Richard L. Anderson, 1926-2018

By August 13, 2018

I received word this morning of the death of Richard Lloyd Anderson. My deepest condolences go out to his family and my thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family at this time.

I had the privilege of acting as his research assistant when I was a student at Brigham Young University. While not the first professor for whom I worked, I consider Richard Anderson my mentor, having worked with him the longest. After having worked for several different professors at the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute, I began working for Richard, assisting him in his revised Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage, collecting material for the Oliver Cowdery papers, and helping him with his early work on the Joseph Smith Papers. He taught me the importance of primary sources, thoroughness in researching, and a careful interpretation of those sources. More than any graduate seminar I had taken, Richard taught me why history mattered, how it was assembled, and, most importantly, that living a good life mattered more than scholarship.

Richard was a scholar, a deeply faithful man, and a true gentleman. He always asked after my wife and kids, he constantly asked me if I needed a ride home when I told him I was on public transportation (I’m not sure he got my love of reading on the bus), and told me stories of earlier scholars. As I went through his files, completing various tasks, I would come across correspondence between himself and various scholars or representatives from repositories in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I was impressed with how much of Richard came through in his letters. My own correspondence via email paled in comparison to the true art that Richard demonstrated in his correspondence. His thoughtful questions, personal insight, and sincere inquiries left a deep impression on me. While not being able to live up to my own image of Richard in my mind, his actions often prompt me to do better, be kinder, and be gentler in life.

In history, we sometimes forget the people behind the scholarship. Today I’m mindful more than ever not of Richard’s lasting scholarship, but of his discipleship, friendship, and charitable outlook. Rest in peace, my friend.

Article filed under Announcements and Events


  1. I had a New Testament class from Brother Anderson in the 70s at BYU. I was a science major in the honors program and had no idea who he was. It was a great class and he was the first person to introduce modern translations of the Bible to me, he used one as our class text.

    Comment by KLC — August 13, 2018 @ 9:57 am

  2. Thanks, Robin.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 13, 2018 @ 10:24 am

  3. Thanks, Robin. We’ve lost a great one.

    Comment by JJohnson — August 13, 2018 @ 11:07 am

  4. I can’t claim the privilege of having known him very well, but my limited interactions with him left a strong impact. As a BYU undergrad, I spend a good amount of time up in the Ancient Studies room on the top floor of the library. Next to that room was a small office (really a glorified closet) where emeritus Professor Anderson had been given space to work on Joseph Smith Papers projects. I remember trudging out of the Ancient Studies room late at night, drained and depressed after wrestling with Greek participles for several hours, and seeing Dr. Anderson (surrounded by piles of books and papers taller than he was) still going strong on whatever he was working on. His passion for and dedication towards his scholarship was and is an inspiration for me: whenever I saw him burning the midnight oil, I would think to myself, “if history and religion are exciting enough to keep a 90-year-old working past midnight, then maybe I shouldn’t give up on Greek just yet.”

    When giants in a field leave us, we sometimes say “we will not see his like again.” But the opposite is true with people like Brother Anderson: because of his mentoring, scholarship, and example, we are seeing growing numbers of exceptional LDS scholars, and we are all the richer for it.

    Comment by Andy Mickelson — August 13, 2018 @ 11:29 am

  5. Richard was a consummate scholar and a genuine human being. I was privileged to know him in the waning days of the Smith Institute in 2004-2005 when I worked as a research assistant on the JSP. He was very generous with his research files and extensive knowledge of JS’s Missouri legal issues. Although we lost touch when I pursued a Ph.D. outside of Utah, he and Carma came to my wedding reception in 2010 in American Fork. I also credit an article he wrote on the sacrament and covenants with sparking my avocational interests in biblical studies.

    Comment by David G. — August 13, 2018 @ 1:58 pm

  6. I echo Andy’s second comment.

    Also, he served his mission in Portland, OR where I also served. It was there that he developed the “Anderson Plan” which led to “the discussions” which led to Preach My Gospel. His longlasting influences on Mormonism are legion.

    Comment by J Stuart — August 13, 2018 @ 2:38 pm

  7. Richard and I did not always see eye to eye, but I must admit I never met anyone who knew more about Joseph Smith and the founding era. And, even when we faced off his face bore a kindly smile and even when we didn’t see eye to eye he had a twinkle in his eye. How I wish he could have been given another century of life to publish. Now that we have lost both Scott Faulring and Richard Anderson, what will become of the Documentary History of Oliver Cowdery? Does anyone know?

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — August 14, 2018 @ 9:22 am

  8. Richard to me is a model for what a BYU religion professor should be. I deal a fair bit with the JST; below is one of the most insightful quotes I’ve ever seen on that subject, something that other scholars would do well to consider carefully:

    Richard Lloyd Anderson, writing about Joseph Smith—Matthew, says:

    In no case did Joseph Smith work with any original language to reach these results. In fact, Greek variant readings simply do not exist for most changes made, whether here or elsewhere in the Inspired Version. Such evidence proves that Joseph Smith worked on the level of meaning and doctrinal harmonization, not narrow textual precision. This is the most dramatic example of the Prophet presenting historical material with long explanations that go far beyond any original writing. This suggests that the Prophet used his basic document—in this case the King James Version—as a point of departure instead of a translation guide. Thus his sweeping changes are only loosely tied to the written record that stimulated the new information. The result is content oriented. One may label this as “translation” only in the broadest sense, for his consistent amplifications imply that the Prophet felt that expansion of a document was the best way to get at meaning. If unconventional as history, the procedure may be a doctrinal gain if distinguished from normal translation procedure, for paraphrase and restatement are probably the best way to communicate without ambiguity. The result may be the paradox of having less literally the words of Bible personalities while possessing more clearly the meanings that their words sought to convey. Thus Joseph Smith’s revisions can best be judged on a conceptual, but not a verbal level.55

    55. 55.Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Joseph Smith’s Insights into the Olivet Prophecy: Joseph Smith 1 and Matthew 24,” in Pearl of Great Price Symposium: A Centennial Presentation (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Publications, 1976), 50.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — August 14, 2018 @ 9:54 am

  9. I worked two years for Richard during my undergraduate years, writing exams and grading papers. During that period I saw him interact with countless students, mostly kids who knocked on his door outside of office hours. Professors have less writing time than you might think and for this reason have to jealously guard their time outside the classroom. Not Richard. He was unfailingly kind and never cross when these knocks came. He could shoot the bull with a student for 30 minutes and be perfectly at ease. His favorite way to bond was to ask about the student’s surname and then to play the “Do you know?” game with them much to his delight. We all wish he would have published more, but we could say the same thing about anyone. I can’t help but feel like he chose the better way.

    Comment by Jed Woodworth — August 17, 2018 @ 1:38 pm


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