Mormon News, June 15–19

At a special church devotional held last Saturday, June 13, in Boise, Idaho, two officials from church headquarters defended the Book of Mormon as a literal Pioneer tattoohistory of ancient America, translated from real gold plates. They also spoke about the problem of “apostasy” in the current church. Speaking first, Assistant Church Historian Rick Turley said the Book of Mormon’s translation from gold plates was both literal and an incontrovertible modern miracle. Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles agreed, saying that that disbelief in traditional church claims was symptomatic of apostasy, a condition he said comes about through “disobedience to the current prophetic leadership” and by listening to today’s “false prophets.”

This hard-line defense of the Book of Mormon comes at an interesting time and particular context of greater openness to history and scholarship. Recently the church has sponsored re-evaluations of evidence surrounding the church’s historical claims, including a book published by the BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, From Darkness unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, authored by two BYU professors. Although the authors assume the Book of Mormon is literal history, they also confirm that it was translated by placing a stone in a hat and that “the gold plates were apparently never consulted.”

At the end of May, Ardis E. Parshall launched a month-long Kickstarter campaign to fund a history of Mormonism she will write. Unlike all previous histories, this one will be “told through the lives of LDS women,” Parshall explains. A well-known researcher and blogger, she is probably up to the herculean task, having already met two tests of her ability by attracting some 400 backers and raising over $30,000 in three weeks. In her video pitch, she lays out what the organization and content of the book will be, which she has already itemized at this early stage. We envision her next two tasks to be cleaning the Aegean stables and slaying a Hyrda. We wish her well!

The name is supposed to sound challenging, but admittedly “Camp Edit” doesn’t have the cachet of Camp Dudley or Phantom Lake. Still, those who have attended this boot camp for the Association for Documentary Editing say is as grueling as it is enlightening. It is just that, instead of training in rock-climbing and canoeing, the students become expert in writing footnotes and source headers for documentary histories. Three years ago Devery Anderson of Signature Books attended the camp in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and found it rewarding enough to return two years in a row the associated conference, held in conjunction with the camp, this year in Lincoln, Nebraska. The June 2015 location was chosen because of the University of Nebraska’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, where documentary projects are underway involving the Civil War, railroad history, and historical figures such as Willa Cather and Walt Whitman. Devery is attending sessions having to do with the Jane Adams Papers, an Early Caribbean Digital Archive, the Ulysses S. Grant Papers, Dolley Madison Digital Edition, and the Women Writers Project. To Devery, that’s the essence of fun.

One of the restaurants that became a popular hang-out for historians attending the Mormon History Association meetings in Provo last week was Communal Restaurant on University Avenue. The name is derived from the fact that everyone sits at common tables and eats locally grown food. It has a nice ambiance, with dishes trending toward gourmet tastes. Imagine how surprised Michael Paulos was to discover that one of the waiters was also home-grown and had a tattoo of nineteenth-century LDS apostle George Q. Cannon on his forearm! One more piece of evidence to show how urbane the town has become. The waiter, Sam Cannon, said he was a descendant of George Q.