple. To meet the requirements of the Mosaic Law, the Nephites would have needed substitutes for the biblical high priest and Ark of the Covenant, with their associated sacred relics. Accordingly, the Nephite sacred relics—the plates, interpreters, breastplate, sword of Laban, and Liahona—systematically parallel the relics of the biblical Ark and high priest, showing how closely temple worship in the Book of Mormon was modeled on temple worship in the Bible.

In what ways are the doctrines in the early lost Book of Mormon manuscript reflected in the doctrines of early Mormonism?

Earliest Mormonism has sometimes been understood as primarily a form of Christian primitivism, the New Testament-focused nineteenth-century movement to restore original Christianity. Yet already when we explore the earliest Mormon text, the lost portion of the Book of Mormon, we find a whole-Bible religion, one weaving Christian primitivist, Judaic, and esoteric strands into a distinctively Mormon restorationist tapestry of faith.

The Book of Mormon’s focus on the temple is also very Mormon. Temple worship among the Nephites not only echoes ancient Jewish temple worship, but it also anticipates temple worship among the Latter-day Saints. The recoverable narratives of the Book of Mormon’s lost pages portray the Nephite temple as not only a place in which sacrifices are performed but also one in which higher truths are taught in symbolic form, human beings learn to speak with the Lord through the veil, and people can begin to take on divine attributes.

What are you hoping readers will gain from your book?

This book’s earliest seed was my childhood curiosity about the Book of Mormon’s lost pages. That seed grew in adulthood when I realized how knowing more about the Book of Mormon’s lost pages could illuminate its present pages. On one level, this new book is a book about the Book of Mormon’s lost text, pursuing the mystery of what was in the lost first half of Mormon’s abridgment. On another level, this is a book about understanding more deeply the Book of Mormon text we do have, since the last half of any narrator’s story is best understood in light of the first half. Researching what can be known about the lost manuscript has helped me to more fully recognize the Book of Mormon’s richness, understand its messages and meanings, and grasp its power as a sacred text. My hope is that recapturing some of the long-missing contexts behind our Book of Mormon will also expand others’ understanding of and appreciation for this remarkable foundational scripture of Latter-day Saint faith and inspire readers to delve deeper into the Book of Mormon.

Don Bradley
December 2019


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Q&A with Bradley Kramer, author of Gathered in One: How the Book of Mormon Counters Anti-Semitism in the New Testament September 16 2019

 

 

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Q: For some, hearing that the New Testament contains anti-Semitic language can be challenging. Can you provide a few examples of anti-Semitic rhetoric in the New Testament?

A: Yes. However, first I would like to clarify that I do not think that the New Testament as a whole is anti-Semitic. I do think that the New Testament contains many anti-Semitic statements, anti-Semitic portrayals, anti-Semitic settings, and anti-Semitic structuring elements that together form a kind of literary tide that pulls its readers towards an anti-Semitic point of view, but that is not the same as saying the entire New Testament is anti-Semitic or that anti-Semitism is its major theme.

The Gospel of John, for instance, not only contains a statement where “the Jews” are told that their father is the devil (John 8:44), but they are portrayed explicitly as questioning Jesus (2:18), as accusing him of being in league with the devil (8:48), and as instilling fear in his followers (7:13; 19:38; 20:19). In this Gospel, “the Jews” function as a foil to everything Jesus stands for and teaches. They are from beneath while Jesus is from above; they are of this world while Jesus is not (8:22-23), and they, unlike the enlightened Jesus, love “darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil” (3:19).

The Gospel of Matthew reinforces this view of Jews through its portrayal of Pharisees. In this Gospel, Pharisees are hypocritical (Matt. 16:3), judgmental (9:11), rule-bound (12:2), scheming (v.14), stupid (v. 24), sign-seeking (v. 38), superficial (15:1), easily offended (v.12), spiritually blind (v. 14), corrupt (12:33), petty (23:23), tricky (22:15), prideful (16:6), and murderous (12:14). True, the Pharisees are only a subgroup of Jews, but without many examples of other subgroups acting differently, they seem to represent Jews as a totality.

In addition, the Gospel of Matthew uses settings to undermine the viability and validity of Jewish practices. The Last Supper, for instance, is set as a Passover Seder and shows Jesus commenting on two of its most important elements: the bread and the wine. However, in this Gospel, the Mosaic meanings of these elements are not mentioned or discussed as stipulated by the Law of Moses (Ex. 12:25–27). Instead, they are presented simply as food items that have lost their Mosaic meaning and can, therefore, be easily repurposed as memorials of Jesus’s soon to-be-dead body and spilt blood. In this way, the Gospel of Matthew presents Passover, much like the Jews themselves, as something devoid of true spirituality and in need of replacement. 

Q: Is there scholarly consensus regarding anti-Semitism in the New Testament? Can you provide examples of scholarly debate on the topic?

A:I think so, yes. Many scholars, however, prefer to use the term “anti-Judaic,” feeling that the New Testament attacks Jews more as members of a certain faith, which can change, than as members of an ethnic or genetic group, which cannot. I have elected to use “anti-Semitic” in my book because 1) most of my sources use that term, 2) “anti-Semitic” is the more common, inclusive term, and 3) in practice the distinction between these two approaches is not always clear—even in the New Testament. Jesus in the Gospel of John, for instance, does not tell “the Jews” that the devil is their spiritual leader; he says that the devil is their “father” (John 8: 44). Similarly, in Matthew the Jewish multitude cries out for his blood to be upon their “children, not upon their religious descendants (Matt. 27:25).

Scholars, as well as many devoted Christian ministers, are disturbed by this scene in the Gospel of Matthew. It seems to brand all Jews throughout time as “Christkillers” and has been used to justify numerous anti-Jewish atrocities. As a result, many of these scholars, ministers, and laypeople deny that it ever happened. They point out that there is no record of any Roman governor ever releasing prisoners on Passover and question the logic of such a custom. After all, why would a Roman official charged with keeping the peace run the risk of releasing his most dangerous enemies back into society? It makes no sense.

These scholars and ministers similarly dispute the Gospels’ portrayal of Pilate as a spiritually ambivalent government official who could be swayed by the voice of a Jewish multitude. According to Roman records, not only did Pilate place Roman images inside the Temple precincts in direct opposition of the will of his subjects, but he also confiscated Temple funds when they refused to pay their taxes. Furthermore, when people gathered before him to protest, he had his soldiers disguise themselves, infiltrate the crowd, and slaughter them all.

The majority of scholars and ministers see Pilate as a merciless ruler who would have had no qualms whatsoever about crucifying Jesus. However, by doing so, Pilate presented early Christians with a problem. After all, they had to live and work and worship within the Roman Empire. It would not be wise to paint a Roman official as a murderer, particularly as the murderer of the Son of God. Many scholars and ministers, therefore, see this scene as a fictional embellishment designed to shift the blame for Jesus’s death from the Romans to the already despised Jews.

Q: Can you provide an example or two of how the Book of Mormon counters anti-Semitism in the New Testament?

A: I can think of no more powerful condemnations of anti-Semitic behavior than these:

O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people. (1 Ne. 29:5)

Yea, and ye need not any longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews, nor any of the remnant of the house of Israel; for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them, and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn. (3 Ne. 29:8)

Furthermore, these are not simply official declarations issued by a church or statements from an ecclesiastical leader. In the former, it is God who chastises non-Jews (probably Christians) for persecuting Jews; and in the latter, it is Mormon, a prophet of God, who commands these same Christians to cease oppressing the Jews.

Also, notice that these condemnations do not comment upon any particular passage in the New Testament, nor do they challenge the veracity of any specific New Testament event. However, given their clarity of expression, they make it very difficult for Christians to interpret the New Testament anti-Semitically.

In this way, the Book of Mormon does not change the New Testament’s words or call into question their ability to convey divine messages to their readers directly. However, for believers, it alters how the New Testament’s words are understood. When joined with the New Testament in the Christian canon, the Book of Mormon overwhelms the anti-Semitic statements, portrayals, settings, and structural elements with more numerous and more sweeping pro-Jewish statements, portrayals, settings, and structural elements of its own. In this way, the Book of Mormon turns the literary tide in the New Testament and causes it to flow in the opposite direction.

Q: How does the Book of Mormon limit Jewish involvement in Jesus’ death?

A: For the most part, the prophets in the Book of Mormon seems more interested in what Jesus’s death accomplished than in who killed him. Nephi, for instance, recounts his vision of Jesus’s death saying only that Jesus “was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world” without specifying who did the lifting (1 Ne. 11:33), and Abinadi similarly prophecies that Jesus will be “led, crucified, and slain” again without mentioning who will do the leading, crucifying, and slaying (Mosiah 15:7). The same is true for Samuel the Lamanite (Hel. 13:6) and even Jesus (3 Ne. 11:14).

Furthermore, when these prophets do attempt to identify Jesus’s killers, they use vague terms such as “the world” or “wicked men” (1 Ne. 19:7–10), or they employ phrases that, while they may appear at first to indict all Jews everywhere, actually absolve the majority of Jews of any involvement whatsoever in Jesus’s death. Jacob’s “they at Jerusalem” (2 Ne. 10:5), for example, may seem to some readers to indicate that all Jews participate somehow in Jesus’s crucifixion. These readers link this phrase with “the Jews” in verse 3 and see it as affirming universal Jewish culpability regarding Jesus’s death. However, during Jesus’s lifetime, only a small percentage of the world’s Jews lived in Jerusalem. During that time, most Jews were still residing in Babylon or were scattered throughout the eastern Mediterranean and beyond—as Jacob, who as one of the most far-flung of these Jews, knew very well.

In other words, instead of serving as a synonym of “the Jews,” “they at Jerusalem” functions as the last element in a grammatical sequence that shrinks the number of Jews connected to Jesus’s death from all Jews everywhere to “those who are the more wicked part of the world” to just those Jews living in Jerusalem during the early first century. In a similar way, 2 Nephi 10 also softens “they shall crucify him” of verse 3 to “they . . . will stiffen their necks against him, that he be crucified” and complicates their complicity by stating in verse 5 that they do so not because of some deep-seated personal conviction but “because of priestcrafts and iniquities.”

Q: What is supersessionism and how does the Book of Mormon refute it?

A: Supersessionism is the traditional Christian doctrine that the Jews have been disobedient for so long, failing to follow their own law as well as murdering its originator (Jesus), that their covenantal connection to God has been revoked and they have been replaced by Christian Gentiles. Statements in the Book of Mormon clearly refute this notion by confirming that the Jews remain God’s “covenant people” (2 Ne. 29:4–5) even after Jesus’s death (Morm. 3:21), and by affirming that despite being scattered “upon all the face of the earth,” the Jews will one day be “armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory” (1 Ne. 14:14), that they will be delivered from their enemies (2 Ne. 6:17), and that pure people everywhere will seek “the welfare of the ancient and long dispersed covenant people of the Lord” (Morm. 8:15).

In addition to these statements, the portrayal of the Nephites and Lamanites further reinforces the Jews’ ongoing covenantal connection to God. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jews, as Pharisees, are portrayed as so hypocritical and murderous (at least towards Jesus) that it is hard to see them as continuing in God’s covenant. In the Book of Mormon, Nephites also struggle with hypocrisy as do the Lamanites with murder, and yet never are these New World Jews removed from God’s covenant or detached from God’s care. Missionaries go to them, and often they repent, but even when they do not and their civilization disintegrates into self-destructive chaos, God continues to seek after their descendants and sees them always as heirs to the covenantal promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  

Q: How should Latter-day Saints relate to Jews?

A: With charity, just like Nephi (2 Ne. 33:8), and not as potential converts. It is significant that the Book of Mormon never uses the words “convert” or “conversion” in connection with Jews. Instead, it employs “persuade” and “convince,” and presents Jesus as the only person authorized to do this persuading and convincing. As he tells the Nephites:

And then will I gather them in from the four quarters of the earth; and then will I fulfil the covenant which the Father hath made unto all the people of the house of Israel. . . . And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them. (3 Ne. 16:5, 11)

This repetition of the pronoun “I” in this passage and in 3 Ne. 21:1 indicates to me that Christians should not press Jews to accept Jesus. They should instead have enough faith in their Master to let him do what he has covenanted to do without any help or interference from them.

Christians should embrace Jews as brothers and sisters in God’s covenant, as true friends with whom they can talk, play, work, worship, hang out, enjoy, and learn from, especially in regards to the Scriptures. As Nephi reminds his readers:

I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them, save it be that they are taught after the manner of the things of the Jews. (2 Ne. 25:5)

Q: What are you hoping readers will gain through this book?

A: I hope my readers will see more clearly just how the Book of Mormon can augment and enhance the Bible without undermining its scriptural authority or reliability. I hope they will also feel a closer, more informed, more appreciative connection with Jews. I think many Christians are fairly ignorant about Jews and are somewhat split in their opinion of them. Through movies such as “Schindler’s List,” “Denial,” and “The Pianist,” they may feel sympathetic towards Jews because of persecutions they have suffered and the pains they have endured. However, because of the New Testament, they may also be inclined to see Jews as chronic nitpickers who hypocritically follow superficial religious practices.  

With this book, I hope to resolve this difference by showing my readers that there is more to the Jews than is offered in the New Testament, that Mosaic practices remain relevant today, that the Law of Moses has been observed admirably by an admirable people; and that Jews have much to teach Christians religiously, ethically, and scripturally. They certainly have taught me much.

Bradley J. Kramer
September 2019


Q&A with David B. Ostler for Bridges: Ministering to Thos Who Question July 23 2019

 

 

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Q: Give us a brief background into who you are and why you decided to write this book.

A: I’m a retired father and husband, with six children and five, almost six, grandchildren. My children are wonderful and some no longer believe in basic principles and doctrines of the Church. I’ve been a leader in the Church and with my wife, served two full time and two church service missions. Our last mission was in our stake, working with leaders to better understand why people disaffiliate from the Church.

As we worked with our stake leaders, we research and studied the frequency and causes why people, particularly previously faithful adults, choose to disaffiliate. We found that Church-wide most leaders see disaffiliation as a very important concern in their ward, stake and particularly in their family. We also found that many leaders were not fully aware of the underlying reasons and didn’t feel they fully understood how to help. They probably feel the same in their homes.

So, after completing that calling, I decided that I could take what we learned and create a resource for members to better understand why people leave so that we could find common ground, build understanding and truly minister to those who no longer worship with us. I conducted some original research, interviewed leaders and disaffiliated members, and studied the words of our Church leaders as well as experts in the field. In this research, I learned that the pain of disaffiliation isn’t just felt by that person’s family or leaders, but also by the disaffiliating member. They often feel isolation, fear, anger and other hurtful emotions; often unintentionally caused by their family, friends, and leaders.

I hope this book can bridge that misunderstanding and give us a better understanding to build trusting and meaningful relationships with those who no longer believe as we do.

Q: Who is your intended audience for the book and how do you hope it will be used?

A: I think there will be two readers for the book. I wrote the book for fully believing members so that they can better understand their friends, ward member, or family member who no longer believes in the truth claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I hope it gives each reader understanding on how to build a trusted relationship with that person. With that understanding, I hope that some of the pain, fear, and hurt that is felt on both sides can be turned into love and acceptance. Perhaps in some cases, that understanding will create an opportunity for someone to “come back” or to have someone “stay.” For believing members, I hope that reading this book will help build a bridge with a better understanding as they minister to those who doubt.

I also realize readers will include some who no longer believe. I hope that this book will give them hope that we are trying to be more understanding and that their relationship with their families, friends and Church members can be strong and rich, even with differences in belief.

This isn’t a leadership book. But knowing that each leader is also a member and that we rotate in and out of ward and stake callings, I include some ideas that leaders can use with their callings. The principles are the same and can be applied in families, with friends, as church members, and when we serve in church callings.

Q: We hear numerous reports of religious disaffiliation in our modern age, particularly in Western society. How are these trends reflected in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

A: All churches and denominations are experiencing a drop in membership and participation. Younger Americans, particularly Millennials and Gen-Z, see little need to participate in organized religion. In fact, the fastest-growing group of religious identification is “spiritual, but non-religious.” As Latter-day Saints, we are experiencing these same trends. The underlying reasons include society’s broad acceptance of those who are non-religious, people being comfortable going it alone, less trust of institutions in general and of religions specifically, more opportunities to find friends and like-minded people through social media and other settings, and more. The reasons are many.

For the Church in the United States, data from social scientists show that disaffiliation for those born after 1970 is about 39% and, although the sample size is low, that 55% of millennials have disaffiliated. Most of those who disaffiliate remain on the rolls of the Church, but no longer think of themselves of Latter-day Saints. And they disaffiliate younger than previous generations. The average age of millennial disaffiliation is 18.4 years while for boomers it was 23.7 years.

Q: What are a few root causes for religious disaffiliation among Latter-day Saints?

A: Latter-day Saints experience all the same issues as other religions, but there are unique issues which we face. Some leave because they become aware of issues in our history which are controversial or seem inconsistent with our values. They may have concerns about particular Church policies, like our teachings about LGBTQ issues. They may disagree with the way in which women and men serve and experience the Church. Church culture and what they experience in their wards and classes may feel judgmental and perfectionistic. They may be different in some way, like being childless, or being single, experiencing mental illness, being politically liberal. Others just don’t feel the Church addresses the areas which are meaningful to them, including issues of social justice, poverty, racism, sexism or violence.

Q: What are a few typical responses among families and congregations towards those who disaffiliate or become disaffected with the Church’s teachings?

A: As I interviewed members and read their comments and experiences in my surveys, I was frankly surprised by the disconnect between fully believing members and local leaders and those who doubt, question, or have left the Church. Many believing members feel the primary reasons why people leave is because they are offended, have sinned, or are lazy. They sometimes blame the disaffiliating member for having not studied scriptures, prayed, or attended the temple often enough. Those members who are struggling with their faith often have serious doctrinal, historical, or cultural concerns about the Church. When members or local leaders don’t have a true understanding of why these people leave or struggle to stay, their efforts are often ineffective, or worse, hurtful, and push members further away.

Sometimes it is because they don’t understand, but also, it causes fear when a family member learns their child, sibling, or spouse is struggling with belief. It threatens their hope for an eternal family as they worry about their spiritual welfare.

Without thinking about it, we make a snap judgment as to why they have left and assume that it is because they have been offended or because of secret sin. We may be afraid to ask them because we don’t want to offend them. We might keep them at arm’s length and be afraid that they will infect us with doubt. Some disaffiliated members feel that they are labeled as “anti-Mormon” or “apostates” and don’t feel that they are welcome. We may exclude them from our social life because we are uncomfortable with them or with having our children associate with them. Leaders may release them from their callings even though they are willing to serve.

Sometimes in our interactions with disaffiliated members, we seek to testify or explain away their concerns when they just want to keep their close relationship, friendship, or continue to worship even with their doubts.

Q: What are a few ways we can minister to disaffiliated and disaffected members, both individually and as congregations?

First and most important, we need to learn to listen to them individually and collectively. We really don’t know their concerns unless we take the time to listen. Listening is hard—it means that we suspend trying to explain their decision and instead really let them share with us what they are feeling and why. Our minds will naturally try and explain it away and find the fault in their logic or life that lead them to their new beliefs. As they are talking, our minds might be filled with how we can counter their concerns. We might be tempted to encourage them to read more scripture, pray harder, or go to the temple. But first, we need to just listen to understand their concern and why it is important to them. Giving unsolicited advice rarely works.

While listening, we need to take their concerns seriously. These issues are very real to them and we should never try and minimize their concerns. We need to validate, even if we disagree. Later, after they know that we really care about their concerns and how it impacts them, perhaps we can discuss ways to think about the issue or even more forward without a clear resolution.

Q: What brief message can you offer to family members or friends of individuals who have become disaffected with the Church’s teachings or who have chosen to disaffiliate?

A: As we listen and validate, we can answer some questions; and when we can’t, we can mourn and comfort our family or friend who has become disaffected. We can find common ground, even if we aren’t 100% united in the values we live and in our spiritual beliefs. Our relationships can be meaningful, close, and full of love, even with these differences.

If they come back, that’s wonderful. If they don’t, we can trust the Lord and enjoy every moment, even within our differences. I take great comfort from Elder Orson F. Whitney, who said, “Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable than even the best of his servants, and the everlasting gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend.” Our Heavenly Parents love our family member or friend far more than we can comprehend. They want their happiness too, today and forever.

David B. Ostler
July 2019

 


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Q&A with Aaron McArthur and Reid L. Neilson for The Annals of the Southern Mission June 24 2019

 
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Q: When did this project begin and how did you two connect?

A: [Aaron] The project began around 2004 when I was a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While working on my master’s thesis on the significance of tabernacles in the development of LDS communities, I discovered the Annals. That exposure came at Special Collections at BYU, where they had essentially a photocopy of the record. Many of the copies were of very low quality. When you consider that there was no index, it made them very hard to work with. Despite the problems involved with accessing the record, I realized that it was a gold mine of information.

To support my research agenda for my dissertation, the UNLV History Department used a sizable portion of their yearly book budget to purchase a $1,000 collection of scanned documents from the Church archives, which included the Annals. Given what an incredible resource the Annals are, I was amazed that they were so hard to access and resolved to rectify that situation. While working on my dissertation, I undertook a detailed transcription from the scans the library purchased. When I needed a break from the dissertation, I relaxed by transcribing.

Reid contacted me in my last semester of graduate school about working together to bring the Annals to print. He brings a vast amount of experience and resources to the table, and I was very glad to work with him.

Q: What challenges (if any) did you face while compiling this volume?

A: [Aaron] The biggest challenge with this project has simply been time. I did the bulk of the transcription while writing my dissertation and working full-time at UNLV Special Collections. Once the transcription was complete, I knew that we needed two independent verifications and we would eventually need an index. Arkansas Tech approved a professional development grant to pay for students to assist in the process. One of these students helped finish one verification even after grant funds were exhausted. I was very grateful that Reid took care of the index.

Q: Who was James Bleak and what makes his annals so valuable for historical research?

A: James Bleak was the historian for the Southern Mission. What makes the Annals so amazing is how he went about fulfilling his duties as a historian. Firstly, he created a sizable archive of records as events happened. When he actually started writing the history, he had decades of records to work with instead of having to conduct research. Second, is when he was writing, he was careful to include an in-text citation whenever he quoted sources. As a practicing historian, I love that I can tell what text belongs to who. Third, he quoted huge numbers of records in their entirety, not just selections that promoted his narrative. As a concise narrative, it is a 2200+ page nightmare, but it is an absolute goldmine for historians, genealogists, etc.

Q: What do we learn from the Annals about Latter-day Saint pioneer relations with Native Americans?

A: There are some major things that the Annals have to offer in regard to relations with Native Americans. The first is that it covers such a long period of time. This allows us to see some longer-term interaction patterns. This is especially important because those interactions were complicated by the fact that the Saints in southern Utah were interacting with Southern Paiute, Navajo, Ute, and Hopi, each of which had their own internal politics that influenced those interactions.

Overall, Brigham Young’s attitude towards Native Americans was that it made more sense to “shoot them with biscuits” than fight with them. Compared to most groups of white settlers, the Saints had much better relations with Native Americans in general. The Annals, unfortunately, has some very good examples of how some of those interactions went wrong.

Q: What were some of the struggles that pioneers faced in settling southern Utah?

A: Any time people build communities from scratch, there are going to be lots of struggles. The one that stands out the most to me for the Saints in southern Utah is their fraught relationship with water. There is a saying in the West that “whiskey is for drinkin’, and water is for fightin’ over.” The Saints didn’t drink whiskey, so that only left water. This is not to say that they were always fighting about it, but it was clearly never far from their minds. All of the settlements in the Southern Mission were in the desert, and all were reliant on agriculture. Getting enough water for crops was a constant challenge, except for when there was too much water that was washing out those crops that the irrigation works that fed them.

Q: What role did spiritual matters play in the actions and decisions of the southern Utah pioneer settlers?

A: As far as the Annals are concerned, spiritual matters were the things that mattered. You need to recognize that Bleak's position as historian was in an ecclesiastical organization, so the kinds of records he collected and used were influenced by that. Evidence indicates, however, that the average settler was similarly motived by spiritual matters. What indicates that to me is that ecclesiastical leaders were consistently elected or chosen for secular leadership positions.

Q: For each of you, what was one of your big takeaways from the Annals?

A: [Aaron] I have a few takeaways from the Annals project. The first is that you can accomplish some very cool things if you just keep plugging away on it. I worked on the project for nearly fifteen years. Second, you can never have too many friends. It is amazing how many people will jump in and help finish a worthy project if they are given the opportunity. Finally, Bleak’s work inspires me as a historian. I can only hope that more than a century from now that people will look at histories that I have written and find them as worthy as Bleak’s work is today.

[Reid] That James Bleak was so committed to getting the history of his people down in ink. That he was thinking generations ahead of his contemporaries who were barely eeking out a living and in survival mode. But he was looking to the future and appreciated that it was up to him as the designated historian to keep a record, just as the LDS scriptures commanded him to do (D&C 21:1). I marvel at his persistence and am grateful for his attention to detail.

Aaron McArthur and Reid L. Neilson