Articles by

J. Stapley

Contextualizing quorum changes

By April 1, 2018


Quorum. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

First, let’s take a step back, but not all the way back. Mostly because this isn’t a book. Let’s go to 1964. At this time, each stake and mission generally included a High Priests quorum, at least one Elders quorum and at least one Seventies quorum. In the years leading up to this time, church policy was that if there were not at least 49 elders (a majority of the scriptural 96 ? D&C 107:89) then a “unit” en lieu of a quorum was to be organized. But why would that matter? I imagine that the majority of Elders quorums in the church today don’t have 49 members. The answer goes back to the definition of what a quorum is, namely, “the number (such as a majority) of officers or members of a body that when duly assembled is legally competent to transact business” (to quote Miriam-Webster).

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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.

Installments:

  • 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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