Book Review – The Council of Fifty: What the records reveal about Mormon history

“The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal About Mormon History,” is a timely book published by BYU’s Religious Studies Center. While the minutes of the council were published in their totality via the Joseph Smith Papers in 2016, they still remain somewhat inaccessible to general readers. “The Council of Fifty” contains 15 essays by leading scholars about relevant topics of interest. Continue reading “Book Review – The Council of Fifty: What the records reveal about Mormon history”

10 questions with S. Kent Brown

In December 2017 / January 2018, I had the privilege to interview S. Kent Brown, an emeritus professor of ancient studies at BYU.

My contact with Brown stemmed from an interview with Philip Jenkins wherein he mentioned scholars at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship who were studying the same time period as he covered in his book, Crucible of Faith. After contacting the Maxwell Institute I was eventually put in touch with Brown, who has done some work on the period of 250 BCE to 50  CE, including the publication of The Lost 500 Years: What Happened Between the Old and New Testaments.

S. Kent Brown

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The Council of Fifty minutes on perfect revelation

The Council of Fifty minutes include a fascinating quote on “perfect revelation,” or whether a revelation requires perfect wording to be the word of God.

The Council of Fifty was an exclusive organization founded by Joseph Smith in 1844. The minutes of the council were published by the Church Historians Press in 2016 as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. The minutes include a wide variety of topics ranging from spiritual teachings to discussions about Indians to desires to form a new government.

The context for the quote is a series of discussions within the Council of Fifty about drafting a new constitution. The committee was somewhat paralyzed by fear of making a mistake and thus had difficulty getting started. One of the viewpoints shared was that of Brigham Young, who commented on Joseph Smith’s prophetic authority.

Included in his commentary is a fascinating quote about the word-for-word perfection of revelation. Continue reading “The Council of Fifty minutes on perfect revelation”

Book Review: An Introduction to the Book of Abraham

John Gee is perhaps the leading Mormon commentator on the Book of Abraham – a portion of Mormon scripture that is simultaneously vital to the Mormon belief of premortal existence and heavily debated inside of academic circles. As a believing Mormon with a Ph.D. in Egyptology from Yale University, Gee brings a wonderful mix of perspectives to the discussion. Continue reading “Book Review: An Introduction to the Book of Abraham”

Justice A. H. Ellett and the origin of a Mormon joke

Truman Madsen (1926 – 2009) told the story of a Latter-day Saint religious service in a prison I have occasionally seen pop up as a joke in Mormon culture. In the story, someone is offering a prayer and uses an absent-minded phrase that echoes an expression you can often hear in benedictions at Mormon congregations: ‘Please bless that those who are not here today will be here next time.’

Various forms of the joke use slightly different wording but the general substance is always the same. While you may pray that someone who is not at church today can be in attendance the next time, you probably do not want to pray that the location for their particular church services will be a prison.

I always thought this was just a joke, but I recently stumbled across a story that suggests it is based on an actual incident.  Continue reading “Justice A. H. Ellett and the origin of a Mormon joke”

Nicholas J. Frederick comments on Joseph Smith’s seer stones

In early 2017, I published a short Q&A for the Deseret News on Joseph Smith and seer stones. The article was intended for a general audience and based upon a book by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Nicholas J. FederickJoseph Smith’s Seer Stones.

Seer stone, Photo Source: josephsmithpapers.org

The book is rather short, but not necessary entirely conducive to concise and understandable descriptions of common questions about the topic. In an effort to secure quotes about popular questions that could easily fit within the narrative tone of the article, I contacted the authors for an interview.

Frederick consulted with Mackay and responded to the three questions I posed on November 05, 2016.

Continue reading “Nicholas J. Frederick comments on Joseph Smith’s seer stones”

Boyd K. Packer and the Teton Dam

On June 5, 1976, the Teton Dam in Idaho failed. What began as a small crack spread to a substantial break within hours. As the surrounding area began to flood, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints quickly mobilized and prevented what could have been a dramatic loss of life. Nonetheless, the damage was significant. Homes and business were ruined. Access to water and utilities was curtailed, if not entirely inaccessible. The situation was awful.

Photo source: lds.org

In the coming days and weeks, thousands would flock to the area to help with cleanup and rebuilding. My father, Howard Manwaring, was a teenager at the time and among those who traveled to Rexburg, Idaho, from Pocatello, Idaho to assist in the efforts.

Continue reading “Boyd K. Packer and the Teton Dam”

Feature series – 10 questions

10 questions is an interview series that will feature a wide variety of authors. Each interview will consist of 10 questions and seek to address how an author thinks, cover the material about which they write, and introduce readers to a bit of the author’s personality. Ideally, at least one new interview will be posted every month.

I have pondered an interview series like 10 questions for a long time. However, I always pulled back instead of pulling the trigger out of a sense of intimidation. I do not know the material as well as the authors. While I understand the language of academia, my own graduate experience has filled me with an understanding (or at least strong belief) there is always something more to be learned. Accordingly, how could I present a series if I could not hold my own with various experts?

Recently, I have discovered the answer: I do not need to hold my own. I do not need to be an expert in religious studies to interview a religious studies scholar. I do not need to be a published fantasy author to interview a global leader in the genre. I do not need to know what academic publications have come out in the last (fill in the blank) days.

What I need instead is a sincere interest in whatever I decide to review. Instead of feeling intimidated when venturing outside my own expertise, I feel excited to devour and share new content. When I feel I can describe the book to a child, a layman, and a college professor alike, then I feel like my understanding is sufficient for my purposes.

And what are my purposes? I want to share material that is often difficult for a layman to grasp. I want to take complicated concepts and present them in a way that anyone can read them without demeaning the experts involved. If done properly, I believe interview participants will be delighted to share their expertise with a wider audience than they may normally encounter.

The debut of “Fromthedesk”

Welcome to Fromthedesk, the new freelance writing site of Kurt Manwaring. This site will be utilized for a number of different publishing purposes, including personal blogs, author interviews, and special features. Additionally, users may contact me to hire my services as a freelance writer.

General content

This is where I will be posting my personal blogs. Topics will be wide-ranging and reflect my observations on different writing projects. Frequently, when I publish in mainstream outlets you can expect to see supplemental material to the articles posted here.

Book reviews also fit under this category, though whenever possible I plan to examine different books with a focus on one or two issues rather than general overviews.

Most book reviews and author interviews will contain a focus on relevance to Mormonism. Many books will be overtly Mormon (i.e., Mormon authors writing about Mormon topics). Those books that are not directly related to Mormonism will nonetheless be examined to determine what connections can be made. For example, fantasy authors who are Mormon may be asked about the role of their faith in their writings while religious historians may be asked how their works apply to Mormons today. I do not intend for my audience to consist solely of Mormons, but my book reviews will largely center on those interested in Mormon aspects of different writings.

Author interviews

Source material for my interviews with authors will be published on Fromthedesk. This not only adds context and transparency to the use of author quotes in press materials, but also allows the source material to be quoted by those working on other projects.

Special features

I plan to use Fromthedesk for a number of special features. At present, two features are planned.

  1. 10 questions. This feature series will feature 10-question interviews with various authors. In addition to acting as source material for quotes used in other articles, 10 questions will introduce readers not only to new books but also provide insight into the personality of the authors.  Interviews will occasionally be co-published with different sites.
  2. A decade later. This feature series will examine books of consequence a decade after their initial publication. What do authors think of their books ten years after first going to press? This series will give you direct access to authors who share their thoughts on how their fields of study have evolved over the past decade and how they have changed as authors, scholars, and individuals.

I am certain the site will evolve with time. For now, I hope readers will find engaging material and that those seeking for a freelance writer will be happy to have come to the right place.