Tuesday, August 9, 2011

THE CULTURAL HISTORY OF THE GOLD PLATES (Seminar's Preliminary Program--Pass the invite along!)

The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and the Mormon Scholars Foundation

Invite you to the Annual Summer Symposium on Mormon Culture

Thursday, August 18, 2011
Room B037 Joseph F. Smith Building
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The program will feature the following papers:

Morning Session:

Stephen Taysom, “Worlds of Discourse, Plates of Gold: Joseph Smith’s Plates as Cultural Catalysts”

Ben Bascom, “Guard the Gold: Didactic Fiction and the Mainstreaming of Moroni”

Jared Halverson, “Fictionalizing Faith: Popular Polemics and the Golden Plates”

Julie Fredericks, “Artistic Depictions of the Gold Plates and the Material Cultural Inheritance"

Tyler Gardner, “Possessing the Plates: The Presence and Absence of the Gold Plates”

Rachael Givens, “’Wagonloads’: The Disappearance of the Book of Mormon's Sealed Portion”

Afternoon Session:

Sarah Reed, “Fantasy, Fraud and Freud: The Uncanny Gold Plates in 19th Century Newspaper Accounts”

Elizabeth Mott, “The Forbidden Gaze: The Veiling of the Gold Plates and Joseph Smith’s Redefintion of Sacred Space”

Michael Reed, “The Notion of Ancient Metal Records in Joseph Smith’s Day”

Caroline Sorensen, “The Metallurgical Plausibility of the Gold Plates”

Christopher Smith, “Rediscovering Joseph Smith’s ‘Discovery Narrative’ in Southern Utah”

Rachel Gostenhofer, "In Consequence of Their Wickedness: The Decline and Fall of Mormon Seership, 1838-1900"

Monday, July 25, 2011

Captain Kidd's Golden Bible?

Ron Huggins wrote an interesting paper several years ago arguing that the Gold Plates/Moroni story evolved from Joseph Smith's activities searching for Captain Kidd's treasure. Although I reserve judgement over the persuasiveness of this argument (I have my own thesis that I am working on), I found a couple things that strengthen Huggins' position. As you may remember, I found a map of the Cumoros Islands with the names of Comore and Meroni *predating* the publication of the Book of Mormon.

Another discovery comes from treasure lore of Captain Kidd burying not merely treasure, but a Bible. In Washington Irving’s short story “Kidd The Pirate,” published in Tales of a Traveler (New York, 1825) we read the following “old song”:

My name is Captain Kidd,
As I sailed, as I sailed—
I had the Bible in my hand,
As I sailed, as I sailed,
And I buried it in the sand
As I sailed.—
Irving writes, “[Kidd] gained the Devil’s good graces by burying the Bible.” (214)

According to Ellen E. Dickinson, Joseph Smith was reported to have memorized a song very similar to this:

It is said that Joseph at an early age could read, but not write; and when quite young committed these lines to memory from the story of Captain Kidd, the notorious pirate, which seemed to give him great pleasure,

My name was Robert Kidd
As I sailed, as I sailed;
And most wickedly I did
As I sailed, as I sailed.
Although Huggins cites Dickinson's report (p. 37), he does not mention the stanza Washington Irving quotes. It seems probable that young Joseph's song included a stanza of Kidd's buried Bible.

Found this rendition of the song online:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Turning Point

To this day, it is still amazing to me how a single experience or event can dramatically influence the path of an entire life. While living in northern California for most of my life, it was always a challenge to do well in school. High School in particular was a very difficult time—so much so that my grade point average was well below a 2.0. My parents seemed resigned to my failures but held out hope that I might (by some miracle) still graduate by the skin of my teeth. However, by my junior year, I had failed so many courses that their hope for my graduation seemed futile. One more lost unit/credit and I would not graduate with my class.

A turning point came in my life when, in the second semester of my High School junior year, I wrote an essay for an English class. The assignment asked students to explain where they envisioned themselves ten years later. In this paper I expressed my personal insecurities, explaining that I would have to settle for being a magician since I had done so poorly in school and would therefore not be able to attend college. A couple days later the essays were graded and returned, and I was surprised to see my teacher’s response was nearly as long as the essay I had written. She wrote the following in her response,

Dear Michael, It is past midnight now and I should be going to bed, but after reading your essay I feel that I should stay up a little longer and tell you something I think is very important. I understand that you don’t believe you will be able to attend college, but whoever told you that was wrong. You may feel insecure and ‘stupid,’ but I see you as a distracted young man who just does not realize his great potential. Believe in yourself, Michael, and work hard in school from this time forward, and I promise you that you will be able to attend college. Be a magician if that is what you want to do, but don’t for a second believe that you have no other options.
This response moved me to tears and made such an impact on me that I still have that graded essay with my teacher’s motivational response. Her words inspired and encouraged me to buckle down and graduate high school, and eventually enroll in community college. Since then, after each major stage of my academic career—from associate’s, to bachelor’s, to master’s degree—I have been reassured that my teacher was correct. I have gained confidence, raised the bar for my performance and achieved successes beyond what I had imagined. Looking back at how far I have come, it is difficult to imagine the struggles I endured in high school. I would have never dreamed 20 years ago that I would be in the position I am today, having earned my master’s degree, and found a publisher for my master’s thesis. Moreover, just last week I accepted GTU/UC Berkeley’s offer of enrollment into their History of Christianity PhD program.

The most exciting thing for me is that the journey is not over. Learning and researching is no longer an obstacle but a discovered passion that will lead me ever further down the path of my dream career—to teach religious studies at the university level. It will then be my hope to someday write a response on a student’s essay that might change their life forever.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Speaking Engagements

The preliminary programs for the Sunstone West symposium and the Mormon History Association conference are out. I will be speaking at both. At Sunstone I will present a paper titled "Ancient Metal Records--A Notion Preposterous in Joseph Smith's Day?" and at MHA a paper titled "The Mormon Endowment and the 'Christianization of Freemasonry.'" My session at MHA will be shared jointly with Clair Barrus (who will speak on "Oliver Cowdery's Rod of Nature") and Clinton Bartholomew (on "Cipher in the Kirtland Show: The Royal Arch Cipher and Joseph Smith's Conception of Ancient Languages").

Other presentations at these conferences that I am especially looking forward to:

Joe Geisner, "Very Careless in His Utterances: Editing, Correcting, and Censuring Conference Addresses," Sunstone.

Paul Crabtree and Laura Compton, "The Spin of Art: How Art Influences the Message of History," Sunstone.

Christopher Smith, "'Right of the Firstborn': Lineage and Heredity in the Theology of Joseph Smith," Sunstone.

Newell Bringhurst, "Campaign: Prospects for Success versus Potential for Failure," Sunstone.

Grant Underwood, "Transformations in Mormon Soteriology: A Historical Overview," MHA.

Stephen J. Fleming, "'The Welfare of Our Souls': The Smiths' Folk Rites and the False Dichotomy between Religion and Magic," MHA.

Joseph Probert, "The Influence of Elite Design on Temple Worship in the 1890s," MHA.

Don Bradley, "'Angel with a Drawn Sword': Kirtland Roots of Nauvoo Polygamy," MHA.

Ugo Alessandro Perego, "'Poisoned Springs'? Scientific Testing of the More Recent Anthrax Theory," MHA.

Michael Harold Paulos, "'Horrib[le] Caricature[s]' and 'Hideous... Cartoons': Political Cartooning and the Reed Smoot Hearings," MHA.

Connie Lamb, "Symbols of the LDS Relief Society," MHA.

Stephen C. Tayson, "Rites of Affliction in Mormon History: The Case of Mormon Exorcisms," MHA.


Oh... perhaps here is a good plate to also mention that I've been given a date for my book to finally be out: by April 15th!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Gay Marriage and "Religious" Freedom

LDS church owned Deseret News* reports: "Religious groups should unite to protect the religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, said Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a speech Friday [Feb. 4th 2011] at Chapman University law school."

In this speech Elder Oaks said, "Along with many others, I see a serious threat to the freedom of religion in the current assertion of a 'civil right' of homosexuals to be free from religious preaching against their relationships. Religious leaders of various denominations affirm and preach that sexual relations should only occur between a man and a woman joined together in marriage. One would think that the preaching of such a doctrinal belief would be protected by the constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion, to say nothing of the guarantee of free speech. However, we are beginning to see worldwide indications that this may not be so."

Although I agree with Elder Oaks that free speech is (and should be) a protected civil right, when reading this remark, I wondered to myself, If homosexuals sincerely identify marriage as a religious experience, what then? Would the Brethren then unite the Church and community to defend these religious rights?

The answer should be obvious. Of course not, but why? As I see it, the fight against gay marriage is less about religious freedom and more about the complete opposite: the desire to impose religious standards upon others.

"There's a real irony," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, "because he [Oaks] doesn't understand the meaning of religious freedom.… What they want to do is to curtail freedom for gays. They're not for freedom. They're for theocracy in matters of marriage."**

*Scott Taylor, "Elder Dallin Oaks calls for unity in protecting religious freedom," Deseret News (5 Feb. 2011).
**Mitchell Landsberg, "Religious freedom under siege, Mormon leader says," LA Times (5 Feb. 2011).