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Examining Six Key Concepts in Joseph Smith's Understanding of Genesis 1:1

TitleExamining Six Key Concepts in Joseph Smith's Understanding of Genesis 1:1
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2000
AuthorsBarney, Kevin L.
JournalBYU Studies Quarterly
KeywordsKing Follett Discourse; Language - Hebrew; Smith, Joseph, Jr.
Joseph Smith spent Sunday afternoon, April 7, 1844, in a grove behind the Nauvoo Temple. There he gave a funeral sermon, which lasted for over two hours, dedicated to a loyal friend named King Follett, who had been crushed by a bucket of rocks while repairing a well. Known today as the King Follett Discourse and widely believed to be the Prophet’s greatest sermon, this address was Joseph’s most cogent and forceful presentation of his Nauvoo doctrine on the nature of God, including the ideas of a plurality of Gods and the potential of man to become as God. Several times in the first part of the discourse, Joseph expressed his intention to “go back to the beginning” in searching out the nature of God, and a little before midway through the sermon, he undertook a commentary on the first few words of the Hebrew Bible in support of the speech’s doctrinal positions.
The Prophet’s treatment of the Hebrew has been the subject of much discussion and is a matter of considerable interest, especially among those interested in Hebrew. I have examined elsewhere the linguistic details of the Prophet’s commentary, as far as it can be reconstructed from the reports and minutes of that discourse. Beyond Joseph’s specific linguistic understanding of the Hebrew text, however, are certain key ideas he derived from his encounter with that text. Revelation often results after wrestling with ideas, and Joseph’s struggle with the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1 seems to have yielded six concepts, which he expressed either in the King Follett Discourse or in a parallel discourse he gave on June 16, 1844.

Scripture Reference

Genesis 1:1