10 questions with Russell Shorto

In January 2018, I had the privilege to interview Russell Shorto for “10 questions.” Shorto is the author of Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom.

Shorto is noted for his work in narrative history. He is the author of six books, a contributor to the New Yorker, and is currently contemplating a historical work – about the present.

Photo courtesy of Russell Shorto

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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.

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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.

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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.