Saturday, August 30, 2014

Seventies Hall

(by Kenneth Mays 8-13-14)
Of the many historic buildings to visit while in Nauvoo, Illinois, one not to miss is the Seventies Hall. This structure is located on Parley Street about a block west of Granger Street. It is situated at the beginning of the Trail of Hope.

The original building was constructed as a place where members of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could assemble to conduct quorum business. It was used as a training center of sorts to improve the effectiveness of Nauvoo's numerous quorums of Seventy. The hall was used for other purposes as well, including as a chapel, lecture hall and library.

It was dedicated after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith by President Brigham Young in late 1844 but had been used for several months before that. This rebuilt hall is situated on the site of the original structure.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

From Jewish peasant girl to 'Mother of God'

(by William Hamblin and Daniel Peterson 10-10-14)

After Jesus himself, his mother, Mary, is the most venerated figure in Christian history. In both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, the adoration of Mary forms an integral part of religious life. The importance of Mary for Christians begins in the New Testament, with the Annunciation (see Luke 1) and the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus. Still, although Mary is highly honored in the New Testament, she is never venerated. Rather, veneration is reserved solely for Jesus.

By the mid-second century, however, Christian beliefs regarding Mary had begun to expand, as reflected in the “Infancy Gospel of James” (sometimes also known as the “Protoevangelium of James”), which describes the miraculous birth of Mary to Anna, her dedication to service in the temple and expanded details on the Annunciation and birth of her Son. The stories in the “Infancy Gospel of James” were accepted as authentic by Catholics and Orthodox, and they remain a crucial source of beliefs and art about Mary still today.

A fundamental transformation in the understanding of Mary occurred in the early fifth century. First, a great theological debate erupted about whether Mary was only the mother of the human Jesus or the mother of the divine Christ as well. The issue was resolved in 431, at the third ecumenical Council of Ephesus, where Mary received the title of “theotokos” (“God-bearer”), or the “Mother of God.”

Those Christians who rejected this idea as a heretical innovation became known as Nestorians (or the “Assyrian Church of the East”); to a large degree, it is their successors who are now being persecuted by Islamist extremists in Iraq.

The idea of the virgin birth of Jesus was eventually expanded to include belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity. The brothers of Jesus in the New Testament came to be understood as his half-brothers, as Joseph’s children by an earlier wife. Finally, the “woman clothed with the sun” who gives birth to a son in Revelation 12 came to be regarded as Mary. Widespread artistic depictions of Mary as gloriously enthroned in Heaven with her son on her lap derive from this chapter in Revelation.

By the sixth century, the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven was commonly accepted. Like Enoch and Elijah, it was said, Mary did not die, but “fell asleep.” Although her body was laid in the Tomb of the Virgin in the Kidron Valley at Jerusalem, she ascended bodily into heaven, where she was crowned and enthroned beside Christ. (In Mormon terms, we would call this “translation.”) As such, she is the greatest of all the saints and will intercede with Christ and the Father on behalf of those who pray to her.

Today, the adoration of the Virgin has become one of the leading forms of popular piety among both Catholics and Orthodox. Artistic representations of Mary enthroned in heaven and her coronation by the Son are widespread. Most Catholic and Orthodox churches contain icons or statues of the Virgin and Child, to which miracles are often attributed. The “Hail Mary” prayer (based on Luke 1:28, 42), has become the most widespread Christian prayer after “Our Father.” Churches and shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary, such as Lourdes in France and Guadalupe in Mexico, are major centers of pilgrimage and devotion to Mary.

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception — not to be confused with the virgin birth of Jesus — maintains that Mary was born untainted by original sin, making her an appropriately pure vessel to bear the Son of God. Disputed among Catholics for centuries, it was not formally adopted as doctrine until 1854 and is rejected by both Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism.

To most Protestants, such veneration of Mary has passed from appropriate honor for the mother of Jesus to Mariolatry: ascribing quasi-divinity to Mary and worshipping her. Some modern historians claim that pagan beliefs and practices regarding mother goddesses in late antiquity were slowly transferred to Mary, making her, in a sense, a syncretized survival of ancient goddess worship.

The significance and role of Mary continue to be debated among Catholics. New feminist views about the “divine feminine” have led some to call for an expanded understanding of the role of Mary in the church, including titles such as the “Mediator of all the Graces” and “Co-Redemptrix” (with Christ). The transformation of Mary from an obscure young Jewish woman to a semidivine figure is one of the most fascinating stories in the history of religion.

The very surprising language of the Book of Mormon

(by Daniel Peterson 8-21-14)

Seeming “errors in grammar and diction,” particularly in the earliest manuscripts and first printed edition of the English Book of Mormon, have provided merriment for mocking critics since at least 1830.

Recent scholarly study of the book’s textual history, however, suggests that such derisive criticism is fundamentally misguided. Indeed, it may even demonstrate that, here as elsewhere, apparently “weak things” can “become strong” for those who believe (see Ether 12:27).

The pioneering research of Royal Skousen, a professor of English language and linguistics at Brigham Young University, for example, extending now over nearly three decades, provides arresting evidence that significant portions of the vocabulary of the Book of Mormon derive from the 1500s and the 1600s, and not, as one might expect, from the 1800s. Further, his latest studies have refined those dates even more exactly, showing that the vocabulary and meanings of many words in the text date from the 1540s up to about 1740. To put it another way, some Book of Mormon vocabulary reflects a period not only prior to the birth of Joseph Smith but also prior to the publication of the King James Bible in 1611.

Arguing along parallel lines, an important new article entitled “A Look at Some ‘Nonstandard’ Book of Mormon Grammar” has just appeared in “Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture” (online at Linguist Stanford Carmack builds upon Skousen’s work, and, indeed, bases his analysis upon Skousen’s 2009 Yale University Press edition of “The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text,” but focuses on grammar and syntax rather than on vocabulary.

Carmack shows that much of what has been dismissed as incorrect in the language of the Book of Mormon isn’t actually wrong. To the contrary (while considering dozens of such “obvious” grammatical “howlers” as “in them days,” “I had smote” versus “I had smitten” and “they was yet wroth”), he maintains that the book’s language is “excellent and even sophisticated.”
It simply isn’t the Modern English that we typically use today.

And this, for my present purposes, is the crucial point: “It’s important and helpful to bear in mind,” Carmack writes, “that the original Book of Mormon language is, generally speaking, only nonstandard from our standpoint, centuries after the Elizabethan era, which appears to be the epicenter of the book’s syntax.”

Now, think about that statement. Let it sink in, because its implications are stunning.

Carmack argues that, especially when the textual “corrections” of the past nearly two centuries have been stripped away — emendations and “improvements” intended to bring the published Book of Mormon into conformity with modern standards of usage — the grammar found in the book offers extensive evidence of its Early Modern English character. The original English Book of Mormon is, he says, “in large part” an Early Modern English text, “even reaching back in time to the transition period” from late Middle English into Early Modern English. “The correspondences are plentiful and plain.”

Let me translate those terms into readily comprehensible dates: Some scholars assign Early Modern English to the period between A.D. 1470 and 1670, while others prefer the rounder, neater 1500-1700. As for late Middle English, it’s typically said to have begun in the early 1300s and to have reached its end sometime in the late 1400s. (Geoffrey Chaucer, author of the famous “Canterbury Tales,” was born in 1343 and died in 1400.) Some grammatical features of the Book of Mormon, Carmack contends, reach back to that time. The “Elizabethan era,” which Carmack says “appears to be the epicenter” of English Book of Mormon syntax and which is often viewed as a “golden age’ in English history and literature — for the most part, it’s also the age of Shakespeare — covers the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, from 1558 to 1603.

“Therefore,” Carmack writes, “in view of the totality of the evidence adduced here, I would assert that it is no longer possible to argue that the earliest text of the Book of Mormon is defective and substandard in its grammar. … It clearly draws on a wide array of … language forms and syntax from the Early Modern English period, some of them obscure and inaccessible to virtually everyone 200 years ago. Only now are we beginning to appreciate the book’s surprising linguistic depth and breadth.”

What does this all mean? If Skousen and Carmack are right, believers in the Book of Mormon’s miraculous origin have solid grounds for surprise. Those who regard Joseph Smith as the book’s author, however, should feel challenged and deeply perplexed.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

What life was like for the Mormon pioneers after entering the Salt Lake Valley

(by Ben Tullis 7-24-14)

On June 28, 1847, Brigham Young met with Jim Bridger, famed frontiersman and owner of Fort Bridger. The two men discussed the merits of settling the Salt Lake Valley. Bridger expressed his opinion that growing grain would be difficult in the area, making it unsuitable to sustain a large population.

President Young responded, according to LDS Church News: “Wait a little and we will show you.”
Less than a month later, President Young, sick with tick fever, looked down at the Salt Lake Valley from Emigration Canyon on July 24. Wilford Woodruff later wrote, “While gazing upon the scene before us, he (Brigham Young) was enwrapped in vision for several minutes. He had seen the valley before in vision, and upon this occasion he saw the future glory of Zion and Israel, as they would be, planted in the valleys of these mountains. When the vision had passed, he said, ‘It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on,’ ” according to the Gospel Doctrine manual "Church History in the Fulness of Times."

Three days prior, Orson Pratt, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Erastus Snow, a future apostle, had proceeded down Emigration Canyon and ascended a hill near the entrance of the valley. Pratt recorded: “(We) beheld … such an extensive scenery open before us (that) we could not refrain from a shout of joy which almost involuntarily escaped from our lips the moment this glad and lovely scenery was within our view.” Elder Pratt’s words are recorded on the This Is the Place Heritage Park monument.

Within 10 years, Great Salt Lake City, as it would be known until 1868, was filled with homes, shops and places of worship that the people built to establish a city where they could find peace — but where hardship found them nonetheless.

One of the myths that has prevailed through the years is that the Salt Lake Valley was an arid, barely habitable desert. While the land wasn’t an ideal place to settle, it wasn’t a wild desert, according to Steve Olsen, senior curator at the LDS Church History Library.

“Some of the early pioneers were very impressed by how luxuriant it was, how well watered it was, how much grass was growing here," Olsen said. "That’s not to say they didn’t have to dam up the creeks and create networks for irrigation, but it wasn’t the kind of arid landscape that we often think about.”

“The valley in many ways was pretty much the same (as today) as far as the topography and the geology and (the way) the land form goes,” said Brian Westover, trades coordinator at This Is the Place Heritage Park. “The big difference, of course, is the features that we’ve added since we got down in the valley. One thing, for example, is water. A lot of people don’t realize this, but every one of these canyons that (surrounds) the valley — from City Creek, Millcreek, Red Butte, Emigration, all the way down — had a stream running down it that went into the Jordan River. And all those streams are still there, but they’ve been sent underground in conduits and pipes for the most part.”
The Saints did not have much time to take in the scenery, however. There was a lot of work to do to establish Great Salt Lake City.

“They were starting from scratch,” Olsen said. “If they were going to establish a community here, they had to establish it from the ground up. Hardly any of these people had any experience in doing that. … So they had to build roads, and they had to build irrigation systems and transportation systems and communication systems, and they had to build social institutions and they had to build all these elements … with relatively few resources and with relatively little background experience.”
The first priority after the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived in the valley was planting crops.

“They were very concerned about food,” Westover said. “Back in pioneer days, there was a saying: ‘If you want to have a harvest for winter, corn should be knee high by the Fourth of July.’ And, of course, arriving on the 24th and corn not even in the ground yet, they were very concerned about getting food crops into the fall and winter.”

As it was still summer when the pioneers arrived in the valley, building homes was not as much of a concern, according to Westover.

“One of the first buildings built was a bowery — just basically a shade structure," Westover said. "And they used it for school, for church, for public and civic meetings. … For the most part (the pioneers) just stayed in their tents in the beginning or the wagon boxes until they could start building the initial homes and dugouts. Initially there was a fort at Pioneer Park (now located at 300 South and 300 West), and it had a bunch of small cabins in it.”

The Mormon pioneers were between two American Indian tribes, and it was not clear at first how they would react to the presence of the Saints.

“The whole area had been occupied by a number of different Indian tribes — the Shoshones to the north and the Utes to the south — and the Salt Lake Valley … was kind of a no-man’s land," said Olsen. "It was a kind of shared space that neither claimed for their own. So the Mormons began settling here and it was somewhat fortuitous in that regard because it wasn’t challenging either of the (Native American) settlement areas. That’s one of the reasons why there was relative peace to begin with.”

By July 28, President Young designated the lot where the temple would stand. That spot would be the center point of the city, with every structure, road and private property laid out evenly, perfectly square and radiating from that point.

President Young and other leaders of the LDS Church remained in the Salt Lake Valley a little less than a month before heading back East on Aug. 16 to prepare their families to come to the valley the next year.

After President Young left, Charles C. Rich and John Young organized a municipal high council that directed the building of 450 log cabins and a fence to control the livestock. They also supervised the construction of an adobe wall around the fort as well as a number of roads and bridges, according to “Church History in the Fulness of Times.”

The Saints persevered through provision shortages and damaged crops their first year in the valley. President Young returned in September 1848, and by the end of the year, almost 3,000 Saints had arrived in the valley. President Young wrote to those still on the trail that the Saints had found “a haven of rest, a place for our souls, a place where we may dwell in safety,” according to "Church History in the Fulness of Times."

By 1850, houses and buildings had been constructed and a public works had been established.
“They (created) what we would call public utilities, that is, people who were responsible for damming the water and creating irrigation systems that would water the gardens and the orchards and the farms,” Olsen said. “They would soon create utilities for logging lumber so the access to lumber wasn’t just on a case-by-case basis or was favored to the rich. … Someone would have a use right to control and have access to these resources, but for the purpose of building up the community and not for the sake of becoming personally enriched.”

Two of the more important buildings for the Saints were constructed in the 1850s. The Great Salt Lake Social Hall, built in 1853, was a place where the Saints gathered for concerts and dances. The Deseret Dramatic Association was organized in 1853 and held many plays in the building. The Social Hall was also where the territorial legislature met for a few sessions, according to information on a marker at This Is the Place Heritage Park, where a replica of the Social Hall can be found. Remnants of the original foundation can be seen at the Social Hall Heritage Museum at 51 S. State Salt Lake City.

The second building was the Deseret News building, constructed in 1850. The publication allowed LDS Church leaders to communicate with Saints who had settled other parts of Utah and the surrounding states.

“Very soon after the Saints were established here, they created the Deseret News, (and) that was as important as any other network or system or institution that was established here,” Olsen said. “If you’re building the kingdom of God, and the members of the kingdom of God are spread out in a variety of different places, you have to have ways of keeping in touch with everybody. And the newspaper was, in part, for that purpose. … It was as a communications network for the kingdom of God.”

“(The pioneers) were isolated here in the community, so there were two functions of (the newspaper),” said Bob Folkman, a printer at the replicated Deseret News building at This Is the Place Heritage Park and president of the Sons of Utah Pioneers. “(The first was) local communications between the leaders, whether the government leaders or the church leaders — which were initially the same. … And the other is just that there was no other reliable source of news in the community. … There was some need to have a connection to what was going on in the world other than just word of mouth.”

While other pioneers traveled and settled areas in California and Oregon, the LDS pioneers were different in that their motivation was building the kingdom of God on the earth.

“When you’re with people you’re committed to by covenant … you can’t discount the value of religion bringing this thing together,” Olsen said. “So, there was just this amazing commitment they had to one another, even though often they didn’t share the same language (or) the same background. But they did share the same religion, so that was the glue that held them together and encouraged them to collaborate and share and sacrifice and do all those things that actually enabled them to succeed here where other people would not have.”

In only 10 years, the pioneers, through hard work and determination, had built a growing city with homes, shops, churches, farms and schools, and an area where they thought the Saints could live free from persecution and interference.

But in May 1857, U.S. President James Buchanan, after believing reports from anti-Mormon politicians, ordered federal troops to march to Great Salt Lake City to put down a supposed Mormon insurrection. After months of delay, the troops marched through Great Salt Lake City on June 26, 1858.

One of the soldiers marching with the troops, John Rozsa — who later joined the LDS Church — wrote, “The city lies in a very nice place at the foot of a hill … (and) is quite big and is built in good style. The houses are built of dobies and there was nice gardens around them … but nevertheless they look just like a dead city. … On arriving in the city we found only a few (men). The houses were locked and the windows nailed up, and all the people had fled south.”

The Saints had abandoned their city in case of problems with the soldiers. The few men left in the city when the troops marched through held torches and were prepared to burn the entire city to the ground if the troops did not abide by an agreement not to disturb the property.
The troops did abide by their agreement, and the Saints were able to return to the city they had founded almost 11 years earlier.