Articles by

J. Stapley

Sealings and Adoptions

By March 10, 2018

After talking to some folks about some material in my recent book, a friend suggested I write a short primer on nineteenth-century sealings based on my work.

First some nineteenth-century premises:

  • Heaven is comprised of people sealed together in various ways. People called this construction variations of “the priesthood.”
  • All sealings, regardless of type, are durable, and bestow a measure of “perseverance” (the unpardonable sin notwithstanding).
  • All of the various temple rituals can be performed outside of the temple except child-to-parent/adoption sealings.

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Publishing a book: Finding artwork and permission to publish

By August 7, 2017

I’m working my way through the production process for my first book, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology, and I thought it would be helpful to review some of the practical aspects of getting the book together. In this post, I address selecting artwork and acquiring permission to publish from the various repositories.

First is the issue of copyright

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JI Summer Book Club 2017: A House Full of Females, Chapter 5

By July 2, 2017

The Nauvoo Temple Liturgy, the killings of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the “succession crisis,” and the Nauvoo Temple. There are justifiably entire books and dissertations on each of these. And despite coming in at 26 lean pages, Ulrich still manages to surprise.

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Finding a story, or how to

By March 6, 2017

Sometimes I go fishing in the various digital collections, and once in a while something interesting comes up. I thought one such case was illustrative of several not-so-obvious techniques of research that it was worth posting.

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Working with the LDS Church History Library

By August 8, 2016

This summer I’ve been rewriting my manuscript on Mormon liturgy and cosmology, and I have thought many times how much more difficult it would have been without the extraordinary increase in documents accessibility over the last decade. I live a thousand miles away from Salt Lake City, research mostly in the evening, and only am on-site at the various archives for short moments. I know there were some heady times in the LDS Church archives decades ago (without which we could not do what we do now, even), but I think it is currently the best time to be researching Mormon history. Camelot Shmamelot.

In this post I thought I would share some pointers as a guide for those interested in similar work. This post is focusing on the LDS Church History Library (CHL), and includes some recent correspondence I have had with Keith Erekson, director of the CHL. Also, please note that the CHL will be closed to the public for renovations from October 10, 2016 to February 21, 2017.

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Methodist Context to the Word of Wisdom

By May 20, 2016

Paul Peterson’s thesis was for a long time the go-to resource for the cultural context of the Joseph Smith (JS) revelation known as the Word of Wisdom (WoW). He focuses mostly on booze, the temperance movement, and health reformers (e.g., Sylvester Graham of cracker fame). The more scholarly of the commentaries typically used by Mormons have generally stuck with that [n1].

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From the Archives: CR 11 175, ordination of the first Relief Society general presidency

By March 17, 2016

At the recent history symposium focusing on women in Mormon History, the director of the LDS Church History Library announced a new research aid entitled “Women in Church History.” Among the various highlighted documents was a link to CR 11 175, Relief Society record, 1880-1892. This caught my eye because it has been restricted in the past and closed to research, though some researchers have been granted access. I’m always grateful for wider access to historical documents such as these, and this one in particular is important. Thanks to the dedicated staff and administrators at the CHL for their ongoing work.

As it is the anniversary of the founding of Relief Society, I thought it would be fun to reproduce from this document the ordinations of the first General Presidency. May it ever increase. [Note that this is a first pass transcription, you can verify it yourself if you would like]

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Deacons anointing

By December 14, 2015

I’m currently working on a chapter for my book on Mormon liturgy and cosmology that focuses on healing as lens to look at shifts in authority throughout Mormon history. A while back, I picked up a 1941 edition (fourth printing) of the Aaronic Priesthood Handbook, and recently read through. Page 45 has this fascinating bit in the section for deacons under “Caring for the Poor”:

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JI Summer Book Club: Rough Stone Rolling, Part 12: Chapter 29 & Epilogue

By August 3, 2015

This is the twelfth and final installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers have covered small chunks of the book in successive weeks through the summer, with new posts appearing Monday mornings. We invite anyone and everyone interested to read along and to use the comment sections on each post to share your own reflections and questions. There are discussion questions below.


  • Part 1: Prologue, Chapters 1-2
  • Part 2: Chapters 3-4
  • Part 3: Chapters 5-6
  • Part 4: Chapters 7-9
  • Part 5: Chapters 10-12
  • Part 6: Chapters 13-15
  • Part 7: Chapters 16-18
  • Part 8: Chapters 19-21
  • Part 9: Chapters 22-24
  • Part 10: Chapters 25-26
  • Part 11: Chapters 27-28
  • Next Week: Response from Richard Bushman


This fall Journals, Volume 3, of the Joseph Smith Papers will be released. This is the last of Joseph Smith’s journals and covers the end of his life. It will be noted for its generous use of the Nauvoo Council of Fifty record books, a document of near mythological character (though soon to be banalized by availability). In the case of the Council of Fifty, the record may be the only significant new document to expand on Bushman’s overall project to become available since publication. J3 also includes the most frank disclosures about the Nauvoo Temple liturgy to be published by the LDS Church in more than a century.  I thought about this as I read through the final chapters of Bushman’s biography of Joseph Smith. It is the two associated ideas: theocracy and temple cosmology that saturate Smith’s final six months.

Bushman’s cool narration of 1844 flushes out the players and issues that culminate in the bloody death of Joseph Smith alongside his brother. We see the storm rise over the parched landscape, the lightning strike, and then the fields burn. It is hard to imagine any other conclusion to these months.  Bushman carefully corrects the narrative of its most hyperbolic hagiographic conceits while appearing to simply narrate the events as they happen.

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Joseph Fielding Smith II Letter on Female Healing, 1946

By June 3, 2014

In discussions of female ritual healing, I often see people point to a 1946 letter written by Joseph Fielding Smith as the “death knell” of the practice. I don’t believe that is an accurate characterization. In this post I’m going to be highlight material that Kris and I briefly covered in our article on female healing.

The 1949 Relief Society handbook included the following text:

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From the Archives: Helen Mar Kimball blessing and the dating of her marriage to Joseph Smith

By April 2, 2014

The marriage of Helen Mar Kimball to Joseph Smith is certainly one of the most controversial polygamous relationships in LDS Church history. [n1] Relying upon the work of Andrew Jenson, the marriage has generally been dated to sometime in the month of May 1843. [n2] I recently read a blessing given to Helen Mar Kimball by her father Heber C. Kimball, dated May 28, 1843, available at the LDS Church History Library.

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My two current favorite books on ritual/liturgy/practice

By March 10, 2014

A couple of years ago, I was reading David Hall’s edited volume Lived Religion, and ruminated a bit on my reading along with a request for suggested volumes. For practice month here at the JI (deep in my heart it is really ritual/liturgy month), I wanted to similarly open up with a discussion of two books that have influenced my current study of Mormon liturgy, and then ask for your advice.

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My Toolkit

By January 7, 2014

In chatting with some of the JI crew about what sorts of tools we use in research and writing, I thought it might be interesting to post about how we do things. I consider myself fairly technically proficient. I can design and maintain websites and have some coding experience. But as you will see in my research and writing, I am perhaps a little old-school.

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From the Archives: Native Americans and Frederick Kesler

By December 4, 2013

I have decided to work my way through the Frederick Kesler diaries, conveniently available through the University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library, both digitally and by on-demand printing. I just finished the 1874-1877 diary, which included several items relating to Mormon interactions with Native Americans. And while I have no real expertise in Native American history, I thought that the following items would be of interest to the regular readers of the JI, particularly in light of the recent wonderful content. Those more skilled than I may be able to use the material to probe conceptions of blood, literacy, newspaper exchanges, evangelism and more.

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The April 28, 1842 “Revelation”?

By March 13, 2013

On April 28, 1842 Joseph Smith attended a meeting of the nascent Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. He delivered a sermon. Eliza R. Snow recorded a long-hand report of the sermon in the Society’s minute book, and Willard Richards recorded a brief summary in the “Book of the Law of the Lord” [n1]. Smith opened up his discourse by referencing 1 Corinthians, chapter 12. “He said the reason of these remarks being made, was, that some little thing was circulating in the Society, that some persons were not going right in laying hands on the sick &c.” Smith proceeded to deliver an emphatic endorsement of women performing healing rituals. The sermon included other material, but the participation of women in the healing liturgy was a primary concern.

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The cosmology of the “priesthood” restriction

By February 8, 2013

In this post, I use the term “cosmological priesthood” to describe the sacerdotal network of heaven and earth as mediated through the Nauvoo Temple. This network comprised priesthood, salvation, kinship, and government relationships. Participants in the Nauvoo temple quorums referred to their organization and this cosmology as simply, the “priesthood.” Before reading this post, I heartily recommend reading this excerpt from my adoption paper that shortly introduces and contextualizes this usage, and more preferably pp. 56-81 of the paper.

The cosmological priesthood incorporated familial relationships, and as reified in Temple practice on earth, the most exalted station of human kind was to be king and priest, or queen and priestess over one’s progeny, biological or adoptive, throughout all eternity.[n1] The primary justification for sealing children to parents from Nauvoo to the early twentieth century was to establish heirship to the cosmological priesthood. As the governing quorums declared in preparation for the return of the temples in Utah, “Which of them, if he understands the laws of God, can feel indifferent as to whether his wife shall be his for eternity or for time only; or whether his children shall be born in the covenant and be legal heirs to the priesthood or have to become such by adoption?”[n2] Though addressed to men, implicit in this statement is the belief that both men and women had to become heirs to the priesthood network of heaven.

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Found in the Archives: Joseph F. Smith, Jr., letter to Alfred M. Nelson, January 13, 1907

By October 3, 2012

I don’t remember what I was looking for specifically; it was in August, 2007.

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Reading suggestions for the amateur historian

By July 19, 2012

The ecology of Mormon History has tremendous benefits. Among them are deeply committed institutional patrons, obsessive readership, and dedicated amateur researchers willing to slog through enormous volumes of minutiae. Some of these benefits can also yield challenges. I’d like to focus on one in particular: Denominational histories that even when not overtly devotional are disconnected from the historiography and analytical trends of religious history more broadly.

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Responding to Christopher Smith on adoption

By April 24, 2012

[The following is Jonathan Stapley’s response to Christopher Smith’s post.]

First, I want to thank Christopher Smith for his critical reading of both my ritual adoption article and my article on last rites. His call for increased clarity and finer argumentation in my work is welcome and surely needed. As an example, the bulk of Smith’s comments relate to what I observed to be a declension in Brigham Young’s rhetoric surrounding adoption ritual performance in Utah, and the possible relationship between this declension and the transformative vision of Joseph Smith that Brigham Young received relating to adoption early in 1847. I’m grateful to respond to these comments as well as some particular questions which Smith raised.

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Responding to O’Donovan on Augusta Adams Cobb Young and priesthood

By April 12, 2012

This post is in response to Connell O’Donovan’s letter to the editor (available here) in the most recent Journal of Mormon History [1] in response to the article “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism” co-authored by Kris Wright and myself [2]. Instead of waiting six months or so to possibly respond in print, I appreciate being able to respond here. Please note that my comments reflect my opinions only, and are not intended as statement from my co-author.

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Recent Comments

Juvenile Instructor » Roundtable on Stapley, Power of Godliness: The Cultural Context(s) for Mormonism’s Priesthood on Roundtable: Stuart on *The: “[…] (Oxford University Press). You should make sure to read Tona’s post here, Joey’s post here and Janiece’s here. Building on their excellent reviews, I’d…”

Juvenile Instructor » Roundtable on Stapley, Power of Godliness: The Cultural Context(s) for Mormonism’s Priesthood on Roundtable: Johnson - Accessibility: “[…] You should make sure to read Tona’s post here, Joey’s post here and Janiece’s here. Building on their excellent reviews, I’d like to focus…”

Juvenile Instructor » Roundtable on Stapley, Power of Godliness: The Cultural Context(s) for Mormonism’s Priesthood on Roundtable: Stuart on *The: “[…] University Press). You should make sure to read Tona’s post here, and Joey’s post here. Building on their excellent reviews, I’d like to focus…”

JJohnson on Roundtable: Johnson - Accessibility: “The Other Clark--completely.”

The Other Clark on Roundtable: Johnson - Accessibility: “I'm enjoying the different perspectives this roundtable provides. I'm interested in the topic as an avid and well-educated but amateur. (As an active…”

J Stuart on Roundtable: Johnson - Accessibility: “Excellent work, JJ. I keep thinking about how eminently teachable Stapley's book is. I'm considering adopting it for a course. Also, Saskia, I think about that…”

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