Defending the restored church of Christ - I created this blog several years ago to provide an alternative to what I saw at the time as a lot of bad "Mormon blogs" that were floating around the web. Also, it was my goal to collect and share a plethora of positive and useful information about what I steadfastly believe to be Christ's restored church. It has been incredibly enjoyable and I hope you find the information worthwhile.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Why Latter-day Saints loom large in the history of religious freedom law

A new book examines what it took to truly protect religious freedom in the United States

(by Kelsey Dallas 5-19-19)

America would be a more violent place without religious freedom protections, but it hasn't exactly been a peaceful place with them, according to Steven Waldman, a religion expert and author.

In his new book, "Sacred Liberty: America's Long, Bloody and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom," Waldman outlines countless attacks on people of faith throughout the country's history and interreligious tension that persists to this day.

"It's the nature of religious belief that you feel like you've found the one truth. If you've found the truth, it can be quite difficult to be tolerant of someone else who hasn't," he told the Deseret News.

Despite tough conclusions like this, Waldman isn't arguing that America's religious freedom laws are worthless. Instead, he hopes to help people see why this right is worth fighting for.

Waldman, who previously served as national editor of U.S. News and World Report and a national correspondent for Newsweek, celebrates America's faith-related efforts, even as he exposes their dark side.

"The genius of the American system is you don't have to accept the validity of someone else's religion," he said. You do, however, have to let people be wrong.

(for the full article follow the link)


Sunday, May 19, 2019

One of the greatest legislative threats religious liberty has ever faced in the United States?

(by Dan Peterson sic et non blog)

I received an email flyer just a short while ago from Brian S. Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage.  For some reason, I’m on their mailing list.  I don’t really follow them, but they’ve been attacked by the Southern Poverty Law Center, so I figure that they must be a reasonably good group.

I hope that neither Brian Brown nor NOM will mind my quoting from his open letter, which touches on a subject that I mentioned in my immediately preceding entry on this blog, entitled “Religious Freedom and Homosexuality”:

This week, the US House of Representatives could pass one of the greatest legislative threats we’ve ever faced, the grossly misnamed Equality Act (HR 5). . . .

How bad is HR 5, the Equality Act?

It’s the most pernicious attack we’ve ever faced. HR 5 is a sweeping assault on the religious liberty rights of people of faith while simultaneously enacting powerful special legal rights for the LGBT community. Perhaps even worse, the legislation effectively makes showing support for traditional marriage to be illegal discrimination under federal law. We’ve never seen such a sweeping, damaging proposed law.

Under the Equality Act, an individual exercising his or her constitutional right to decline to personally participate in an LGBT ceremony that violates their religious beliefs would nonetheless be open to charges of illegal discrimination. That’s because the bill declares the belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman to be a “sex stereotype” under federal law. Further, the bill makes discrimination on the basis of a sex stereotype illegal. This means that any tangible step to refuse participation in a gay ‘wedding’ would be illegal discrimination under this legislation.

Even non-religious people should be concerned at encroachments upon religious liberty or, to put it more broadly, upon freedom of conscience.

In this context, it seems appropriate, once again, to quote the famous passage from the German Lutheran pastor and theologian Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a prisoner between 1937 and 1945 at the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps, about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, one by one, group after group.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


Monday, May 13, 2019

Read the church's full statement on the Equality Act

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement calling for a more balanced approach to LGBTQ rights and religious freedom.

(by Kelsey Dallas 5-13-19)

Leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement Monday on the Equality Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives could vote on as soon as this week. The legislation would expand federal nondiscrimination law to protect gay, lesbian and transgender Americans and also limit federal religious freedom protections.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply concerned that the ongoing conflicts between religious liberty and LGBT rights is poisoning our civil discourse, eroding the free exercise of religion and preventing diverse Americans of good will from living together in respect and peace. Lawmakers across the nation, including members of Congress, are working to enact or strengthen laws that ensure LGBT persons fair access to important rights, such as nondiscrimination in areas like housing, employment and appropriate public accommodations. The Church is on record favoring reasonable measures that secure such rights.

At the same time, we urgently need laws that protect the rights of individuals and faith communities to freely gather, speak out publicly, serve faithfully and live openly according to their religious beliefs without discrimination or retaliation, even when those beliefs may be unpopular. This includes the right of religious organizations and religious schools to establish faith-based employment and admissions standards and to preserve the religious nature of their activities and properties.

This does not represent a change or shift in Church doctrine regarding marriage or chastity. It does represent a desire to bring people together, to protect the rights of all, and to encourage mutually respectful dialogue and outcomes in this highly polarized national debate.

Conflicts between rights are common and nothing new. When conflicts arise between religious freedom and LGBT rights, the Church advocates a balanced “fairness for all” approach that protects the most important rights for everyone while seeking reasonable, respectful compromises in areas of conflict. The Church affirms this as the best way to overcome sharp divisions over these issues. The Church supported the 2015 "fairness for all" legislation in the Utah Legislature that successfully protected both religious freedom and LGBT rights in employment and housing and that has helped facilitate greater understanding and respect.

The Equality Act now before Congress is not balanced and does not meet the standard of fairness for all. While providing extremely broad protections for LGBT rights, the Equality Act provides no protections for religious freedom. It would instead repeal long-standing religious rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, threaten religious employment standards, devastate religious education, defund numerous religious charities and impose secular standards on religious activities and properties. The Church joins other religious organizations that also strongly oppose the Equality Act as unbalanced, fundamentally unfair and a path to further conflict.

The Church calls upon members of Congress to pass legislation that vigorously protects religious freedom while also protecting basic civil rights for LGBT persons. It is time for wise policymakers to end this destructive conflict and protect the rights of all Americans.


What's new: 'The Parables of Jesus: Revealing the Plan of Salvation' explores the Savior's teachings

“THE PARABLES OF JESUS: Revealing the Plan of Salvation,” by John W. and Jeannie S. Welch, art by Jorge Cocco Santangelo, art commentary by Herman Du Toit, Covenant Communications, $29.99, 208 pages (nf)

John W. “Jack” and Jeannie S. Welch explore nearly two dozen of the parables that Jesus shared during his ministry in the book “The Parables of Jesus: Revealing the Plan of Salvation.”

This table top book combines scholarship and art to share unique perspectives of the parables, including how it related to the Plan of Salvation, as taught by in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The exploration of parables started when the authors visited the Chartres Cathedral two decades ago and began exploring the medieval interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan. That study expanded to all of Jesus’ parables.

Each chapter has sections on setting and context and includes the text from the King James Version of scriptures with commentary and an explanation of where Jesus can be found in the parable. Also included are an artistic portrayal of the parable painted by Jorge Cocco Santangelo with observations by Herman Du Toit on both artistic and scriptural perspectives.

In the parable of the good Samaritan, the authors share 18 symbols and parallels and explain how it’s an analogy to the Plan of Salvation. For the parable of the house upon the rock, there is a side-by-side look at the wording in Matthew and Luke. Cocco's pencil sketches of “The Sower” are also included.

“The Parables of Jesus” provides a wealth and depth of information that can help readers dig deeper in to the teachings of Jesus.

Jack Welch teaches at BYU’s J. Rueben Clark Law School, is the chairman of and an editor in the BYU New Testament Commentary Series. Jeannie Welch, who is retired, taught in the BYU French department and was the director of its Foreign Language Student Residence.

Du Toit is the former head of audience education and research at BYU’s Museum of Art in Provo and has been an art educator, curator, administrator, critic and author.

Cocco, of Argentina, calls his painting style “sacro-cubism” and has also worked in Spain and Mexico.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The lady Sariah of Elephantine

(by Daniel Peterson 10-26-17)

Many years ago, I was accompanying a group of tourists who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint in Egypt. At one point, our local guide took us to a restaurant on an island in the Nile River near Aswan. Suddenly realizing where we were, I pointed excitedly to some ruins at the southern end of an adjacent island, exclaiming to my puzzled companions that it was one of the most important of all Book of Mormon archaeological sites. Then I explained why:

According to the Book of Mormon (see, for example, 1 Nephi 2:5), around the beginning of the sixth century before Christ there lived a woman in or near Jerusalem by the name of “Sariah.” However, no woman appears in the Bible bearing that name. “Sarai,” Abraham’s wife, comes the closest. Her name probably means “my princess” or “my lady.” Later, she’s called “Sarah” (“princess”). But “Sariah” is quite distinct.

So did Joseph Smith, who translated the Book of Mormon, simply invent the name? Definitely not.

In unvowelled Hebrew, “Sariahwould almost certainly be spelled “sryh,” and it would be pronounced something like “Saryah.” Although “sryh”is not found in the Bible as a female name, it is well documented as an ancient Israelite masculine name. In fact, it’s attached to 11 different men in the Hebrew Bible, appearing a total of 19 times. In the King James Bible, it’s spelled “Seraiah,”

which is presumably a shortened form of “sryhw” or “Saryahu,” where the element “Yahu” derives from the divine name “Yahuweh” or “Jehovah.” (That longer form actually does appear in the Hebrew of Jeremiah 36:26, as well as in several Iron Age seals and clay bullae.)

So perhaps Joseph Smith took the name “Seraiah” from the Old Testament but misspelled it and misapplied it to a woman? Again, apparently not.

As Jeffrey Chadwick pointed out in a 1993 article, the Hebrew name “Sariah,” spelled “sryh,” has been reconstructed by non-Mormon scholars and identified as the Hebrew name of a Jewish woman who lived at Elephantine in Upper Egypt during the fifth century B.C. To be precise, she lived on that small island that so excited me. It was known to the ancient Egyptians as “3bw” (“Elephant” or “Ivory”) and to the Greeks as “Elephantine,” which reflects the importance of Aswan, in the far south of Egypt, to the ivory trade with inner Africa.

The reference to Sariah of Elephantine is found in line 4 of Aramaic Papyrus No. 22 (also called Cowley No. 22 or C-22), where she is described as “Seraiah, daughter of Hoshea son of Harman.” Her name may mean either “Yah (or Yahuweh) has struggled” or “Yah (or Yahuweh) is prince.” And “Sariah” may be the better spelling.

In other words, “Sariah” seems to be an authentically ancient Hebrew feminine name. Yet the Elephantine Papyri were discovered around the beginning of the 20th century, far too late for Joseph Smith to have studied them in the early 1800s.

But there’s more.

Why is this Sariah mentioned in Papyrus C-22? Because she had donated two shekels of silver to “Yahu Elaha,” “the Lord God.” Arthur Cowley, after whom the papyrus was named, believed that her donation, which he dates to the year 419 B.C., went to the expenses of the Jewish temple that we know to have been constructed on Elephantine Island.

An Israelite temple outside of Jerusalem? Yes, indeed. Directly parallel to the temple “like unto the temple of Solomon” that Nephi constructed in the Americas (2 Nephi 5:16), it was built by a colony of Jewish soldiers that had probably been established there sometime in the seventh century — i.e., during Lehi’s early years — when Judah was subservient to Egypt.

“For Latter-day Saint students today,” summarizes Chadwick, “the historical parallels between Sariah of Elephantine and Sariah the wife of Lehi are interesting, even if coincidental. Aside from sharing the same Hebrew name and the same Judahite-Israelite background, both women lived a great distance from Jerusalem. One’s location would indicate that she probably used Egyptian as a language in addition to Aramaic, whereas the other’s husband and at least one son were schooled in 'the language of the Egyptians' as well as their native Hebrew tongue (1 Nephi 1:2). Both women reverenced 'the Lord God' (Aramaic 'Yahu Elaha'; compare 2 Nephi 5:30). Both women lived among Judahite-Israelite colonies that built their own temples outside the sphere of the temple at Jerusalem.”

See Chadwick's “Notes and Communications: Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri,” in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies” 2/2 (1993) online at

Saturday, May 11, 2019

A few words on archaeology and the boyhood of Jesus in Nazareth

(by Dan Peterson sic et non blog)

I published this article in the Deseret News back when I was much younger, on 12 March 2015:

The impressive Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth was dedicated in 1969 and is among the most beautiful churches in the Holy Land. It stands on the site of an earlier Crusader-era sanctuary that had been built near the beginning of the 12th century and was destroyed roughly 150 years later. And that church, in turn, had been built on the ruins of a shrine commissioned by the Emperor Constantine in the first part of the fourth century. Surviving documents indicate that it was still in existence in A.D. 570, but it had been destroyed by the dawn of the eighth century.

The Basilica marks the traditional location of the Virgin Mary’s childhood home, where Catholics have long believed that the angel Gabriel appeared to her to herald the birth of Jesus Christ. (Greek Orthodox tradition holds that Gabriel visited her while she was drawing water from a nearby spring, so an alternative Church of the Annunciation was erected at that site.)

Most Christian tour groups in Israel visit the Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation, but relatively few, I’m guessing, pay much attention to the unspectacular Sisters of Nazareth Convent that sits, enclosed by a wall, directly adjacent to it. Yet as Ken Dark, director of the Research Centre for Late Antiquity and Byzantine Studies at England’s University of Reading, reports in the current issue of the “Biblical Archaeology Review,” some very interesting discoveries have been made there in recent generations.

Surprisingly little archaeological work has been done within the city of Nazareth. In the 1880s, however, shortly after the convent was built, an ancient cistern was discovered there. So the nuns undertook excavations, helped by construction workmen and even the children from their school. To their delight, they uncovered walls and vaults from the Crusader period, a Byzantine cave-church, Roman-period tombs, pottery, coins, glass and other artifacts, on the basis of which they created a small museum.

In 1936, a former architect turned Jesuit priest, Father Henri Senes, launched renewed excavations and, more importantly, created notes and detailed records of his own finds and those of the previous several decades. Never published, Father Senes’ notes and drawings have now been made available by the Sisters of Nazareth to Dark and his research team, who began to examine the site again in 2006.

Dark’s article — the details of which I can’t begin to provide here, in this short column — focuses on a structure, partially cut into the rock of a hillside and partly constructed of stone, that he dates to the early first century or before. It was, he says, most likely a domestic residence. And the presence in it of limestone vessels suggests that those who lived there were almost certainly Jews. (Limestone vessels couldn’t become ritually impure under the rules of Jewish law.)

The structure is exceptionally well-preserved because the builders of both Byzantine and Crusader churches (roughly contemporary with the churches of the Annunciation next door) made “great efforts to encompass the remains of this building.” It seems quite likely, Dark argues, based on not only archaeological evidence but also on very ancient pilgrim descriptions, that the builders of the Byzantine church on the site — many centuries closer to the time of Jesus Christ than we are — believed themselves to be preserving and protecting the home of Joseph and Mary, the place where Jesus spent his childhood in Nazareth.

“Was this the house where Jesus grew up?” he asks. “It is impossible to say on archaeological grounds. On the other hand, there is no good archaeological reason why such an identification should be discounted.”

More broadly, based on research not only in Nazareth generally but in the adjoining city of Sepphoris and in the agricultural area between them, Dark says that the “evidence suggests that Jesus’ boyhood was spent in a conservative Jewish community that had little contact with Hellenistic or Roman culture.”

Here, he takes specific aim at such authors as Burton Mack and John Dominic Crossan, of the so-called “Jesus Seminar,” who’ve claimed that Jesus was more heavily influenced by Greek ideas, and specifically by the Greek philosophical movement known as “cynicism,” than by Jewish prophetic teachings. The archaeological data, however, don’t seem to support this brand of speculative biblical studies. The actual Nazareth of the historical first century, Dark writes, “is extremely unlikely to be the sort of place where … one would have encountered ‘cynic’ philosophy.”


From Orson Hyde’s 1841 dedicatory prayer

(by Dan Peterson sic et non blog)

On the morning of Sunday, 24 October 1841, Elder Orson Hyde of the Council of the Twelve crossed the Wadi Kidron to the east of the city of Jerusalem and climbed at least some distance up the Mount of Olives.  There, he offered a prayer that included the following passages

O Thou! who art from everlasting to everlasting, eternally and unchangeably the same, even the God who rules in the heavens above, and controls the destinies of men on the earth, wilt Thou not condescend, through thine infinite goodness and royal favor, to listen to the prayer of Thy servant which he this day offers up unto Thee in the name of Thy holy child Jesus, upon this land, where the Son of Righteousness set in blood, and thine Anointed One expired. . . .

Now, O Lord! Thy servant has been obedient to the heavenly vision which Thou gavest him in his native land; and under the shadow of Thine outstretched arm, he has safely arrived in this place to dedicate and consecrate this land unto Thee, for the gathering together of Judah’s scattered remnants, according to the predictions of the holy Prophets — for the building up of Jerusalem again after it has been trodden down by the Gentiles so long, and for rearing a Temple in honor of Thy name. . .

O Thou, Who didst covenant with Abraham, Thy friend, and who didst renew that covenant with Isaac, and confirm the same with Jacob with an oath, that Thou wouldst not only give them this land for an everlasting inheritance, but that Thou wouldst also remember their seed forever. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have long since closed their eyes in death, and made the grave their mansion. Their children are scattered and dispersed abroad among the nations of the Gentiles like sheep that have no shepherd, and are still looking forward for the fulfillment of those promises which Thou didst make concerning them; and even this land, which once poured forth nature’s richest bounty, and flowed, as it were, with milk and honey, has, to a certain extent, been smitten with barrenness and sterility since it drank from murderous hands the blood of Him who never sinned.

Grant, therefore, O Lord, in the name of Thy well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to remove the barrenness and sterility of this land, and let springs of living water break forth to water its thirsty soil. Let the vine and olive produce in their strength, and the fig-tree bloom and flourish. Let the land become abundantly fruitful when possessed by its rightful heirs; let it again flow with plenty to feed the returning prodigals who come home with a spirit of grace and supplication; upon it let the clouds distil virtue and richness, and let the fields smile with plenty. Let the flocks and the herds greatly increase and multiply upon the mountains and the hills; and let Thy great kindness conquer and subdue the unbelief of Thy people. Do Thou take from them their stony heart, and give them a heart of flesh; and may the Sun of Thy favor dispel the cold mists of darkness which have beclouded their atmosphere. Incline them to gather in upon this land according to Thy word. Let them come like clouds and like doves to their windows. Let the large ships of the nations bring them from the distant isles; and let kings become their nursing fathers, and queens with motherly fondness wipe the tear of sorrow from their eye.

Thou, O Lord, did once move upon the heart of Cyrus to show favor unto Jerusalem and her children. Do Thou now also be pleased to inspire the hearts of kings and the powers of the earth to look with a friendly eye towards this place, and with a desire to see Thy righteous purposes executed in relation thereto. Let them know that it is Thy good pleasure to restore the kingdom unto Israel — raise up Jerusalem as its capital, and constitute her people a distinct nation and government, with David Thy servant, even a descendant from the loins of ancient David to be their king.

Let that nation or that people who shall take an active part in behalf of Abraham’s children, and in the raising up of Jerusalem, find favor in Thy sight. Let not their enemies prevail against them, neither let pestilence or famine overcome them, but let the glory of Israel overshadow them, and the power of the Highest protect them; while that nation or kingdom that will not serve Thee in this glorious work must perish, according to Thy word — Yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted. . . .


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Going up to Jerusalem

(by Daniel Peterson 4-30-15)

“After this there was a feast of the Jews,” reports John 5:1, “and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”
That notion of “going up” to Jerusalem is much more interesting than it might at first appear. Indeed, it’s a very rich idea, and an ancient one.

Of course, it’s partly a matter of literal, physical climbing. The city of Jerusalem rests at approximately 2,500 feet above sea level on a relatively high mountain ridge; Nazareth sprawls between 1,000 and 1,500 feet lower, to the north. So Jesus would really have been climbing up to Jerusalem.

And so would virtually every other visitor to the city. The Mediterranean coast is 37 miles west of Jerusalem, and the even deeper Jordan River Valley and Dead Sea sit 22 miles to the east — forming a part of the overall Great Rift Valley that extends for 3,700 miles from Lebanon in the north down to Mozambique, in southeastern Africa.

Thus, when, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, “a certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves” (Luke 10:30), he was really going down. At 1,200 feet below sea level, Jericho is fully 3,700 feet lower than Jerusalem, although it’s only about 17 miles away. And anybody who’s ever driven the road from Jericho to Jerusalem — in very low gear for buses and trucks — knows how steep the upward grade is.

The Book of Mormon, incidentally, gets things exactly right when — clever boy, that Joseph Smith! — Lehi and the members of his family continually go down from Jerusalem into the wilderness and then return up to Jerusalem when they're sent back (as at 1 Nephi 2:5; 3:9-29; 5:1; 7:2-5, 15, 22).
But it’s not merely geography: Jerusalem was the site of the temple of God, “the Mountain of the Lord’s House.”

In medieval and modern Arabic, Jerusalem is known as “al-Quds,” “the Holy One,” which refers not to streets, hotels, intersections, office buildings, gas stations and cafes, but to the temple. It’s a shortened form of the still earlier Arabic name “Bayt al-Maqdis” or “Bayt al-Muqqadas” (“the Holy House”), which, in turn, reflects the ancient Hebrew term “Bayt ha-Miqdash.”
“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?” asks the Psalmist, “or who shall stand in his holy place?” He then proceeds to cite some of the characteristics of those permitted to enter the temple (see Psalm 24:3-5; compare Psalm 15).

In fact, 15 of the biblical Psalms (120-134) bear the label “song of ascent” or, as the King James Version puts it, “song of degrees.” (They’ve also been called “songs of steps” and “pilgrim songs.”) Many scholars believe that these psalms were sung by worshippers walking up the road to Jerusalem for the three great pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Tabernacles and Pentecost, or by priests as they climbed 15 steps for their service in the temple — symbolically ascending to God. Some have suggested that they were composed for Solomon’s dedication of the temple.

Lingering traces of the notion of “ascending” to Jerusalem persist. Still today, for example, nearly 2,000 years after the Romans destroyed the temple, even secular Jews who immigrate to Israel are said to be "making ‘aliyah,’” where “aliyah” means “ascent.” (Think of the Israeli national airline, “El Al,” which means “to the skies” or “skyward.”)

And, for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are more than merely lingering traces. In modern temples, for instance, the initial ordinance of entry into God’s kingdom, baptism, is performed on a lower floor, “in a place underneath where the living are wont to assemble” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:13). Thereafter, worshippers typically climb ever higher in the temples as they receive the ordinances of the Lord’s house, symbolically approaching the presence of God.

Finally, too, the notion of temple-related ascent forms part of the prophesied future:

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (see Isaiah 2:2-3; compare Micah 4:1-2).


“Joseph Smith: The World’s Greatest Guesser”

(by Dan Peterson sic et non blog)

If their argument holds up . . .  Well, let’s simply say that their conclusion is pretty spectacular:

Abstract: Dr. Michael Coe is a prominent Mesoamerican scholar and author of a synthesis and review of ancient Mesoamerican Indian cultures entitled The Maya. Dr. Coe is also a prominent skeptic of the Book of Mormon. However, there is in his book strong evidence that favors the Book of Mormon, which Dr. Coe has not taken into account. This article analyzes that evidence, using Bayesian statistics. We apply a strongly skeptical prior assumption that the Book of Mormon “has little to do with early Indian cultures,” as Dr. Coe claims. We then compare 131 separate positive correspondences or points of evidence between the Book of Mormon and Dr. Coe’s book. We also analyze negative points of evidence between the Book of Mormon and The Maya, between the Book of Mormon and a 1973 Dialogue article written by Dr. Coe, and between the Book of Mormon and a series of Mormon Stories podcast interviews given by Dr. Coe to Dr. John Dehlin. After using the Bayesian methodology to analyze both positive and negative correspondences, we reach an enormously stronger and very positive conclusion. There is overwhelming evidence that the Book of Mormon has physical, political, geographical, religious, military, technological, and cultural roots in ancient Mesoamerica. As a control, we have also analyzed two other books dealing with ancient American Indians: View of the Hebrews and Manuscript Found. We compare both books with The Maya using the same statistical methodology and demonstrate that this methodology leads to rational conclusions about whether or not such books describe peoples and places similar to those described in The Maya.


A modern airport and a very ancient history

(by Daniel Person and William Hamblin 4-18-15)

Weary arrivals at Israel’s David Ben Gurion International Airport are occupied with passport control, luggage retrieval, customs and ground transportation. Departing travelers deal with very effective (but time-consuming and sometimes difficult) Israeli security, often catching midnight connecting flights to Europe for further morning departures to North America.

Virtually nobody is pondering the remarkable history and significance of the airport’s location.
Ben Gurion Airport is named for the founding prime minister of Israel, who died in 1973. Previously, it was called Lod Airport, after the small city where it stands.

Archaeological finds suggest that the area was inhabited by 5600-5250 B.C., and it’s mentioned in a list of Canaanite settlements inscribed on a wall by Pharaoh Thutmose III at the Egyptian temple of Karnak around 1465 B.C. In the Old Testament (1 Chronicles 8:12; Ezra 2:33; Nehemiah 7:37, 11:35), Lod appears as a town in the tribal area of Benjamin and, specifically, as a place where Jews resettled when they returned from their Babylonian captivity.

In 43 B.C., the Roman governor of Syria sold the inhabitants of Lod into slavery, but the famous Marc Antony (friend of Julius Caesar, and Cleopatra’s lover) freed them two years later.

In the New Testament, the town is called “Lydda.” According to Acts 9:32-43, the apostle Peter passed through Lydda, where he healed a paralyzed man named Aeneas. This so impressed the people of the town and of the adjacent area known as the Sharon Plain that many of them joined the church, and Peter still was in Lydda when word came of the death of the faithful Christian disciple Dorcas, or Tabitha, in nearby Joppa. (Joppa, next to modern Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coast, is known today as Jaffa, or Yafo). Implored by the local Saints to come, Peter restored Tabitha to life and then stayed in the Joppa home of Simon the Tanner until he received the revelation of the clean and unclean beasts recorded in Acts 10, which transformed Christianity from a Jewish sect into the potential world religion that it would, in fact, become.

Afterwards, the Emperor Vespasian occupied the town in A.D. 68, during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome. Then, during the so-called “Kitos War” of A.D. 115-117, Gamaliel II, the most prominent rabbi of the day, was trapped in Lydda during a Roman siege. He was the grandson of the Gamaliel who’s identified by Acts 22:3 as one of Paul’s teachers and who, at Acts 5:34-40, spoke in favor of Peter and the apostles before the Jewish council.

Like his grandfather, Gamaliel was a humane man, known for, among other things his good relationships with non-Jews. “Whoever has mercy on other people,” he taught, sounding remarkably like Jesus, “Heaven will have mercy upon him; whoever does not have mercy on other people, Heaven will not have mercy upon him.” Perhaps it’s unsurprising, in that light, that, when hunger was ravaging the besieged town, Gamaliel issued a merciful but controversial ruling that permitted Jews to fast, if necessary, even during the festival of Hanukkah. When the city was finally taken, many of its residents were executed; the Jewish Talmud repeatedly praises the faithful devotion of “the slain of Lydda.”

By A.D. 200, although the town was mostly Christian, the Romans had designated it as “Diospolis,” the “City of Zeus.” In December A.D. 415, the Council of Diospolis was convened in order to try the British-born theologian Pelagius, who defended free will and denied the doctrine of original sin, on charges of heresy. He was acquitted but, thanks largely to the efforts of his great opponent St. Augustine, has nonetheless gone down as a heretic in Christian history.
In the 500s, the town was renamed “Georgiopolis,” because St. George, a Roman soldier who would become a Christian martyr (and who would, still later, be associated with a legendary dragon and become the patron saint of England, Russia, Palestine, and Catalonia) had been born there in the late third century.

By 1948, when Israel was founded, Lod was an Arab town, roughly 93.5 percent Muslim and 7.5 percent Christian. That changed abruptly with the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, however, when many of its residents were massacred and almost all of the rest were driven out by order of the Israeli high command.

And the drama may not be finished yet. A very old tradition ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad says that in the last days, the antichrist will be slain at Lod.


Monday, May 6, 2019

Where fish were processed and apostles called on the Sea of Galilee

(by Dan Peterson sic et non blog)

Bill Hamblin and I published the following column in the Deseret News on 28 April 2017:

When Jesus was born, the largest and most important city on the Sea of Galilee was Magdala — perhaps the same town as the New Testament’s “Dalmanutha” and “Magadan” — on the western shore.

Josephus’ “Jewish War” says that the Roman general Cassius (later one of the assassins of Julius Caesar) took 30,000 captives from Taricheae, as Magdala was known to classical authors. That number may be exaggerated but, plainly, the town was sizable.

The name “Taricheae” derives from the Greek word “tarichos,” which refers to salted, smoked, or dried meat (especially fish). The Greek geographer Strabo (d. A.D. 24) commented on the town’s excellent fish, which were very highly regarded even in the markets of Rome.

Around A.D. 20, however, Magdala’s status would be threatened when the Roman client-king Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, founded a new city called Tiberias — which he named in flattery of the emperor Tiberius Caesar.

But Magdala wasn’t overshadowed immediately, and its connection with Christianity guarantees that it will never be wholly eclipsed. It is, for example, very likely the place from which Mary Magdalene received her name. Moreover, as observed in the Biblical Archaeology Review by Marcela Zapata-Meza and Rosaura Sanz-Rincón of the Universidad Anáhuac México, which conducts archaeological research there, “Although there is no archaeological evidence that Jesus visited Magdala, it is almost certain that he did.”

Why? Not only because of Mary Magdalene. Referring to the Galilee region generally, Matthew 9:35 tells us that “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” In 2009, during the construction of a new hotel, a small first-century synagogue was discovered at Magdala. We can be quite confident that Jesus preached in that newly found synagogue.

The verses immediately following Matthew 9:35 read as follows:

“But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (see Matthew 9:36-38).

An intriguing article published by S. Kent Brown, a retired Brigham Young University New Testament scholar with many years of experience in Israel and the region around it, suggests that Jesus took practical action to recruit more workers for his cause, and that Magdala or Taricheae may have played a central part in that (see “The Savior’s Compassion,” Ensign, March 2011).

Capernaum, where the future apostles Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew lived, sits approximately six miles northward along the lake shore. It was a fishing village of perhaps about 1,500 people, and boats regularly set out from it onto what the New Testament sometimes calls “the lake of Gennesaret.”

The story to which Brown calls attention is the account, often called “the miraculous draught of fishes,” recounted at Luke 5:1-11. They had had no luck, but Jesus tells Peter and his associates to cast their net one more time. Doubtful, but already deeply impressed with Jesus, they do so and now they gather so many fish that their two boats nearly sink with the weight of the catch.

Verse 11 concludes the story by saying that, “when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.”

But surely they didn’t just wastefully leave all those fish aboard their boats. Instead, Brown suggests, they would have taken the fish for processing — very likely to Magdala (or Taricheae), the most important center for such work in the area. A catch of fish as large as Luke describes would have sustained the families of the fishermen for months, if not for perhaps even a year or two.

Jesus would shortly call these men to leave their familiar Galilee in order to be “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). So the miracle of the wondrous catch of fish may have been not only intended to demonstrate Christ’s power over nature but designed as a practical measure to care for the apostles’ families while they were away.


The Savior's Compassion

(by S. Kent Brown

Sunday, May 5, 2019

While we are on the subject of soccer.....

This was an interesting news story in the soccer world back in the day.

Inter Milan in court over "Crusader kit"

( 12-12-07)

A Turkish lawyer is suing Inter Milan for taking to the field against Fenerbahce wearing a kit he claims is 'offensive to Muslim sensibilities'.

Inter wore the shirt, which is white with a red cross emblazoned on the front, in last month's 3-0 Champions League win over the Turks at the San Siro.

Watching the game on television, Izmir lawyer Baris Kaska decided the crosses reminded him of the symbol of the Christian Crusades against Islam, and felt Inter had 'manifested in the most explicit manner the superiority of one religion over another.'

He added: 'It made me think immediately of the bloody days of the past. While I was watching the game I felt profound grief in my soul.'

Now Kaska is demanding damages, and has also lodged a complaint with a local court urging UEFA to annul the result of the match.

Inter officials, who thought better of wearing the kit in the away tie in Istanbul, say they are 'astounded' at the legal action.

They pointed out that the red cross on a white background is a symbol of the city of Milan and comissioned the kit to mark the club's centenary.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

If every religion had a soccer team, this is what the jerseys would look like

(by Herb Scribner 9-30-15)

Imagine a world where the globe's top soccer players were placed on teams based on their religious affiliations.

That world may not be too far away, as two men in Spain have designed football kits (soccer jerseys) and crests (team logos) for soccer teams based on different religions. The kits and their team crests were published on Behance.
“Football is our religion,” the Behance page reads. “Shouldn’t our religion be football, too?”
There are team kits for Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and even Orthodox believers, among others.

As the creators explained, each proposed team would be filled with professional soccer players who follow a specific faith. For example, stars Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, who are Catholic, would compete for Catholic FC.

If that sounds like a star-studded team, you'd be correct. In fact, designers Miguel Sousa and Francisco Pancho Cassis told Deseret News National Catholic FC would likely make the religious World Cup Final, and would probably play AC Islam — which would include soccer stars such as Mesut Ozil, Yaya Toure and Marouane Fellaini.

"Just based on the players, maybe the Final would be played between Catholics and Muslims," Cassis and Sousa wrote in an email. "Most of the best players in the world believe in those two religions. So they would have very strong teams."

So far, this project has garnered more than 7,000 views to the designers' Behance page.
In fact, there's been such a positive reaction that fans have sent Sousa and Cassis design ideas and petitions for other religious soccer teams.
They said they plan on using the ideas for more designs.

"Honestly, we thought this crazy idea would create some controversy, but for now it has just created good vibes," they wrote in an email. "It’s a dream project."

Catholic Football Club

Athletic Club Islam

 Football Club Orthodox

 Protestants United Football Club

Jewish Association Football Club

Athletic Club Buddhism

Hinduism Athletic Club


How the Temple Endowment Represents Christ's Atonement

(by Brad Wilcox 5-1-19)

After receiving her endowment, one sister said to me, “I was disappointed I didn’t see more about Christ’s Atonement.” I was stunned. She may as well have said she just walked through a forest and didn’t see any trees. As our discussion continued, it became clear she had expected to see portrayals of Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, pictures of Him on the cross, and depictions of His empty tomb, so she was surprised when none of these were presented directly. I explained that in the endowment, instead of seeing these specific moments portrayed, we learn why they were necessary in the first place and are assured that they were planned from the beginning. We learn of the limitless freedom and opportunities awaiting us because of Christ’s Atonement. In many Christian churches and cathedrals this sister could have seen beautiful depictions of the passion of Christ, but only in the temple can she learn the purpose for the passion.

Elder Russell M. Nelson has written, “Temple ordinances and covenants teach of the redeeming power of the Atonement” (“Prepare for the Blessings of the Temple,” 49). Similarly, Andrew C. Skinner has taught that “the connection between the temple and the Atonement is not tenuous or weak at any level” (Temple Worship, 52; emphasis in original). Sometimes these connections are obvious. Other times we must search for them. Either way, “All things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him” (2 Nephi 11:4). Some see a rainbow as nothing more than light. Others see a token of the Lord’s covenant (see Genesis 9:13). Some Israelites saw the brazen serpent as nothing more than a snake on a pole (see Numbers 21:6–9). Others saw the Savior lifted up on the cross (see Helaman 8:14–15). At Christ’s birth, some must have seen the star as nothing more than an oddity, but “wise men from the east” (Matthew 2:1) recognized the “new star” (Helaman 14:5) and followed it to find the infant king. Because they saw Jesus in the sign, they ultimately saw Jesus. As we learn to recognize Christ in the ordinances, signs, and symbols of the temple, we prepare ourselves to one day recognize Him.In ancient temples, priests were washed with water. The law of Moses required various washings, symbolic of the ultimate cleansing of the Atonement. Priests were washed preparatory to their temple service (see Exodus 29:4; 40:12). The high priest was instructed that “he shall wash his flesh with water in the holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt offering” (Leviticus 16:24).Priests were anointed with holy oil, as were kings and prophets (see 1 Samuel 10:1, 24; Psalm 105:15). This anointing was performed to sanctify them (see Exodus 40:13; 28:40–41; Leviticus 8:12), a sanctification made possible only through the Atonement of Christ, who was the great Messiah, meaning “anointed one” (see Acts 4:27; 10:38). Also symbolic of the Atonement was the olive oil used in the anointing. Gethsemane was an olive garden, and translated from Hebrew, the word Gethsemane means “oil press.” The sacred clothing of the temple reminded ancient priests of Jesus. Those who entered the temple anciently wore white clothes. When Christ came to the Nephites, He was “clothed in a white robe” (3 Nephi 11:8). Revelation 7:13–14 makes it clear that when the Saints are one day “arrayed in white robes” it is because they will “have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

I am indebted to Donald W. Parry and Jay A. Parry for much of what I have learned and shared in this chapter about ancient temples and sacrifices (see Temples of the Ancient World and Symbols and Shadows). It was fascinating for me to discover that the sacred clothing worn by ancient priests was vital to their worship. Part of the priest’s vestments consisted of plain linen undergarments. When Adam and Eve discovered their nakedness in the Garden of Eden, God asked Jesus to make coats of skins to cover them (see Genesis 3:21). When English speakers think of a coat, we typically think of something worn over other clothing. However, John Bytheway once pointed out to me that the word translated as coat was actually referring to “an inner garment next to the skin (Leviticus 16:4), also worn by women, generally with sleeves, coming down to theknees” ( Putting on this special garment was symbolic of putting on Christ and letting His Atonement cover them (see Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27). Along with this undergarment, the priest also wore robes over his clothing, including a headpiece, tunic, sash, and girdle (Exodus 28, 29, 39; Ezekiel 44:17–18). The Hebrew term translated as girdle could also be rendered as apron (see Genesis 3:7). Isaiah wrote, “He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10; see also Job 29:14). Anciently if someone had shoes it was an indication that the wearer was a free person rather than a slave. Taking off shoes in the temple was an acknowledgment not just that the wearer was on holy ground (see Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15) but that the wearer was also willing to be God’s servant. Temple robes were seen as both royal and priestly in nature (see Exodus 19:6). Just as Nephi wrote of his “reign and ministry” (1 Nephi 10:1), ultimately temple robes reminded all wearers of their potential to reign like Jesus Christ, the King of kings (see 1 Timothy 6:15), and to minister like Jesus, the Great High Priest (see Hebrews 6:20; 9:11).


Friday, May 3, 2019

Musical Aramaic rendition of the Our Father

Living in, while attempting to cure, a “culture of contempt”

(by Dan Peterson sic et non blog)

Arthur C. Brooks, of the American Enterprise Institute, is a hero of mine.  Here are some excellent remarks that he delivered at the BYU graduation services just a few days ago.  Please watch.  They last less than twelve minutes:
 Arthur Brooks at BYU

This is the sort of thing — our current tendency to withdraw into mutually contemptuous, mutually uncommunicating, mutually demonizing “communities” — that I had in mind some weeks ago with my little blog entry “Infected with Doubt” and its reference to the so-called “Incel subculture.”  Some responses to that blog entry illustrated my point precisely.

I’ve intended to return to that subject a bit but, thus far, have been distracted from doing so by other things.

Here’s a Deseret News column that I wrote about some of Dr. Brooks’s work  — on a rather distinct subject — all the way back in 2012:

One of the most interesting and provocative social analysts in America today is Arthur Brooks, currently president of the American Enterprise Institute. 
In his 2006 book “Who Really Cares,” Dr. Brooks summarized scores of academic studies demonstrating that religious people give far more to charity — even to non-religious charities — than do the non-religious. They’re also more likely to volunteer to serve with such charities, as well as to assist family and friends, to donate blood, to give food or money to homeless people on the street, and even to return change mistakenly given to them by a cashier.

Faithless acquaintances have assured me all my life that religious believers concentrate on “pie in the sky when we die,” while they and their fellow secularists focus on improving life in the here and now. 

In any particular case, of course, this may be true. On average, though, the supposed contrast is apparently quite false.

In 2008, Brooks followed up with “Gross National Happiness.” I don’t especially like that title, but it’s a very stimulating book. Brooks first discusses the value and accuracy of self-reporting in social surveys. Then, drawing once again on his wide reading in the relevant sociological literature, he presents his case for what makes us happy and what doesn’t.

I can’t reproduce the nuances or convey the richness of Brooks’ data in a newspaper column, but I summarize a few highlights from just one relatively short chapter:

Religious people of all faiths are, on average, markedly happier than secularists, and this is true even when wealth, age and education are taken into account. In one major survey, 23 percent of secularists reported being “very happy” with their lives, versus 43 percent of religious respondents. Believers are a third more likely to express optimism about the future. Unbelievers are almost twice as likely as the religious to say, “I’m inclined to feel I’m a failure.”

In 2004, 36 percent of those who prayed every day said they were “very happy,” while only 21 percent of those who never prayed said so.

Data from 1998 reveal that people who were certain that God exists were a third more likely to describe themselves as “very happy” than those who denied his existence. Curiously, agnostics were more gloomy than atheists; only 12 percent of agnostics surveyed claimed to be very happy. People who asserted that there was “little truth in any religion” were roughly half as likely to assert a high degree of happiness as those who believed that religion contains significant truth.

Believers in life after death are about a third more likely than nonbelievers to call themselves “very happy.” By contrast, people who say that we don’t survive death are three-quarters more likely to say that they aren’t very happy.

Correcting for other cultural factors and comparing apples with apples, people who live in religious communities also fare better financially than do those who live in relatively secular communities. Brooks cites an economist who investigated the effect on one’s income when others in one’s community are religiously active. For instance, he measured how the church attendance of Italian-American Catholics affected the incomes of African-American Protestants in the same neighborhood.

His conclusion? The more your neighbors go to church, the more you will tend to prosper. This is probably because of the cultural benefits that accrue to a community as a whole when a significant proportion of the community follows typical religious standards: There’s likely, for example, to be less divorce and drug abuse — both of which cause economic woes. And such influence in a community attracts like-minded people into a neighborhood, thus improving it further.

An advocate of greater secularism might concede that religious fantasies provide a helpful crutch for stupid, ignorant and/or irrational people, whereas better educated and more honest unbelievers face reality without such comfort.

A 2004 study, however, showed that religious adults were a third less likely than secular adults to lack a high school diploma, and a third more likely to have at least one college degree. Given two people, one of whom has a college degree and one of whom doesn’t, but who earn the same salary and are identical in age, gender, race and political views, the college graduate will be 7 percent more likely to be a churchgoer.

Secularizing writers often like to imagine how much better the world would be without religion. They should pray that they don’t get their wish.

The mysterious 40-day ministry of Jesus after Easter

(by Daniel Peterson 5-2-19)

We easily imagine that Christ’s ascension into heaven occurred shortly after his resurrection. The New Testament account, however, suggests otherwise. The intriguing first verses of the “Acts of the Apostles” read as follows:

“The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:1-3).

The New Testament books of Luke and Acts both address an otherwise unidentified reader called “Theophilus.” This could easily represent the actual name of an individual person. However, since it means something like “friend of God,” “beloved of God” or “loving God,” “Theophilus” might have been some person’s honorific title or perhaps even an indicator that Luke was addressing anybody who fit that description.

Both books were written by the evangelist Luke on the basis of eyewitness testimony — the original Greek of Acts 1:1-4 is much clearer on this point than is the King James translation — and scholars often refer to them as a composite work they call “Luke-Acts.”

So what about the somewhat mysterious Acts 1:1-3?

First, it indicates that Christ’s ascension occurred fully 40 days after Easter. In other words, he was on earth, at least intermittently, for substantially more than a month. Was it precisely 40 days? That’s difficult to know. In Noah’s time, “the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights” (Genesis 7:12). Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4:2, Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2). Traditionally, in the Middle East, “forty” is a large but rounded and imprecise number. (Think of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”)

What was Jesus doing during this extended period? Luke says that he demonstrated to his followers that he was alive “by many infallible proofs” — or, as some translations have it, via “convincing proofs” or “in convincing ways.” But this can’t have required 40 days. He also taught his disciples about the kingdom of God. But what was he teaching? Did he merely repeat what he had already taught them? If so, why? Strikingly, not a single obvious quotation from those forty days of instruction appears in the New Testament. Luke tells us nothing of their content.

It  has been estimated that every word of Jesus in the four gospels — covering three years of mortal ministry — could be read aloud in approximately four hours. Plainly, the New Testament doesn’t contain everything Jesus did and taught. Things are missing, but we don’t know how many or how much. In Acts 20:35, the apostle Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” But no such statement occurs in either Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

For devout Christians, even a day’s worth of new teaching from the Savior, let alone 40 days’ worth, would be a treasure beyond price. Yet, curiously, many Christians seem passionately committed to the notion that the Bible contains all there was, is, or ever will be:
“And because my words shall hiss forth — many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible. …

"Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever. Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written" (2 Nephi 29:3, 8-10).

The late Latter-day Saint scholar Hugh Nibley wrote a classic article on the enigmatic “forty-day ministry”: His “Evangelium Quadraginta Dierum: The Forty-day Mission of Christ — The Forgotten Heritage” originally appeared in 1966 in the academic journal “Vigiliae Christianae.” Reprinted several times since, it is accessible online at


Thursday, May 2, 2019

Why the 'Mormon' church changed its name. (It's about revelation, not rebranding.)

(by Daniel Burke 3-24-19)

When the messages come during the dark of night, Russell M. Nelson reaches for his lighted pen and takes dictation from the Lord.

"OK dear, it's happening," the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tells his wife, Wendy Nelson.
"I just remain quiet and soon he's sitting up at the side of the bed, writing," she said in a recent church video.
Sometimes the spirit prompts the prophet's wife to leave the bed, though she'd rather sleep. One such morning, Wendy Nelson told Mormon leaders, her husband emerged from the bedroom waving a yellow notebook.
"Wendy, you won't believe what's been happening for two hours," she recalled Russell Nelson saying. "The Lord has given me detailed instructions on a process I am to follow."
Nelson's nighttime messages have "increased exponentially," his wife said, since last year when the 94-year-old took the helm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church.
"One of the things the Spirit has repeatedly impressed upon my mind since my new calling as President of the Church," Nelson said, "is how willing the Lord is to reveal His mind and will."
Through a spokesman, Nelson declined an interview about his revelations. But more than any Mormon president in recent memory, he speaks openly and often about his divine communications, some of which have significant consequences for the 16.6 million-member church. Last year, Nelson announced that God had told him the church should drop the moniker "Mormon," a nickname that has stuck since the 1800s.
"The Lord impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He decreed for his church," Nelson said, "the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
The church has changed its websites, social media accounts, email addresses, even the name of its famous "Mormon" Tabernacle Choir based on Nelson's revelation. Church leaders have also lobbied the media to stop referring to Latter-day Saints as "Mormons."
Many church members say they are energized and inspired by Nelson's prophecies, and reassured that God directs their church through a chaotic and confusing time.
But others express discomfort with Nelson's "because God told me so" use of authority and worry that it leaves little flexibility for younger Mormons struggling with deep questions about the religion.
"President Nelson is more willing and probably more required to assert his revelatory authority," said Kathleen Flake, an expert on Mormonism at the University of Virginia. "Required because he is making so many changes and because the church has faced so much pushback."

'Moses in a business suit'

Lots of religions talk about revelations. They fill much of the New Testament's last book and many parts of the older Hebrew Bible, from the burning bush that inspired Moses to the "still, small voice" who whispered to Elijah.
But many modern believers consider both Bibles to be closed canons, the last words we'll hear from God before the final trumpet blows. It's not that these religions consider prophesy passe. They just think the era of prophecy has passed. Even Pope Francis speaks of "discerning" God's will, but rarely of revelations.
Latter-day Saints, as they prefer to be called, believe in continuing revelation. Their canon is open, ready to be revised or supplemented by its top cadre of leaders, first among whom is the church's president, who is considered a "prophet, seer and revelator." In some circles, Nelson is called, simply, "the Prophet."
Matthew Bowman, a historian and author of the book, "The Mormon People," said the view of the president as a "prophet" has risen since the 1970s, as the faith has grown and church leaders have become spiritual celebrities of sorts.
"It's an attempt to emphasize the authority of the president of the church," Bowman said.
But while few modern religions seem to blend pragmatism and prophecy quite so seamlessly, the Mormon church's often mild-mannered and institutionally minded presidents rarely match the biblical image of prophets as wild-haired social critics who feed on locusts and honey.
"There's no mistaking it, this is Moses in a business suit," Flake said of the Mormon presidency, "someone who can lead people, write Scripture and talk to God."
The importance of prophecy dates back to the faith's founder, Joseph Smith, who said God told him to restore the Christian church. According to some Mormons, Christian churches' lack of openness to new revelations is partly to blame for their apostasies.
Brigham Young, one of Smith's successors, told Mormons that opening a channel of communication with God should be their "first and foremost duty." They should seek divine counsel on even the "most trifling matters."
In an early echo of Nelson's yellow notebook, Young instructed Mormons that, to receive revelations, their soul should be "as pure and clean as a piece of blank paper that lies upon the desk."
But prophecy can be a messy business, as Joseph Smith found out when other Mormons claimed to have divine sanction for their vision of the church. Smith ended the competition by claiming that God told him only the faith's top prophets could speak for the whole church, a restriction that stands to this day. Mormons now believe that revelations are parceled out according to one's role in the church and in wider society.
Huge decisions have been made based on Mormon presidents' prophecies, according to church leaders, including ending the practice of polygamy and opening the priesthood to men of African descent.
In his first churchwide address as president, Nelson said revelations can guide Mormons through the chaos of modern life.
"We live in a world that is complex and increasingly contentious," he said. "The constant availability of social media and a 24-hour news cycle bombard us with relentless messages. If we are to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and philosophies of men that attack truth, we must learn to receive revelation."

'A major victory for Satan'

Raised in a non-religious home, Nelson read the Mormon scriptures at a young age and was convinced. So convinced that he went home and smashed his parents' liquor supply.
Since then, divine omens have played an important role in his life, Nelson says. A former heart surgeon who conducted Utah's first open-heart operation, the Mormon president said he has prayed for the Holy Ghost's help while wielding a scalpel over a patient's body.
Revelations have seeded Nelson's love life as well. After his first wife died in 2005, Nelson proposed to the former Wendy Watson. "To strengthen my proposal to Wendy, I said to her, 'I know about revelation and how to receive it,'" the Mormon president has said. Wendy Nelson said she, too, had received a revelation about their relationship.
During his time as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the church's top echelons of leadership, Nelson said that he prayed for revelations daily. In 2016, before he became president, he defended the church's then-new policy of calling LGBT couples "apostates" and effectively barring their children from baptism.
When liberal Mormons criticized the policy, Nelson called it "the will of the Lord" as expressed to former president Thomas Monson.
Some Mormons say Nelson was trying to shore up a man-made decision by calling it a revelation, but the criticism seems not to have slowed his revelation roll.
Since taking office in 2018, Nelson has instituted a number of changes, including: cutting an hour from Sunday church meetings, modifying home ministry programs, consolidating levels of church leadership, eliminating historical pageants, announcing a new edition of Mormon hymns, revising guidelines for bishops who counsel young adults, allowing missionaries to contact their families more often and ending the church's 100-year association with the Boy Scouts.
Not all of the changes were based on revelations, church leaders said. But, since they come from the top, they are all assumed to have the prophet's stamp of approval, and therefore God's as well.
Of Nelson's reforms, none has received as much attention as the revelation about the church's name.
Church leaders say "Mormon," which refers to a prophet who plays a pivotal role in the Book of Mormon, still holds a place of honor in the faith, but, as a reference to Latter-day Saints, it is an inaccuracy imposed by outsiders. (For that matter, the words "Shakers" and "Quakers" started as pejorative nicknames as well.)
Nelson has been forceful in his rejection of the "Mormon" nickname, saying it offends God and represents "a major victory for Satan." He made a similar argument in 1990, when he was a church leader, but was apparently rebuffed by superiors.
Asked about the apparent contradiction -- why would previous Mormon prophets reject what is now apparently God's will? -- church spokesman Eric Hawkins said the church has a saying: The most important prophet is the living one.
"God may have different intentions for the church at different times," Hawkins said. "That's baked into the notion that the church can change."

Mormons on the margins

Steve Evans, a 46-year-old attorney who helps run the Mormon website By Common Consent, said many fellow Latter-day Saints are energized by Nelson's revelations.
"People feel like this is very dynamic time in the church," he said, "and when you have a president who speaks openly about being led by God, that is very exciting. You feel like you have a purpose and that things are going in a positive direction."
But Evans also said that Nelson's revelations raise certain tensions in the church. When a president calls his decision "God's will," that essentially ends any argument. Other Mormons' revelations are often, if not always, expected to align with his priorities.
That top-down style can lead to polarization within the church, particularly among millennials who take a more DIY approach to spirituality, said Mica McGriggs, a psychologist and community activist in New York City.
"You see more and more young people saying, 'You can't just tell me the answers. I have to figure them out for myself,'" said McGriggs.
What's more, it's hard to be a prophet in the age of the iPhone, when any statement can be fact-checked in real time.
And while orthodox Mormons feel blessed to have a strong figure heading the church, McGriggs said, Mormons on the margins are more wary.
According to new research, many young Mormons live in a "gray area," in which they may follow some tenets of the faith, but also adopt non-traditional practices like drinking caffeine and watching R-rated movies, as well as experimenting with their sexuality.
"There's this middle ground where less orthodox members are living," McGriggs said. "And it's like the church is drawing a line in the sand, you're either on the Lord's side or you are not."
In many ways, Mormonism is not so different from other American relgions, which are also grappling with crises of authority and struggling to connect with increasingly secular millennials.
Thus far, Nelson's strategy seems to entail liberal use of his "trump card," as Evans put it: his authority as the church's chief prophet, seer and revelator.
In what you might call a prophetic speech, Nelson told Mormon millennials in 2016 that, in a society littered with "servants of Satan," only God's own prophets can be truly trusted.
"Prophets see ahead. They see the harrowing dangers the adversary has placed or will yet place in our path. Prophets also foresee the grand possibilities and privileges awaiting those who listen with the intent to obey."
If there's one thing we know, it's that Nelson is listening and writing it all down on his yellow notebook.