Saturday, June 29, 2013

Regional Studies in LDS Church History: California

I acquired a copy of Regional Studies in LDS Church History: California (published by Brigham Young University) mainly because I used to live in California. For the most part, I really enjoyed this collection of essays. I learned a lot of neat facts that I didn't know before, and I also got to read multiple stories that were often entertaining and always informative.

One of the most interesting stories contained in this volume is Donald Q. Cannon's essay on Sam Brannan. I had heard the name before and I knew that he didn't listen to the counsel of Brigham Young, but that was just the beginning. He also went on to become California's first millionaire. He abandoned the Church completely succumbed to his demons of alcohol and adultery. He eventually died penniless and alone. His story is a tragic one, but also really makes you focus on what is most important.

I really enjoyed the essays that discussed the Mormon Battalion. I knew about the circumstances under which the Battalion was called, I knew about their march, and I knew they didn't have to engage in combat. However, I had no idea just how many challenges they endured on their march. I loved reading about their march and learning more about the historic group to which my ancestor Ruel Barrus belonged.

I loved essays that talked about the experiences of certain general authorities in California, and I was very intrigued by the account of members living in San Francisco who endured the terrible earthquake and the fires that followed. But perhaps one of my most favorite essays was Jeremiah K. Clark's on the San Diego temple. Since that is where I was married, I had a particular interest in that temple's history.

The research done by the authors was very thorough. I learned that this is just the first of several volumes of regional church history published by BYU. I would be interested in reading the research they did in their other works.

Friday, June 21, 2013

History of the Church Vol. 3

The third volume of the History of the Church by Joseph Smith was certainly the most depressing. This volume contains the entire history of the Missouri period of Church History. While none of the stories were necessarily new to me, the detail and perspectives of the persecuted were incredible. It is difficult to understand how the mobs could have been so inhumane and ruthless. Towards the end of the book, Joseph Smith very clearly states that no single religious or political party was responsible for the atrocities that occurred, but all seemed to be united against the "Mormons".

I like reading the commentary by  B.H. Roberts because he adds commentaries in the footnotes that often expound on something by quoting from another individual, or else he offers insight on events that transpired after the history was written. He actually begins this volume talking about a prophecy Joseph Smith told Alexander Doniphan (who did his best to help the Church during the Missouri period). A man offered to pay Doniphan in property in Jackson County, and Joseph encouraged him not to accept it, because it would be destroyed. B. H. Roberts then gives an account of the destruction that Missouri suffered during the Civil War. Ironically, many of the things they either accused the saints of, or things they did against the saints happened to them.

It was ridiculous to read about the "legal processes" surrounding the arrest of church leaders. They were arrested by an army and were going to be court marshaled and sentenced to death, except they weren't part of a military, so they couldn't legally be court marshaled. So the general researched the entire military law, trying to find some excuse to kill them. Being unsuccessful, he turned them over to the civil judges to try them. The judges were just as corrupt, and whenever the leaders tried to produce a witness, the witnesses were either arrested, beaten, or driven from the state. Finally, realizing they had no real case against the prisoners, they were eventually released and actually aided by their captors.

I had heard about Joseph rebuking the guards for their foul language, and I had heard about what evil acts the mob committed against the "Mormons", but not until I read this did I realize the extent of how horrible the mob was. After reading about the horrible things they did, I can't believe they were only rebuked once!

However, amidst all this darkness, it was really neat to read about those who remained faithful. So many abandoned the Church at this time, and many of those turned against it with the black heart of a traitor. But many, many others remained true and steadfast. These people risked their lives multiple times, and were only preserved by the hand of God. They are an inspiration to me. I can see how the Missouri trials truly purified the Church at that time. Many of the tares were removed from the crop, and many among the Lord's wheat were gathered to Him and preserved. In my own trials in life, which can never compare with what these people had to suffer, I hope I can always prove myself steadfast and immovable, just like the heroes of this period of Church History.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Making Sense of Isaiah

I received the book Making Sense of Isaiah by Terry Ball and Nathan Winn as a prize for answering a question correctly at a work meeting. I finally decided to use it in my most recent study of Isaiah.

Each chapter is divided into three sections: First it gives a summary of the content in that chapter, Second it helps the reader liken the chapter unto him/herself, and Finally, it gives the reader some questions to ponder to further help them liken the scriptures to themselves, but requiring a great effort on the part of the reader.

While the organization for the book was appealing, I didn't find it too helpful in understanding Isaiah. Usually the authors would focus on just a select phrase or set of verses, isolate them from the rest of the chapter, and ignore the other material. While the connections were usually neat and interesting, sometimes I felt like they were too much of a stretch.

Overall, I would say that this is a good book if you want to understand basic concepts and principles taught by Isaiah, but if you want in-depth exploration, you're going to want to try something different. This is my second book on Isaiah that I have read, and I have a couple more on my shelf that I hope to still read this year. In the meantime, I'm taking a break from this profound prophet and focusing on other scripture topics.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Since Cumorah

I have very conflicting emotions about Since Cumorah by Hugh Nibley. Some of his arguments were very interesting, and he began the book by making a great case for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. For example, he talks a lot about the Dead Sea Scrolls and how they have changed the world's perspective on scripture. This new perspective falls perfectly in line with the Book of Mormon and its teachings.

Nibley goes on to describe names that have been discovered in the Middle East that are not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, but have very close counterparts in the Book of Mormon. Following a lot of the external evidence, he then spends a lot of time on the internal evidence of the Book of Mormon, showing how the writing style is not typical of 19th century literature, and also commands a knowledge that would be totally unavailable to an obscure farm boy such as Joseph Smith.

My biggest problem with this book is how Nibley doesn't get his facts right when talking about the Book of Mormon itself. For example, he spends an entire chapter talking about the military history of the Book of Mormon, but repeatedly says it is Moroni, the son of Mormon who is abridging it. This is completely false! Moroni didn't touch the plates as far as writing the history goes until Mormon chapter 8, after his father dies. (Ironically, Nibley later states that Mormon is the one speaking in Mormon 8). At first I thought it was just a mistake when the author uses "Moroni" instead of "Mormon", but then he adds clarification, such as: "Moroni the Younger," "Moroni, son of Mormon," etc. I checked the latest edition of this book, and this problem still has not been fixed.

He also gets some of the history of the Book of Mormon. At one point he talks about a Lamanite King who makes a law to provide for widows and orphans affected by war. The scripture reference he uses is actually referring to King Limhi--a NEPHITE king.

If he cannot get his facts right about the Book of Mormon itself, how can I, as a reader, trust anything else he says about the Dead Sea Scrolls or research done in far away countries and foreign languages? At the beginning of this book, I was a captive reader with an open mind. But after finding so many discrepancies that should have been simple to avoid, I am not sure I can trust the research he has done on everything else. It left a sour taste regarding his book in general.