Sorry for the hiatus. Let’s get to the links from the past week!
In 1843, Joseph Smith taught, “If a man gets the fulness of God, he has to get [it] in the same way that Jesus Christ obtain[ed] it & that was by keeping all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.” Here Smith suggested that Jesus had undergone the same rites that would be performed in the Nauvoo Temple. Again, Morton Smith and others have argued that Jesus did perform some kind of higher rite and that such continued to be performed, particularly in late second-century Alexandria. Such a rite likely had elements in common with rites described in Judeo-Christian apocalypses, mysteries (particularly Eleusis), and Platonism, and pieces of the rite may have had echoes in parts of the Catholic liturgy (particularly baptism) and theurgy. So if Joseph Smith attempted to piece together this lost rite based on all these elements (apocalypses, mysteries, Plato, Catholic rites, and theurgy), he would have been on the right track.
 June 11, 1843, Words of Joseph Smith, 212.
 A forthcoming dissertation claims that the endowment had these elements.
Here I continue this series that discusses the possibility of a higher rite of initiation in early Christianity that may have had similarities to the apocalypses, the mysteries, and perhaps some Plato. Clement of Alexandria gave a number of hints in these directions. Alexandria also gave rise to Neoplatonism and Christian Platonists and Neoplatonists were often in the same circles. For instance, Plotinus, considered the founder of Neoplatonism, had the same tutor as Origen, a man named Ammonius Saccas. Furthermore, the Neoplatonists would begin to practice their own secret deifying rite: theurgy. Dominic O’Meara defines theurgy as “a process for making man god.” (more…)
Ben S.’s post at Times and Seasons about expanding the missionary library and the subsequent discussion made me wonder what other missions were like in terms of what kinds of texts were available. I ask because there wasn’t a whole lot available in my mission beyond the mission library. The Work and the Glory was somewhat popular but even that was eventually discouraged by the mission president. I heard about Nibley but I wasn’t aware of any missionaries reading him. Some Skousen made the rounds (tapes and books). Extra reading material seemed to consist of Mormon Doctrine and Lectures on Faith and a few pamphlets. Those who wanted to do extra study would study that stuff. To make it through Talmage was considered a bit of a feat. Truman Madsen’s Joseph Smith lectures didn’t even circulate on my mission.
I did like to study but focussed on the scripture and Talmage. I wasn’t too impressed with the Skousen that I got ahold of and I developed the opinion that a lot of the “extra” stuff was problematic (I viewed McConkie in the same light). My favorite area in terms of reading was my last. The missionaries had converted a Jehovah’s Witness and he gave them his library of stuff, about 10 books. I really liked learning about other religions, so that was fun. Also in that area, we tracked into a Muslim who gave us a book explaining Islam. I really liked that. Other than some books my folks sent me for refuting anti-Mormon augments, not much else.
So what did you read on your mission and what was the culture like for passing around texts? What kinds of texts circulated? If you read a lot of extra stuff, how did you get a hold of it?
My apologies to my blogger mates for a post that has nothing to do with Mormon history, but all the talk about missionaries coming home for psychological stuff and mission stories sort of made me want to share this.
My depression problem kicked in at the beginning of my junior year of high school. I first started noticing it at church (though I didn’t think of it as depression at the time). I would get very sad and I didn’t know why. So as I would walk home from church I would try to figure out why I was sad and examine my life to see what was wrong with it. Doing so I figured that various trivial things were really very important which made me more and more sad. Over the months I went into a downward spiral. After school every day I would hide in the bathroom and cry for about an hour (I tried my best to keep all this hidden, boys crying? shameful!). It got worse and worse and I became more and more fixated on suicide. (more…)
The latest issue of the Journal of Mormon History arrived in subscribers’ mailboxes recently. Here’s a brief rundown of the articles:
- “The Curious Case of Joseph Howard, Palmyra’s Seventeen-Year-Old Somnium Preacher,” by Noel A. Carmack
- Carmack compares Joseph Smith’s method of translation through seer stones with two New York “somnium preachers,” Rachel Baker and Joseph Howard, who delivered devotional and theological messages while appearing to be asleep or entranced. Carmack argues that Baker and Howard provided a context within which to place JS’s “subconscious religious exhortations taken down by dictation–one of which occurred only blocks away from the reflective, developing boy prophet.”
- “The Upper-Room Work: Esotericism in the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite), 1853-1912,” by Christopher James Blythe
- Blythe continues his ongoing investigation of Cutlerite history with an investigation of the role of esotericism (basically, the practice of “secret” rituals) in the development and persistence of Culterite identity in the face of competition from RLDS and other Restoration groups. (more…)
Just a quick note to turn your attention to two fine documentary articles published in the latest issue of BYU Studies Quarterly:
The secret ritual that Jesus used to initiate his followers, argues Morton Smith, may have been “limited to a few, shut away from the rest by special requirements, and at last quietly forgotten.” Both Morton Smith and Scott Brown argue that Clement of Alexandria may have taken Secret Mark with him when he fled Alexandria during the Severus persecution of 200 CE. Origen who was a teenager at the time of the persecution and who may have been Clement’s pupil, says nothing of Secret Mark and had a very different notion of the secret tradition than did Clement. For Origen, the secret teachings were found hidden in the scriptures—one just had to know how to find them—rather then being a secret initiation. Since Origen was a teenager when Clement left, he likely would have been too young to be initiated before Clement left, and if Clement took the letter with him, perhaps the higher initiation was no longer performed in Alexandria after Clement left. (more…)
Our friends at BYU’s Department of Church History and Doctrine are looking for another recruit. Full information and application here. Relevant details can be found below.
Position Title: Faculty Church History & Doctrine
Beginning Date: Fall 2015
Qualifications: PhD or equivalent degree completed prior to application from an accredited institution of higher learning, preferably in history, religious studies, or other related field; Special emphasis on ability to teach and research mid-to-late nineteenth and twentieth century Church history; show evidence of training and skill in research and scholarly writing, preferably with a record of peer-reviewed publications in high quality academic venues; show evidence of ability to teach Doctrine and Covenants and Latter-day Saint history (CES courses); previous university-level teaching experience; be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and observe standards of conduct consistent with qualifying for temple privileges.
Duties/Responsibilities: Teach assigned classes in Church History & Doctrine, especially the Doctrine and Covenants (8-10 credit hours per semester, 4 credit hours per spring or summer term). Classroom instructions must be both intellectually rigorous and spiritually strengthening and consistent with acceptable academic standards. Mentor students; serve on university, college, and/or department committees or other assignments in professional or academic associations. Be a contributing and collegial team player. Continually engage in scholarly research and writing, as evidenced by regular publishing in high quality top-tier venues.
Special Instructions to Applicants: Please complete an online faculty application and attach a cover letter, current curriculum vitae, two article-length writing samples (either previously published or accepted for publication), contact information for at least three professional references, and two statements (no more than 500 words each) describing: (1) your research agenda, and (2) your philosophy regarding the integration of faith and reason in your scholarship and teaching. (President Spencer W. Kimball charged BYU professors to “become ‘bilingual’ in speaking the language of scholarship and the language of the spirit.” Your second statement should explain the role of faith and reason in your own academic experience and outline how you plan to integrate the “language of the Spirit” and the “language of scholarship” in your role as a BYU religion professor.)
Deadline: August 31, 2014
The apostles, said Origen “saw better than Plato … what things were to be committed to writing, and how this was to be done, and what was by no means to be written to the multitude, and what was to be expressed in words, and what was not to be so conveyed.” With this statement, Origen seemed to suggest that Christ’s secret teachings had things in common with Platonism. Platonism was linked to both the apocalypses and the mysteries. Martha Himmelfarb describes 2 Enoch’s creation description as “a blend of biblical creation and popular Platonism.” Of the apocalypses, John Turner says, “One can scarcely think of a more apt Jewish equivalent to Plato’s description of the intense light of the ultimate Goodness and Beauty awaiting anyone who would risk the ascent out of the cave of illusion.” (more…)
This article is a few months old, but the recently founded Polynesian Football Hall of Fame has found a home at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) in Hawai’i. “PFHF honors the sport’s greatest players, coaches and contributors from Polynesia.” This is an interesting development considering the history of the PCC and Mormonism throughout the region.
Primarily targeted at pioneer stock Mormons, this microsite “is FamilySearch’s attempt at comparing the list of pioneer companies to those listed in your Family Tree. We recognize that it may not be comprehensive or completely accurate historically. We hope you enjoy this information.” I’ve included a screen grab of my results for those who likely won’t have many connections:
The secret tradition may have been connected to Judeo-Christian apocalypses and the rites described in those texts, but Clement’s Letter to Theodore made numerous allusions to Greek mystery rites, the Eleusinian mysteries in particular. There were a number of Greek mystery cults that allowed individual to be initiated in the hopes of attaining a better afterlife, the most famous of which was at Eleusis a few miles from Athens. In the fall, Greeks could perform rites at Eleusis that, according to Cicero, taught people “how to live in joy, and how to die with better hopes.” (more…)
Happy Pioneer Day, readers! Thank you for your patience with us lately — we know things have been slow around here (they tend to get that way during the summer), but we have some exciting things planned moving forward and hope you’ll keep checking in, reading, and commenting moving forward.
In recognition of Pioneer Day, I’ve culled from the Juvenile Instructor’s archives links to several previous posts treating Mormon Pioneers in one sense or another. In hopes that they’ll prove interesting to those who missed them the first time around (and to those, like me, interested in revisiting them), here we go: (more…)
For your Sunday perusal:
Our own Amanda Hendrix-Komoto writes about the excommunication of Kate Kelly (and Mormon feminism?) on the Nursing Clio blog.
Pauline Kelly Harline writes about female Mormon bloggers and the long tradition of writing that exists in Mormon culture.
Joseph Spencer recaps the Mormon Theology Symposium that recently wrapped up in London here.
A whole host of qualified people (including JI-ers Andrea Radke-Moss and Rachael Givens) weigh in on the question of equality, gender, and priesthood here on a panel at Patheos.
Is the Mormon moment finally over? Find out here.
On the complexities of Mormon identities, being a gay Mormon, and going from being a missionary to playing one on a stage.
On the intersection of politics and religion when it comes to popular opinion.
Emmeline Wells is highlighted by the National Women’s History Museum here.
The Deseret News reports on the third new temple film to come into rotation in the span of twelve or so months.
And finally, the Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture is holding its symposium on July 22, 23, and 25. The program can be found here. In the neighborhood? Come listen to Natalie Rose on Tuesday!
Anything we missed? Leave your contributions in the comments!
Morton Smith argued that secret Mark suggested an initiation ritual that was an ascent to heaven and that Jesus had undergone the same process. Knowing exactly what secret things Jesus might have done is highly speculative, but there is evidence for some kind of secret teaching or ritual in early Christianity. Smith argued that the context for the ascent were the Enochian apocalypses particularly 1 and 2 Enoch in which Enoch ascends to heaven and in 2 Enoch he becomes an angel. 1 and 2 Enoch also described Enoch undergoing a heavenly temple liturgy. Says 2 Enoch,
And the Lord said to Michael: Go and take Enoch from out of his earthly garments, and anoint him with my sweet ointment, and put him into the garments of My glory. And Michael did thus, as the Lord told him. He anointed me, and dressed me, and the appearance of that ointment is more than the great light, and his ointment is like sweet dew, and its smell mild, shining like the sun’s ray, and I looked at myself, and I was like one of his glorious ones.
After this transformation, God then tells Enoch, “Hear, Enoch, and take in these my words, for not to My angels have I told my secret, and I have not told them their rise, nor my endless realm, nor have they understood my creating, which I tell you today.” God then proceeds to show Enoch the creation.
We’re pleased to announce the Fifth Biennial Faith & Knowledge Conference, to be held at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville on February 27 and 28, 2015, and to post the Call for Papers below. Please note that, unlike previous years, the conference is now officially open to LDS graduate students and early career scholars in religious studies and related academic disciplines interested in the intersections of scholarship and religious faith. Three members of this year’s committee (Rachael Givens Johnson, Joseph Stuart, and Christopher Jones) are all bloggers here at the Juvenile Instructor; please contact us if you have any questions.
THE FIFTH BIENNIAL FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE CONFERENCE
University of Virginia
February 27-28, 2015 (more…)
The stirring conclusion of our conversation with Dan Belnap on ritual in Mormon Studies. For those new to the conversation, refer to Part 1.
One of the challenges faced by theorists of practice and ritual is defining precisely what these categories are and what they encompass. Do you have any opinions on the scope of Mormon ritual studies or, for that matter, on the boundaries of Mormon liturgy?
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.