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Q&A with William V. Smith for Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation February 07 2018

270 pages + Index, Paperback $26.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-690-1)
Available February 27, 2018


Pre-order Your Copy Today
 

Q: Give us a little background into how you became interested in researching plural marriage?

A: Section 132 is Joseph Smith’s final revelation text and in some ways, it had a greater influence over his subsequent legacy than any other text aside from the Book of Mormon. My main historical interest in Mormonism is its preaching texts. Joseph Smith’s revelation texts, together with his own sermon corpus, are connected in many ways to that broader Mormon and Protestant sermon culture. The revelation had deep influence in the relationships between Territorial and statehood Utah and the United States; and made for interesting common ground narratives with other segments of the social landscape in America, as well as indelibly marking the boundaries between Mormon faithfulness and Protestant America even into the twenty-first century. Those stories fascinated me.

 

Q: It's a common misconception that Joseph Smith first learned about polygamy through the plural marriage revelation, when, in fact, he had already been practicing it for a few years prior to receiving it. If not to introduce it, what was the purpose of the revelation when it was received?

A: The revelation arises from a request by Hyrum Smith, but that story has multiple axes. His brother Hyrum seems to have been convinced of the virtue of polygamy out of its promise of being eternally with his deceased first wife, Jerusha Barden, while not abandoning his second wife, Mary Fielding. This domestic concept of heaven was the logic of polygamy for Hyrum. Emma Smith, first wife of Joseph, was deeply opposed to her husband’s polygamy for a multitude of reasons. Jealousy was at issue, but perhaps more-so the state of the Mormon community and its political and social predicament. Hyrum apparently believed his own adaption to polygamy could convince Emma of its virtue and bring Joseph and Emma into harmony. The result was a text largely directed to Emma Smith and very much a contemporary construction, yet it served to drive future social, religious, legal, and political tensions—including various schisms within the Church and the Smith family, the rise of Brigham Young and the apostles, and the long territorial status of Utah.

 

Q: In your book you show how the revelation points to new theological ideas and priesthood structures that Joseph introduced during the Nauvoo period. What are some of these new ideas, and why are they important to understanding the revelation?

A: The revelation brings to a climax many threads from 1830s Mormonism. For example, a refined picture of heaven, church hierarchy, and the Abrahamic story. It also reflects significant discourse in Nauvoo regarding coping with loss, heavenly progression, etc. Some of the theological threads originated with an event in June 1831. It was during a conference of that month that Joseph Smith introduced the “high priesthood.” Together with this introduction came the concept of “sealing up to eternal life.” Could a person, even a whole congregation, be guaranteed a seat at the Throne of Grace in this life? The high priesthood had the power to do this. I take some time in the book to explore the relationship of the high priesthood and its divisional office of patriarch with the idea of sealing, and how this idea became fully realized with the Nauvoo incarnation of sealing and priesthood. The plural marriage revelation draws on some elements of Smith’s Nauvoo preaching in public and private, some of which shows an interesting contrast between Smith’s public sermons and later interpretations that were prominent in Utah.

 

Q: What are some of the lasting impacts of the plural marriage revelation that are affecting Mormonism today?

A: Many important themes in current Mormonism are based on narratives derived from the plural marriage revelation. One of these is serial polygamous marriages where a man may remarry after the death of a spouse and have hopes that both households will be intact in the heavens. Women are not eligible for such practices. Temple practices of sealing, marriage, and family are traced to section 132, though not explicitly. The “Proclamation on the Family” is largely founded in nineteenth-century values that find textual support in the plural marriage revelation. The long defense of polygamy through the beginning of the twentieth century shaped the Church’s political attitudes in Utah to a great extent. Utah’s reaction to that political struggle was to position Mormons as ultra-Americans, rather than members of a dissenting sect of outsiders. These are just a few areas where the plural marriage revelation has had a large impact on Mormons historically and in the present.

 

Q: What are you hoping that readers will gain from reading Textual Studies of the D&C: The Plural Marriage Revelation?

A: My hope is that readers will come away with an increased respect for the early Mormons (especially women) who lived during the time of the practice of polygamy and its ending; as well as the power the revelation had over Mormon teaching and thought. The revelation is rarely quoted or referenced in the LDS church of the last nearly one hundred years, which was influenced by the political tension between Washington and Utah. I hope readers will gain a greater understanding of the roles that culture, the migration westward, public perception, and social change had on the public views of Latter-day Saints. Section 132 is a deeply-embedded component of Church teachings on eternal family, the approach of the Church towards gay rights and marriage, and social and political issues like the ERA and the role of women within the Church. It is not an exaggeration to say that the revelation on polygamy is one of the cornerstones that underlies what Utah and the LDS church are today.

 

Pre-order Your Copy Today

Please join us on Tuesday, March 13 at Writ & Vision in Provo, UT, for a special roundtable discussion and book signing for Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation. The roundtable discussion will feature Bill Smith, Don Bradley, and Lindsay Hansen Park. The event begins at 7:00 PM and is free to the public.


Ebook Flash Sale on Mormon titles starts December 12th! December 11 2017

Greg Kofford Books is pleased to announce our second annual EBOOK FLASH SALE on select titles on Tuesday, December 12th and Wednesday, December 13th! Pick up a few titles that have been on your reading list for as low as $2.99!

Click image below to purchase. Offer is valid for Kindle ebooks only.

Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology
By Adam S. Miller

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Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology
By Adam S. Miller

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The Mormoness; or The Trials of Mary Maverick: A Narrative of Real Events
Edited by Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall

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For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope
By Joseph M. Spencer

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Who Are the Children of Lehi? DNA and the Book of Mormon
By D. Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens

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Fire on the Horizon: A Meditation on the Endowment and Love of Atonement
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Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact
By Neylan McBaine

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Joseph Smith's Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding
By Brian C. Hales and Laura H. Hales

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Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives
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The End of the World, Plan B: A Guide for the Future
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The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, Part One
By Scott Hales

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Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics
Edited by Blair G. Van Dyke and Loyd Isao Ericson

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Twelve Days of Kofford 2017 November 21 2017

Greg Kofford Books is once again pleased to offer twelve days of discounted holiday shopping from our website!

HERE IS HOW IT WORKS: Every morning from Dec 1th through the 12th, we will be posting a DISCOUNT CODE on our Facebook or Twitter pages. Use this discount code on the corresponding day to receive 30% off select titles. The final day will be an e-book flash sale on Amazon.com.

To help you plan, here are the dates, titles, and sale prices we will be offering beginning Dec 1st. These sales are limited to available inventory. You must follow our Facebook or Twitter pages to get the discount code. Orders over $50 qualify for free shipping. Customers in the Wasatch Front area are welcome to pick orders up directly from our office in Sandy, UT.

Day 1 — Brant Gardner collection

Second Witness, Vol 1: First Nephi
by Brant A. Gardner

$39.95 hardcover
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Second Witness, Vol 2: Second Nephi through Jacob
by Brant A. Gardner

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Second Witness, Vol 3: Enos through Mosiah
by Brant A. Gardner

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Second Witness, Vol 4: Alma
by Brant A. Gardner

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Second Witness, Vol 5: Helaman through Nephi
by Brant A. Gardner

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Second Witness, Vol 6: Fourth Nephi through Moroni
by Brant A. Gardner

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The Gift and the Power: Translating the Book of Mormon
by Brant A. Gardner

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Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History
by Brant A. Gardner

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Day 2 — The Garden of Enid

The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl
Part One

by Scott Hales

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The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl 
Part Two

by Scott Hales

$22.95 paperback
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Day 3 — The Mormon Image in Literature

The Mormoness; Or, The Trials of Mary Maverick:
A Narrative of Real Events

Edited by Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall

$12.95 paperback
$9.07 sale price

Boadicea; the Mormon Wife: Life Scens in Utah
Edited by Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall

$15.95 paperback
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Dime Novel Mormons
Edited by Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall

$22.95 paperback
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Day 4 — Women's topics

Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact
by Neylan McBaine

$21.95 paperback
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Mormon Women Have Their Say: Essays from the Claremont Oral History Collection
Edited by Claudia L. Bushman and Caroline Kline

$31.95 paperback
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Voices for Equality: Ordain Women and Resurgent Mormon Feminism
Edited by Gordon Shepherd, Lavina Fielding Anderson, and Gary Shepherd

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Day 5 — Polygamy titles

Joseph Smith's Polygamy, Vol 1: History
by Brian C. Hales

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Joseph Smith's Polygamy, Vol 2: History
by Brian C. Hales

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Joseph Smith's Polygamy, Vol 3: Theology
by Brian C. Hales

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Joseph Smith's Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding
by Brian C. Hales and Laura H. Hales

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Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto
by Brian C. Hales

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Mormon Polygamous Families: Life in the Principle
by Jesse L. Embry

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Prisoner for Polygamy: The Memoirs and Letters of Rudger Clawson at the Utah Territorial Penitentiary, 1884–87
by Stan Larson

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Day 6 — Science titles

Who Are the Children of Lehi? DNA and the Book of Mormon
by D. Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens

$15.95 paperback
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“Let the Earth Bring Forth”: Evolution and Scripture
by Howard C. Stutz, with a foreword by Duane Jeffrey

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Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements
Edited by William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffrey

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Parallels and Convergences: Mormon Thought and Engineering Vision
Edited by A. Scott Howe and Richard L. Bushman

$24.95 paperback
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Day 7 — Biography

Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life
by Boyd Jay Petersen

$32.95 hardcover
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“Swell Suffering”: A Biography of Maurine Whipple
by Veda Tebbs Hale

$31.95 paperback
$22.37 sale price

William B. Smith: In the Shadow of a Prophet
by Kyle R. Walker

$39.95 paperback
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LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 Vols
by Andrew Jenson

$259.95 paperback
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The Man Behind the Discourse: A Biography of King Follett
by Joann Follett Mortensen

$29.95 paperback
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Day 8 — Political topics

Liberal Soul: Applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Politics
by Richard Davis

$22.95 paperback
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A Different God? Mitt Romney, the Religious Right, and the Mormon Question
by Craig L. Foster

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Common Ground—Different Opinions: Latter-day Saints and Contemporary Issues
Edited by Justin F. White and James E. Faulconer

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Even Unto Bloodshed: An LDS Perspective on War
by Duane Boyce

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War & Peace in Our Time: Mormon Perspectives
Edited by Patrick Q. Mason, J. David Pulsipher, and Richard L. Bushman

$29.95 paperback
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The End of the World, Plan B: A Guide for the Future
By Charles Shirō Inouye

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Day 9 — Personal essay

Dead Wood and Rushing Water: Essays on Mormon Faith, Culture, and Family
by Boyd Jay Petersen

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Mr. Mustard Plaster and Other Mormon Essays
by Mary Lithgoe Bradford

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Writing Ourselves: Essays on Creativity, Craft, and Mormonism
by Jack Harrell

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On the Road with Joseph Smith: An Author's Diary
by Richard Lyman Bushman

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Day 10 — Church history

Hearken O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith's Ohio Revelations
by Mark Lyman Staker

$34.95 hardcover
$24.47 sale price

Fire and Sword: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri, 1836–39
by Leland Homer Gentry and Todd M. Compton

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$25.87 sale price

A House for the Most High: The Story of the Original Nauvoo Temple
by Matthew McBride

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Villages on Wheels: A Social History of the Gathering to Zion
by Stanley B. Kimball and Violet Kimball

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Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890–1930, 3rd ed.
by Thomas G. Alexander

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Day 11 — International Mormonism

Tiki and Temple: The Mormon Mission in New Zealans, 1854–1958
by Marjorie Newton

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Mormon and Maori
by Marjorie Newton

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The Trek East: Mormonism Meets Japan, 1901–1968
by Shinji Takagi

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From Above and Below: The Mormon Embrace of Revolution, 1840–1940
by Craig Livingston

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The History of the Mormons in Argentina
by Néstor Curbelo

$24.95 paperback
$17.47 sale price

For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830–2013
by Russell W. Stevenson

$32.95 paperback
$23.07 sale price

 

Day 12 — Flash ebook sale

 CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS


Free Scriptural Theology ebook for newsletter subscribers! October 30 2017

FREE EBOOK FOR NEWSLETTER SUBSCRIBERS

Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Scriptural Theology
Edited by James E. Faulconer and Joseph M. Spencer

Part of the Perspectives on Mormon Theology series

$24.95 FREE FOR OUR NEWSLETTER SUBSCRIBERS (Limited time)

Greg Kofford Books is pleased to offer for a limited time a free ebook version of Scriptural Theology, the first volume in the Perspectives on Mormon Theology series.

This volume is edited by James E. Faulconer and Joseph M. Spencer and seeks to offer a variety of perspectives regarding the nature and meaning of scripture for Latter-day Saints.


Book description:

The phrase “theology of scripture” can be understood in two distinct ways. First, theology of scripture would be reflection on the nature of scripture, asking questions about what it means for a person or a people to be oriented by a written text (rather than or in addition to an oral tradition or a ritual tradition). In this first sense, theology of scripture would form a relatively minor part of the broader theological project, since the nature of scripture is just one of many things on which theologians reflect. Second, theology of scripture would be theological reflection guided by scripture, asking questions of scriptural texts and allowing those texts to shape the direction the theologian’s thoughts pursue. In this second sense, theology of scripture would be less a part of the larger theological project than a way of doing theology, since whatever the theologian takes up reflectively, she investigates through the lens of scripture.

The essays making up this collection reflect attentiveness to both ways of understanding the phrase “theology of scripture.” Each essay takes up the relatively un-self-conscious work of reading a scriptural text but then—at some point or another—asks the self-conscious question of exactly what she or he is doing in the work of reading scripture. We have thus attempted in this book (1) to create a dialogue concerning what scripture is for Latter-day Saints, and (2) to focus that dialogue on concrete examples of Latter-day Saints reading actual scripture texts.

Contributors: James E. Faulconer, Joseph M. Spencer, Robert Couch, Adam S. Miller, Eric D. Huntsman, Claudia L. Bushman, Bruce W. Jorgensen, Jane Hafen, Jenny Webb, George B. Handley



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Preview Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics June 23 2017


Perspectives on Mormon Theology:
Apologetics

This volume in the Perspectives on Mormon Theology series is an exploration of Mormon apologetics—or the defense of faith. Since its very beginning, various Latter-day Saints have sought to utilize evidence and reason to actively promote or defend beliefs and claims within the Mormon tradition. Mormon apologetics reached new levels of sophistication as believers trained in fields such as history, Near-Eastern languages and culture, and philosophy began to utilize their knowledge and skills to defend their beliefs.

The contributors to this volume seek to explore the textures and contours of apologetics from multiple perspectives, revealing deep theological and ideological fissures within the Mormon scholarly community concerning apologetics. However, in spite of pressing differences, what each author has in common is a passion for Mormonism and how it is presented and defended. This volume captures that reality and allows readers to encounter the terrain of Mormon apologetics at close range.

Available July 25, 2017, in paperback, hardcover, and ebook.
Preorder the volume here.

Download the pdf here


Q&A with Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall for Dime Novel Mormons March 13 2017

Edited and Introduced by Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall
254 pages

Paperback $22.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-517-1)


Order Your Copy Today


For those who are not familiar with the Mormon Image in Literature series, can you explain its purpose and scope?

Mike: The Mormon Image in Literature series is a collaboration between an archival researcher and a literary critic that seeks to reprint the books that shaped the public perceptions of Mormonism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We will include books by Mormons and books about Mormons, but will focus on works that are hard to find and virtually unknown in the twenty-first century (as opposed to books like A Study in Scarlet and Riders of the Purple Sage, which have been continuously in print since their first publication). Along with faithful reproductions of the texts that scholars can use as primary research texts, each of these volumes contains an introduction and notes that set the works, and their authors, in a context that relates both to the way Mormons were understood by the author and the way the publishing industry in the United States was changing and demanding different kinds of works.

Ardis: These novels have next to nothing to teach me about Mormon history directly—they're too wildly inaccurate to be data sources. What they do give me is a chance to enter the Mormon past, in a sense. I read the words, knowing that readers of a hundred or more years ago read the same words. This is what people thought of us. If I were a missionary, this is what would be in the minds of people behind the doors I knocked on and in the minds of listeners at street meetings. If I were a Mormon mother sending my boy out as a missionary, this is what he would have to face, this is why I might be afraid for him, this is why I would be proud of him. This is what is behind the sneer on the conductor's face when he takes my ticket; this is what brings a curl to the lip of the government employee I appeal to for assistance. I know how I feel and what I think when I read news accounts today, or watch current TV, with caricatures of my behaviors and beliefs; when I read a sensational novel like those in our series, I know what it meant and felt like to a Mormon of the era to read these. We can dress up like pioneers and we can put on pageants about episodes in Mormon history—but that is superficial playacting. Watching the stories of these novels playing out in my imagination, just as they played out in the imaginations of their original readers, seems to me to be much closer to replicating historical reality.

If you ran a bookstore, what section do you think these books would fit best in?

Ardis: Fiction, or historical fiction. I would keep the series together, rather than breaking it up by genre. (The genre mix will be more and more evident as the series continues.)

Mike: I would put them in the fiction section. Or in the Mormon Studies section if I owned one of the handful of bookstores in the world with a Mormon Studies section. And, like Ardis, I would keep the series together.

Granted that the four titles collected in Dime Novel Mormons are not considered “highbrow” literature, can you give me a passage or scene that stood out to you in illustrating how public perception of Mormons may have been influenced by popular media tropes?

Ardis: When the villain Mercer Aldrich/John Leigh is introduced in Dolores, the Danite's Daughter, he is portrayed as handsome and intelligent and well-mannered and well-dressed—everything a woman might want, seemingly. But, of course, his civilized exterior is a mask hiding what he really is: a Mormon! a Danite! a threat! The fact that he can present himself so attractively only underscores the danger by warning readers that they cannot trust their judgment where a Mormon is concerned. That is a trope repeated in many of these novels, whenever a Mormon agent or missionary is among civilized society in the East or in England—it is only when he is among his own evil kind that the character's true nature shows itself.

A flesh-and-blood Mormon missionary who was kind and articulate had two strikes against him when the people he approached had that stock Mormon villain in mind. The more polite an elder was, the more effort he put into personal cleanliness, the more cheerful he was, the more carefully he presented his gospel message, the more at a disadvantage he could be: Isn't he just like the novels portray Mormons? Why, the nicer he is, the more rotten his heart must be, and the more clever he is at concealing his evil intent! There really isn't much a man can do to dispel the expectations of a public primed to expect the worst exactly when he is on his best behavior. In some cases, novelists who are most familiar with the Mormon message have also worked bits of standard missionary presentations into their stories, so that when an elder taught a bit of doctrine, it must have set off alarm bells in the minds of readers—here is a Mormon who not only acts the way these novels have depicted Mormons, he's actually saying what they warned me he would say! He must be just as bad as they say, too!

Mike: In the beginning of The Bradys Among the Mormons, Old King Brady, the nation's most accomplished private detective, is summoned to Washington, DC, to meet with a senator. Utah has become a state, and a candidate for its congressional seat has proposed to the senator's daughter. The senator will allow the marriage, but only if the Mormon, Joseph Smith Podmore, proves to be single and not secretly practicing polygamy.

This book came out right at the start of the Reed Smoot hearings, so it refers to a major public concern of the time. But it also shows a popular dime novel publisher trying to get as much life as possible out of the Mormon stereotypes that had existed for about thirty-five years in this kind of fiction. Brady will travel to Utah and discover a beautiful and modern Salt Lake City, but beneath that city, in a series of tunnels and caverns accessible only to Mormon elders, things go on just as they always have: polygamy, Danites, blood atonement, and all the rest.

I think that the new generation of dime novels that came out at the turn of the twentieth century created modern frames for the previous century's sensational stereotypes of Mormons, which had a lot to do with the perpetuation of those stereotypes and the assumption of many Americans that nothing really changed after the Manifesto.

Was there anything in this collection of stories that surprised you in its depiction of Mormons, whether positive or negative? Anything that did not follow the standard villain tropes of secrecy, sexual deviancy, and violence?

Mike: In Frank Merriwell Among the Mormons, the author takes care to depict the standard Mormon villain—an aging patriarch trying to force a beautiful young maiden to marry him—as a member of a breakaway group of Mormons who are defying the Church. One of the heroes of the story is a young, monogamous, mainstream Mormon who wants to marry the beautiful young maiden in question. Frank Merriwell points out that the rising generation of Mormons are good citizens who are opposed to polygamy. In 1897, in a dime novel, this amounts to something like high praise.

Ardis: Hmm. This one is harder. Nothing comes to mind as surprising in the depiction of Mormons—the maidens are all fair and helpless; the Mormon villains are uniformly despicable; the Gentile heroes are unfailingly perfect specimens of stalwart American manhood.

One element that I hadn't been aware was so prevalent in these books is that the Mormon landscape is shown to be as malevolent as the Mormon soul. There is that vast underground network of dimly-lit caverns beneath Salt Lake City, all interconnected by natural tunnels, their walls sometimes dripping with lake water, their dead-ends dropping off suddenly into bottomless pits, their acoustics so perfect that our heroes can eavesdrop on secret Danite conversations without their own voices or footsteps betraying their presence to those Danites. The natural twists and turns in those tunnels and caverns somehow magically line up with the geometric regularity of the surface, so that the house of every prominent Mormon, built on Salt Lake's straight streets and right-angled blocks, has easy access to the subterranean world. Even the mountain hideouts have magical qualities. Danites, and eventually our heroes, can pass into and out of valleys by means of caves and secret passages.

I understand that readers of dime novels were probably not familiar with the legitimate writings of naturalists and army surveyors and the great Western explorers who report no trace of such geographic features, but it's still a bit surprising to me that readers of these stories could suspend their disbelief in such weird and abnormal landscapes in order to enter into the story. So, you have no faith in the basic humanity of tens of thousands of Mormons? Okay, but how does that translate into your lack of faith in the integrity of the natural world? That, in some ways, surprises me.

This has already been addressed in passing, but I’d like to make it an explicit focus: How would you address readers who may be concerned that the books collected in this volume are often stigmatized as being “anti-Mormon” literature?

Mike: Oh, there is no question that these are anti-Mormons books—much more so than anything being produced today. But these portrayals are not unrelated to depictions of Mormons in some kinds of contemporary literature—the modern mystery novel, for example, where there are still Danites and blood atonement in some places. It is important for Latter-day Saints to understand the history of how we have been portrayed because that history has had consequences that we are still living with. It is always worth our time to learn the history of ideas and perceptions that are still with us today.

Ardis: They are anti-Mormon books—they falsify Mormon doctrine and character and intent; they shaped and promoted anti-Mormon feeling that extended from the novels into the real world and persists to the present. The question for me is, “Granted that these are anti-Mormon books, is there any good purpose in reprinting them, in reading them?” And I would answer that with a shouted “Yes!”

You won't learn anything about Mormonism here, but you will learn—in a sometimes delightful way, if you can turn off the natural tendency to take offense—quite a bit about the world that Mormons lived in or confronted whenever they looked outside Mormondom. You'll better understand where these warped views come from when you hear them repeated in some form today.

And I wouldn't hesitate to recommend that anybody, young or old, Mormon or not, read these stories, recognizing them for what they are. I agree with something Boyd K. Packer said in 1976 in a fireside address about the arts: “Teachers [readers in this case] would do well to learn the difference between studying some things, as compared to studying about them. There is a great difference.” Readers aren't reading anti-Mormonism in these novels to adopt that view themselves; they're reading about it, to understand and face it.

Can you give us a glimpse as to what is yet in store for the Mormon Image in Literature series?

Mike: The next few volumes will focus on some of the literature produced by Mormons in the nineteenth century. We are working on a critical edition of Orson F. Whitney's Elias, for example, and on the collected works of Josephine Spencer, which have never been published before.

Ardis: I'm especially excited for two books written by Mormon women, which are as different as can be from the dime novels. The first is one or more volumes of the collected short stories of Josephine Spencer who saw well beyond her own time, and the other is the novel Venna Hastings by Julia Farr (the pseudonym of a woman I had been chasing through history before realizing she was a novelist). Both of these present a Mormon image that is positive, generally not preachy, and which Mormons at the turn of the twentieth century could read with interest—and maybe a sigh of relief that for once they could see themselves, not caricatures, on the printed page.

Along with these, you can look forward to mysteries, love stories, comedies, an outrageous depiction of missionaries that sparked a national investigation, high-minded or well-intentioned religious prose—just about every genre imaginable, except perhaps science fiction.

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Q&A with Joseph Spencer for The Vision of All February 27 2017

322 pages

Paperback $25.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-632-1)


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How and when did you begin to recognize the need for a different approach to studying the Isaiah sections in the Book of Mormon?

Well, I've always been overconfident about what I might be able to accomplish, so I first decided to tackle Isaiah in earnest when I was a teenager. Of course, I understood little, because I knew no real resources. I read carefully through the King James Version of the text, and I followed every footnote in the LDS edition. I spent a whole summer doing that, and I gained little more than some familiarity. I turned to Isaiah again shortly after my mission, when I was taking an introductory course on Hebrew. Studying straight from the Hebrew, using dictionaries and a few other tools, I felt like I came to understand the text a bit better, though I only worked at the time through about five chapters of Isaiah. At about the same time, I discovered a few other scholarly resources, especially the old FARMS volume Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. Those helped orient me in Isaiah's world a bit better, but I wasn't yet doing the sort of thing I've come to do now.

What changed things was twofold. First, my wife, Karen, and I were studying First Nephi, and we struck on some structural features of Nephi's record that make clear he means to emphasize Isaiah above all else in his record. (I've talked about these structural features in my books.) That spurred me to give closer attention to Nephi's treatment of Isaiah than I had before. Up to that point, I'd tried only to approach Isaiah on his own terms, using just a few scholarly resources. But stumbling onto the idea that I could see how Nephi reads Isaiah fired me up. And it got me more interested than before in understanding Isaiah on his own terms as well. I figured that understanding Isaiah himself would allow me to see how Nephi was using him in his own inventive ways. So I began, finally, to read the massive scholarly literature on Isaiah. Second, I was asked to teach early-morning seminary one year, while we were living in Oregon. The course of study was the Old Testament, and I asked for permission to focus the whole year just on Genesis, Job, and Isaiah. The bishop granted it, and so I worked with my students all the way through Isaiah for three months. In preparation for each class discussion, I did nothing but read commentaries, and then we came together and just wrestled with the text of Isaiah. By that point, I was finishing work on my first book, An Other Testament, which is largely about how the Book of Mormon handles Isaiah, so working carefully through every line of Isaiah with my students helped me to see even better how inventive and interesting Nephi is in his reading of Isaiah.

So I suppose it's been a circuitous path. The short answer is that it was only when I saw (a) that Nephi really means to privilege Isaiah and (b) that he deliberately reads Isaiah in his own way that my project began to take shape.

In what ways does Nephi use Isaiah inventively? And how might his usage differ from scholarly consensus on Isaiah's original intent?

On my reading, Nephi explicitly tells his readers that he's reading Isaiah inventively. I believe this is what he tries to signal with the word "likening" (see, for example, 1 Ne. 19:23). He sees Isaiah's prophecies as having a meaning of their own, which we might call their immediate meaning. But then he sees the possibility of finding in Isaiah's prophecies a basic pattern that's replicated in Israel's history at times and in places where Isaiah wasn't himself focused. This is clearest when he applies prophecies from the Book of Isaiah, which in their biblical context are clearly about the return of exiled Jews from Babylon during the sixth century before Christ, to things he sees in vision regarding Lehi's descendants in modern times. He explicitly recognizes that passages from Isaiah have their natural fulfillment in the return of Jews from exile to the land of Judah, but then he suggests that the same passages can be likened to the return of latter-day Lamanites to the gospel of Christ their ancestors knew. He seems to see Isaiah as outlining patterns of how God works with Israel, whether in whole or in part, whether anciently or in modern times, again and again. And so he sees the possibility of adapting Isaiah texts to events that arguably outstrip the straightforward meaning of those texts. That is, I think, a rather responsible (because self-aware) form of inventive interpretation.

Of course, such an approach to the Book of Isaiah differs drastically from the kinds of approaches on offer in scholarly work on Isaiah today. For one, Nephi asks a rather different set of questions about Isaiah than do modern scholars. Academic work on Isaiah aims at reconstructing the historical origins and context of the Book of Isaiah, as well as the processes through which what originated with Isaiah came to have the shape we're familiar with from the Bible. Nephi isn't at all interested in these questions. He's apparently familiar with the basic, straightforward historical meaning of prophecies in the Book of Isaiah, but he moves pretty quickly beyond such meanings to explore other possible meanings and applications. Further, though, there are many other ways Nephi seems to differ from the conclusions of modern scholarly work on Isaiah. For instance, he clearly regards the whole of Isaiah 2–5 as a larger unit of text (as can be seen from connecting words and original chapter breaks in the Book of Mormon), but most interpreters today regard those chapters as divisible into at least two larger units (Isaiah 2–4 and Isaiah 5, for example). That only scratches the surface, of course. There are still larger issues of conflict between the way Nephi (or really, the Book of Mormon quite generally) handles Isaiah and the conclusions drawn by modern scholarship, but that would take some work to develop.

How does The Vision of All negotiate this sometimes tense or conflicting terrain of modern scholarship and a more philosophically-grounded reading of Isaiah?

First and foremost, I think it's important just to make clear that there are various ways of reading Isaiah, and that Nephi acknowledges the uniqueness of his approach. We're far too prone as Latter-day Saints to think that there's one correct answer to questions about the meaning of a passage of scripture. We tend to think that we're done with a text once we know the "right" interpretation. And, in many ways, that's mirrored in modern scholarship, although modern scholars come up with a very different set of answers about the meanings of Isaiah's writings. The result is that too many academics think that average believers (Mormon or otherwise) simply get scripture wrong, and average believers return the compliment by claiming that scholars in turn get scripture wrong. What Nephi teaches us, I think, is that a given passage of scripture can have a variety of meanings and applications. Meaning is dynamic and contextualized by the act of reading. The result is that there's more a history of interpretation than there's a definite meaning for any particular passage or text. In Nephi's writings we can glimpse Lehi's approach to Isaiah, and it's quite different from Nephi's. And then he sets his own interpretations side by side with Jacob's, which are similar but far from identical. Even within just the sermon Nephi quotes from Jacob in 2 Nephi 6–10, we can track two rather different interpretations of one and the same passage (Isa. 49:22–23).

Just getting clear about all this can help us to feel a good deal more at home with Isaiah. Our job isn't to figure out the one true meaning of Isaiah, but to let Isaiah's words work on us. They provide us with patterns and images, relationships and themes. Our task is to dwell in the text and to let it begin to shape the way we see things. We won't be able to do this very well if we don't become familiar with the range of meanings the text can accommodate. So we ought to read Isaiah scholarship to become familiar with historical reconstructions of Isaiah's (apparent) original meaning. In fact, it's important to read some of this scholarship just to become familiar with the fact that no two interpreters agree on Isaiah's meaning. There are key passages in Isaiah that are literally interpreted in a dozen different ways by major modern interpreters. And then it'd be helpful for us if we became more familiar with the history of interpretation of Isaiah. How have Jews read Isaiah 53? Do different sorts of Christians read Isaiah 11 in different ways? How does a Seventh-day Adventist read Isaiah's references to the remnant by comparison with a mainline Protestant? And then how might we, as Latter-day Saints, find meaning in Isaiah? These are questions that go a good deal further than I ever do in The Vision of All, but I try in the book to open the way to these kinds of approaches, since I argue that Nephi does something like this in his own context.

Can you give us a concrete example of a passage that Latter-day Saints may be prone to interpret a specific way, but which consideration of other interpretations, both within modern scholarship and other religious traditions, may be beneficial?

It's probably easiest here just to begin with an example that's decently known already. Most Latter-day Saints are familiar with those passages in Isaiah that play a prominent role in Handel's Messiah. "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isa. 7:14). "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6). These kinds of passages are generally understood by average Mormons to be straightforward prophecies of Jesus Christ's birth. Modern scholars, however, generally read these passages in a fundamentally different way, say, as prophecies concerning events that were to happen within Isaiah's own lifetime. Some familiarity with the history of Jewish interpretation also helps to reveal how differently these texts can be read. Even many modern Christians, usually in mainline Protestantism, don't read these passages as direct references to Jesus Christ. It turns out that there are many different ways of making sense of these texts. They can be read as predictions of Jesus's birth. But they can also be read in many other ways, often informatively. Now, I don't mean to suggest that the other ways are necessarily the best ways. They may or may not be. But any reading of these passages will be stronger and more interesting if it acknowledges that it approaches the text from a certain perspective, from the perspective of a certain faith.

And really, that's what matters here, I think. When I say that we can benefit from familiarity with the ways that other traditions or modern scholars read certain passages of Isaiah, I mean that we can grow out of the naive assumption that there's only one possible way to understand a text (an assumption that too easily leads us to think that everyone who doesn't see things our way is simply stupid), and we can grow into a recognition that our readings are rooted in our own system of beliefs. I might put that another way: we can grow out of the naive idea that our interpretations of Isaiah are a matter of straightforward knowledge, and we can grow into the deeply mature realization that our interpretations of Isaiah are a matter of invested faith. Now, I suspect that most who become a bit more familiar with the variety of interpretations of Isaiah will come to interpret some of the texts in a new way. I certainly have as I've studied. And that's good, I think. But I think also that the best readers will also find reasons to defend uniquely Mormon interpretations of many passages of Isaiah, even while recognizing that those interpretations are rooted in a very specific perspective of faith. Why shouldn't we grow all the fonder of interpretations that grow directly out of our faith commitments, even as we recognize that the text can be read in many ways? I think we should, that we should feel free to defend an understanding of Isaiah that's informed by other traditions and scholarly work but that's simultaneously rooted in the Restoration.

Switching topics, let's talk about the style of the book: The Vision of All is laid out as a series of twenty-five classroom-style lectures. Give us some insight into your decision to use this approach and if it had any precedent that inspired you.

A few things came together that led me to do the book this way. First, over the past few years, I'd begun to write some of my public presentations in this style, instead of always delivering a more formal or finished paper. I found I really enjoyed the writing process of producing something less formal, something where I don't have to tie up every loose thread and can focus on rhetorical delivery. Experimenting with that form of writing got me thinking. Second, I'd begun teaching courses on the Book of Mormon at Brigham Young University, and I'd found that students responded very well to my lectures on the Isaiah material. These weren't written up even in an informal style, but I began thinking that the sort of presentations I was making in the classroom with Isaiah might be more accessible to Latter-day Saints in general. Finally, I've been working steadily on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon for more than a decade now, and I began to think that I had too many ideas piled up in my head that really needed to be put in writing in some form or another, and writing up popular lectures would allow me to work quickly. These all came together at once, and so I began writing the book, one lecture a week.

In writing the book, I didn't try to follow any particular precedent. At the same time, I thought often while I was writing the book about a few similar projects. I thought sometimes about Hugh Nibley's four volumes of lectures on the Book of Mormon, which are literal transcripts of a four-semester honors course he taught on the Book of Mormon at BYU. I haven't read or watched all of those lectures, but certainly some of them, and I often thought about him providing a kind of example of something useful. Of course, my style in the lectures is quite different from Nibley's. Nibley largely began at one end of the Book of Mormon and worked his way to the other end, and he didn't always seem to have a sense of what he wished to accomplish in any given hour of lecture. I tried to impose a larger architectonic on the project, and I tried to assign myself several specific tasks in each lecture. But then, like Nibley, I let the time limits (or really, for me, word limits) decide where I had to stop. And so a lot of the lectures wrap up with overly quick summations of things. But that's meant to give readers a feel for how much more needs to be said than can be said about the subject of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. I hope it's effective.

Final question: Where do you hope your readers will go from here in their study of Isaiah?

I hope they'll start studying Isaiah on their own! Really, I hope the book itself makes clear that I want readers to take this just as a primer, a way of getting started. A recent review of The Vision of All criticized it because many of the lectures end with something like "Ack! We're out of time! We can't really tie up all these loose ends or get into everything we'd like!" The reviewer suggested that I was unwilling to write an extra thousand words to tie all the loose ends together, or that I was too lazy to work my way toward appropriate conclusions. But the fact is that I deliberately wrote the lectures this way. I want readers to feel how much work needs to be done, and I want them to feel responsible for that work. I want them to see how we might go about working on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, but I want them to know that I can't and won't do all that work for them. Neither I nor anyone else is going to write the book that sorts out everything important that needs saying about Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. But there's a danger in writing scholarly books, a danger that readers might think that reading the scholarly book is all that's needed. So I wanted to write a book that does scholarly work and nonetheless makes perfectly clear that it just points in the right direction, rather than travels the whole length of the road to its ultimate destination.

I'd love to see dozens, hundreds, even thousands of Latter-day Saint readers of Isaiah, scholarly and not. We of all people ought to be invested in making sense of Isaiah's writings. Perhaps I could even wish for the emergence of a marked Latter-day Saint approach to Isaiah, one that becomes recognized as uniquely Mormon and worthy of interest from outsiders. I'd love to see that Latter-day Saint reading be profoundly responsible academically, fully informed about the best scholarly literature. But I'd love just as much to see that Latter-day Saint reading be deeply invested in the unique faith claims of the Restoration, deeply rooted in faithfulness to what Mormonism claims about the world. Our own unique scriptures ask us to take Isaiah seriously, but we tend to leave that task to scholars whose writings we can barely understand or to oddball amateurs who borrow their interpretations from the fundamentalist Christian tradition. What if we began to work on Isaiah in a way that didn't ultimately feel it necessary to conform to every scholarly conclusion (while nonetheless being aware of them) but also didn't look like wacky esoteric speculation? I think we could forge an interpretive tradition that could speak to the world.

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On the twelfth day of Kofford: $1.99 flash sale on Kindle e-books! December 12 2016

On the twelfth day of Kofford, fill your digital stockings with our HUGE e-book promotion. Today only, each of the following titles are only $1.99 on Kindle! PLUS, to help you prepare for the upcoming D&C year in Gospel Doctrine class, we are offering B. H. Robert's classic six-volume A Comprehensive History of the Church on Kindle for only $3.99!

This flash sale ends at midnight tonight (Dec. 12th)

 

 As Iron Sharpens Iron: Listening to the Various Voices of Scripture
Edited by Julie M. Smith

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Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology
by Adam S. Miller

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Dead Wood and Rushing Water: Essays on Mormon Faith, Culture, and Family
by Boyd J. Petersen

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The Man behind the Discourse: A Biography of King Follett
by Joann Follett Mortensen

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The End of the World, Plan B: A Guide for the Future
by Charles Shiro Inouye

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“Swell Suffering”: A Biography of Maurine Whipple
by Veda Tebbs Hale

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Discourses in Mormon Theology: Philosophical and Theological Possibilities
by James M. McLachlan; Edited by Loyd Ericson

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The Liberal Soul: Applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Politics
by Richard Davis

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“let the earth bring forth”: Evolution and Scripture
by Howard H. Stutz

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Villages on Wheels: A Social History of the Gathering to Zion
by Stanley B. Kimball

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by Mary Lithgoe Bradford

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The Mormoness; Or the Trials of Mary Maverick: A Narrative of Real Events
by John Russell; Edited and annotated by Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall

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A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Century One (All 6 Volumes)
by B. H. Roberts

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On the eleventh day of Kofford: 30% off Mormon Image in Literature titles! December 11 2016


Mormon Image in Literature titles are 30% off December 11th. These special prices are only available for one day, so don't wait!

To get the 30% discount, simply enter the code YULELOG (all caps) in the discount code box at check-out.


Orders over $50 qualify for free shipping. Also, local Utah customers can opt to pick up their order directly from our office in Sandy (select this option under the shipping menu). 

For more information about the Twelve Days of Kofford holiday sales, click here.

The Mormoness; Or, The Trials Of Mary Maverick: A Narrative Of Real Events
by John Russell
Edited and Annotated by Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall

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Boadicea; the Mormon Wife: Life Scenes in Utah
by Alfreda Eva Bell
Edited and Annotated by Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall

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On the seventh day of Kofford: 30% off polygamy titles! December 07 2016


All polygamy titles are 30% off December 7th. These special prices are only available for one day, so don't wait!

To get the 30% discount, simply enter the code DECKTHEHALLS (all caps) in the discount code box at check-out.


Orders over $50 qualify for free shipping. Also, local Utah customers can opt to pick up their order directly from our office in Sandy (select this option under the shipping menu). 

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Joseph Smith's Polygamy, Volume 1: History
by Brian C. Hales

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Joseph Smith's Polygamy, Volume 2: History
by Brian C. Hales

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by Brian C. Hales

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Joseph Smith's Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding
by Brian C. Hales and Laura H. Hales

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Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto
by Brian C. Hales

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Prisoner for Polygamy: The Memoirs and Letters of Rudger Clawson at the Utah Territorial Penitentiary, 1884–87
by Stan Larson

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On the sixth day of Kofford: 30% off international Mormon studies titles! December 06 2016


All international Mormon studies titles are 30% off December 6th. These special prices are only available for one day, so don't wait!

To get the 30% discount, simply enter the code ALLTHEWORLD (all caps) in the discount code box at check-out.


Orders over $50 qualify for free shipping. Also, local Utah customers can opt to pick up their order directly from our office in Sandy (select this option under the shipping menu). 

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The Trek East: Mormonism Meets Japan, 1901–1968
by Shinji Takagi

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Mormon and Maori
by Marjorie Newton

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by Marjorie Newton

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For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830–2013
by Russell W. Stevenson

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The History of the Mormons in Argentina
by Néstor Curbelo

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From Above and Below: The Mormon Embrace of Revolution, 1840 – 1940
by Craig Livingston

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Best International Book Award, Mormon History Association


On the fifth day of Kofford: 30% off Contemporary Studies in Scripture titles! December 05 2016


All Contemporary Studies in Scripture titles are 30% off December 5th. These special prices are only available for one day, so don't wait!

To get the 30% discount, simply enter the code STANDARDWORKS (all caps) in the discount code box at check-out.


Orders over $50 qualify for free shipping. Also, local Utah customers can opt to pick up their order directly from our office in Sandy (select this option under the shipping menu). 

For more information about the Twelve Days of Kofford holiday sales, click here.

Authoring the Old Testament, Volume 1: Geneses—Deuteronomy 
by David Bokovoy

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Re-reading Job: Understanding the World's Greatest Poem
by Michael Austin

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Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels
by Julie M. Smith

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Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormon
by Bradley J. Kramer

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The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi's Record
by Joseph M. Spencer

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