Well, I’m conferenced out now. I attended BYU Education Week for the first time (though my wife has been going for years), and wanted to give a few impressions following my Sunstone and FAIR Conference posts. I was frankly astonished at how enormous BYU Education Week is. It dwarfs these other two conferences in size. In fact, that led to my first frustration: parking. I tried to park at the Marriott Center. There were empty parking spots, but guards preventing people to part there without a special permit of some kind. Other parking lots prohibited parking for Education Week attendees. I almost went home, but did finally find parking at Cougar Stadium. (And school is supposed to be out???) Parking is terrible at most colleges, and I can only imagine how frustrated students must feel about parking during the school year. It was pretty ridiculous. I arrived 20 minutes early, and ended up about 20 minutes late for my first session because parking was such a nightmare. It was interesting to listen to wildly different historical presentations.
Alex Baugh – The Missouri Period
I first attended Alex Baugh’s session on the Clay County period of Mormonism. I had hoped to attend the previous day when he talked about Jackson Countyâ€”the much more interesting period of Mormon history. (I had heard Alex interviewed in the video Trouble in Zion, and he is one of the 3 historians featured on the cover of the DVD.) To my delight, Alex ran long the previous day, so much of his Jackson County presentation ended up in place of his planned Clay County presentation. Baugh gave some interesting tidbits of history, like this. Peter Whitmer, one of the Book of Mormon witnesses, was the tailor for Governor Bogg’s inauguration. (Yes, the infamous Boggs.) Boggs was also lieutenant governor when the Mormons were expelled from Jackson County.
I also learned more interesting facts about the Jackson County period. In the summer of 1833, W.W. Phelps created a firestorm of controversy when he published an article titled “Free People of Color,” which was interpreted by slavery proponents that the Mormons were advocated free slaves to come to Jackson County. In protest, they tarred and feathered Bishop Edward Partridge, broke up the Mormon printing press, and demanded that Mormons leave the county. As part of the “compromise” to end the hasty violence against the Mormons, half of the Mormons agreed to leave in 6 months (January), while the other half agreed to leave the following April.
When the saints let Joseph Smith know that they had agreed to leave, Smith told them that he felt that they could use the court system to address civil rights problems. In October, the saints let the Missourians know that they didn’t intend to leave, so the mobs came out and attacked the Mormons, forcing them to leave immediately. Mormons left for Clay County. (For a better timeline, click the link above on Trouble in Zion.) So that’s how Mormons ended up in Clay County. Baugh then began to talk about Clay County, but it wasn’t as interesting as Jackson County. Of course, Boggs issued the extermination order some 5 years later, forcing Mormons to leave the state.
Baugh did mention a few other interesting tidbits on Boggs. Apparently Boggs worked with Mormon Samuel Brannan out in California during the gold rush, which seems quite ironic. There has long been speculation that Porter Rockwell tried to assassinate Boggs in Missouri, and historians are split on the evidence. Rockwell and Boggs were both in California at the same time (for the gold rush), and neither person was anxious to see the other.
Daniel Peterson – Early Christianity
Following Baugh’s presentation, I attended Daniel Peterson’s presentation on the ancient historian Eusebius. Much of what we know about early Christianity is due to the writings of this man. Eusebius died in 339 AD, just before he was able to complete a biography of the Emporer Constantine. In the biography, Eusebiusmakes Constantine to be nearly sinless. Scholars generally agree that the biography is pretty bad history, but without Eusebius, we wouldn’t have much on early Christianity. For that reason, Eusebius is a must read for early Christianity.
Peterson warned that errors often creep into scholarship and we shouldn’t be awed by scholarship. He also said that many Mormons, Christians, and non-Christians unfairly characterize Constantine’s conversion as purely political, butÂ Peterson doesn’t think the conversion was solely for political reasons. Constantine moved the center of the empire from Rome to Conantinople (later named Istanbul), hoping to hold the empire together. He was successful for a while, though the empire did split into east and west. Constantinople was the Christian capital for 1100 years, and then Instanbul became the center of Islam.
Getting back to Eusebius, Peterson said that we don’t know a lot about him, because he vanishes behind his writing. Many modern historians feel that the writings of Eusebius are tainted, but Peterson emphasized that modern views of writing history are very different from earlier historians. Nobody comes to historical writing with a blank slate, everyone has an idea. (Bushman agreed with this in an earlier post I did.) For example, the writer of the Gospel of John tells us his purpose in writing-to believe in Christ. Peterson noted that Joseph Smith even changed the title in the JST to “the testimony of St John” (rather than Gospel).
Modern historian find his accuracy lacking. Peterson notes that there is little contemporary evidence that Jesus lived, but very few people try to assert that Jesus did not exist. Bart Ehrmann, an atheist scholar at the University of North Carolina has said that no reputable scholar believes Jesus didn’t exist. Peterson also noted that Early Christians expected church to fail. Eusebius tried to show continuity of history, and that God was watching over the church, expecting it to survive. Peterson also noted that sometimes gospels disagree on certain facts. What night was last supper? What about genealogies of Luke and Matthew? We need to be careful in overly discounting early historians.
Eusebius wrote on archaeology, and noted that the first country to convert to Christianity was not Rome. The first country to go Christian was Armenia. Eusebius also wrote about the martyrs. We should not be too harsh on these early Christians when we discuss the apostasy. They lived in a violent time, and they were doing the best they could under difficult circumstances.
Eusebius lived in the ancient city of Ceserea Maritima, a seaport built by Herod. Â Earthquakes have damaged the city so it is no longer a seaport. Cesearea was a very nice city and was Pontius Pilate’s home. Eusebius was a polemicist (liked to argue, defend the church) born in 263 AD. The cities of Joppa and Ceasarea were very important in the ancient world. In 3rd century, cesarean had 100,000 people. The ancient Christian Origen (pronounced either as “origin” or like the state “Oregon”), living 185-254 AD settled in Ceserea and made it a center of Christian learning. Contrary to the doctrine of the trinity, Origen believed the Son was subordinate to the Father, Origen was an Egyptian (born of Horace, one of Egyptian gods), a universalist, and found to be a heretic. He was an influential early Christian writer.
Eusebius was born a decade later, and lived from 263-339 AD. He was an ardent Arian, (I’ve written previously about Arianism, the early Christian movement). Like Origen, Eusebius felt the Son was subordinate to the Father. Eusebius even explained an anology: God is the Sun, and Jesus is a ray of the sun. Most of Eusebius’ works are lost, but of those that have survived, it is clear that Eusebuis cited Plato and other early church fathers in order to convert gentiles. In 314 he became bishop of Cesearea. He plays a role in Council of Nicea, (325 AD) friend of Constantine, tough guy, well educated.
Mormons often criticize the Council of Nicea because the doctrine of the trinity was codified there. Peterson said that we need to cut some slack to leaders of apostasy. Because of the violent opposition, there were no leaders to turn to, nobody to appeal to, no handbook. As a result, they started calling councils of bishops because nobody else to turn to. They were doing the best they could under difficult circumstances. It was hard for them to know what was faithful or orthodox. Contrary to the majority decision, Eusebius tried to put forth an Arian creed. He was nearly excommunicated, but submitted to the will of the majority and was retained in the bishopric. Athanasius was a proponent of the Trinity. In 334, Esebius summoned Athanasius to discuss the issue, But Athaniskius refused. The battle between Athanaisans and Arians continued after Nicea. Euseibus loses in Nicea, and got in trouble with Constantine. Constantine died in 337 AD, and Eusebius then started on Constantine’s biography.
Richard E Bennett – Egyptology in the 19th Century
Following Peterson, I went to hear Richard E. Bennett give two presentations. The first one discussed Egyptology in the days of Joseph Smith, Martin Harris, and Charles Anthon. Bennett gave background information on Egyptology before getting into Anthon and Harris. Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798. French soldiers discovered the Rosetta Stone in July 1798. The dimensions were 3 ft 9 in x 2 ft 4.5 inch wide x 11 in thick. The stone weighed 1500 pounds and currently resides in the British Museum. The stone contained writing from a temple around 196 BC. There appeared to be 3 writings of the same event. The top of the stone contained ancient hieroglyphs, the bottom was Greek, and the middle hieratic, a form of cursive Egyptian. Nobody could read either of the Egyptian writings, and the stone defied linguists for decades, though the Greek was translated easily.
Demotic was another form of Egyptian writing that was unreadable. The translation was difficult because they weren’t word for word translations, but were roughly phrases. The top of stone was not as complete as rest. Hieratic was almost as difficult to translate as Demotic. Heiratic language was replaced by Demotic, which gave way to Coptic, which contained elements of Greek. Coptic was the first Egyptian language to use vowels.
French linguist Champollion used his knowledge of Coptic to understand Egyptian. He realized that Heirglyphic script was phonetic and formed an ancient alphabet. Hieroglyphic and heriatic were of same language. It took decades to decode the Rosetta Stone, but it was finally translated in Sept. 1822 (24 years to decipher in France.) This would have been on the eve of Moroni’s visit to the young Joseph Smith. Bennett then highlighted some key events in Church history.
- Sept 1823 – Moroni visits Joseph Smith
- Sept 22, 1827 – Joseph receives the plates and urim and thummim,
- Dec 27-Feb 1828 – Joseph copies characters from the plates and gives them to Martin Harris
- Feb 1828 – Harris visits Columbia College, visiting which Charles Anthon, among others
- Spring 1828 – Joseph translates 116 pages
- Summer 1828 – Harris loses these pages
- Late summer 1828 – Joseph regains his ability to translate, and finished translation of the Book of Mormon
Harris was a wealthy farmer, and Joseph asked him to mortgage his farm to pay for the printing costs of the Book of Mormon. Bennett said that $3000 doesn’t sound like much money to us, but in 1828, it would have been the equivalent of $175,000. Harris would have been concerned about getting his money back, and wondered if the translation was legitimate. Bennett says that we assume that it was Moroni that asked Joseph to make copies of the characters to take to scholars.
The 1832 account of the First Vision was written in Joseph Smith’s own hand (note that Steve Harper is coming out with a new book on this topic). Smith obtained plates and he moved to Susquehanna, PA. The Lord appeared to Harris and showed him the marvelous work he was about to do. Lord showed Harris he must go to New York City. A man by the name of Pomery Tucker says that Harris took some characters and their translation to Charles Anthon, Luther Bradish, and Dr. Mitchell. There is a “Caracters” document that is owned by the RLDS Church, and has been called the “Anthon Transcript.” Bennett notes some discrepancies between the RLDS document and what Charles Anthon described. Anthon says characters were arranged in columns, which is different from Caracters document. He doesn’t believe the RLDS document matches Anthon’s description.
Anthon was 31 when Harris visited. He was a beginning scholar at Columbia and was a linguist. He knew, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, German, and English. He was a confirmed bachelor, and was not a gracious, kind person. Anthon did not know Egyptian but he did know enough to understand some transcriptions. Anthon listened to Harris for a while, and then scorns him and tells him to avoid Joseph. Yet Harris came away from the meeting convinced even more in Joseph’s ability to translate.
Other scholars that don’t get much attention as Anthon include a man by the name of Luther Bradish (1783-1863). Luther was born same year as Harris, moved to Palmyra and was a friend of the Harris family. Harris and Bradish worked together as did fathers. Bradish became an attorney, and grew up as an Episcopalian. His wife and child died in childbirth. John Quincy Adams asks Bradish to be a spy for U.S. government, sending him to Constantinople. At the time there was a war between the British, French, and the Sultan. Bradish was sent by Sultan to Egypt in 1820, and he was the only American in Egypt that we know of in 1820s. Bradish was the most conversant American linguist, and he met with Harris in 1828 but we don’t know anything about their conversation. However, Bradish is literary agent for James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving (2 of the most famous authors in 1820s) and Harris may have been trying to get the Book of Mormon published from Bradish. Bradish is the man that sent Harris to Anthon.
Samuel L. Mitchell (1764-1831) was a Quaker, and another man Harris spoke to. Thomas Jefferson referred to Sam as “chaos of knowledge.” Jefferson was so impressed with Mitchell that when Lewis and Clark sent specimens to Jefferson while exploring the West, Jefferson sent the specimens to Mitchell. Mitchell was also the Founder of American Historical Society, and the American Philosophical Society. Anthon sends to talk to Mitchell. Mitchell was kind to everyone (unlike Anthon.) Mitchell confirmed the Caracters document in a journal entry of a newspaper report for the New York newspaper. It was an interesting presentation.
Did anyone else have any presentations to share?