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“Show Them unto No Man”: Part 1. Esoteric Teachings and the Problem of Early Latter-day Saint Doctrinal History

Title“Show Them unto No Man”: Part 1. Esoteric Teachings and the Problem of Early Latter-day Saint Doctrinal History
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2023
AuthorsBickmore, Barry R.
JournalBYU Studies
Volume62
Issue1
Pagination29–60
KeywordsBook of Mormon Translation; Book of Moses; Doctrine; Early Christianity; Esotericism; Latter-day Saint History (1820-1846); Modalism; Monotheism; Premortal Existence; Restoration; Theology; Trinity
Abstract

In this essay, I argue that the cost of ignoring esotericism when reconstructing doctrinal history is very steep indeed. To demonstrate this point, I present some examples of early Latter-day Saint doctrinal statements that, upon reflection, appear difficult to interpret correctly without referring to Joseph Smith’s documented practice of esotericism. In these cases, we actually have both the exoteric and esoteric versions of Smith’s early teaching. Among Joseph Smith’s earliest writings are the Book of Mormon and the book of Moses, a pair of documents unquestionably produced by Smith near-contemporaneously and respectively claiming to expound exoteric and esoteric teachings.

I also show that a number of historians have nevertheless proposed pathways of early Latter-day Saint doctrinal change that are demonstrably implausible, precisely because they have misunderstood the exoteric-esoteric relationship between these documents, and because they have too often refused to even consider the possibility that Joseph Smith was working from a sophisticated, and perhaps even successful, plan to restore legitimately primitive aspects of early Christianity. No matter what the source of their bias, it is clear that these historians have made very serious mistakes of interpretation, with the result that they present early Church doctrinal history as much more disjointed than it actually was.

URLhttps://byustudies.byu.edu/article/show-them-unto-no-man/