Juvenile Instructor, a Mormon History Blog

five reasons to visit the Church History Museum

By: Saskia T - September 19, 2014

1. There’s something for everyone: exhibits on Relief Society history, Presidents of the Church, Book of Mormon Fiesta…

2. One exhibit, “Practicing Charity: Everyday Daughters of God,” features some striking art about the breadth and depth of womanhood and charity. Regular JI readers might remember this post, in which curator Lauren Allred Hurtado introduced the exhibit. (Not in Utah? You can see an online version of the exhibit here.) (more…)

A More Diverse Mormon History Association, or How the 2014 Tanner Lecture Has Haunted Me Since June

By: J Stuart - September 15, 2014

I’d like to offer some thoughts I’ve had on Jehu J. Hanciles’ Tanner Lecture at the 2014 meeting of the Mormon History Association. During his lecture, Professor Hanciles, a Professor of Global Christianity at Emory University, shared his research on the growth of Mormonism in Africa. (more…)

Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup

By: Christopher - September 14, 2014

MSWRAnd it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be [links]:

First up, a couple of items from a little beyond a week ago: The Salt Lake Tribune wrote about the latest exhibit at the Church History Library, a veritable treasure trove of rare documents and publications from the archives.  Over at Religion in American History, Charlie McCary and Michael Graziano introduced readers to a course they’re team-teaching at Florida State this semester on Religion & Law in U.S. History. See Part I here and Part II here.

Last Saturday, Slate‘s “The Vault” featured a “day-by-day commemorative map of the Mormon journey West” from the late 19th century. According to Rebecca Onion, “The map’s commemorative publication in 1899 seems to show how quickly pilgrimage tourism, now common among Saints, had taken hold.” Speaking of the late 19th century, it was in 1893 that the LDS Church was denied a seat at the World’s Parliament of Religions held in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Next year, 122 years later, the Parliament will be held in the heart of Mormonism, Salt Lake City.

The Givenses remained in the news this week, with Terryl and Fiona each participating in a Reddit AMA on r/latterdaysaints. They also joined Doug Fabrizio on RadioWest for an interview about their latest book.

Over at A Motley Vision, Scott Hales lays out “a fifteen-week reading course in the Mormon novel.” Check it out here.

We’ll wrap things up this week with a handful of conference announcements: The Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture has posted a CFP for their annual conference, to be held next March in Boston. Proposals are due October 3 (for single papers) and October 17 (for complete sessions). Miles Mullin previews this year’s Conference on Faith and History annual conference at The Anxious Bench. Colleen McDannell is giving one of the four plenary addresses on the subject of “Heritage Religion and the Mormons.” And finally, in what looks to me like the conference of the years, Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History and the Danforth Center at WUSTL are co-sponsoring a conference on “Religion and Politics in 21st Century America” (in Dallas, TX on November 8). The roster of presenters is a veritable who’s who of the best and brightest young scholars of American religious history, including JI’s good friend Spencer Fluhman, who will present on “Never-Ending Mormon Moments.”

Dialogue seeks a new editor

By: admin - September 12, 2014

One final announcement for the week:


Dialogue, a Journal of Mormon Thought, seeks an editor for the five-year term that will begin in 2016 and end in 2020. The new editor will inherit a journal with a fifty-year tradition of superb editorial leadership and a strong reputation as a premier publisher of academic and creative work related to Mormonism. Candidates must be available to begin assembling an editorial board and production team during the first half of 2015 and to begin work, during a six-month transition, on July 1, 2015.

Details concerning the scope of the editor’s duties, the qualifications sought, and the application requirements may be found on the Dialogue website at this link. Applications, which should consist of a cover letter with a statement of philosophy or vision, a resume, three letters of recommendation, and a writing sample, must be submitted no later than November 1, 2014, to Morris Thurston (Morris@MorrisThurston.com), chair of the Search Committee. Questions may be directed to any member of the Committee, which also includes Patrick Mason, Michael Austin, Fiona Givens, Robert Goldberg and Laurie Maffly-Kipp.


Announcement: A Day with the Bushmans and Patrick Mason, Portland, Oregon, September 20, 2014

By: admin - September 10, 2014

From the event‘s organizers:

Date:  September 20, 2014
Time:  10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


Portland, OR
The Wells Fargo Center Building at 1300 SW 5th Ave.
At the offices of Davis Wright Tremaine
Floor 24

              Located on the Max Green line stop at 5th and Jefferson
There are several parking lots/garages in the vicinity.
Full day parking on Saturday is between $5 and $6.


Reminder: Mormon History Association CFP, Deadline October 1

By: admin - September 09, 2014

Please note the approaching deadline (October 1, 2014). This conference promises to be MHA’s best yet.


Call for Papers
2015 Provo, Utah
50th Anniversary Conference

“Mormon Cultures, Cultural Mormons”

2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Mormon History Association, whose annual conference will beheld in Provo, Utah, on June 4–7, 2015, at the Utah Valley Convention Center. We invite papers and presentations that consider Mormon history in its broadest possible sense, as well as those which reflect retrospectively on the history of the MHA itself at its first half-century mark. (more…)

Dissertation Introduction, Part 7: Joseph Smith and Learning

By: Steve Fleming - September 05, 2014

Smith’s own lack of education may be an objection to the claim that Christian Platonism influenced him.  “Being in indigent circumstances [we] were obliged to labour hard,” Smith said of his childhood. “Therefore we were deprived of the bennifit of an education[.] Suffice it to Say I was mearly instructed in reading writing and the ground rules of Arithmatic which constuted my whole literary acquirements.”[1]  His mother, Lucy, said Smith read less that her other children and his wife Emma said at the time he dictated the Book of Mormon, he “could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter.”[2]  Smith’s writing skills were limited and he most often dictated what he wanted to communicate.  But Smith was not cut off from learning and literacy in his day.  His mother said he read less than her other children, not that he didn’t read at all, and both his mother’s and his wife’s statements were made in context of defending the validity of the Book of Mormon against the claim the Smith was the author.  Lucy and Emma may have been exaggerating Smith’s ignorance to bolster that claim.  Though he grew up in a small, recently settled town, print was available to him: newspapers, bookstores, and libraries.[3]  Smith also made attempts to engage intellectually with his peers by attending religious meetings and a local debating society.[4]  Furthermore, Smith continually worked at his education; Smith even attended school when he was 20 to 21.[5]  A major shift occurred when Smith founded his church.  Smith now had more free time with which to read and many of his followers had better educations than he did; he even founded a study group, the school of the prophets.  In an important sermon toward the end of his life, Smith declared after giving an exegesis of Genesis 1:1 along Christian-Platonic lines, “if you do not believe it you do not believe the learned man of God.”[6] (more…)

Dissertation Introduction, Part 6: Study and Faith

By: Steve Fleming - September 04, 2014

Yet arguing for the influence of these various thinkers on Smith raises the issue that Smith never once mentioned any of their writings.  Visionaries often did not cite their sources, however: Jacob Boehme, Jane Lead, Emmanuel Swedenborg, and William Blake said nothing about what they were reading other than the Bible.  This has caused problems for scholars who have tried to contextualize these visionaries.  Swedenborg’s followers have tended to view claims of influence as delegitimizing and have argued against Swedenborg being influenced by other thinkers (similar to Mormon scholars’ concerns), but as Brian Gibbons argues, “The tendency of Swedenborg’s hagiographers to see his work as created ex nihilo is clearly untenable.”[1]  Scholars have vigorously debated what William Blake’s influences might have been with Harold Bloom declaring that Blake “was not an antiquarian, a mystic, an occultist or theosophist, and not much of a scholar of any writings beyond the Bible and other poetry insofar as it resembled the Bible,” while numerous other scholars have argued that Blake was influenced by esoteric ideas, particularly Neoplatonism.   (more…)

Dissertation Introduction, Part 5: Family Religion and Jane Lead

By: Steve Fleming - September 04, 2014

Yet Mormonism was not simply a product of Joseph Smith digging through texts that described early Christianity and Judaism (though he likely made use of such texts).  Smith’s earliest contact with Christian-Platonic ideas came through the Smith family’s religiosity.  A series of dreams that Smith’s father had continually described the feeling that something fundamental was missing from the established churches; Smith’s notion that that the established churches and even the Bible were missing truth likely came from his father.  As I argue in Chapters Two and Three, Smith’s father’s dreams align with visions described in John Dee’s spirit diary (1659).  Dee and Smith had a number of additional similarities: both used a seer stone, wrote a book that was dictated by a person looking in a seer stone, made Enoch central to their theology, and had similar marital practices.  Dee was heavily influenced by Christian Platonism (see below) and the similarities between Dee and Smith suggest that Smith felt that early modern visionaries could also have parts of the missing truth.  Smith’s grandfather was a Universalist and his father joined them at one point; Origen’s writings inspired the rise of Universalism in early modern Europe.[1]  In addition, the Smiths engaged in a number of traditions related to the cunning-folk, or those who either believed that they had special powers or believed that such could be derived from “magic” books called grimoires.  Grimoires were full of Neoplatonism (Platonic philosophy inspired by Ammonius), particularly theurgy.[2]  Furthermore, evidence suggests that Smith’s father had some association with a movement called the New Israelites, who, among other things, believed that they really were Israelites, a claim that the Mormons also made.  These connections suggest that interest in Jews was part of the Smith family religion, an interest that may have led Smith to read Allen’s Modern Judaism. (more…)

Dissertation Introduction, Part 4: Plato and the Apostasy

By: Steve Fleming - September 03, 2014

Just as Allen had condemned Kabbalah as Platonic, Mosheim and the encyclopedias also condemned Ammonius and Origen.  These sources went so far as to claim that these thinkers had corrupted Christianity.  Mosheim began the passage by declaring, “A new sect of philosophers arose of a sudden, spread with amazing rapidity throughout the greatest part of the Roman empire … and was extremely detrimental to the cause of Christianity.”  Mosheim then asserted, “This new species of philosophy imprudently adopted by Origen and many other Christians, was extremely prejudicial to the cause of the gospel, and to the beautiful simplicity of its celestial doctrines.”  Ultimately, said Mosheim, this philosophy led to “an unseemly mixture of platonism and Christianity.”[1]  Those who reprinted this passage reprinted these denunciations and Alexander Campbell in his introduction to Mosheim’s passage declared, “Mosheim … satisfactorily shows, that the first ‘Theological Seminary’ established at Alexandria in Egypt, in the second century, was the grave of primitive Christianity.”  Such, said Campbell, “was the fountain, the streams whereof polluted the great mass of Christian professors, and completed the establishment of a paganized Christianity, in the room of the religion of the New Testament.”[2]  Mosheim and Campbell were repeating the popular notion that Platonism had corrupted primitive Christianity, a notion that Protestants had developed to attack both Catholics and Christian Platonists in their day (Chapters One and Three).[3] (more…)

Dissertation Introduction, Part 3: The Alexandrians

By: Steve Fleming - September 03, 2014

The above quotes from Mosheim were descriptions of the same movement: Alexandrian philosophy of the first centuries C.E.  In addition to attempting to pull together all truth and entering the presence of God (similar to Smith’s goals), Mosheim said that Ammonius Saccas taught that Jesus’s “sole view, in descending upon earth, was … to remove the errors that had crept into the religions of all nations but not to abolish the ancient theology from whence they were derived.”  Mosheim went on to say that Jesus’s “only intention was to purify the ancient religion, and that his followers had manifestly corrupted the doctrine of their divine master.” Mosheim suggested that Ammonius believed that Jesus’s followers had corrupted Christianity by removing truths that aligned with the “ancient theology.”  Just like the Book of Mormon said, according to Mosheim, Ammonius believed that truth had been removed, and as Mosheim said that Ammonius believed that the ancient theology was Platonic, the truth removed by Jesus’s followers would align with the Platonic ideas found in the Book of Mormon and Allen’s Modern Judaism.  Thus, just like Ammonius, Smith sought to restore this lost truth: Mosheim called Ammonius’s followers the “latter platonics” similar to Smith’s Latter-day Saints.[1] (more…)

Dissertation Introduction, Part 2: Kabbalah

By: Steve Fleming - September 02, 2014

Christian Platonism is simply the thought and practices of Christians who drew on Plato either deliberately or who drew upon the long tradition of those who had done so.  Christian Platonists believed in philosophia perennis, the perennial philosophy of God’s wisdom that was found in many sources including Plato, that often manifested itself as prisca theologia or ancient truth that originated with the patriarchs and had spread through many civilizations.  They viewed Jesus as the ultimate locus of Wisdom but believed that Christ’s truth had many precursors and that Jesus had manifested himself many generations prior to his coming.  Plato and others could be a reservoir of the Word in the same way the Old Testament was.[1]  Christian Platonism had a number of tenets including pre-existence of the soul, deification, utopianism, marriage in heaven, universal or near-universal salvation, post-mortal progression, and marital experimentation.  Christian Platonists tended to believe in an animated universe with powers of an unseen world and in the superiority of that unseen world which was usually immaterial.  There were many varieties of Christian Platonism, and, as there was no Christian-Platonist church, the varieties differed from person to person.  Christian Platonists could embrace some of these tenets while seeing others as heretical or impractical.  Early Mormonism embraced all of these tenets except for the notion of spirit over matter, but even the importance of matter gained ascendency in a number of Platonic traditions including Kabbalah. (more…)

Dissertation Introduction, Part 1

By: Steve Fleming - September 01, 2014

Now that I have my dissertation filed, I thought I’d post some parts of the introduction.  Here’s the beginning.


“Mormonism is truth, the First Fundamental principal of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men.” Joseph Smith, letter to Isaac Galland, March 22, 1839. 

“Those real sages … who were sick of those arrogant and contentious sects,[1] which required an invariable attachment to their particular systems. And, indeed, nothing could have a more engaging aspect than a set of men, who, abandoning all cavil and all prejudices in favour of any party, professed searching after the truth alone, were ready to adopt, from all the different systems and sects such tenets as they thought agreeable to it.” Johann Lorenz von Mosheim, discussing Alexandrian Platonism in the first centuries C.E. and its influence on Alexandrian Christianity, Ecclesiastical History, 1:138.

“[If the] Presbyterians [have] any truth, embrace that. Baptist. Methodist &c. get all the good in the world, [and] come out a pure Mormon.” Joseph Smith, sermon, July 23, 1843.

“These sages were of opinion that true philosophy, the greatest and most salutary gift of God to mortals was scattered in various portions through all the different sects; and it was, consequently, the duty of every wise man, and more especially of every Christian doctor to gather it from the several corners where it lay dispersed.” Mosheim discussing early Alexandrian Christians including Clement of Alexandria, Ecclesiastical History, 1:139.

“I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to though all of them have some thruth [sic]. but I want to come up into the presence of God & learn all things but the creeds set up stakes, & say hitherto shalt thou come, & no further.—which I cannot subscribe to.” Joseph Smith, sermon, October 15, 1843.

“They were to raise above all terrestrial things, by the towering efforts of holy contemplation, those souls whose origin was celestial and divine … that thus, in this life, they might enjoy communion with the Supreme Being, and ascend after death, active and unencumbered, to the universal Parent, to live in his presence for ever.” Mosheim, discussing Alexandrian Christian Platonist Ammonius Saccus and his Neoplatonic followers, Ecclesiastical History, 1:142.


Comparing statements from Joseph Smith to the views of early Christian Platonists in Alexandria, particularly one named Ammonius Saccas (c. 175-250), as discussed in Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History, a popular book that Smith likely owned, highlights important themes in this dissertation.[2] Smith, like the early Christian Platonists described by Mosheim, said that he sought the truth from eclectic sources and also stated his motivation for such a quest: to come into the presence of God. (more…)

MSWR 8/28/2014

By: J Stuart - August 31, 2014

Sorry for the hiatus. Let’s get to the links from the past week!


The Secret Tradition, Part 10: Joseph Smith

By: Steve Fleming - August 28, 2014

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.”[1]  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),[2] he would have been on the right track.


[1] June 11, 1843, Words of Joseph Smith, 212.

[2] A forthcoming dissertation claims that the endowment had these elements.

The Secret Tradition, Part 9: Theurgy

By: Steve Fleming - August 26, 2014

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.”[1] (more…)

What Did You Read on Your Mission?

By: Steve Fleming - August 20, 2014

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?

Depression and Missionary Work: Confessions of a Suicidal Would Be Missionary

By: Steve Fleming - August 15, 2014

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…)

Journal of Mormon History, Summer 2014

By: David G. - August 12, 2014

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…)

Journal Overview: BYU Studies Quarterly 53:2 (2014)

By: Ryan T. - August 11, 2014

Just a quick note to turn your attention to two fine documentary articles published in the latest issue of BYU Studies Quarterly:


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