Both Clement’s language in his letter to Theodore and the text of secret Mark that he cites suggest some kind of ritual. Secret Mark’s reference to waiting six days, coming at night, being naked under a linen cloth, and being taught “the mystery of the Kingdom of God” all suggests a ritual initiation. Clement’s language also suggests a ritual including statement that secret Mark “would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils.” A mystagogue was a person who oversaw Greek mystery rites, a point I’ll discuss in a later post. Clement’s declaration that secret Mark is “most carefully guarded” in Alexandria “being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries,” is a pretty explicit reference to ritual language. Clement’s statement about how Mark “did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord” also has ritual language: a hierophant was like a mystagogue.
Morton Smith, who found the document and wrote the first book about it, argued that secret Mark suggested that Jesus “developed his spiritual gift into a technique by which he was able to ascend to the heavens and also to give others the same experience and similar spiritual powers.” (more…)
In June, I went to Manti to witness the Mormon Miracle Pageant that is put on there every year. In many ways, it was an indescribable experience (which is slightly problematic seeing as the pageant is supposed to make its way into one of my dissertation chapters). I’ve pulled together some thoughts for this post, and would be interested to hear yours.
Those of you that have been to the pageant will likely remember the proselytizing that goes on before the show. Signs had been put up on church grounds that proselytizing was not allowed. Understandable, but a tad ironic, given the LDS Church’s emphasis on missionary work and the vast resources it expends to send missionaries all over the world. It raises interesting questions about center vs. periphery and the ethics of missionary work that I would be happy to debate at some other time (or in the comments, if anyone’s interested). In any case, the signs did not help much, as there were an abundance of people (very careful to stay on public roads) wanting to engage with Mormons about the alleged false doctrine in the church. They ranged from the three or four hecklers shouting at the top of their lungs, to the somewhat bitter ex-Mormons wanting to save their former brothers and sisters, to people calmly handing out pamphlets. Of the latter group, I got the impression that many had been recruited to do their Christian duty and probably could not have told you much about the church except that it was wrong. (This went for some of the hecklers as well: Mormon doctrine was heavily misrepresented in their talk of Mormon polytheism, for example.) In his dissertation, Policing the Borders of Identity at the Mormon Miracle Pageant (2005), Kent Bean writes that the Manti pageant should be framed as a power struggle, between evangelicals, LDS, and Mormon fundamentalists. While I do not entirely agree with his characterization of the Mormon-evangelical debate, there is something to be said for the issue of power being central. I’ll come back to that.
We’re back with another weekly roundup of links from the world of Mormon Studies. Let’s jump into it:
Alex Beam’s examination of Joseph Smith’s murder continues to garner attention. Check out the Salt Lake Tribune‘s coverage, including Peggy Fletcher Stack’s write up and Jennifer Napier-Pierce’s video interview with the author at Trib Talk.
In other news, the LDS Church History Library celebrated Canada Day by posting this fantastic souvenir card from the dedication of the Cardston Temple on their facebook page. Moving even further beyond U.S. borders, Al Jazeera America examined “The rise of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Caucasus.” It’s a fascinating read, and might provide some fodder for researchers interested in digging further. (more…)
This post belongs to our occasional “Scholarly Inquiry” series which facilitates conversations with important scholars in Mormon history and studies. Today we reprise our focus on religious practice and ritual from a few months ago and hear from Dan Belnap, professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at BYU. Belnap, who has a particular interest in ritual in both ancient and contemporary contexts, is the editor of a book entitled By Our Rites of Worship: Latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in History, Scripture, and Practice, and published by the Religious Studies Center at BYU and Deseret Book last year. (And it features, one must add, a stellar chapter from our very own J. Stapley on the development of Mormon ritual!) We appreciate Professor Belnap’s responses and invite your thoughtful engagement. Also, stay tuned for Part 2.
As mentioned in my previous post, Clement’s letter to Theodore has been very controversial and its authenticity has been heavily debated. Again, I’m not an expert on the topic, but the controversy seems to be over a few particular issues. The claim that Mark wrote “a more spiritual gospel,” or that Mark had additional information that he intentionally left out is an anathema to the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, or the idea that the biblical canon is the complete and total word of God. Mark’s secret gospel also suggested that Jesus had esoteric teachings, or teachings that were kept hidden from regular believers and reserved for the more spiritually advanced, another idea that Protestants don’t like. The reference to the young man coming to Jesus by night who was naked underneath a linen cloth suggests some kind of secret ritual (a claim that Morton Smith, the document’s finder, stressed; see my next post); esoteric rituals are another concept that Protestants reject. As Scott Brown argues, “Bear in mind that when scholars form opinions on non-canonical gospels they rarely stray from their religious commitments. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the assessments of longer Mark.” Finally, Smith made rather wild claims about what the secret ritual might have been like (see my next post), which made the document even more controversial.
What follows is essentially a review of Scott G. Brown, Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s Controversial Discovery. (more…)
I’m no expert on fairy tales but such stories as purveyors of folk and esoteric ideas interest me. So I found The Little Mermaid fascinating when I finally read the original a few years ago and was even more interested as I studied Western esotericism for context for my dissertation. All I know about Andersen comes from Wikipedia, but studying esotericism gave some interesting additional context, which relates to the Mormon doctrine of the importance of eternal marriage.
I hear lots of scorn cast at Disney’s version these days and Andersen’s original is obviously a very different story. The major difference being the little mermaid’s motivation for becoming human and trying to get the prince to love her.
“If men are not so unlucky to drown,” asked the little mermaid, “then do they live forever? Don’t they die as we do, down here in the sea?”
“Yes they do,” answered her grandmother. “Men must also die and their life span is shorter than ours. We can live until we are three hundred years old; but when we die, we become the foam on the ocean…. We do not have immortal souls. When we die, we shall never rise again…. But men have have souls that live eternally, even after their bodies have become dust. They rise high up into the clear sky where the stars are. As we rise up through the water to look at the world of man, they rise up to the unknown, the beautiful world, that we shall never see.”
“Why do I not have an immortal soul!” sighed the little mermaid unhappily. “I would give all my three hundred yeas of life for only one day as a human being if, afterward, I should be allowed to live in the heavenly world…. Can’t I do anything to win an immortal soul?”
“No,” said the old merwoman. “Only if a man should fall so much in love with you that you were dearer to him than his mother and father; and he cared so much for you that all his thoughts were of love for you; and he let a priest take his right hand and put it in yours, while he promised to be eternally true to you, then his soul would flow into your body an you would be able to partake of human happiness.”
Just a few links for your Sunday evening/Monday morning perusal, most carrying over from last week’s discussions of church discipline:
National media have reported extensively on the excommunication of Kate Kelly; see articles at CNN, the Washington Post, USA Today and interviews with Kelly at NPR and CNN. Consideration of church discipline in the case of Mormon Stories founder John Dehlin has also attracted widespread media interest. See pieces, for instance, at NBC and the Washington Post.
The LDS Church offered a related statement from the offices of the Twelve and First Presidency.
David Holland, meanwhile, offers some insights to Harvard Divinity School on Latter-day Saints, gender, and church discipline. Holland joined the Harvard faculty last year in 2013.
Jabari Parker, a Latter-day Saint from Chicago, was taken as the #2 lottery pick in this week’s NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, and the NYT revisits the perennial question of Mormon athletes and missionary service. Parker has also drawn attention as the “first black Mormon” in the NBA. (Although that may be news to Brandon Davies.)
For part 2, I simply post Clement of Alexandria’s (c 150-215) letter to one Theodore. What may be the most controversial document of all time is very interesting and central to this discussion. I will be referring back to this letter a lot in this series, so I wanted to post it in its entirety. Here is Morton Smith’s translation.
From the letters of the most holy Clement, the author of the Stromateis. To Theodore.
You did well in silencing the unspeakable teachings of the Carpocrations. For these are the “wandering stars” referred to in the prophecy, who wander from the narrow road of the commandments into a boundless abyss of the carnal and bodily sins. For, priding themselves in knowledge, as they say, “of the deep things of Satan”, they do not know that they are casting themselves away into “the nether world of the darkness” of falsity, and boasting that they are free, they have become slaves of servile desires. Such men are to be opposed in all ways and altogether. For, even if they should say something true, one who loves the truth should not, even so, agree with them. For not all true things are the truth, nor should that truth which merely seems true according to human opinions be preferred to the true truth, that according to the faith. (more…)
After a few weeks’ hiatus, we’re back and better than ever! Let’s go:
In case you don’t have Facebook/Twitter/receive a newspaper/talk to Mormons for any length of time, two high-profile Mormons (Kate Kelly and John Dehlin) are facing church discipline for “apostasy.” Here’s the most noteworthy articles on the subject:
MHA and the Joseph Smith Papers Project
The Joseph Smith Papers Project released a blog post about the forthcoming Council of Fifty Minutes; it’s a nice summary for those who weren’t at MHA.
My dissertation talks a lot about early Alexandrian Christianity, both as an important influence on Christian Platonism and as an issue that was debated in Joseph Smith’s day (was it good or bad?) An intriguing aspect of Alexandrian Christianity was the secret tradition or secret discipline. Here’s a passage from my dissertation.
Many fathers did talk about a secret tradition, most notably Clement of Alexandria. Eusebius quoted from Clement’s Hyptotyposes: “The Lord after his resurrection imparted knowledge to James the Just and to John and Peter, and they imparted it to the rest of the apostles, and the rest of the apostles to the seventy, of whom Barnabas was one.” Clement frequently used the language of the mysteries when speaking of the higher truth. “The mysteries are not exhibited incontinently to all and sundry,” explained Clement, “but only after certain purifications and previous instructions.” Clement alluded to practicing “greater” and “lesser” mysteries, similar to Eleusis. (more…)
Okay, this doesn’t really have anything to do with Mormonism, but I wanted to ride the coattails of women’s history that the blog has been doing to try to get some feedback for my next project idea. Let me know if this has already been done.
A quote from Grevase of Tilbury (an eleventh century English scholar) sparked an idea for this new project. While investigating supernatural phenomenon, Grevase cited the authority of “the old wives” as proof that a supernatural belief (women flying and passing through walls) was real. Grevase saw the knowledge of old women as authoritative, whereas the “old wives’ tale” later came to mean foolish beliefs. Furthermore, Grevase said the old wives were making claims to supernatural events. I want to explore the history of Western attitudes toward the socially constructed category of both women’s knowledge and women’s charisma (revelation and supernatural power) from 1100 to 1850. (more…)
Earlier this year, I posted some thoughts on Latter-day Saints’ reaction to the announcement of the 1978 revelation on the race-based temple and priesthood ban. The post elicited a lot of excellent responses, including several from Latter-day Saints who shared their own memories and recollections of LDS responses in the wake of the revelation. Among the most intriguing comments, though, came from commenter Ben S., who offered an anecdote he once heard about “several hundred LDS [who] signed their names to a full-page ad in a local newspaper to the effect that they knew Kimball was a fallen prophet, this revelation wasn’t possible, on the basis of past statements, scriptural interpretation, etc.” (more…)
At the Mormon History Association’s meetings two weeks ago (was it only two weeks ago?!), I attended several excellent sessions and roundtables. Each of the sessions I attended was worth the price of the conference registration—it was my favorite MHA I’ve attended so far. As usual, meals, hall conversations, and the student reception provided an excellent arena for sharing ideas about the research being presented, but also about the new developments in Mormon history and American religious history. (more…)
This post was originally supposed to be about the women’s history panels at the Mormon History Association last week. It was supposed to be a celebration of the work that has been done and an outline of what remains to be done. The letter that was sent to Kate Kelly on June 8th – the anniversary of the extension of the priesthood to all worthy men regardless of their race – changed all of that. We felt that the Juvenile Instructor could not be the only blog not to post something. Ultimately, Amanda HK, Kris, and Andrea decided that an appropriate response would be to write a history of women’s excommunication in the LDS Church and then to offer their own thoughts. (more…)
Today’s post comes from Kate Holbrook. Kate is a Specialist in Women’s History at the LDS Church History Department. She completed her Ph.D in Religious Studies at Boston University this spring and most recently contributed a chapter entitled “Good to Eat: Culinary Priorities in the Nation of Islam and Latter-day Saint Church” in Religion, Food, and Eating in North America published by Columbia University Press this year.
Relief Society endeavors have changed during the organization’s 172-year history. Some narratives frame the shift in Relief Society activities as a loss, arguing that the organization possessed greater visibility and autonomy during its first 150 years than it does now. We celebrate the achievements of our LDS foremothers in medicine, in politics, in organizing the affairs of the kingdom. Their contributions were often visible and measurable, affecting not just their families or their local congregations but the entire church, and indeed, society at large. In contrast, the work of Relief Society in the twenty-first century can seem small—most efforts are confined to individual stakes, wards, or families. But the idea that modern Relief Society work is a diminished version of the original begs the question: how do we measure the success of a religious organization for women? (more…)
Mechal Sobel has argued that the writing of autobiographies in the American Revolutionary period reflected and even promoted the development of the personal self, the “I”—as opposed to the “we-self.” This change was most pronounced among white males, as women and all blacks remained “enmeshed in a communality and…[continued to] serve the needs of increasingly individuated white males.” Sobel found that over half of the more than two-hundred autobiographies that she examined in her research contained accounts of dreams and visions. “The narratives, the dream reports, and the dream interpretations by the narrators provide vivid evidence of the change in self-perception in ideal and functioning selves. They also provide powerful evidence that American culture was a dream-infused culture and that work with dreams provided an important bridge into the modern period.” (more…)
No, the title of this post is not the opening for one of those “…walk into a bar…” jokes, although it does provide good potential.
NOTE: This post doesn’t aim to make a particular argument, or perhaps to say much new, but merely to express some issues that have been circling my mind for a while, and conclude one of those historical nerd tangential interests that we all know so well.
Apparently not satisfied with merely enraging Mormon historians, Brodie later tried to do the same to Jeffersonian scholars.
A few months ago, in a conversation on the H-SHEAR list (an email group focused on the history of the early American republic), someone made a reference to Fawn Brodie’s biography of Thomas Jefferson. Then, as an aside, the writer added, “Incidentally, Fawn Brodie is in my view the Rosalind Franklin of American history. There are many Watsons and Cricks in the historical profession who owe her a posthumous apology.” Franklin, for those of you (like me) who aren’t encyclopedias of this type of knowledge, was a biophysicist who studied DNA in the early 1950s. Watson and Crick, who were dismissive and rude toward Franklin in public and private throughout her life, accessed her data without her knowledge, much less permission, and used that data to make the critical leap in insight that elucidated the structure of DNA. They published with no mention of Franklin’s contribution and went on to great fame and a Nobel Prize a decade later.
While Brodie is mostly known in Mormon circles for her controversial biography of Joseph Smith, she is more widely known in the American historical community for her innovative use of psychohistory, especially in her biographies of Thomas Jefferson and, less successfully, Richard Nixon. Indeed, No Man Knows My History was merely her entrance into the historical profession, where afterward she became one of the foremost practitioners of psychohistory American political biography, and was even one of the first tenured female professors at UCLA. Most especially, her Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate Life (W. W. Norton, 1974) was a national bestseller and instigator of much debate in the academic community. In the book, Brodie focused on Jefferson’s private life, and was one of the first to strongly argue that there was a relationship between the president and his slave, Sally Hemings. The book was a commercial success, but was panned by many historians, especially Jeffersonian scholars, who rejected the thesis that Jefferson would procreate with a slave. Many historians rejected Browdie’s interpretation of Jefferson, just as Mormon historians rejected her interpretation of Joseph Smith.
Several decades later, however, Brodie’s argument was vindicated. (more…)
As announced at this evening’s Awards Banquet in San Antonio, Texas: (more…)
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Today’s post comes from Matthew McBride who is Web Content Manager with the Church History Department and author of A House for the Most High.
Nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints considered proselytizing missions to be the exclusive domain of male priesthood holders. Women participated in tract societies, shared their beliefs with family and friends, and occasionally accompanied their husbands on missions. But these activities were calculated to keep women in proximity to the domestic sphere and were typically viewed as supportive of and secondary to the full-time missionary thrust. This changed in 1898 when women began to be called to serve full-time proselytizing missions, including the first single sister missionaries in the Church’s history. (more…)
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