Joseph Smith and Sacred Text in Nineteenth-Century America
On Friday, 10 September 2021, the Joseph Smith Papers Project held the fifth annual Joseph Smith Papers Conference. Due to the ongoing global pandemic, and to allow more people to participate, the event was held online.
This conference commemorated the completion of the Revelations and Translations series. Presentations focused on Joseph Smith’s several translation projects, including the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, and the Bible revision, as well as the revelations he dictated and had published in church newspapers and print volumes.
Proceedings from the conference are found below. Each participant has graciously shared a video of his or her presentation online. Links to view the presentations below are provided as a convenience. As with other academic conferences, speakers are responsible for the contents of their presentations. No endorsement is stated or implied.
Special thanks to Jessica M. Nelson for serving as conference chair and to the conference committee, including Chase Kirkham, Robin Scott Jensen, Melissa Garrison, and Benjamin Wood.
Remarks by Riley M. Lorimer
Riley M. Lorimer,Joseph Smith Papers Riley M. Lorimer is an associate editorial manager for the Church Historian’s Press. She is also a member of the Church History Department Editorial Board. She coedited the second volume in the Revelations and Translations series (published 2011). She received a BA in English with a minor in editing from Brigham Young University and an MA in English, with an emphasis in British literature, from the University of Utah. In 2011, she completed training at the Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents in Boston, and in 2017, she received a graduate certificate in editing from the University of Chicago.
Panel 1 ― Material Readings of Sacred Text
“‘Transcribing All Things Which Shall Be Given’: Replication and the Sacred Text”
Elizabeth Fenton,University of Vermont Elizabeth Fenton is professor of English at the University of Vermont. She is the author of Religious Liberties: Anti-Catholicism and Liberal Democracy in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture (2011) and Old Canaan in a New World: Native Americans and the Lost Tribes of Israel (2020). She is also the coeditor, with Jared Hickman, of Americanist Approaches to The Book of Mormon (2019).
“Reading the Materiality of Sacred Text: A Documentary Editor’s Perspective”
Robin Scott Jensen,Joseph Smith Papers Robin Scott Jensen is an associate managing historian for the JosephSmith Papers and coedited the five volumes in the Revelations and Translations series (published 2009, 2011, 2015, 2018, and 2021). He is also a member of the Church History Department Editorial Board. In 2005 he earned an MA degree in American history from Brigham Young University, and in 2009 he earned a second MA in library and information science with an archival concentration from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. In 2019 he earned a PhD in history at the University of Utah.
“‘Called upon God to Write’: Revelations and Translations as a Model of Sacred Record-Keeping among the Saints”
Cathy Gilmore,Utah State University A graduate student of history at Utah State University, Cathy Gilmore is a longtime family historian seeking to further the contribution of family records to historiographical conversations. She is the cofounder of Kindex, a collaborative archival software platform for families and societies. With a focus on women’s lived religion in the twentieth century, her aim is to bring family records to the forefront of history, imbue them with new life, and utilize them as a democratizing force in historical narrative.
Panel 2A ― Focused Readings of Sacred Text
“Doctrine and Covenants 59: Foundations of a Sacred Latter-day Saint Worldview”
Steven L. Olsen,Church History Department Steven L. Olsen (BA, Brigham Young University, 1975; AM, PhD, University of Chicago, 1978, 1985) is master curator, Church History Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where he has worked his entire career (four-plus decades) creating museum exhibits, restoring historic sites, and leading organizational change. He has also been president or board member of a variety of state, regional, and national professional service organizations. He publishes widely in the fields of Latter-day Saint studies and museums studies, and he frequently presents at scholarly and professional conferences.
“The Significance of ‘Disciple/s’ and Capitalization in the Original Manuscript and the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon”
John Christopher Thomas,Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Cleveland; Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies, Bangor University, Wales John Christopher Thomas (PhD, University of Sheffield) is the author of A Pentecostal Reads the Book of Mormon (CPT Press), inaugural president of the Book of Mormon Studies Association, an advisory board member for the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, a frequent research scholar at the Maxwell Institute, an elected member of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, and a guest lecturer on the Book of Mormon at a variety of institutions, including Brigham Young University, Claremont Graduate University, and Utah State University. Professor Thomas is the author of nine books and scores of articles and the recent recipient of a Festschrift written in his honor.
“‘That You May Conquer Satan’: Diabolism and Joseph Smith’s Prophetic Identity”
Steven R. Hepworth,Church History Library Steven R. Hepworth is an archivist with the Church History Library. He received an MA in history from Utah State University. He recently published an essay in the edited volume Joseph Smith and His First Vision: Context, Place, and Meaning. He lives in Syracuse, Utah, with his wife and four children.
Panel 2B ― Sacred Text, Genre, and Canonicity
“Negotiating Canon during Joseph Smith’s Life”
John Thomas,Department of Religious Education, Brigham Young University–Idaho John Thomas studied international relations at BYU and completed a PhD in political science at Indiana University. His interest in Latter-day Saint history prompted a career shift that took him to the Religious Education Department at Ricks College, now BYU–Idaho, where he has worked for over twenty years. Though teaching is his primary professional focus, he researches and writes about various aspects of Latter-day Saint history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. John is married to Maria, and they are the parents of three adult children.
“Joseph Smith as Prophet, Poet, and Storyteller: Restoration Scripture as Literature”
Mark D. Thomas,Independent Researcher Mark D. Thomas is a former scriptural studies editor for Dialogue: Journal of Mormon Thought, served as a member of the Jesus Seminar, and was director of the 1999 Biblical Archaeology Symposium at the University of Utah. He has presented numerous papers on literary approaches to Restoration scripture and is the author of Digging in Cumorah: Reclaiming Book of Mormon Narratives (Signature Books, 1999). He is currently preparing a book-length work with Daniel McClellan and Marvin Sweeney on the history of Latter-day Saint readings of Isaiah.
“‘Sight and Power to Translate’: Revelatory Translation, Seership, and Joseph Smith’s Scriptural Productions”
Stephen O. Smoot,Catholic University of America Stephen O. Smoot is a doctoral student of Semitic and Egyptian languages and literature at the Catholic University of America. He previously earned a master’s degree in Near and Middle Eastern civilizations from the University of Toronto and bachelor’s degrees in ancient Near Eastern studies and German studies from Brigham Young University. His areas of academic interest include the Hebrew Bible, ancient Egypt, and Latter-day Saint scripture, theology, and history.
Panel 3A ― Sacred Text and Reception History
“‘Strictly Adhering to the Inspired Form’: Extemporaneous Worship Practices and the Latter-day Saint Sacramental Prayers”
David W. Grua,Joseph Smith Papers David W. Grua is a historian and documentary editor with the Joseph Smith Papers. He holds a PhD in American history from Texas Christian University and an MA and a BA in history from Brigham Young University. David is the author of Surviving Wounded Knee: The Lakotas and the Politics of Memory (Oxford, 2016), which was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title and was awarded the Robert M. Utley Prize by the Western History Association. He has published articles on Western and Latter-day Saint history in the Western Historical Quarterly, the Journal of Mormon History, and other peer-reviewed venues.
“Early Black Latter-day Saints and the Books: Jane Manning James, Samuel Chambers, and Their Relationship with New Scripture”
Janiece Johnson,Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University Janiece Johnson has a master’s degree in American religious history from BYU, a master’s degree in theology from Vanderbilt University, and a doctorate from the University of Leicester in England. She is the general editor of The Mountain Meadows Massacre: Complete Legal Papers (University of Oklahoma Press) and coauthor of The Witness of Women (Deseret Book). She is currently the Laura F. Willes Faculty Research Associate at the Maxwell Institute at BYU, working on the early reception of the Book of Mormon.
“Development of the Priesthood from Joseph Smith’s Translations and Revelations”
David W. Smith,Independent Scholar David W. Smith received a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, both from Brigham Young University. He has been published in BYU Studies Quarterly. He presented at the 2019 Joseph Smith Papers Conference and at many BYU Religious Education Student Symposiums.
Panel 3B ― Sacred Text and the Makings of a Prophet
“Prophetic Rhetoric in Joseph Smith’s Revelations and Translations”
Jarron Slater,Brigham Young University Jarron Slater completed a PhD in rhetoric and scientific and technical communication from the University of Minnesota in 2018. Some of his research has been published in Rhetoric Review, the Journal of Communication and Religion, Philosophy & Rhetoric, and Style and the Future of Composition Studies. His presentation is part of a larger project about the relationships between faith and proof.
“Perfect Revelations and the Capacity of the People: Sacred Texts and Structuring Power in Early Nineteenth-Century Latter-day Saint Worldviews”
Daniel O. McClellan,Sacred Materials Translation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Daniel O. McClellan is husband to Aleen and father to Aryn, Vivian, and Neke. He holds a PhD in theology and religion from the University of Exeter. A revised version of his dissertation, “Deity and Divine Agency in the Hebrew Bible,” will be published next year by SBL Press. Daniel has worked as a sacred materials translation supervisor for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2013.
“The Hieroglyphical Transformation of Nineteenth-Century America: Joseph Smith’s Translations in Light of Margaret Fuller’s Philosophy of Romantic Symbols”
Nathaniel James,Independent Researcher Nathaniel James grew up in San Jose, California, and Ann Arbor, Michigan. He received a BA in history at BYU in 2018, was an intern for the Joseph Smith Papers, and worked as a research assistant in BYU’s history and geography departments. He and his spouse, Cerena, live in Springville, Utah, and he works for Ancestry.com on geographical databases. His research focuses on the history of religions, including esotericism, mysticism, and Mormonism.
Panel 4A ― Connections between Sacred Texts
“The Use of Isaiah’s Servant Songs”
Kevin Tolley,Seminaries and Institutes, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Kevin Tolley earned a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in Near Eastern studies with a minor in Hebrew, a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame in theology with an emphasis in biblical studies, and a PhD in the Hebrew Bible from Claremont School of Theology. He has worked for Seminaries and Institutes of Religion for twenty years and is currently the director of the Institutes of Religion in Riverside, California.
“Angels and the Ancients: Encountering the Epistle to the Hebrews in Joseph Smith’s Theological Texts and Teachings”
Samuel Mitchell,Graduate Student Samuel Mitchell recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a master’s degree in early-Christian studies. He earned a bachelor’s at BYU in ancient Near Eastern studies. He is interested in intersections of history, texts, doctrine, and practice in biblical and Mormon studies. Samuel’s recent research includes work on the history of Latter-day Saint sacramental doctrine, as well as a published article on the “trickster” literary trope in the Book of Mormon. He is the proud husband of Kathryn and the father to three girls, who have red hair, just like him.
“Joseph’s Revealed Questions and Answers on the Revelation of St. John”
Christopher James Blythe,Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University Christopher James Blythe is a research associate at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University. He is the author of Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse and coeditor of three volumes of the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers. He is also coeditor on Open Canon: Scriptures of the Latter Day Saint Tradition, soon to be published by the University of Utah Press. Blythe received his PhD at Florida State University and also holds degrees from Utah State University and Texas A&M University.
Panel 4B ― Joseph Smith’s Approach to the Bible as Sacred Text
“Joseph Smith as Student and Scholar of the Bible”
John G. Turner,George Mason University John G. Turner is a professor of religious studies at George Mason University and the author of They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty (Yale, 2020); The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Harvard, 2016); and Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Harvard, 2012).
“‘The First Patriarchs’: An 1835 Backstory from Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Project and the Book of Patriarchal Blessings”
Susan W. Staker,Independent Scholar Susan Staker lives on Whidbey Island in Washington state, where she reads, writes, gardens, rides the ferry, and walks her dog. In past lives, she did editorial work for Adobe Systems, Signature Books, and Sunstone magazine and studied narrative theory at the University of Utah. Among other projects, she is coauthor of Sisters and Little Saints (a history of the children’s Primary) and editor of Waiting for World’s End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff. She is currently working on a book-length project, A Book of Joseph.
“Joseph Smith and the (De)Historicization of Sacred Texts”
Jordan T. Watkins,Department of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University Jordan Watkins received a PhD in American history from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His book, Slavery and Sacred Texts: The Bible, the Constitution, and Antebellum Historical Consciousness (Cambridge University Press, 2021), examines the ways in which antebellum biblical and constitutional debates over slavery brought awareness to the historical distances separating Americans from their hallowed biblical and founding-era pasts. Before joining the faculty at BYU, Jordan was a volume editor of the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers. He is a coeditor of volume 10 of that series.