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.
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.
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…)